Unstructured Finance

Hedge funds against Obama

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Class warfare has been the topic du jour this year and is likely to be a major theme of the 2012 election. In a speech two weeks ago, President Barack Obama blasted his Republican foes and Wall Street as he portrayed himself as a champion of the middle class.

In a speech meant to echo a historic address given by former President Theodore Roosevelt in the same Kansas town more than 100 years ago, Obama railed against “gaping” economic inequality and pressed the case for policies he insisted would help ordinary Americans get through hard times.

Not surprisingly, some hedge fund managers were none too pleased.

In fact, hedge-fund industry titan Leon Cooperman “front-ran” Obama’s populist speech by widely circulating an “open letter” to Obama, arguing that “the divisive, polarizing tone of your rhetoric is cleaving a widening gulf, at this point as much visceral as philosophical, between the downtrodden and those best positioned to help them.”

The Omega Advisors founder went on to say, “To frame the debate as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment.”

Cooperman is not alone in his positing Obama as an enemy of Wall Street’s elite. Other hedge fund managers who have either publicly criticized Obama or raising money to defeat him include John Paulson, Dan Loeb, Cliff Asness and Paul Singer. Many hedge fund managers are lining-up to raise money for Mitt Romney, who made his fortune working at private equity firm Bain Capital.

The confession season

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

The year is not yet over and already the confessions are starting to roll in from some of the biggest U.S. money managers.

Bill Gross, manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, sent out a “mea culpa” letter late Friday to his many mom-and-pop investors, saying he’s sorry for putting up such bad numbers this year. Mea culpas from Pimco’s guiding light and the self-styled “bond king” are rare, largely because his Total Return Fund has long been one of the industry’s top performers.

But this year has been a tough one for Gross, who guessed wrong by betting heavily against U.S. Treasuries, which have turned out to be one of the biggest out-performers of 2011. The fixed income guru, who helps manage more than $1.2 trillion at Pimco, wasn’t farsighted enough to foresee a flight to Treasuries prompted by events like the European debt crisis, the battle over the U.S. debt ceiling and the general anemic state of the global economy.

Welcome to Paulson-mart

By Matthew Goldstein

It’s been an ugly summer for hedge fund king John Paulson with two of his biggest funds down more than 25 percent. But what makes that poor performance all the more painful is how widespread it is being felt by wealthy individual investors around the globe.

Paulson’s flagship Advantage funds would appear to be exclusive terrain with a $10 million investment requirement. But that hefty entrance fee is something of a veneer because many of Paulson’s investors have gained entrance to his kingdom by plunking down as little as $100,000. That’s because Paulson’s Advantage funds are some of the most widely sold hedge fund portfolios on distribution platforms maintained by Wall Street firms, European banks and small investment advisory firms around the globe.

Paulson has built a powerful internal marketing force to make sure there is a steady stream of money from wealthy individual investors trying to get into his funds. This was one of the more surprising things my colleagues Jennifer Ablan, Svea Herbst-Bayliss and I found when we began taking a close look at Paulson’s problems this year.

John Paulson’s lost advantage

By Matthew Goldstein

Hedge fund titan John Paulson has a shrinkage problem.

The billionaire manager’s flagship Paulson Advantage funds are quickly losing altitude after peaking with $19.1 billion in assets under management in March. As of the other day, the combined AUM of the Paulson Advantage and Advantage Plus funds had fallen to $15.7 billion, according to investor sources.

The Advantage funds account for roughly 44 percent of the $35. 2 billon in assets under management at Paulson. The two so-called event driven funds  long have been the manager’s largest.

And the July performance numbers for the Advantage funds should be ugly. A source tells us the Advantage Plus fund, which is a leveraged version of the plain vanilla flagship fund, was down 4.63 percent in July. With that decline, the Advantage Plus fund is down a little over 21.6 percent for the year. The plain vanilla Advantage fund is believed to be down around 15 percent for the year.

Hedge fund leaders duck for cover

By Matthew Goldstein

Top hedge fund managers are great at enriching themselves through savvy trades that presumably come from a keen insight into the markets and economic trends. But all too often these titans of Wall Street come up small when asked for their opinions on the pressing economic questions of the day.

That’s what happened when three Reuters reporters recently asked 30 of the top U.S. hedge fund managers to respond to a quick email survey about the political morass in Washington and the potential for a double dip recession. Less than a handful of  managers offered any thoughts on the subject. The overwhelming majority either didn’t respond, or had a representative reply that the manager was either too busy to comment, or didn’t want to participate.

I’m not going to embarrass any one by calling them out for not responding but it’s hard to fathom how some of the wealthiest people on the planet couldn’t find the time to have someone on their staff take 5 to 10 minutes out to respond to a three question survey. (We were trying to make it real easy to get some responses).

Dan Loeb looks to the east

By Matthew Goldstein

Is hedge fund manager Dan Loeb considering planting his Third Point flag somewhere in Asia?

A person close to the New York-based fund says Loeb has no plans to open an outpost in Asia. But investors familiar with Third Point are fueling speculation that Loeb may be considering doing that at some future time.

The speculation about Loeb’s interest in Asia may be the result of a two-week tour Loeb took of China and Hong Kong earlier this spring. The visit was part vacation/part educational for Loeb.

The ties that bind Dan Loeb and Jim Chanos

By Matthew Goldstein

Dan Loeb and Jim Chanos may not be the best of friends, but a five-year-old stock manipulation lawsuit filed by a Canadian insurer has revealed a one-time alliance of sorts between the hedge fund managers.

It appears Loeb followed Chanos’ lead in shorting–or betting against–shares of Fairfax Financial in 2002 after exchanging a series of emails about the Canadian insurer that summer.

Litigation papers in the lawsuit reveal that Chanos initiated the email exchange with Loeb, asking the Third Point hedge fund manager if he was shorting shares of Fairfax. Loeb responded to Chanos’ email by asking whether he should be. Chanos wrote back that in his opinion Fairfax’s  shares were “going to zero.”

No comfort for hedgies

By Matthew Goldstein

The news that federal investigators had been gathering evidence of potentially improper trading against one of the founders of Loch Capital Management since early 2009 should make some hedge fund managers nervous–especially ones whose funds were big users of expert network firms like Primary Global Research.

Ever since the FBI raided three hedge funds last November, people in the hedge industry have been grumbling that the high-profile raids–which ultimately forced Loch and Level Global Investors to shut down–may have been an indication that U.S. authorities rushed to judgment. That’s especially since no one at Loch, Level Global or Diamondback Capital has been charged with any improper trading based on stock tips gleaned from a consultant with an expert network firm.

As I reported, a court filing shows that some 18 months before the FBI raided Loch, Diamondback and Level Global, authorities already had some evidence from an informant that Loch co-founder Todd McSweeney may have gotten “inside information” from  Primary Global information. So far, neither McSweeney nor his twin brother Tim, the fund’s other co-founder, has been charged with any wrongdoing.

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