Tuesday 27th January 2015
NEWS TICKER, JANUARY 27TH: BNP Paribas’ 4th Quarter 2014 Results will be available on Thursday February 5th from 6:00 am (London time) on the bank’s website. A live webcast in English with synchronised slides of the analysts presentation hosted by Jean-Laurent Bonnafé (CEO) will be available on the website starting at 1:30 pm (GMT). - Kurdish forces say they have expelled the Islamic State fighters from the Syrian town of Kobani, near the Turkish border. However, this is the now the fourth time in as many months that this news has been disseminated - - Deutsche Börse will announce its preliminary results for the 2014 operating year on February 19th - S&P has lowered the Russian credit rating to junk with negative outlook as the sliding oil prices and tensions in Ukraine now look to be a serious threat to the country’s financial and political stability, says SwissQuote. The FX analytics firm notes that the USD/RUB is testing 70 offers. “Should the sell-off gains momentum above 70, we expect the CBR to intervene to temper the ruble depreciation. The CBR meets on January 30th and is expected to keep the bank rate unchanged at 17%. Given the selling pressures on the ruble, we do not expect any cut yet. Russia’s forex reserves eases toward 2009 lows, $379.4bn as of January 16th. With the free-floating RUB, the FX reserves will certainly keep fading, therefore should bring the CBR to find alternative ways to intervene to slowdown the debasing”. - Latvia’s prime minister’s office, has issued a statement about events in the Ukraine. "We express our concern about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. We condemn the killing of civilians during the indiscriminate shelling of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on 24 January 2015. We note evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia's responsibility. We urge Russia to condemn the separatists' actions and to implement the Minsk agreements. We recall the European Council conclusions of 18 December 2014, where we said that "the EU will stay the course" and that we are "ready to take further steps if necessary." In view of the worsening situation the office asks “the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council to assess the situation and to consider any appropriate action, in particular on further restrictive measures, aiming at a swift and comprehensive implementation of Minsk agreements,” says the statement. Latvia has assumed the presidency of the EU for the six months to June. - Data from the IMF suggests that The Netherlands has raised its gold holdings, having bought 9.61 tonnes in December last year. Russia too continues to build its gold reserves and has increased stock for the ninth consecutive month, buying 20.73 tonnes last month. The purchases by the Dutch central bank follows its move in November to repatriate more than 120 tonnes of gold from vaults in the United States - UK GDP looks to be weaker than expected but remains good news for investors. “The first estimates of the Q4 GDP numbers came in slightly below expectations at 0.5% and markedly slower than the previous three quarters of 2014. The primary driver of the reduced growth rate was the construction sector, which saw output fall by 1.8%. However, the slowdown was not enough to prevent the fastest full year growth rate of 2.7% since the financial crisis,” says Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre. “Despite numbers being slightly weaker than expected, we believe the UK economy remains relatively robust. After a fantastic few years in the construction sector it is quite natural to see a return to normal markets conditions. The services element of the UK economy remains healthy and the full benefits of the plunge in the price of oil are still to come. Low inflation will hold back interest rate rises and we therefore believe that for investors the equity market remains the asset class of choice.” - Societe Generale Securities Services (SGSS) has launched a new website, Sharinbox, for corporations and their registered shareholders and employees who benefit from free share plans, stock options plans and other incentive schemes. Operational since December 13th last year, the website, www.sharinbox.societegenerale.com, provides users with direct, multilingual access to an online resource with information regarding their share and employee ownership plans in order to manage their personal data and transactions – According to Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, “Given the headwinds being felt by major oil companies around the world, the share price performance since the beginning of last year, while uninspiring, has still out performed the oil price which given the macro economic back drop is all the more surprising … We’ve already seen the effects that the slump in the oil price is having on the oilfield service providers in the US, with both Baker Hughes and Halliburton announcing job losses as the companies see rig counts drop, and margins decline. We’ve also seen WBH Energy, a Texas based shale producer file for bankruptcy. Despite all these concerns the shares have outperformed, though that probably has more to do with the buyback program the company has been doing than anything to do with outperformance relative to its peers. The company has been buying back shares on a fairly steady basis over the past 12 months and this undoubtedly will have accounted for the relative outperformance”.The FSCS has started paying compensation in respect of 13 firms, including seven investment advice firms and three life