Why Steven Cohen won’t turn SAC into a family office

January 2, 2013

By Matthew Goldstein

Every time the insider trading investigation thrusts Stevie Cohen back into the spotlight, there’s always speculation about whether the billionaire trader will simply give back money to his outside investors and convert his $14 billion SAC Capital into a family office in order to avoid the unwanted headlines. But as tempting as that might be to the publicity-averse Cohen, the well-known trader has a big financial incentivel to keep managing money for his outside investors.

SAC Capital’s fee structure–one of the highest in the $2 trillion hedge fund industry–probably pays for a good chunk of Cohen’s overhead, say people in the hedge fund industry. These sources say that by charging a 3 percent asset management fee and skimming off as much as 50 percent of the firm’s trading profits, SAC Capital’s outside investors provide Cohen with a rich source of cash to pay his 900 or so employees.

Now sure, if Cohen were to return the roughly $6.3 billion in outside money that SAC Capital manages, he could reduce his workforce dramatically and move his operation out of its spacious offices at 72 Cummings Point Road in Stamford, Conn. But with billions of his own money invested in SAC Capital, Cohen would still need to employ a healthy crew of analysts and traders to manage his personal wealth in order to get the kind of double-digit returns he’s accustomed to. Last year, SAC Capital was up a little over 10 percent after accounting for fees–compared to the industry average of about 5 percent.

And returning all that outside money would also limit Cohen’s ability to make big trades. When you factor in leverage — or borrowed money — SAC Capital effectively manages $43.8 billion in assets — roughly 2.7 times the firm’s $14 billion in invested dollars from customers, Cohen and his employees. Strip away the outside money, it would severely restrict Cohen’s ability to make large trades in many different sectors and markets.

That’s why when an big outside investor like Blackstone gives the signal that it has no plans to redeem its $550 million, its more than just symbolism to Cohen and SAC Capital. For a fund like SAC Capital that operates at nearly 3 times leverage, that $550 million investment is really worth more than $1.5 billion in investible assets.

In short, there’s a lot of incentive for Cohen to keep on doing what he is doing, even as federal authorities continue to ratchet up the heat on his 20-year-old empire.


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