Unstructured Finance

Jim Chanos, bad news bear, urges market prudence

Prominent short-seller Jim Chanos is probably one of the last true “bad news bears” you will find on Wall Street these days, save for Jim Grant and Nouriel Roubini. Almost everywhere you turn, money managers still are bullish on U.S. equities going into 2014 even after the Standard & Poor’s 500’s 27 percent returns year-to-date and the Nasdaq is back to levels not seen since the height of the dot-com bubble in 1999.

“We’re back to a glass half-full environment as opposed to a glass half-empty environment,” Chanos told Reuters during a wide ranging hour-long discussion two weeks ago. “If you’re the typical investor, it’s probably time to be a little bit more cautious.”

Chanos, president and founder of Kynikos Associates, admittedly knows it has been a humbling year for his cohort, with some short only funds even closing up shop.

But he told Reuters that the market is primed for short-sellers like him and as a result has gone out to raise capital for his mission: “Markets mean-revert and performance mean-reverts and even alpha mean-reverts if at least my last 30 years are any indication. And the time to be doing this is when you feel like the village idiot and not an evil genius, to paraphrase my critics.”

Chanos’ bearish views are so well respected that the New York Federal Reserve has even included him as one of the money managers on its investment advisory counsel. By his own admission, Chanos said he tends to be the one most skeptical on the markets.

Berkowitz, Ackman bets on Fannie and Freddie puzzle investors and policy buffs

On Thursday, the United States threw cold water on Bruce Berkowitz’s daring proposal to recapitalize mortgage finance behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying the only way to revamp the home loan market is through proper housing finance reform.

Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital Management said it wants to buy the mortgage-backed securities insurance businesses of Fannie and Freddie by bringing in $52 billion in new capital, in a bid to resolve the uncertain future of the mortgage financiers by freeing them from U.S. government control. For its part, the government said the way forward would be to create a new housing finance system in which private capital would play a pivotal role.

Up until a few days ago, the idea that the government would hand Fannie and Freddie back to private investors seemed unlikely. Now, the idea appears all but dead. This appears to be bad news for a number of well-known money managers – the most prominent of which are Fairholme and Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square – which recently scooped up shares in both companies.

This summer, it’s the John Paulson show

Hedge fund manager John Paulson has shunned the limelight in recent years but in recent weeks it’s a different story, with the 57-year-old manager not only giving his first ever TV interview, he’s also set to take the stand in one of the most closely-watched trials in the country – the civil case against former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre.

Tourre’s lawyer Sean Coffey said in a Manhattan federal court on Friday morning they intended to call Paulson to testify in the trial. The U.S District Judge overseeing the trial estimated Paulson would probably take the stand August 1.

Tourre is accused of misleading investors on a 2007 subprime mortgage deal that Paulson’s hedge fund, Paulson & Co, was betting against. Paulson’s firm had actually helped to select the securities that were packaged into the deal. The SEC says Tourre told investors that Paulson’s firm was investing in Abacus, suggesting he expected the price of the securities to rise, when actually the hedge fund was shorting it.

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.

Hedge fund scorecard 2012: Mortgage masters win, Paulson on bottom again

Mortgage funds roared home with returns of almost 19 percent last year, trouncing all other hedge fund strategies and beating the S&P 500 stock index, which rose 13 percent.

BTG Pactual’s $245.5 million Distressed Mortgage Fund, which invests primarily in distressed non-agency Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS), returned about 46 percent for the year, putting it at the top of HSBC Private Bank’s list of the Top 20 performing hedge funds and making it one of 2012′s best performing funds.  Bear in mind the the average hedge fund gained only 6 percent last year.

HSBC’s hedge fund platform features hundreds of funds, including many of the industry’s biggest and best known managers, and the bank releases regular performance updates throughout the year.

Daniel Loeb goes long Chesapeake bonds; leaves activism to others

Daniel Loeb, who runs $8.7 billion at his hedge fund Third Point, has been an opportunistic buyer in the bonds of Chesapeake Energy, the embattled natural gas producer, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But Loeb, known to rattle the cages of companies for years (see: war with Yahoo), isn’t piggybacking on Carl Icahn’s or O. Mason Hawkins’s activist role in Chesapeake, demanding changes in management or the overhaul of its business practices.  Indeed, all the elements are there for a veteran agitator like Loeb, as Chesapeake has been embroiled in scandal over a controversial investment program involving CEO Aubrey McClendon.

But the New York-based hedge fund manager, who told his investors in June that Chesapeake is now his fund’s fourth largest position, could simply be making a straight investment play and leaving the rest to Icahn and Hawkins. Imagine that?

The hedge fund world’s version Elvis plays cupid

You know Bill Ackman as a hedge fund rabble rouser, but did you know on the side he likes to play cupid. Here’s Svea Herbst-Bayliss with a post on the Pershing Square Capital manager’s softer side:

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

Bill Ackman is known as many things: investor, corporate nudge and quick-talking television pundit. But matchmaker?

Helping his single friends and acquaintances find a life partner is, however, close to the multi-millionaire’s heart and he’s doing his part to help. And every so often, Ackman and his wife whirl through their Rolodexes and invite their unattached friends to come on over to their place and spend a few hours meeting other singles.

SAC Capital: a look back in time

By Matthew Goldstein

The full year numbers aren’t in, but it appears Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital had a pretty good year–especially compared to most other long/short equity hedge funds which lost money. But how does this year’s 8% gain stack-up against other strong years posted by the Stamford, Conn. hedge fund?

As we reported previously on UF, a good chunk of SAC Capital’s trading prowess in 2011 is being credited by sources to a single team led by Gabe Plotkin. His $1.2 billion book is one of the largest at SAC Capital and has generated between $150 million and $200 million in profits.

Indeed, only Cohen’s own 2 billion book–called the “big book,” the “Cohen account,” or simply “COHE”–is believed to manage more money at the $14 billion fund.

The guy who is killing it at SAC Capital

By Matthew Goldstein

Move over Steve Cohen. The trader who is killing it at Cohen’s $14 billion SAC Capital Advisors this year is Gabriel Plotkin.

The portfolio manager, who specializes in consumer products and the gaming and lodging industry, is one of the top producers this year at Cohen’s hedge fund, say several people familiar with the Stamford, Conn. hedge fund. Plotkin, who joined SAC Capital in late 2006 from North Sound Capital, is emerging as on Cohen’s most reliable money men.

At SAC Capital, where most portfolio managers run books that range from as little as $250 million to $500 million, Plotkin manages one of the largest. His team of half-dozen traders and analysts manages about $1.2 billion of the firm’s money, say sources.

John Thaler’s JAT thaws some more in December

By Katya Wachtel

John Thaler’s hedge fund, JAT Capital, had a meteoric rise through much of 2011, generating a 38 percent return at its peak in early September.  Since then, Shumway Capital alum has ebbed, though he’s still beating a ton of his competitors.

Through December 16, JAT fell 1.2 percent, according to an investor.

The fund remains up 14 percent year-to-date though, and given the average hedge fund was down about 4.4 percent through November, JAT investors have something to smile about. Though they have less to smile about than they did a few months ago.

Others are grimacing, since many of the industry’s heavy-hitters have taken a beating this year. It’s no secret that stars like John Paulson,  Mark Kingdon and Lee Ainsle are sustaining double-digit losses. Through December 16,  Paulson’s Advantage Plus fund is down 52 percent year-to-date; Kingdon’s Offshore fund is down about 19 percent; and Ainslie’s Maverick Fund is off about 15 percent.

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