Hedge fund faithful descend on Boca Raton

January 23, 2012

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Katya Wachtel

Balmy temperatures and sunny skies greeted hedge fund industry managers, investors and lawyers as they gathered in Boca Raton, Florida, for 2012’s first prominent industry conference.

Despite clear skies overhead, the mood was decidedly grimmer at the GAIM 2012 USA meeting, held at the swanky Boca Raton Resort and Club, as the industry faces dramatic regulatory changes after having ended 2011 on a losing note.

As managers drifted between sessions that promised “unique insights” from top traders about where to make money to how regulation will affect the industry, many quietly shared tales of woe about last year’s losses, when the average fund lost 5 percent. Top investors conceded that times would be tough in the months ahead but that hedge funds are still the way to go for pension funds and others that need to boost investment returns with strong performance.

Prominent managers like Marathon Asset Management’s Bruce Richards and Oak Hill Advisors President Glenn August mingled with investment chiefs for the states of Florida and Wisconsin.

For the first time ever the organizers of this conference had invited media to attend, but then reversed the decision at the last minute saying many of the sessions were closed to the press, which is not uncommon in the historically secretive industry.

Some 500 people came to Boca Raton in search of ideas and more critically money — many investors said they were inundated with requests for meetings from tiny newcomers.

Outside the hotel, a handful of protesters representing Occupy Palm Beach (a local chapter of the Occupy Wall Street movement) held up signs protesting corporate greed. Boca Raton police, however, nearly outnumbered the protesters, with officers outside the club’s long drive and inside the mammoth pink buildings.

There were even police boats in the azure blue waters surrounding the club. But unlike other conferences, where sailing and golf often takes away the participants, here, the many sessions are full. Everyone is looking for an edge.

But, lest you think hedge fund managers are all work and no play, vats of bottles of beer – Heineken, Corona and Blue Moon – were brought out at 4 o’clock PM, hours before the official cocktail party is scheduled to begin.

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