and pension advice firms that have gone into default. The financial advice firms which have entered default, according to the scheme are: Barry Norris & Associates, Premier Financial Advice, The Financial Consultancy (UK), True Financial Management (formerly HNL Financial Services), Unleash Advice Partnership, and AJ Buckley Financial Management formerly AJ Buckley Overseas, City Insurance Consultants. Last week, the FSCS published its plan and budget for the coming year, which revealed investment advisers would be paying £125m towards the FSCS annual levy for 2015/16. Life and pension intermediaries are paying a £57m levy, an increase of £24m compared to the £33m the FSCS levied against the funding sub-class for 2014/15. Since it was set up in 2001, the FSCS has paid out more than£975 million in compensation to customers of defaulted advice firms. In November 2014, the FSCS said it had dealt with the default of 2,391 independent advice firms since it was set up. - Retail Sales in the United Kingdom unexpectedly increased in December, as the drop in oil prices boosted the country’s spending power. The increase came from a 5.2% gain in computers, telecoms, toys, and sporting goods sales, while food sales alone contributed 1.3%. There was a decline in sales of some items, such as clothing and household goods, reflecting a boost from Black Friday discounts the previous month - The Source Goldman Sachs Equity Factor Index Europe UCITS ETF has been launched, the second Source ETF to be launched that provides access to Goldman Sachs’ multi-factor indices. “Smart beta funds have proven successful in certain markets, providing investors with the potential to generate better returns than the more common market-cap weighted benchmarks, particularly on a risk-adjusted basis,” says Michael John Lytle, chief development officer at Source. “The Goldman Sachs series of factor-based indices offer exposure to multiple factors, rather than just the one or two that are applied to many other funds on the market.” – Mixed news from the US over the weekend. Housing starts in the US surged, as builders broke ground in December on the most houses in almost seven years. Work began on 728,000 houses at an annual rate, a 7.2% increase from November and the most since March 2008. On the other hand, building permits, a representation for future construction declined 1.9% in December to a 1.03m pace, however more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, signaling that the holiday employment turnover is taking its toll on the jobs market. Jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 307,000 in the week ending January 17th down from a revised rate of 317,000 in the prior week, a Labor department report shows. Applications for jobless benefits were expected to decline to 300,000, according to market surveys by economists - German ZEW Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim said its index of investor and analyst expectations, which aims to predict economic developments six months in advance, climbed for a third consecutive month in January to 48.4 from 34.9 in December. Economists forecast an increase to 40, according to the median of 37 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The sentiment index jumped to the highest level in 11 months - Singapore Exchange is partnering Clearbridge Accelerator to address financing gaps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs face by providing the investing community with greater transparency. SGX said on Monday (Jan 26) it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CBA, a Singapore venture capital and incubation firm specialising in early-stage investments. Under the agreement, both parties will form a joint-venture (JV) company to develop the fund-raising platform, which aims to address financing gaps SMEs and entrepreneurs face by providing the investing community with greater transparency. The JV will identify and form a strategic equity partnership with an experienced platform operator and industry stakeholders such as financial institutions to operate the new capital-raising platform. It will also identify other partners and collaborators to create demand among investors for the offerings on the platform, according to the press release. The move to help smaller firms raise funding marks the entry of SGX into a new business area. Besides operating the stock market, which caters to the equity needs of more to established firms, SGX also offers a platform for bonds as well as derivatives and commodities. Enterprise development agency SPRING Singapore will play a supporting role in the formation of the JV, as part of its ongoing efforts to make the financing environment more conducive to SMEs and entrepreneurs, the statement added. - Hedge funds swung to betting on price falls in cotton, soybeans and wheat, amid ideas of easier supplies, as they cut bullish positioning in agricultural commodities to the weakest in three months Managed money, a proxy for speculators, cut its net long position in futures and options in the top 13 US-traded agricultural commodities, from coffee to cattle, by more than 43,000 contracts in the week to last Tuesday, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulator - Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, today announced that the Viagogo Group, which operates www.viagogo.com, the ticket marketplace, intends to double its workforce in Ireland over the next three years, taking it from 100 to over 200 employees. The jobs are supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through IDA Ireland -

