Singer was born in 1944, and grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey in a Jewish family, one of three children of a Manhattan pharmacist and a homemaker. He obtained his B.S. in psychology from the University of Rochester in 1966 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1969. In 1974, Singer went to work as an attorney in the real estate division of the investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.
In 1977, with a convertible arbitrage "winning formula," Singer left law to create his own investment company. He founded the hedge fund Elliott Associates L.P. with USD $1.3 million in seed capital from various friends and family members. According to The Telegraph in 2011, Elliott is “one of the oldest hedge funds in Wall Street." Singer is also the founder and CEO of NML Capital Limited, a Cayman Islands-based offshore unit of Elliott Management Corporation. The Financial Times writes that Elliott's principal investment strategy involved buying "loans and bonds owed by companies in trouble" and "seeking to influence the outcome of a bankruptcy."
In 1996, Elliott bought defaulted Peruvian debt for $11.4 million. Elliott won a $58 million judgement when the ruling was overturned in 2000, and Peru had to repay the sum in full under the pari passu rule. When former president of Peru Alberto Fujimori was attempting to flee the country due to facing legal proceedings over human rights abuses and corruption, Singer ordered the confiscation of his jet and offered to let him leave the country in exchange for the $58 million payment from the treasury, an offer which Fujimori accepted. A subsequent 2002 investigation by the Government of Peru into the incident and subsequent congressional report, uncovered instances of corruption since Elliott was not legally authorized to purchase the Peruvian debt from Swiss Bank Corporation without the prior approval of the Peruvian government, and thus the purchase had occurred in breach of contract. At the same time, Elliott's representative, Jaime Pinto, had been formerly employed by the Peruvian Ministry of Economy and Finance and had contact with senior officials. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Peruvian government paid Elliott $56 million to settle the case.
In the 1990s, the Kensington International division of EMC purchased US $30 million (£18m) of "Congolese sovereign debt... allegedly for less than $20m." Kensington subsequently spent years trying to be paid in full through the courts. In 2007 the president of the Republic of Congo Denis Sassou-Nguesso accused Singer of undermining a United Nations backed effort to lift developing nations out of debt. "Our disputes have always been with sovereigns who can pay but refuse to do so," Singer wrote in an e-mail to The Nation. The UK High Court ruled that Kensington was owed $100m after Kensington sued for $400 million. The lawsuit led to the freezing of some oil payments, and during the case, US President George W B.S. used a constitutional clause preventing seizure of Congolese assets in the United States by the hedge fund. In 2008, Kensington and the Republic of Congo settled for an undisclosed amount. Elliott had 13.5% average annual returns between 1977 and 2017, compared with 11.08% for the S&P 500 stock index as a whole.
According to Fortune, Elliott has been involved “in most of the big post-[2008 crash] restructurings, including Chrysler and auto parts supplier Delphi.” In 2009, The Guardian reported that Singer "through a brilliantly complex financial manoeuvre, took control of Delphi Automotive, the sole supplier of most of the auto parts needed by General Motors and Chrysler." Both GM and Chrysler were at the time undergoing bankruptcy, and Singer and co-investors threatened to cease supplying both companies with parts, demanding payment of $350 million from the US Treasury, a demand which Treasury deputy Steven Rattner described as "extortion." Ultimately, the US Treasury paid Elliott Management "$12.9 billion in cash and subsidies from the US Treasury's auto bailout fund." By 2011, Elliott was active on the boards of companies such as National Express and Actelion. In December 2011, Elliott Associates sued Vietnam’s state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin in the UK for defaulting the year before on a US $600 million syndicated loan. Forbes noted in December 2012, that Elliott Management had offered to purchase the software firm Compuware after having accumulated 8% of the company's stock. Elliott expressed the view that Compuware had great promise but had been under-performing under its current management.
