Money managers under the microscope
The financial industry is famously flexible. Previously held shibboleths can be ditched in the blink of an eye to be replaced by more appropriate, and profitable, assumptions.
And so it is that hedge funds have embraced restructuring culture. No longer is there shame in distressed assets, forced sales and dried up liquidity. In a time when going to the wall is an everyday occurrence, the smart money, and the optimism, comes from finding opportunity in straitened times.
Earlier today hedge fund pros gathered for breakfast with lawyers for KattenMuchin, to hear a presentation about “Corporate and Fund Restructurings”.
Liquidity issues and closures are not “news for anybody” we heard, before an informative, upbeat run-through of the issues associated with spin-outs, acquisitions and consolidations. Downturn issues like MAC clauses, retaining key staff and re-setting benchmarks all figured highly.
Next week sees Reuters running its annual Hedge Funds & Global Equity Summit from 23rd-25th March, with some top speakers lined up.
Given the amount of political posturing in recent months, few hedge fund managers would deny that more regulation is coming. The question seems to be what will it look like when it finally arrives?
While the weekend’s meeting of G20 finance ministers in Horsham was dismissed by some as a damp squib, it did at least in the area of hedge funds paint part of the picture of what future hedge fund regulation might look like.
It’s encouraging to see that, even as many hedge fund investors rush for the exit, there is still some appetite to invest, as highlighted by the National Association of Pension Funds’ optimistic publication of a beginner’s guide to the industry.
Entitled Hedge Funds made simple and starting with “What is a Hedge Fund”, the guide’s blurb tells us that ”the role of hedge funds, and investing in them, has become more prominent in the last year”.
Nothing like a bit of toxicity. Wealth managers at Citi are telling their clients to watch for a burst of hedge fund interest in bad assets. They reckon the biggest opportunity for hedge funds is probably around the Public-Private Investment Fund, which is part of the huge U.S. plan to stabilise the financial sector.
The idea is that the U.S. government will lend money to investors to buy up toxic assets from banks, thus setting a market price. But the notes are non-recourse ones, which means that any default is limited to the actual cost of whatever collateral is require. In short, it limits liability if asset prices fall.
Hot on the heels of USS – the UK’s second largest pension scheme — deciding to go ahead with plans to increase its investments in hedge funds comes news that another large local authority fund had started investing in the freewheeling asset class.
The CIO of the West Midlands Local Authority Pension Fund told us: “My belief in the benefits of diversification has strengthened and I think now is actually a good time to invest in hedge funds as they have been forced to improve their practices and some of the weaker ones have gone.”
Another day and another report of a company looking to exit its hedge fund operation.
According to a report in today’s FT, Germany’s Commerzbank has put its $900 million fund of hedge fund manager Comas up for sale, although it may close it down if no buyer is found.
Executives in London’s Mayfair, home of the UK’s multi-billion dollar hedge fund community, could be forgiven for a few raised eyebrows after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s call yesterday to outlaw shadow banking systems and offshore tax havens.
“You are also restructuring your banks. So are we.” he told U.S. Congress. ”But how much safer would everybody’s savings be if the whole world came together to outlaw shadown banking systems and offshore tax havens.”
Even the best hedge fund managers can sometimes get things wrong when markets are so volatile.
In his latest letter to investors star manager Tim Russell, the head of pan-European equities at Cazenove who made 9.4 percent last year in one of the toughest equity markets in living memory, reported a 4% loss in February.
One thing that the credit crisis has demonstrated is that even performing well isn’t always enough to stop investors in need of cash from taking their money out of a hedge fund.