After the Deluge

Saturday, 01 January 2005
After the Deluge In late October the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted three to two in favour of hedge fund registration. SEC chairman William Donaldson had pushed hard for registration, arguing that as less well to do investors increasingly put their money into hedge funds, not enough is known about them. Even so, money has continued to flood into hedge funds during 2004, sometimes from surprising sources. By some estimates, industry assets now exceed $1trn. Neil O’Hara assesses the impact of tighter regulation and the general outlook for an industry that has promised much and yet this year, at least, has delivered only a lacklustre performance. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/
In late October the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted three to two in favour of hedge fund registration. SEC chairman William Donaldson had pushed hard for registration, arguing that as less well to do investors increasingly put their money into hedge funds, not enough is known about them. Even so, money has continued to flood into hedge funds during 2004, sometimes from surprising sources. By some estimates, industry assets now exceed $1trn. Neil O’Hara assesses the impact of tighter regulation and the general outlook for an industry that has promised much and yet this year, at least, has delivered only a lacklustre performance.
The number of hedge fund start-ups continues to grow dramatically,” says James Hedges, founder, president and chief investment officer of LJH Global Investments, an advisory firm that helps clients select and invest in hedge funds, “The demand for hedge funds is unabated, the number of hedge fund managers bringing in substantial assets is unbelievable.” Hedges notes that investors are gravitating to “mega-funds” that manage $500m or more. “It is creating a very bar-belled industry. Some 90% of the industry’s assets are clustered around 10% of the number of funds out there, and the remaining 90% of funds hold 10%,” he says.  As a consequence smaller players face immense pressure to escape the competitive disadvantage of subscale operations.

Funds of hedge funds account for an increasing proportion of new money flows. “I estimate that 80% of funds coming into hedge funds go through funds of funds today, up from 50% two years ago,” says Hedges, “They are the conduit of choice because they have the capability to do professional due diligence and ongoing monitoring. You get diversification across strategy, across managers, you get risk mitigation. You make it somebody else’s problem.”



Even so, outsourcing of fiduciary responsibilities comes at a steep price. “The funds of funds business is going to be plagued by its mediocrity,” he says, “Most of them have terrible performance. It is all going to get out there at some point. It is two or three years out.”

“A typical fund of funds, if it is trying to hedge its bets all over the place and be totally diversified, becomes closer to an index fund,” expands Michael Tannenbaum, president of the Hedge Fund Association in New York. “The value added by the manager in picking the sub-funds diminishes.”

Funds of funds levy management fees up to 1% and performance fees up to 10% on top of the underlying funds’ 1%-1.5% management fees and 20% performance fees. “Some of the funds of funds are reasonable, some aren’t,” he says, “A number don’t charge performance fees, or charge performance fees that are very modest, or that are modest and in excess of a benchmark.”

As assets under management balloon, spreads have shrivelled for some popular strategies, such as merger and convertible arbitrage. Although merger activity has picked up, total transaction volume remains far short of the peak reached in 2000. Convertible bond issuance has not kept pace with hedge funds’ asset growth, either. “The market becomes more efficient as the amount of money and the number of players increases,” notes Tannenbaum.