After Argentina defaulted on its debt in 2002, the Elliott-owned company NML Capital Limited refused to accept the Argentine offer to pay less than 30 cents per dollar of debt. With a face value of $630 million, the bonds were reportedly bought by NML for $48 million, with Elliott assessing the bonds as worth $2.3 billion with accrued interest. Elliott sued Argentina for the debt's value, and the lower UK courts found that Argentina had state immunity. Elliott successfully appealed the case to the UK Supreme Court, which ruled that Elliott had the right to attempt to seize Argentine property in the United Kingdom. Alternatively, before 2011, US courts ruled against allowing creditors to seize Argentine state assets in the United States. On October 2, 2012 Singer arranged for a Ghanaian Court order to detain the Argentine naval training vessel ARA Libertad in a Ghanaian port, with the vessel to be used as collateral in an effort to force Argentina to pay the debt. Refusing to pay, Argentina shortly thereafter regained control of the ship after its seizure was deemed illegal by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Alleging the incident lost Tema Harbour $7.6 million in lost revenue and unpaid docking fees, Ghana in 2012 was reportedly considering legal action against NML for the amount.
In February 2013, the U.S. appeals court heard Argentina's appeal in the case of its default and debt to NML. In March 2013, Argentina offered a new plan to the courts that mixed cash and bonds, which was dismissed first by the lower courts and then the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on August 23, 2013. In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Argentina's appeal of the ruling. In March 2014, attempting to satisfy court awards, NML Capital sued SpaceX seeking the rights to two satellite-launch contracts bought by Argentina valued at $113 million. In March 2015, the suit was dismissed in a U.S. district court in California. In early 2016, US courts ruled that Argentina must make full payments to "holdout bondholders" such as NML Capital by February 29. Argentina made an offer to pay $6.5 billion to settle lawsuits on February 5, requesting that the prior ruling on payments be lifted. In February 2016 Argentina reached an agreement with Singer that would only last until April 14, 2016. On March 24, 2016, the US Justice Department filed a brief as amicus curiae with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, calling for "a swift resolution of this long-running litigation [with Argentina]," a move that, according to the New York Times, increased "the pressure on a group of holdout bondholders"—including Singer's NML Capital—"that refused to take part in two debt restructurings." The bill was approved by both parties in Argentina's Congress in March, and on April 13 US courts allowed Argentina to pay the bondholders with a bond sale, ending the Argentine default started in 2001.
As of February 2014, Elliott controlled $23bn (£19bn) of funds and was the ninth largest investor on Wall Street. In June 2015, EMC was an active activist investor with Citrix Systems, pushing for various changes. In May 2014, the French Financial Markets Regulator fined Elliott a record €14 million ($22 million) for insider trading, a ruling which the company appealed. In a long-standing dispute between Singer and members of the Lee family over a merger between Samsung and Cheil Industries, in 2015 Samsung published numerous depictions of Singer as an anthropomorphic vulture on its corporate website. The cartoons were denounced by Singer and others as antisemitic. Samsung responded several days later denouncing antisemitism, pulling the advertisements from their website.
In 2015, Forbes rated Singer's net worth as $2.1 billion, and $2.2 billion 2016. Elliott Management Corporation as of November 2015 oversees Elliott Associates and Elliott International Limited, which together have more than $27 billion in assets under management in what is a "multi-strategy fund." The corporation includes a private equity division. Termed a "specialist in activism in technology companies" by the Wall Street Journal in June 2015, Elliott Management's varied portfolio also includes a prominent tech component. The company pursued "more than 40 campaigns aimed at tech companies" between 2004 and 2015, according to Reuters.
