Unstructured Finance

Insider trading—it’s not just hedge funds

Sometimes it seems that insider trading cases are all about hedge funds. After all, the overwhelming majority of the federal government’s multi-year crackdown on insider trading has netted dozens of traders and analysts working in the $2.25 trillion hedge fund industry.

But this week’s escapades involving a former top audit partner at KPMG and his golfing buddy are reminder that the temptation to profit from inside information exists in many industries and professions.

Still, senior hedge fund reporter Svea Herbst-Bayliss reminds us in the following post,  a recent survey found a good portion of people who labor for hedge funds harbor private doubts about the integrity of their colleagues. If the numbers expressed in this survey are anything close to accurate, law enforcement should be busy for quite a while longer.

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

This week’s insider trading case involving a former KPMG partner has stolen some of the attention from the hedge fund industry. But a survey released this month suggest the regulatory heat won’t be lifting from the industry any time soon.

Half of the respondents in the hedge fund industry survey said they believe their competitors engaged in illegal activity and more than one third said they have felt pressure to break the law or engage in unethical behavior. The poll was  commissioned by law firm Labaton Sucharow LLP, HedgeWorld and the Hedge Fund Association and released earlier this month.

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

“I’m from the Treasury, and I’m here to help”

Ronald Reagan famously said that the “nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” But according to a report from SNL, the government may actually help banks when it forces them to add directors to their boards. Every bank CEO’s worst nightmare is having the government name directors to his or her board. Usually, banks pack their boards with clients or prominent people that offer prestige and potential business leads, but little substantive oversight. At the smaller banks that SNL is focusing on, that often amounts to people like the owner of the local car dealership, or the owner of the local golf equipment seller. (For a stereotypical example of a community bank’s directors, consider the board of Smithtown Bancorp, which was sagging under the weight of failed loans before being taken over by People’s United Bank in 2010.)
The Treasury, on the other hand, tends to appoint people with actual banking experience, who can do what board members are supposed to do: keep an eye on management for the benefit of shareholders. The government only does so for banks that have lost their way: the Treasury has the right to name directors to boards of banks that received bailout money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and that missed six quarters of dividend payments. Typically, these appointees are bankers with more than 20 years of experience.
By SNL’s reckoning, the banks with Treasury-appointed directors have racked up median stock gains of 50.38 percent since taking on the new board members, compared with a median gain of 28.22 percent in an index of bank stocks.
Of course there may be other reasons for this outperformance – for example, it may be that small bank stocks in general have outperformed larger bank stocks over the relevant time frame, or that relatively weak banks have been in greater demand from value investors betting on an improving economy. But it may also be that the government has found a fix for the principal-agent problem at banks that have stumbled into trouble.

The burden of being SAC Capital’s “Portfolio Manager B”

Michael Steinberg, the SAC Capital Advisers portfolio manager who was arrested at the crack of dawn last Friday morning probably envies former Goldman Sachs trader Matthew Taylor’s rush-hour surrender to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday.

While Steinberg was led away in handcuffs as a Wall Street Journal reporter took shaky video footage of the scene outside his door at 6am, Taylor sauntered into FBI headquarters in New York on his own, at 8:30am, having had plenty of time to collect his wits with a cup of hot coffee.

The difference between Steinberg’s dramatic arrest and Taylor’s quiet surrender highlights a theatrical strategy the FBI and prosecutors use for big cases. It does not bode well for the other potential targets in the high-profile insider trading investigation into Steven A. Cohen’s $15 billion hedge fund, which increasingly seems to be the primary focus of the government’s attempt to go after wrongful trading in the hedge fund industry.

Steinberg indictment sheds some light on SAC’s computer program that once annoyed some top traders

By Matthew Goldstein

SAC Select may not have been one of SAC Capital Advisors’ best-known portfolios during its brief trading history. But the computer-driven trading program may have been one of the more controversial at Steven A. Cohen’s hedge fund.

Setup by a number of SAC Capital’s algo- savvy traders, including Neil Chriss, who left SAC in 2007 to found Hutchin Hill Capital, SAC Select was designed to piggyback on the trades on some of the hedge fund’s top portfolio managers. SAC Select, which at its peak in 2008 managed about $4.2 billion in hedge fund assets, was discontinued sometime in 2009 or early 2010. The strategy was intended as an added investment benefit for long-time SAC Capital clients.

But SAC Select was always controversial within Cohen’s empire because portfolio managers essentially viewed it as a platform simply copying some of their best ideas, say several people familiar with the strategy. Two people familiar with it said it “pissed off” the human traders at SAC.  Cohen is said to have countered that the computer program was not much different then PMs at SAC being regularly required to share their best “high conviction” trading ideas with Cohen each week.

Morgan Stanley decides not to tell shareholders what “priorities” are, SEC agrees to play along

Reuters reported on Friday that the Federal Reserve is taking a closer look at precisely how Wall Street CEOs get paid. This week, the SEC released correspondence between itself and Morgan Stanley that sheds some more light on the topic, and suggests that the Fed isn’t the only one questioning how bonuses are calculated. The SEC gets good marks for effort here, but the final result may leave Morgan Stanley shareholders unsatisfied.

The correspondence is pretty jargon-filled so here is a simpler version of what was said, in Unstructured Finance’s own words:

SEC: You say you don’t set any specific targets for bonuses, but then you cut CEO James Gorman’s pay 25 percent  because his performance wasn’t up to snuff. So, uh, how do you figure out that math? (June 22, 2012)

Daniel Loeb surfing to the top of the hedge fund charts again

Something must be in the water over at 399 Park Avenue, where Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point is headquartered. His Third Point Ultra fund has already gained 12.42 percent this year through the 13th of March, according to data from HSBC’s Private Bank.

The portfolio added 3.3 percent alone between March 1 and March 13. By comparison, hedge funds have returned about 4 percent year-to-date, according to HSBC.

The roughly $1.7 billion Ultra portfolio is a levered version of the firm’s flagship Offshore fund, which manages about $5.7 billion and has gained 8.5 percent over the same period.

Cash is king in housing

By Matthew Goldstein

It’s no secret that housing in the U.S. has become an investors market, especially if it’s an investor with cash to burn.

For more than a year now, we and just about everyone else in the financial media have been writing about how Wall Street-backed firms are looking to buy-up the wreckage of the housing bust on the cheap and rent out those homes until the time is right to sell them for a sweet profit. And it should come as no surprise that much of that buying is being done with cash because it’s the easiest way for an investor get a deal done quick.

Recent stats from the National Association of Realtors shows that 32 percent of all single family homes in the U.S. are being bought with that cash. But that’s not just foreclosures; it also includes homes listed by brokers. It’s a testament to how much money institutional investors like Blackstone and American Homes 4 Rent have been able to raise from high-net worth investors and others. all of whom are chasing yield in this low-yield world.

Natural (at) selection

The answer to the moderator’s question was a resounding: yes. The question, asked to several credit hedge fund managers during a conference on Thursday, was: did you make money last year? In fact, the managers from Pine River, BlueMountain, Cerberus and Brevan Howard made a lot. But 2013 is not going to be so easy, they said.

Hedge funds that specialize in credit, especially those who focus on mortgage-backed securities (MBS), blasted past their stock market competitors in 2012. One of those traders, Steve Kuhn, was on stage for the aforementioned credit panel at Absolute Return’s Spring Symposium. Kuhn, a portfolio manager for Pine River Capital Management, saw his fixed income fund rise 35 percent last year.

Kuhn doesn’t see a repeat of those monster returns in 2013. It’s all about security selection this year, he said and that that selection process is going to require a lot of work. It’s a view we reported in early March, and one that Scott Stelzer, a CMBS specialist for Cerberus Capital Management and David Warren, the CEO of DW Investment Management and CIO for a Brevan Howard credit fund also echoed at the conference in mid-town Manhattan.

Once-obese Goldman analyst becomes fitness evangelical, gym CEO

Wall Street is shrinking, but so are some of its bankers.

Eight years ago, Goldman Sachs Group’s Kishan Shah weighed 400 pounds and couldn’t find a suit that fit his 62” waist for a job interview. Now he’s 195 pounds, and he’s quitting Goldman to spread the gospel of healthy weight loss as chief executive of a chain of gyms for obese Americans.

“I made a vow that day to focus on diet and exercise, and I lost over 200 pounds – no surgeries, no fad diets, no trainers,” Shah said in a video chat this month with First Lady Michelle Obama.

Shah, who is 26 and works as an analyst in the Special Situations Group at Goldman Sachs, may not be representative of the typical bank employee who’s leaving.

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