Unstructured Finance

Why Steven Cohen won’t turn SAC into a family office

By Matthew Goldstein

Every time the insider trading investigation thrusts Stevie Cohen back into the spotlight, there’s always speculation about whether the billionaire trader will simply give back money to his outside investors and convert his $14 billion SAC Capital into a family office in order to avoid the unwanted headlines. But as tempting as that might be to the publicity-averse Cohen, the well-known trader has a big financial incentivel to keep managing money for his outside investors.

SAC Capital’s fee structure–one of the highest in the $2 trillion hedge fund industry–probably pays for a good chunk of Cohen’s overhead, say people in the hedge fund industry. These sources say that by charging a 3 percent asset management fee and skimming off as much as 50 percent of the firm’s trading profits, SAC Capital’s outside investors provide Cohen with a rich source of cash to pay his 900 or so employees.

Now sure, if Cohen were to return the roughly $6.3 billion in outside money that SAC Capital manages, he could reduce his workforce dramatically and move his operation out of its spacious offices at 72 Cummings Point Road in Stamford, Conn. But with billions of his own money invested in SAC Capital, Cohen would still need to employ a healthy crew of analysts and traders to manage his personal wealth in order to get the kind of double-digit returns he’s accustomed to. Last year, SAC Capital was up a little over 10 percent after accounting for fees–compared to the industry average of about 5 percent.

And returning all that outside money would also limit Cohen’s ability to make big trades. When you factor in leverage — or borrowed money — SAC Capital effectively manages $43.8 billion in assets — roughly 2.7 times the firm’s $14 billion in invested dollars from customers, Cohen and his employees. Strip away the outside money, it would severely restrict Cohen’s ability to make large trades in many different sectors and markets.

That’s why when an big outside investor like Blackstone gives the signal that it has no plans to redeem its $550 million, its more than just symbolism to Cohen and SAC Capital. For a fund like SAC Capital that operates at nearly 3 times leverage, that $550 million investment is really worth more than $1.5 billion in investible assets.

While you were sleeping (the China ISM number came out)

By Katya Wachtel

For Omega Advisors’ Steve Einhorn, the window of sleep-able hours is narrowing.

“One needs to know whats going on around the world. I turn in around midnight so I can monitor what’s going on in China and Japan,” Einhorn, vice chairman at Leon Cooperman’s $7billion fund, said at the Reuters Global Investment Summit last week.  ”A decade ago, did I and most others focus on what’s going on in China? No. Now we wait for the November manufacturing index for China to come out. The day is longer because of that. I am up around 6 in the morning; I review what has gone on overnight in Asia and in Europe. I spend an hour in front of the machine at home, going through data and news releases” before he’s out the door.

This was undoubtedly the most common refrain when we asked some of Wall Street’s savviest money managers and investors how they begin their day, and with what must-read literature, during the week-long summit.

Talking straight with money managers, policy makers and econ gurus

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

We may not be TV people but there’s something to be said for just sitting down and doing a video interview to discuss the big issues of the day. And that’s just what we did as part of this year’s Reuters Investment Outlook Summit and it’s something we hope to keep doing as  a regular feature going forward into the new year.

In advance of this year’s summit, we did videos with noted short-seller Carson Block, bond guru Dan Fuss, OWS bank leader Cathy O’Neill, FBI heads April Brooks and David Chaves, Avenue Capital’s Marc Lasry, economist Henry Kaufman and Steven Gluckstern of eminent domain fame. The videos were frank discussions and to make them seem more natural we went outside the environs of our Reuters newsroom in NYC and conducted them in places like the  middle of Times Square, an ice ream shop and a park.

But best of all these videos broke some news. For instance, we learned the FBI is now using Twitter as an investigative tool and that Carson Block is thinking about starting a short only hedge fund.

Some Hedge Funds Throwing in Keys as “Landlords”

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

All year the big money has been talking up one of the more intriguing trades to emerge from the housing crisis: buying up foreclosed homes in large scale and rent those out for several years and then unload them when the price is right. But questions about the so-called rent-to-own trade are being raised now that an early mover in the space, hedge fund giant Och-Ziff Capital, is looking to cash in its chips now and is abandoning the idea of operating foreclosed homes as rental properties for years to come.

Now we’re not quite ready to declare the foreclosed home rent-to-own trade is dead as the tireless, prolific financial bloggers at ZeroHedge did in a good riff on our exclusive story on Och-Ziff’s decision. But Daniel Och’s concern that the income to be generated from renting out foreclosed homes may not be as high as originally anticipated bears close scrutiny because it could spell trouble for other hedge funds, private equity firms and smaller money managers counting on rental income to generate an annual 8 pct or greater return on investment.