According to Fortune, Singer focused from early times “on distressed assets,” buying up bankrupt firms' debt and acquiring “a reputation for strong-arming his way to profit.” Fortune noted in 2012 that losses sustained early in Singer's career led to a “risk aversion that still guides his investing today. For example, he rarely uses leverage to juice returns.” Thanks to his caution, by 2012 Elliott had "only two down years” since 1977, rising “4.2% in 2011, a year in which most hedge funds lost money.” Describing him as "one smartest and toughest money managers" in the hedge fund industry," the article further notes that "he’s achieved that [returns] record in large part by buying the debt of bankrupt companies and nations — a strategy that has earned him considerable opprobrium in some circles. His firm... is so influential that fear of its tactics helped shape the current 2012 Greek debt restructuring." Elliott was termed by The Independent as "a pioneer in the business of buying up sovereign bonds on the cheap, and then going after countries for unpaid debts", and in 1996, Singer began using the strategy of purchasing sovereign debt from nations in or near default—such as Argentina, Peru—through his NML Capital Limited and Congo-Brazzaville through Kensington International Inc. In 2004, then first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund Anne Osborn Krueger denounced the strategy, alleging that it has "undermined the entire structure of sovereign finance."
With Singer termed a "vulture capitalist," EMC has been described by detractors and the press, as a "vulture fund", which is a hedge fund that purchases distressed debt at a steep discount and then attempts to obtain a favorable settlement after default. or demand the full amount plus interest. Singer and EMC reject the characterization, arguing that they are enforcing the rule of law, and that the threat and actuality of court proceedings help keep irresponsible state leaders from misusing or stealing the money they are loaned. Singer describes his business model as "a fight against charlatans who refuse to play by the market’s rules," and in 2013, Singer stated to Alpha Magazine that "we've made the point over and over again that sovereigns that could pay their debts and choose not to may be attempting to save some money but are harming their people and their economies by making investing in their countries more risky and more problematic and by discouraging foreign investment." In response to the quote, The Washington Post writes in 2014 that "in Singer's view, he isn't just forcing indebted companies and countries to pay up. He's trying to create a world where distressed debt doesn't exist. Depending on your own views, that makes Singer an activist investor, or a 'vulture capitalist.'"
Singer signed The Giving Pledge, which signals a commitment by individuals to donate more than half of their wealth within their lifetime to address society's "most difficult moral and economic challenges." He also founded the Paul E. Singer Family Foundation, which supports charitable causes including the Harvard Graduate School of Education Singer Prize for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, VH1 Save The Music Foundation, the Food Bank For New York City, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, the American Unity Fund, the New York City Police Foundation and MarineParents.com. Singer and The Paul E. Singer Family Foundation are behind The Philos Project, a pro-Israel Christian organization. In 2016, Singer partnered with the Museum of the Bible to fund Passages Israel, a program to take college students to Israel. He is a "longtime supporter of hawkish pro-Israel causes" and a major funder for the conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
He also serves on the Board of Fellows of Harvard Medical School and the Board of Directors of Commentary Magazine.
Singer is an active participant in Republican Party politics. According to The New York Times, he supports "like-minded candidates who often share his distaste for what they view as governmental over-meddling in the financial industry." Singer has contributed more than $1 million to the political efforts of the Koch brothers. In 2014, Singer led a group of major Republican donors to form the American Opportunity Alliance, a group that brings together wealthy Republican donors who share Singer’s support for LGBTQ rights, immigration reform and Israel. During the 2016 Presidential election campaign Singer supported Marco Rubio and donated a million dollars in March to the Our Principles PAC-a PAC attempting to derail Donald Trump's election campaign. He also started the American Unity PA. He supported Trumps inaugural committee with $1 million together with 25 other billionaires |.
Singer was a major contributor to George W. Bush's presidential campaigns. On March 14, 2008, Singer hosted a Republican National Committee luncheon in his home for 70 guests that raised $1.4 million for Bush. President George W. Bush appointed Singer to serve on the Honorary Delegation to accompany him to Jerusalem for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel in May 2008.
In 2007, Singer was one of Rudolph Giuliani’s most important fundraisers in Giuliani’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination. In 2007, Singer led a financial industry fund-raising effort for Giuliani, first as regional finance chair and later as senior policy adviser. Singer lent Giuliani his private jet. That same year, Singer at $175,000 was the sole contributor to a campaign to support a petition drive for a proposed California initiative to apportion the state's 55 electoral votes by congressional district. At least 19 of the state's 53 congressional districts were expected to vote for a GOP presidential candidate, enough to change the national results in a close election.
