Unstructured Finance

Hedge fund faithful descend on Boca Raton

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Katya Wachtel

Balmy temperatures and sunny skies greeted hedge fund industry managers, investors and lawyers as they gathered in Boca Raton, Florida, for 2012′s first prominent industry conference.

Despite clear skies overhead, the mood was decidedly grimmer at the GAIM 2012 USA meeting, held at the swanky Boca Raton Resort and Club, as the industry faces dramatic regulatory changes after having ended 2011 on a losing note.

As managers drifted between sessions that promised “unique insights” from top traders about where to make money to how regulation will affect the industry, many quietly shared tales of woe about last year’s losses, when the average fund lost 5 percent. Top investors conceded that times would be tough in the months ahead but that hedge funds are still the way to go for pension funds and others that need to boost investment returns with strong performance.

Prominent managers like Marathon Asset Management’s Bruce Richards and Oak Hill Advisors President Glenn August mingled with investment chiefs for the states of Florida and Wisconsin.

For the first time ever the organizers of this conference had invited media to attend, but then reversed the decision at the last minute saying many of the sessions were closed to the press, which is not uncommon in the historically secretive industry.

When (and where) the 1% talk about 99%

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

The last place you’d think a group of Wall Street financiers and ex-politicians would convene to come up with a master plan for fixing the housing crisis is a luxury lodge overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. But in November, during the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, that’s where 30 rich and powerful people assembled to “do a good thing” for America.

The meeting at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, Calif., aimed to “hammer out a business plan and chart a course through 2012″ for an investment vehicle that intends to buy up troubled mortgages and help out the homeowners all the while making a 20 percent annual return. You can read the details here

The group is led by Phil Angelides, the California politician, land developer and most recently, the chairman of a federal commission who led investigations into why the financial markets collapsed. The Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission was criticized for failing to come up with any real proposals preventing another crisis. Yet it seems to have inspired Angelides (his tenure at the FCIC ended last February) and others to come up with a market-based solution to the housing debacle.

At the intersection of Wall and Main

By Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein

Whether you agree with it or not, the Occupy Wall Street protests that began two months ago in New York have ignited a debate over income inequality and the political clout of the nation’s banks.

Before the protesters began camping out in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, much of the conversation had  focused on the federal government’s debt and not the equally big debt run-up by U.S. consumers in the years before the financial crisis. Now it seems you can’t go a day without reading a story about the vast gulf between rich and poor and the shrinking middle class, or how the housing crisis won’t get fixed until something is done to alleviate the burden for millions of homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages.

Last month a group of graduate journalism students from Columbia University spent some time at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti where they did in-depth interviews with over 200 protesters. (This was before New York City moved to forbid people from sleeping out in the concrete plaza). And the students findings were surprising in that the OWS protesters weren’t just a bunch of unemployed hippies, who all vote Democratic. Rather, they found that the majority of protesters didn’t identify with either political party, 56 percent didn’t have private health insurance and just under 40 percent gave President Obame a grade of C for managing the economy.

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.

Wall Street protesters just want to be heard

Early morning at Occupy Wall Street

Updated Oct. 5

By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan

There’s been a lot of talk that other than rallying against bankers and corporate greed, the message coming from Occupy Wall Street isn’t a clear one. And many of the college students, artists, unemployed, transients who’ve set-up camp in a concrete plaza in  lower Manhattan wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.

In fact, many of the young protesters–mostly in their 20s–seem to embrace the notion that it’s hard to define just what Occupy Wall Street is all about and what it hopes to achieve. For many, sleeping on the streets and staging a “Zombie March,” or getting arrested for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge is enough to bring attention to the fact that too many Americans are still suffering from the financial crisis.

“I’m here because in this recession, the rich have become richer — and it ties in to the bank bailouts,” says Dylan Bozlee, a college student from Hilo, Hawaii, who booked a one-way ticket to New York to join the protest. “Think about it? Wall Street got us into this huge mess, enabled by our government, and we are in the same state of affairs–recession.”

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