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.

Carl Icahn in his own words

Icahn’s Big Year in investing and activism

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

We held an hour-long discussion with Carl Icahn on Monday as part of our Reuters Global Investment Outlook Summit, going over everything from his spectacular year of performance to his thoughts on the excessive media coverage of activists like himself who push and prod corporate managers to return cash to investors. We also talked about the legacy he wants to leave.

There was much Icahn wouldn’t talk about on the advice of his lawyer, however. While he said he took a look at Microsoft, he won’t say why he decided not to join ValueAct’s Jeffrey Ubben’s activist campaign. He also stayed mum on any plans for his Las Vegas white elephant, the unfinished Fontainebleau Las Vegas resort, which he bought out of bankruptcy proceedings in 2010.

Never one to mince words, Icahn said he takes issue with Bill Ackman’s brand of activism which he believes borders on micromanaging by telling chief executive officers how to do their jobs. “I think Ackman is the opposite of what I believe in activism. You don’t go in and you don’t go tell the CEO how to run his company.”

Money manager titans who can’t wait until 2014

The year can’t end fast enough for some of the world’s biggest investors.

Bill Gross, who many like to consider the King of Bonds, lost one of his prized titles last week when his PIMCO Total Return Fund was stripped of its status as the world’s largest mutual fund because of lagging performance and a swamp of investor redemptions.

The PIMCO Total Return Fund — somewhat of a benchmark for many bond fund managers — had outflows of $4.4 billion in October, marking the fund’s sixth straight month of investor withdrawals, and lowered its assets to $248 billion, according to Morningstar.

Hedge fund manager Hempton on Herbalife

John Hempton is bullish on Herbalife but bearish on coal

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Hedge fund manager and frequent blogger John Hempton is a little bit like the Jim Chanos of Australia.

Over the years, he’s been a fairly prescient short seller. For instance he was an early skeptic on computer giant Hewlett Packard and travel services company Universal Travel Group, which recently agreed to pay nearly $1 billion to settle a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit alleging that the company defrauded investors by failing to disclose the transfer of $41 million from stock offerings to unknown parties in China.

But unlike Chanos whose Kynikos Associates almost exclusively goes short—makes a bet a company’s share price will plummet because of fraud, unsustainable revenue growth or simply an unrealistic valuation—Hempton’s Bronte Capital also makes a fair bit of money on the long side as well.

Greenlight’s David Einhorn slams Fed, again

David Einhorn

David Einhorn is pointing at you Fed

Greenlight Capital’s David Einhorn, one of the most closely followed managers in the $2.2 trillion hedge fund industry, is out with his latest investment letter and provides another lambasting of the U.S. Federal Reserve for what he describes as short-sighted policy decisions with regards to its continued quantitative easing.

“We maintain that excessively easy monetary policy is actually thwarting the recovery,” Einhorn said of the Fed and its decision to continue buying $85 billion a month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. “But even if there is some trivial short-term benefit to QE, policy makers should be focusing on the longer-term perils of QE that are likely far more important.”

Einhorn says the Fed’s bond buying prompts some questions about income inequality and the ability of central bankers to deal with the next recession. Specifically, he asks in his letter:

Sotheby’s and a tale of two hedge fund managers

Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen’s reported plan to sell a number of valuable artworks may not only deliver a nice chunk of change for the Wall Street mogul, it may also provide gains for another rival manager.

Cohen is selling several high-profile artworks from his art collection, according to a story Monday in the New York Times, and he has given the task of selling the works to Sotheby’s – the 269-year-old auction house currently in the firing line of activist Daniel Loeb.

Loeb’s hedge fund owns 9.3 percent of Sotheby’s, making his New York-based Third Point the majority shareholder. Loeb wants the company to revamp and overhaul many of its operations and has demanded the resignation of the current CEO William Ruprecht. Sotheby’s has called Loeb’s actions “incendiary and baseless.”

Ackman’s Penney-sized revenge?

It’s hard to say that Bill Ackman came out of the J.C. Penney debacle looking good. But in one regard the hedge fund manager did score a minor victory: he and his Pershing Square Capital Management sold their shares before the bloodbath began in the ailing retailer’s stock.

In hindsight, the $12.90 a share price that Pershing Square sold its 18 percent stake in Penney to Citigroup doesn’t look so bad compared to the $8.73 a share price the stock closed at on Tuesday. There was much made in the press about the $473 million loss Ackman’s fund was saddled with after the hedge fund manager’s push to remake Penney into an upscale retailer failed. The criticism was justified as even Ackman conceded he isn’t great at retail.

But Ackman’s quick late August exit from the stock after first blistering the company’s board for taking too long to find a permanent CEO doesn’t look as bad in retrospect. Forbes’ Nathan Vardi even went so far a few days ago to write that Ackman’s decision to bolt on Penney looks like a “brilliant” decision.

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.

Home sweet home, Blackstone

Kay Chapman and her boyfriend were saving up money to buy a home in the Las Vegas metro area while renting a home in a nearby town. But after months of plotting a strategy to buy a home at a foreclosure auction, they’ve given up for now and will soon move into another rental home–this one owned by private equity giant Blackstone Group.

Chapman and her boyfriend had to alter their strategy because the owner of the home they are currently renting from decided to sell after seeing how quickly home prices have surged in Sin City in the wake of all the institutional buying firms like Blackstone. Chapman’s current landlord wants far more for the house than she and her boyfriend are willing to pay.

So soon they’ll be moving into a Blackstone owned home, one of some 26,000 single-family homes the private equity giant has bought in US markets hard hit by the housing bust.

Ray Dalio’s all seeing reputation takes a hit

There are storm clouds on the horizon at Ray Dalio’s $150 billion Bridgewater Associates.

Yeah, excuse the weather imagery but it’s hard to resist given the sudden sharp reversal of fortunes with Bridgewater’s $70 billon All Weather portfolio. As Jenn Ablan and Katya Wachtel first reported, the portfolio that Dalio has long marketed to pension funds as an innovative investment strategy for navigating storm markets, isn’t doing so well in this stormy market.

The fund, as of last Friday, was down 6% for the month and down 8% for the year.

  •