Split at Venezuela Broker-Dealer Torino Spurs Founder's Exit

  • Torino Capital ex-CEO Piedrahita left the firm this month
  • Disputes over Venezuela focus caused tension, Piedrahita said

The co-founder of one of the most respected broker-dealers focused on Venezuela left the company amid a disagreement about the firm’s direction.

Jorge Piedrahita departed New York-based Torino Capital on June 13 after he unsuccessfully pushed to expand its businesses in Argentina, Brazil and Central America to colleagues who favored an all-in approach on Venezuela. Piedrahita had relinquished his chief executive officer title Feb. 1 after switching into a full-time sales role and was replaced in that post by Victor Sierra, a founding partner and head of capital markets.

The internal rift centered around Torino’s increased concentration on Venezuela, which has some of the world’s riskiest and highest yielding bonds amid a dearth of official data that makes any insights on the country more valuable. The emerging-market investment bank hired Francisco Rodriguez, a former Bank of America Corp. economist and one-time head of Venezuela’s congressional budget office, last year to beef up its research on the chaotic, oil-rich nation. Piedrahita specialized in his native Argentina.

“All the others at Torino wanted to focus only on Venezuela,” Piedrahita said in a written response to questions. He said he would be starting a new emerging-market broker-dealer, Gear Capital Partners Inc., that fits his interests.

Torino, which has about a dozen employees in New York, also includes five research assistants in Caracas who help Rodriguez with his reports on Venezuela’s ever-changing politics, default odds and foreign-exchange systems. That team includes Pilar Navarro, a former senior economist at Ecoanalitica.

Last year, as officials at Moody’s Investors Service, Eurasia Group and Loomis Sayles warned that Venezuela would default in 2016, Torino remained steadfast in its belief that the country would pay its debt. The company was vindicated as the nation’s sovereign bonds returned a world leading 52 percent during that span, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Rodriguez said that countries such as Argentina and Ecuador will continue to play a role in Torino’s business as many of their clients focused on Venezuela also have an interest in other high-yielding Latin American nations.

“I wouldn’t say we had an existential discussion on do we want to be a Venezuelan or a broader house, but there were decisions we made on prioritizing time on areas where we could establish our niche,” Rodriguez said.

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