Ross shutdown unexpected, and still unexplained

Before Ross Asset Management went into receivership this week, it was regarded as a prosperous fund in the hands of highly capable manager David Ross.

But some 20 years of reportedly high returns – more than 37% in the mid-1990s – came to an abrupt end on Friday November 2 when the Financial Markets Authority raided RAM's office and had its assets frozen.

The circumstances surrounding the situation remain murky.

Mr Ross is said to be sick in hospital, his staff have all resigned, the High Court is suppressing vital details, the FMA has said little and in the wings there are complaints to the Serious Fraud Office.

This means investors, some of whom have their entire fortunes with RAM, remain largely in the dark.

After NBR ONLINE's early revelations last week, more than 120 investors have left comments, pleading for answers.

What went wrong has yet to be spelled out and so far events have left investors with more questions than answers.

Before the raid
According to investors who in touch with NBR ONLINE, there were indications about a month ago things were not quite right.

One investor reported having trouble getting hold of anyone at the RAM office and the quarterly report was delivered late.

Another said they had spoken to Mr Ross a few days before the FMA raid, but others reported not having heard from him for some weeks.

The FMA confirmed it had started to receive complaints from investors in the days before the raid about not being able to get any money out.

FMA moves into action
Rumours started circulating early on Friday, November 2.

Investors knew something was wrong – RAM's central Wellington offices were closed and no one was answering the phone.

NBR ONLINE visited the office and confirmed the rumours. Neighbours reported seeing men in dark suits hanging around earlier in the day.

By mid-afternooon the FMA had confirmed it had taken control of the office and was making inquiries.

Almost immediately investors started coming forward, some alarmed and demanding answers, but many prepared to give Mr Ross a chance to explain himself.

"FMA looks like it has done the normal shoot, ready, now aim! There isn't a more thorough and investigative fund manager in the country," wrote one of the first commentors on NBR ONLINE's first story.

"I have been a client of David Ross for 18 year and spend many hours with him discussing investments and find him to be very astute and as honest as the day is long. I just ask people to give him the time to explain the facts of this case," wrote another.

The comments were largely sympathetic to Mr Ross, who has seemingly won the trust of many investors over a long period.

But many were also concerned, fearing the worst. 

By Friday evening, the Wellington High Court had frozen RAM's assets and the FMA wanted a manager appointed.

The aftermath
Early reports Mr Ross was sick were confirmed by investors early this week.

He was admitted to hospital some time before the FMA raid, but the nature of his illness is unknown.

On Tuesday, a High Court hearing resulted in PwC receiver John Fisk being appointed to manager RAM's assets, with help from First NZ Capital.

It was revealed Mr Ross' companies hold some $439 million in funds on behalf of 900 investors.

FMA Queen's counsel Hugh Rennie says 27 investors wrote to the authority with concerns about not being able to access their investments.

Early inquiries identified assets in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA.

While facts have slowly come to light, investors are no closer to knowing whether their investments can be recovered.

The High Court suppressed the reasons for its decision to freeze RAM's assets and the FMA is giving few details yet, saying it is "too early to make a statement".

Meanwhile, investor Bruce Tichbon set up a user group so investors can communicate with each other, an indication they are currently being kept in the dark by the investigators and receivers.

Mr Fisk and colleague David Bridgman are expected to report back to the High Court with their initial findings on Tuesday, but until then it is not expected investors will learn much more about the fate of their investments.  

callison@nbr.co.nz

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