Singer was one of the largest donors of the 2010 midterm election cycle, contributing more than $4 million to support Republican candidates.
In 2011, Singer donated $1 million to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC (political action committee) created to support Mitt Romney, in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. In 2013, Singer also gave $100,000 to the Club for Growth, a 501(c)4 organization that supports tea party candidates. He has also donated millions of dollars to organizations that advocate for a strong military and for supporting Israel.
Singer is a member of the Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, a non-governmental, non-partisan research organization. He is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank in New York City and on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a political lobbying group in the United States that promotes Jewish Republicans. He also served on the board of directors for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
In 2016, Singer invested $500,000 in a PAC supporting John Faso, a Congressional candidate in New York's 19th congressional district opposing progressive candidate and Wall Street critic Zephyr Teachout. Teachout responded to this large donation by challenging Singer to come to the district and debate her.
As well as contributing to private initiatives, Singer also actively seeks to persuade other Republicans to support gay marriage. He has joined other Wall Street executives in support of LGBT equality and stated that same-sex marriage promotes “family stability” and that in a time when “the institution of marriage in America has utterly collapsed,” the fact that gay couples want to marry “is kind of a lovely thing and a cool thing and a wonderful thing.”
Singer, whose son married his fiance in Massachusetts, has also financially supported the legalization of gay marriage in New York, and Maryland. In 2011, this advocacy included, supporting legislation allowing same-sex marriage in the state of New York along with other GOP donors.
In 2012, Singer provided $1 million to start a Political Action Committee named American Unity PAC. According to the New York Times, the PAC's "sole mission will be to encourage Republican candidates to support same-sex marriage, in part by helping them to feel financially shielded from any blowback from well-funded groups that oppose it." In 2014, Singer urged Republicans to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This bill requires workplace protections to extend out to the LGBT community. As of June 2014, Singer had donated an estimated $10 million for the gay rights movement.
In 2015, Singer, Tim Gill and Daniel Loeb, helped fund Freedom For All Americans to promote LGBT issues in states and local communities in the United States.
Singer has written columns in the Wall Street Journal. In 2009, he wrote a piece titled, “Free-Marketeers Should Welcome Some Regulation,” in which he argued that, “It's true that monetary policy was too lax for too long, and the government encouraged lending to people who were unlikely to repay their loans. But this crisis was primarily caused by managements and individuals throughout the financial system who exercised extremely poor judgement. The private sector, not the public sector, is where the biggest mistakes were made.” Among other topics, he has written against raising taxes for the 1% and aspects of the Dodd-Frank Act.
At a September 2006 financial conference in New York City, Singer delivered a speech called "Complexity Made Simple," advising that the purchase of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) was a serious mistake, and anticipating the downturn of the housing market by nearly a year before the $770 billion taxpayer-funded bailout.
Hedge fund manager Jim Chanos stated in an August 2009 radio interview that he and Singer had met with G7 finance ministers in 2007 to warn them that the global financial system was increasingly unstable and approaching a catastrophe, with banks on the verge of sinking the global economy. The pair argued that decisive action was called for, but Chanos claims they were met with indifference.
In 2015, Singer was 327th on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, 1006th among the world's billionaires, 350th of American billionaires, and the 16th highest earning hedge fund manager. Singer has been divorced since 1996. He has two sons, Andrew and Gordon. He lives on New York City's Upper West Side and has a house in Aspen, Colorado.
Singer began studying classical piano at the age of 10, and forms part of a family band, together with "one of his sons on guitar, the other on drums", and "his son-in-law on saxophone." He enjoys Led Zeppelin and has played onstage with Meat Loaf. He is a fan of Arsenal F.C.