Risk Rap

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Hedge Funds Navigating Industry Sea Change

This years Schulte Roth Zabel’s (SRZ) 19th Annual Private Investment Funds Seminar stuck a very different pose from last years event. One year on from the global meltdown of financial markets, languishing institutional certainty and the pervading crisis of industry confidence has been replaced with a cautious optimism. The bold swagger of the industry however is gone, in its place a more certain sense of direction and expectation is emerging. Though managers continue to labor under unachievable high water marks due to the 2008 market devastation, 2009 marked a year of exceptional performance. Investment portfolios rebounded in line with the upturn in the equity and bond markets. Liquidity improved and net inflows into the industry has turned positive during the last quarter as large institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds returned to the sector with generous allocations. These are taken as clear signs that the industry has stabilized and the path to recovery and the healing of economic and psychological wounds are underway. Yes the industry will survive and ultimately thrive again but it will do so under vastly different conditions. The new business landscape will require an industry with a guarded culture of opaqueness to provide much greater transparency while operating under a regimen of greater regulatory scrutiny.

The 1,900 registered attendees heard a message about an industry at a cross road still coming to terms with the market cataclysm brought on by unfettered, unregulated markets and excessive risk taking. SRZ offered an honest assessment in examining the industries role in the market turmoil. Speakers alerted attendees to an industry at a tipping point. To survive the industry must adapt to a converging world that believes that uniform market rules and regulations are the surest safeguards against catastrophic systemic risk events. A global political consensus is emerging that expresses support for industry regulation as an effective tool to mitigate the pervasiveness of fraud and market manipulation that undermines investor confidence and ultimately the functioning of a fair and efficient open free market.

Paul Roth, Founding Partner of SRZ, noted in the events opening remarks that the market is beginning to recover as evidenced by industry AUM once again exceeding the $2 trillion mark; but he warned that any exuberance needs to be tempered with the understanding that the new normal would not resemble the pre-crash world. The days of cowboy capitalism and radical laissez-faire investing are clearly over. Indeed Mr. Roth wryly observed “the industry must develop a maturity about the need for change. He concluded “that the industry must respond by playing a constructive role in forming that change.”

The conference subject matter, speakers and materials were all top shelf. Break out presentations on risk management, regulatory compliance, distressed debt deal structuring, tax strategies and compensation issues all reinforced the overriding theme of an industry in flux. The presenters passionately advocated the need to intentionally engage the issues to confront accelerated changes in market conditions. By doing so, fund complexes will be in a position to better manage the profound impact these changes will have on their business and operating culture. Subject issues like insider trading, tax efficient structuring, hedge fund registration, preparing for SEC examinations and the thrust of DOJ litigation initiatives and how to respond to subpoenas were some of the topics explored.

To highlight the emerging regulatory environment confronting the industry, a presenter pointed to the Southerization of the SEC. This is an allusion to the hiring of former criminal prosecutors from the Department of Justice, Southern District of New York to go after wayward fund managers. The SEC is ramping up its organizational capability to effectively prosecute any violations of the new regulatory codes. The growing specter of criminal prosecutions and the growing web of indictments concerning the high profile case of Mr. Raj Rajaratnam of the Galleon Group was presented as evidence of an emerging aggressive enforcement posture being pursued by regulators. Managers beware!

Presenters made some excellent points about how institutional investors are demanding greater levels of TLC from their hedge fund managers. This TLC stands for transparency, liquidity and control. Creating an operational infrastructure and business culture that can accommodate these demands by institutional investors will strengthen the fund complex and help it to attract capital during the difficult market cycle.

The evening concluded with an interesting and honest conversation between Paul Roth and Thomas Steyer, the Senior Managing Partner of Farallon Capital Management. The conversation included increased regulatory oversight, compensation issues, industry direction and matching investor liquidity with fund strategy, capacity, structure and scale. Mr. Steyer manages a multi-strategy fund complex with $20 billion AUM, his insights are borne from a rich industry experience. He made the startling admission that Farallon has been a registered hedge fund for many years and he believes that the regulatory oversight and preparation for examiners reviews helped his fund management company to develop operational discipline informed by sound practices.

Mr. Steyer also spoke about scale and that additional regulatory oversight will add expense to the cost of doing business. Mr. Steyer believes that it will become increasingly difficult for smaller hedge funds to operate and compete under these market conditions.

