Unstructured Finance

Envy, desire and basis points

I would like to tell you a story. It’s one about the tempestuous relationship between fund managers and their investors, a tale of envy, desire and basis point negotiations. You may have spotted by now that this is not the plot for this season’s latest blockbuster.

My story has recently gained a little extra spice with two old-fashioned heroes riding into view. One from the West – Omaha - and the other from the East - well, his father hailed from Russia – with both willing to make a little less money in order to help their fellow citizens. Warren Buffett and Stuart Rose are not alone; others in France and Germany are also saddling up. These horsemen seem to be heading in the opposite direction from those in the European funds industry.

There is one aspect that I’d like to look at to explore this: the fees generated by funds in relation to their assets. And in this case Europe and the US look pretty different.

One of the implicit benefits of investing in a mutual fund is that investors enjoy lower annual charges as a result of a fund’s success in increasing assets, in other words that costs fall as more investors join – economies of scale.

The following chart illustrates these economies of scale in action for funds sold across Europe. But although the disproportionately high expenses borne by the smallest funds does mean that average total expense ratios (TERs) fall as assets rise, crucially, such economies of scale do not continue through further asset rises among larger funds.  View the chart by clicking here.

Deals wrap: Cutting assets to pay for slick

BP CEO Tony Hayward testifies about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 17, 2010.  REUTERS/Larry DowningBP is looking to sell assets to help pay for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A source says BP is in talks with U.S. oil and gas company Apache Corp. The Sunday Times reported that the talks involved $12 billion in assets. View article

Aon, the world’s largest insurance brokerage, said it will acquire human-resource service company Hewitt Associates for about $4.9 billion in cash and stock to beef up its consulting business. The Aon-Hewitt deal is the second major deal in the consultancy space in a year. View article

If you are feeling bullish, then you’re in agreement Warren Buffett, Ken Fisher, Leon Cooperman and John Paulson. The WSJ takes a look at what these four market heavyweights are buying. View WSJ article

The Afternoon Deal: Reuters Summit exclusives

USA/At the Private Equity and Hedge Funds Summit, Primus co-CEO Robert Morse tells Reuters the opportunities in real estate in the U.S. are extraordinary. The $1.2 billion financial investment firm is now setting its sights on property owned by distressed sellers in the United States.

Here is a selection of the best stories from today’s summit:
BC Partners boss sees mini-bubble brewing
CQS raises $750 million for convertibles
BC Partners to court sovereign fund investors
Toscafund says UK stocks’ low value “absurd”

From the Web:

Buffett Casts a Wary Eye on Bankers (NYT)
“”Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut.” That little nugget was buried in Warren E. Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders published over the weekend.” – NYT

This Year’s Huge (So Far) M&A Deals And The Lawyers Masterminding Them
(Business Insider)
A slide show of the big deals and the lawyers behind them.

Is Cadbury too rich for Hershey?

While Cadbury shares saw some life on hopes for a rival bid from Hershey — boosted by reporting from the FT that a rival offer was further along than much of the market had assumed — naysaying analysts and pundits have been quick to point out that the financials of a Hershey bid are hard to stomach.

Hershey is only half the size of Cadbury, and a big share issue would dilute the stake of the controlling Hershey Trust, which has been every bit as crucial to defining the company as the kiss. The FT report says Hershey is working on a private equity element with none other than Byron Trott, Warren Buffett’s banker of choice. The idea that Buffett, who is Kraft’s biggest shareholder, could play both sides of a bidding war is, if not new, certainly intriguing, particularly given his apparent distaste for Kraft selling its own shares to keep its bid attractive.

And while Cadbury has repeatedly denied it is looking for a white knight, a deal that would leave its management in place, perhaps in exchange for keeping the Hershey Trust intact, could be attractive enough to consider breaking off a piece of Cadbury to give to a private equity investor to chew on … its gum business, for example.

Is Buffett being Krafty?