The search for higher returns is leading hedge funds into commodities, exotic securities and even private equity, which increases the risk. “Illiquid investments are inconsistent with a strict hedge fund model,”  Tannenbaum explains.  “Hedge funds typically are open-ended products.  Private equity or venture capital investments are illiquid.  As a result there are valuation problems.” Hedge funds segregate private equity deals into “side pockets” that lock in participating investors until the underlying investment liquefies, fixing the value.

Government agencies in Washington are split over the merits of hedge funds. The Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States (US), more commonly known as the Fed, and the Treasury Department relish the liquidity they provide. On the other side, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) looks at them askance. “I sat down with Alan Greenspan and with (Treasury) Secretary Snow and his staff, and they are just so delighted that hedge funds are there in the illiquid markets,” says John Gaines, president of the Managed Funds Association (MFA), “Then you go to the SEC and they say we have valuation problems. It is like you have crossed a border.”

Valuation difficulties extend to over-the-counter swaps, derivatives and other securities for which no ready market exists. “There is no such thing as an independent valuation service,” scoffs Hedges at LJH, who believes the lack of valuation standards is the biggest threat to the hedge fund industry, “The administrators cannot do it; they do not understand the instruments.” In the absence of a market price, managers follow procedures described in their partnership agreements – which they drafted. “It is quite arbitrary,” he says, “Hedge fund managers are the ones that decide or define valuation – not a market maker, not a broker dealer, not an auditor, not an administrator.”

In its 2003 report Sound Practices for Hedge Fund Managers, the MFA recommends a fair value approach but recognises the limitations for illiquid securities. “The value of that money going into our capital market outweighs the difficulties that are associated with valuation,” says Gaines, “That’s not to say there’s a simple answer to valuation, but it is one of full disclosure and consent by the investor.”

Fraud based on bad valuations contributed to the SEC’s decision to force most US hedge fund advisers to register by February 1, 2006. The agency ignored intensive lobbying by the MFA, the US Chamber of Commerce (USCC) and others opposed to regulation. The rule captures advisers who manage more than $30m and have more than 14 US investors in funds with a lock-up period less than two years. Longer lock-ups let private equity and venture capital funds off the hook.

Tannenbaum worries the incremental cost may deter some younger players, who might otherwise bring new ideas and energy to the industry. He also fears registration is the thin end of a regulatory wedge. “I refer to it as the slippery slope problem,” he says, “Okay, we will file the form and we will adopt the rules, but where does that lead to?”

The SEC acknowledges it must “recognise the important role that hedge funds play in our markets” and denies any intent to dictate hedge fund strategies. Its assertions convince no one. “Of course there is more to come,” says LJH's Hedges. “It is unfortunate the US is starting to increase regulation at a time when the rest of the world is starting to liberalise their regulatory regime.” He believes the new rule is wasteful and misconceived. “I don’t believe It is going to protect the retail investor. I don’t believe it is going to protect any investors.”

Tannenbaum suggests that foreign hedge fund managers, many of whom already face regulation in their home country, may be reluctant to submit to multiple jurisdictions. “Maybe there should be some reciprocity,” he says, “I fully understand that there’s no reason the SEC should give a person registered with the Financial Services Authority in London a pass. They could sort that out.”

Foreign managers may prefer to evict enough US investors to escape the threshold rather than submit to SEC scrutiny. “I think some funds will jettison that number of US investors to get under 15 so that they can avoid duplicative and perhaps inconsistent regulation,” says Gaines. Sophisticated investors will have fewer choices if foreign managers forsake the US market.

The USCC believes the SEC lacks authority to impose the new rules and has threatened to file suit. In 1985, the SEC defined a “client” under the Investment Advisers Act to include a limited partnership but not individual limited partners because they do not receive independent advice. A letter commenting on the SEC's proposals from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP argued that legislative history back to 1940 supports this approach.

When Congress amended the Act in 1970, it altered the registration requirement but not the way advisers count clients. “If Congress has met, tinkered with the statute, made changes, and not seen fit to change or override an interpretation, there’s a presumption that the interpretation is correct and has the approval of Congress. Therefore, to change that interpretation requires an Act of Congress,” Tannenbaum explains, “That is the argument. I do not know if it has legs.”

