If you could travel back in time eight years, with $15 million in hand, what would you do with the money? Would you invest in Apple (up nearly 600 percent), Tesla (more than 1,500 percent), Nvidia (around 8,000 percent)? How about buying the rights to prosecute a socialist South American government?
Burford Capital, which specializes in financing mega-lawsuits, made that very bet. In 2015, the publicly-traded British firm stepped into a bankruptcy auction and acquired the exclusive rights to prosecute claims against the Republic of Argentina for seizing the energy company YPF. For $15 million, Burford secured a 70 percent stake in the potential legal bounty, then committed approximately four times that initial investment to actually litigating what has turned out to be a fiercely contested, slightly dangerous, and extraordinarily high-stakes lawsuit.
The trial, which I attended last week in Manhattan, may turn out to be “one of the best investments in the past 20 years,” to quote a Sullivan & Cromwell attorney representing Argentina. Indeed, Argentina went into this trial with a best-case outcome of limiting a damages judgment to merely $5 billion. And if Burford gets exactly what it wishes? Well, then the judgment soars as high as $16 billion. Not bad for a $15 million bet, if Argentina ever pays.