Warren Buffett may have thrown a monkey wrench into Kraft’s bid for Cadbury — not with his ‘no’ vote on Kraft’s plan to issue 370 million shares to help buy the British chocolate company, but with his scathing comments on Kraft’s board for a deal he has long regarded with skepticism. Buffett previously said Kraft’s stock was an “expensive currency” for funding the deal, a position he repeated on Tuesday.

Kraft’s proposed share issue would give it a “blank check,” allowing it to change its offer for Cadbury, Buffett’s insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway said in a statement. “And we worry very much that, indeed, there will be an additional change from the revision announced this morning.”

The statement came hard on the heels of a slight sweetening by Kraft of its $16.4 billion offer for Cadbury. The overall figure is the same, but the cash portion is a bit bigger. Perhaps more telling, it also followed a statement from Nestle shooting down speculation that the world’s biggest food group had any interest in getting involved in the Cadbury deal.

GMAC plays its too-big-to-fail card… again

The Treasury, as major shareholder of such credit boom casualties as Citigroup and General Motors, showed with its $3.8 billion infusion into GMAC that it can still be counted on to safeguard the financial system from systemic collapse. The auto-loan company, which had dutifully spread its wings into mortgages in the housing boom, wound up becoming a bank to qualify for TARP bailout funds a year ago – the day after Christmas 2008, to be precise. How could Treasury say no?

Now taxpayers are plonking another $3.8 billion into GMAC to help cover mortgage losses. That gives us another majority shareholding in a company that could not have survived to pay its bills, workers and its executives without aid. No, it’s not much in terms of the government’s balance sheet. But it should rankle in Congress when lawmakers come back from holiday.

Not far behind the brouhaha over universal health care lays the still smoldering debate over “too big to fail”. Is it naïve to note that the timing of GMAC’s new lifeline came when legislators were safely tucked away at home? Arguing that AIG was too big to fail, with its myriad confusing and distracting derivative contracts, and that GM was too big to fail, with its strategic position just behind the aorta of the American manufacturing heartland, or even that Citigroup, with its corner office (sans fireplace) in the U.S. superbanking community can somehow be extended to GMAC might seem farfetched to fiscal hawks.

Warren Wonka the Candyman?

Warren Buffett knows sweets. His Berkshire Hathaway is the largest shareholder in Kraft Foods, which made an unsolicited — and rebuffed — $16 billion bid for Cadbury. The Wall Street Journal reported that the trust that holds voting control of Hershey has hired Buffett’s favorite banker, Byron Trott, as it also weighs whether to pursue the British chocolate maker.

Trott, a former Goldman Sachs banker who runs his own firm now, is known for his expertise in candy as well as in advising family- and trust-owned companies. He convinced Buffett to pay $6.5 billion to help finance Mars in its $23 billion takeover of Wrigley last year.

Paritosh Bansal and Jessica Hall report that while Trott’s latest engagement may not have anything to do with Buffett, he may end up helping the billionaire investor. Sources previously told Reuters Hershey is unlikely to make a bid on its own for all of Cadbury. But Hershey may want to pick up pieces of Cadbury, which makes Dairy Milk chocolate, Halls cough drops and Trident gum. This could bode well for Buffett, some investors said.

John Paulson gains Buffett’s Midas touch

FINANCIAL/Hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made a fortune currectly betting on the U.S. housing market collapse in 2007 and then the broader financial crisis last year, is starting to wield a Midas touch long associated with Warren Buffett.

Thanks to its bearish views, Paulson & Co over the past few years vaulted to the top ranks of the world’s largest hedge fund, multiplying its assets and earning Paulson a king’s ransom.

More recently, though, Paulson has been scooping up stakes in some beaten down companies. The latest winner: CB Richard Ellis. Earlier today the world’s largest real estate services firm said it sold $100 million of stock to Paulson & Co.  Shares surged 15 percent on the news.

  •