Although the MFA has fought hard against registration, it has no plans to challenge the rule. “That is history. We lost and we are going forward,” Gaines says, “We look forward to working with the SEC. If they need to develop information and knowledge about the hedge fund industry, we are in a unique position to provide it to them.”

Gains points out that registration brings other rules into play. Registered advisers must adopt a written code of ethics and appoint a chief compliance officer. “It is not just putting a postage stamp on a form and sending it in,” he says.

The SEC argues the rule does not impose a significant burden because many hedge fund advisers have already registered. Mindful of their fiduciary responsibilities, most institutions allocate money only to registered hedge fund advisers. “Quite apart from the Commission’s actions, any major player in this business, or any wannabe (sic), would have had to register anyway,”  Tannenbaum says, “I think the industry needs to be realistic about that.”

As more pension plans invest in hedge funds, the pressure to register increases. Any fund that has more than 25% of its assets from the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans, which covers a wide range of employee benefit plans, becomes subject to the “plan asset” rule.

“The application of the plan asset rule is inconsistent with operating a hedge fund,” Tannenbaum says, “It interferes with performance fees, interferes with soft dollar arrangements.” A hedge fund manager can avoid the plan asset rule by becoming a Qualified Professional Asset Manager if it meets three tests, including $750,000 net worth in the management company and at least $50m under management. “Guess what the third is?” asks Tannenbaum rhetorically. “You have to be registered as an investment adviser.”

Hedges distinguishes SEC registration (that he vehemently opposes) from the Treasury’s proposed anti-money laundering rules for investment advisers. “Regulation that protects our national interest so that unregulated vehicles don’t become conduits for people who gained their capital illegally, or use it illegally, that’s a different deal,” he says.

MFA members share that view, according to Gaines, because anti-money laundering has a demonstrable benefit. Hedge funds have no desire to shelter money derived from criminal enterprises, political corruption or terrorists. “I didn’t have one member object to what the Treasury proposes to do,” he says, “In fact, they were extremely supportive with their talent and their money and their time to develop guidance to Treasury to get it right.”

Tannenbaum hopes the Treasury Department issues final money-laundering rules soon. “The worst thing about rules is not knowing what they are,” he says, “You might have people doing it one way, and then all of a sudden you have another evolutionary scheme out there, and as time goes by they continue to diverge.” He describes the final rules as “regulatory vapourware”. The Treasury published the proposed rules in April 2003. Hedge fund managers won’t have to wait for new rules governing deferred compensation to take effect. Many US-based offshore fund managers defer their share of the performance allocation, which allows them to avoid paying tax until a later date. They did not change the creditor relationship; they just made it harder for the creditors,” Tannenbaum explains, “Offshore rabbi trusts are outlawed by the new rule.”

Offshore rabbi trusts are trusts set up in foreign jurisdictions to fund non-qualified deferred compensation programme. Generally speaking a rabbi trust is nothing more than a promise to pay compensation at a later date.  Rabbi trusts have commonly been used as top-hat deferred compensation plans for high ranking executives. Under these plans a beneficiary can put stocks, insurance policies or other assets in trust.  As a result, a number of hedge fund managers have used offshore rabbi trusts as a means to defer income from current taxation. US regulators have been concerned however that offshore rabbi trusts are set aside often out of reach of a corporation’s creditors – which actually defeats the original purpose of the US Inland Revenue Service allowing them in the first place. Under recent legislation, managers can still defer compensation, but must accept tighter restrictions as well as greater exposure to credit risk – although few managers will have to worry about large deferrals in 2004.

For 2005, the MFA has its work cut out to prepare members for registration. “It is education, seminars, compliance guidance; all kinds of things go into the implications of that rule. It is huge,” says Gaines.

Will performance rebound? Perhaps – but the deluge of money may make it harder for managers to deliver excess returns.

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