Another interesting topic Mr. Steyer addressed were issues surrounding investor redemption and fund liquidity. During last years SRZ conference investor liquidity was the hot topic. Fund preservation during a period of market illiquidity and a fair and orderly liquidation of an investment partnership were major themes that ran through last years presentations. Mr. Steyer struck a more conciliatory tone of investor accommodation. He confessed his dislike for the use of “gates” as a way to control the exit of capital from a fund. In its place he offered a new fund structure he referred to as a “strip” to allocate portfolio positions to redeeming partners in proportion to the overall funds liquid and illiquid positions. He stated he believed that strategy to be more investor friendly.

Schulte Roth & Zabel has once again demonstrated its market leadership and foresight to an industry clearly in flux, confronting multiple challenges. These challenges will force fund managers to transform their operating culture in response to the sweeping demands of global market pressures, political impetus for regulatory reform and the heightened expectations of increasingly sophisticated investors. The industry could not have a more capable hand at the helm to help it navigate through the jagged rocks and shifting shoals endemic to the alternative investment management marketplace.

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Risk: industry, market, regulatory, political

January 16, 2010 Posted by | commerce, compliance, corruption, hedge funds, investments, legal, off shore, private equity, regulatory, reputational risk, risk management, SEC, sovereign wealth funds | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SRZ’s Maginot Line

maginot_line_19441Schulte Roth Zabel’s (SRZ) Annual Private Investment Funds Seminar is the kick off event of the year for the AIM industry. In years past it was an event that was full of bravado from an industry flush with great expectations and giddiness over compensation levels that rivaled a small country’s GDP. This years event had more circumspection then bluster and more reflection on how to fashion a considered response to industry challenges squarely in the vortex of the market meltdown.

The shocking transformation and radical reconfiguration of the capital markets industry is underway. In the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, Bear Stearns merger, market crashes, credit crisis, bank insolvency, recession and lastly the coup de grace of the Madoff scandal put these intrepid wealth managers through a trying year.

Myriad challenges and crises tested many firms management acumen and forced managers to work extra hard to earn that 2 and 20.  With hedge fund closure rates expected to approximate 25%-45% this year, the industry is confronted with enormous challenges. The excess capacity in the industry, heightened regulatory oversight, liquidity constraints and elevated client risk aversion will foster market compression and a dramatic alteration in market dynamics. The well managed, well positioned, well focused and well capitalized funds will thrive on the volatility. Uncertainty is always the mother of invention and the best and brightest of the breed will no doubt find numerous opportunities amidst the massive market dislocations currently underway.

SRZ a leading legal firm servicing the industry effectively laid out an industry battle plan to address many of these acute challenges. In the Crisis Management breakout session the panel offered an interesting metaphor of a hedge fund as an intricate and complex ecosystem. The topology of a fund complex is comprised of many parts that at times may have contradictory and competing interests.

The Crisis Management session conducted a quarterly review of market events that occurred in 2008 as the capital markets deteriorated and the credit crisis deepened. The panels review was an instructive exercise on how managers need to constructively engage problems with an intentional risk management program and how it affects each stakeholder in the hedge fund ecosystem. The principle objective was determining the best course of action to either save the fund or effect an orderly liquidation of the investment partnership. In all instances the strategy needed to consider how to serve the greatest good for all fund stakeholders. SRZ offered attendees a brilliant crisis management game plan for fund managers. It was one of the better presentations on risk management that I have ever attended.

The general session was also very interesting and engaging. The central theme was that hedge funds are under extreme liquidity pressure. The drivers are distressed portfolio valuations, counter-party deleveraging, risk aversion in the markets, market liquidity and increased redemption pressures from investors. SRZ has developed a series of innovative redemption strategies it calls gates. The gates are designed to protect the level of assets under management by controlling an orderly outflow of capital so as not to endanger the overall liquidity and asset level of the fund. SRZ again shows why it is the leading player in the space by offering innovative solutions to industry needs. A great example of a market leader demonstrating leadership by offering innovative product development solutions.

The overall tenor of the conference reminded me of the construction of the Maginot Line. In years past investors were eagerly throwing money at hedge fund mangers to get a slice of the alpha pie. Today hedge fund managers need to build sophisticated battlements to keep the assets of the investment partnership under their control. In a sense the industry as moved from an offensive posture to a defensive one. SRZ is assisting its hedge fund clients to create a defensible business structure that will protect the long term sustainability of the fund and ultimately serve the greatest good of the funds partners and stakeholders.

During these times of extreme market duress tactics and strategies must be employed to protect the fund from excessive redemption runs that would ultimately serve to create a self fulfilling prophesy of liquidation.

Clients who have access to a war council of professionals like SRZ should be well suited to engage the battles they will encounter in the coming year and survive to enjoy the peace and spoils won during the next business cycle.

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Risk: market, credit, legal, reputation

January 15, 2009 Posted by | hedge funds, legal, Madoff, risk management | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment