Steven Eisman, the Wall Street trader who was mythologized in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short as that rare person who saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming and made a killing as a result, thinks he has seen the next big explosive and exploitative financial industry — for-profit higher education — and he’s making sure as many people as possible know it. In a speech Wednesday at the Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference, an exclusive gathering at which financial analysts who rarely share their insights publicly are encouraged to dish their "best investment ideas," Eisman started off with a broadside against Wall Street’s college companies.
"Until recently, I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive and morally bankrupt as the subprime mortgage industry," said Eisman, of FrontPoint Financial Services Fund. "I was wrong. The For-Profit Education Industry has proven equal to the task." Eisman’s speech lays out his analysis of the sector’s enormous profitability and its questionable quality, then argues that the colleges’ business model is about to be radically transformed by the Obama administration’s plan to hold the institutions accountable for the student-debt-to-income ratio of their graduates. "Under gainful employment, most of the companies still have high operating margins relative to other industries," Eisman said. "They are just less profitable and significantly overvalued. Downside risk could be as high as 50 percent. And let me add that I hope that gainful employment is just the beginning. Hopefully, the DOE will be looking into ways of improving accreditation and of ways to tighten rules on defaults." Stocks of the companies appeared to fall briefly in the last hour of trading Wednesday, after news of Eisman’s speech made the rounds.