Way back in March, when we first wrote about all the big money that was racing into the foreclosed home market, we noted that some were concerned that a lot of the newer entrants might not really up to the challenge of managing and renting single-family homes for the long haul. Historically, the business of buying, rehabbing and renting foreclosed homes has been a mom-and-pop endeavor, conducted by people with strong community roots. The skeptics wondered whether institutional players were too blinded by the potential to capture yield and overlooking the challenges that comes with bringing often vacant foreclosed homes up  to code and habitable conditions.

UF Weekend Reads

By Sam Forgione

This week’s Weekend Reads may drive you back to the big news of the week: The Debates.

Just as the candidates’ tone and tenor seemed to drive judgments as to who won and lost, some stories were written about sparring between politicians and bankers, billionaires on whether a bankrupt Mexican company should be let off the hook, the banks and the foreclosed-upon, and the more milder subject of volatility investing. In the case of the Foreign Policy and DealBook links, the attitudes of the parties involved seem more important than their logic. And a winner and a loser probably won’t come to you. At least here, unlike in the voting booths, you can stay undecided.

 

From Foreign Policy:

Mohamed El-Erian writes that politicians and bankers should stop putting each other down and start averting the next crisis.

Hedge funds love affair with leverage still on hiatus, for now

By Katya Wachtel

Last year was a sorry one for the $2 trillion hedge fund industry, when funds lost 5 percent on average. This year managers are doing better, up more than 5 percent for the year, according to the latest tracking data.

But those returns are a far cry from the 16.4 percent rise achieved by the S&P 500 this year, so what will hedge fund managers – who are supposed to be the smartest, savviest market players on the Street – do to juice returns?

For now at least, they’re not levering up in the hunt for yield. Certainly, they’re not ratcheting up portfolios to the levels seen pre-Lehman implosion, when returns were bountiful, and hedge fund managers reported leverage of 3.4, on average.

Hedge funds vs. darts

By Matthew Goldstein

The Wall Street Journal used to run a feature in which some of its staffers would periodically pick stocks by throwing darts against a target. The idea was to see how many times stock picking by pure chance could outperform the picks of a bunch of experts.

The WSJ ended the popular feature several years ago but maybe it’s time from someone to bring it back and this time use darts to try to outperform some of top hedge funds managers. That’s because with the average hedge fund up about 1.2% during the first-half of the year, it would seem an investor on his or her own could do just as well picking stocks blindfolded.

Indeed, with the S&P500 up about 8 percent for the first half, the 3.7% gain for David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital and the 3.9% gain for Dan Loeb’s Third Point don’t look so robust on second glance.

Wall Street gold rush in foreclosed homes heads north

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

The state of Alaska is looking to cash in on the growing demand for renting out foreclosed single-family homes.

A spokeswoman for the $40 billion Alaska Permanent Fund recently approved a $400 million investment with a California-based company that specializes in buying foreclosed homes and renting them out. Laura Achee said the fund is still negotiating the terms of the deal with American Homes 4 Rent LLC.

The Alaska fund, which is managed by a state-owned corporation, is believed to be one of the first public investment arms to sink money into the market for foreclosed homes.

Over dinner in Sin City, Gore and hedge fund honchos talk taxes and Obama

Fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, also known as the “Mooch,” likes to bring big-name politicos to his annual hedge fund convention-cum-carouse, the Skybridge Alternatives Conference, or, as most simply call it: SALT.

Last year, Scaramucci procured former President George W. Bush to be SALT’s keynote speaker. This year, former vice-president Al Gore scored the keynote time-slot.

The enormous and palatial Grand Ballroom at the Bellagio Hotel was packed to the brim for Gore’s appearance, but Gore’s next date with SALT attendees was more exclusive. As was the case with Bush one year earlier, Gore’s talk was followed by a dinner for twenty or so handpicked guests at the Bellagio’s private Tuscany dining room.

UF Weekend Reads

A dreary looking day in the NYC environs today, but that won’t overshadow birthday celebrations and other good news too cheer! A big shout to all UF members today. Oh, and fight for your right to party. Here then is Sam Forgione’s suggested readings.

 

From The New York Times:

A former managing director of Bain Capital has a telling beef with art-history majors.

From AR:

Hedge fund managers are still leaving their safety zones for emerging markets, even as John Paulson is recovering from his Sino-Forest bet, writes Jan Alexander.

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