Pacino, Papandreou, Panetta, Paulson: Welcome to SALT 2013

April 8, 2013

The SkyBridge Alternatives Conference – the annual hedge fund blowout better known as SALT, is a month away. And the official agenda for the three-day bacchanal, which sees thousands of hedge fund investors, allocators and hedge fund hangers-on descend on Las Vegas in the second week of May, has been released.

Many regular SALT-goers will tell you, of course, that as the event has grown in popularity its official agenda has become but one part of the conference. A sideshow to goings-on inside the Bellagio are the unofficial meetings going on outside, in the hotel’s poolside cabanas.

But SALT gate-crashers – a growing group of people who don’t pay for tickets to the conference but rock up to the Bellagio to network poolside with SALT’s paying guests – will be disappointed to know that the cabanas are a costly and official part of the event this year. The bungalows were all scooped up by SALT organizers, according two people familiar with the plans, and offered to guests for $20,000 for duration of the conference, as part of a sponsorship package that includes branding and passes to attend the event.

Anthony Scaramucci, who’s fund of hedge fund firm Skybridge puts on the conference, recruits some of the best known names in the $2 trillion hedge fund industry to speak at the event, as well as big-ticket political figures like George W. Bush. This year’s list of international headliners includes former Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. There’s also a fireside chat between former Israeli leader Ehud Barak and Leon Panetta, ex-U.S Defense Secretary and ex-Director of the CIA.

And Hollywood is coming to hedge fund land this year. Al Pacino and director Oliver Stone are both speaking. (Scaramucci has a link to both – he is an executive producer on an upcoming Pacino movie, and he consulted on Stone’s sequel to Wall Street, 2010’s Money Never Sleeps).

For the hedge fund crowd panels that feature industry veterans like the CEO of Avenue Capital Marc Lasry  and Omega Advisors’ Leon Cooperman are the real drawcards, as are others that include managers who made headlines in 2012, like Pine River Capital’s Steve Kuhn, who’s fund rose 35 percent last year betting on mortgage-backed securities.

Interestingly, a panel that last year was relegated to a side room has deservedly been upgraded to the main stage in the Bellagio’s grand ballroom. The panel about opportunities in mortgage-related investments – last year’s hot trade that’s continuing into 2013 – features two of the strategy’s  best performers, Deepak Narula (who spoke on the MBS panel last year) and Josh Birnbaum. Their hedge funds rose 38 and 41 percent last year respectively.

Scaramucci also has one-on-one interviews with billionaire investors John Paulson and Daniel Loeb – two managers who could not have recorded more different performances last year. Loeb was one of 2012’s best performers; Paulson one of its worst.

Scaramucci has a knack for recruiting hedge fund managers to speak at SALT at a time when they’re attracting harsh media glare. Last year, embattled Harbinger founder Phil Falcone took to the stage one week before his telecom venture Lightsquared filed for bankruptcy. The year before, SAC Capital Advisor’s Steve Cohen was a keynote speaker at a time when his fund was under scrutiny as part of the government’s insider trading probe. The probe continues today, and given the many questions surrounding Cohen’s firm right now, he’s a guest we would have liked to see on the agenda again this year.

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