The investment funds of two U.S. universities, Duke and Vanderbilt, own significant chunks of stock in the mysterious company valued at $100 million by the stock market despite owning only a tiny New Jersey deli.
Duke’s and Vanderbilt’s shares in Hometown International were acquired by their Hong Kong-based arms under the direction of Maso Capital Partners, itself a Hong Kong entity that is an investor in the deli-owning company, financial filings reveal.
The shares of Duke and Vanderbilt, among the biggest stakes in Hometown International, were acquired in the past year as part of what financial filings indicate is an effort to use Hometown International — as well as a shell company called E-Waste — as vehicles for private companies to become publicly traded on U.S. stock markets through either reverse mergers or similar maneuvers.
It is not clear whether Duke and Vanderbilt are among the would-be buyers of shares in E-Waste, which last week announced it was offering to sell stock for $2.5 million. E-Waste, which is tied to people connected to Hometown, and which has borrowed money from the deli owner, has no ongoing business, but despite that has a market capitalization of more than $100 million.
Manoj Jain, co-chief investment officer of Maso Capital, has sole voting and investment power for Hometown International shares held by the two universities, according to financial filings. Jain previously worked as a managing director at asset manager firm Och-Ziff, now known as Sculptor Capital Management.
The role of Duke and Vanderbilt as Hometown International shareholders was first reported by The Financial Times.
Financial records show that the same Duke and Vanderbilt investment vehicles that are shareholders in the deli owner previously had been listed as substantial shareholders along with Maso Capital in Paladin Energy, an Australian company that had uranium mining operations in Africa.
They also show that the Duke and Vanderbilt entities hold shares in a so-called special purpose acquisition company, Duddell Street Acquisition Corp., which Maso Capital created last year and which began trading on NASDAQ.
A third American university, Rutgers, pays $1,100 per month rent for office space on Mantua Avenue next to the Paulsboro, New Jersey, deli, CNBC has learned.
Paul Morina, CEO of the deli-owning company, is one of the partners in the landlord entity, Mantua Creek Group LLC.
The involvement of the three universities with Hometown International and the deli’s landlord raises more questions to the mystery surrounding Hometown, whose market capitalization of $100 million reflects — in no way at all — the underlying value of the deli it owns. That deli has had sales of just $35,000 in the 2019 and 2020 combined.