Thursday 26th November 2015
NEWS TICKER, November 24th 2015: New research from the Consilium Strategic Land Fund suggests 19% of estate agents and property developers expect it to become ‘much easier’ to obtain planning permission to build residential homes over the next three years. 56% think it will become ‘slightly easier’ and only 6% believe it will become harder to obtain. Given the UK needs to build around 250,000 new homes a year to meet growing demand, 21% of those interviewed think the level of government incentives to encourage residential property building will increase dramatically over the next 10 years, and a further 70% think they will increase ‘slightly’. Given this, 82% of estate agents and property developers expect the number of homes built in 2020 will be higher than in 2014. When looking at the South East, which is the main focus of the Fund, the corresponding figure is 79% - On the basis of a final compliance notice from the institutions, the Eurogroup Working Group (EWG) agreed late on Friday that the Greek authorities have now completed the first set of milestones and the financial sector measures that are essential for a successful recapitalisation process. The agreement paves the way for the formal approval by the ESM Board of Directors today for disbursing the €2bn sub-tranche linked to the first set of milestones. It also makes subsequent case-by-case decisions by the ESM Board of Directors on the transfer to the HFSF of the funds needed for the recapitalisation of the Greek banking sector out of the €10bn earmarked for this purpose - The performance of the UK credit card asset-backed securities (ABS) market remained positive during the three months ended August 2015, according to the latest indices published by Moody's. Total delinquencies decreased slightly to 1.54% of the outstanding balance in August 2015 from 1.64% in May 2015 and 1.82% in August 2014. The charge-off rate also decreased to 2.65% in August 2015 from 2.83% in May 2015 and 2.79% a year earlier. The payment rate decreased to 17.47% in August 2015 from 18.56% in May 2015 and 21.72% in August 2014 - ETF Securities Group has listed 18 new 3x short and leveraged commodity ETPs and six new 5x short and leveraged currency ETPs on the LSE today. 2015 has seen increased volatility across currencies and commodities and investors globally have demonstrated an increased interest in short and leveraged ETPs, with ETF Securities own platform experiencing US$135mn of inflows year to date. ETF Securities was the first provider to list European currency ETPs in 2010 and is now the first provider to list 5x short and leveraged currency ETPs on the London Stock Exchange having already launched 3x short and leveraged commodity and 5x short and leveraged currency products in Italy and Germany earlier this year. “We are listing these new short and leveraged products on the London Stock Exchange in response to a strong demand from investors. We have seen tremendous growth in our short and leveraged platform across Europe over the last few years.” says Townsend Lansing, executive director – head of short / leveraged & fx platforms, ETF Securities (UK) Limited. “2015 has been a year of heightened currency volatility. We believe the additional leverage will first and foremost allow investors to use the currency products to hedge currency risk as well provide additional opportunities to trade on a short term basis with a competitive total cost of ownership.” - GoldenSourcea provider of Enterprise Data Management (EDM) and Master Data Management (MDM) solutions for the securities and investment management industry, says that Cattolica Assicurazioni has selected its Market Data Solution to efficiently deliver robust pricing and accelerate reporting capabilities for Solvency II. GoldenSource will provide Cattolica with a complete solution for constructing and disseminating fully audited data sets which validates and cleanses multiple sources, ensuring accuracy and timeliness in product control and reporting. After a rigorous evaluation process, GoldenSource was selected due to the completeness of the solution, ease of use and its rapid implementation capabilities - Yes Bank, one of several of India’s private banks, recently signed an agreement with the London Stock Exchange (LSE) regarding the listing of green bonds and equity instruments to raise funds for clean energy infrastructure. The bank has announced plans to list green bonds on LSE worth $500m by December 2016. Yes Bank issued the country’s first green bond in February this year in which it raised $150m. A second green bond issue, floated in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), raised almost $50m. The Indian Import-Export Bank also raised $500m through the first dollar-denominated green bonds issued in India, and is also expected to issue more bonds raising up to $1.5bn over the next two to five years – Was last week a turning point? The US Fed has given its clearest sign yet that it might raise rates in December, as it notes that inflation looks to be reappearing. However, with global growth continuing to slow, a rate rise is not without risks. After a torrid start to fall, Australian shares closed at their highest level in about a month as a brightening economic outlook buoyed consumer stocks and countered pressure from falling commodity prices. The S&P/ASX 200 rose 20.3 points, or 0.4%. Elsewhere, it a mixed, but not altogether a depressing picture. The Shanghai Composite Index closed down 0.6%, amid expectations that a four-month moratorium on public listings could lift soon, triggering investors to sell current holdings. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.4%. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7%. Markets in Japan were closed for a holiday. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 14.42 points or 0.49% lower to 2903.49, taking the year-to-date performance to -13.72%. The top active stocks today were DBS, which declined 0.71%, NOL, which gained4.46%, SingTel, which declined1.03%, OCBC Bank, which declined1.23% and UOB, with a 1.25% fall. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index declined 0.13%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index declined 0.45%. Expectations of higher rates strengthened the dollar against most currencies in trading today with the euro falling to a seven-month low at $1.0599, no surprise when you couple the promise of a US rate rise with the ECB holding out for more easing. ECB President Mario Draghi said Friday that the bank stands ready to deploy its full range of stimulus measures to fight low inflation. A stronger dollar also pressured several commodities, which are priced in the currency. Earlier Monday, three-month aluminum prices on the London Metal Exchange fell to their lowest level since May 2009, to $1,438 a metric ton. The price later edged up to $1,441.50. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, was down 1.8% at $43.84 a barrel. Prices of West Texas Intermediate fell 3.1% to $40.62 a barrel, after falling below $40 a barrel last week. Gold prices fell 0.5% at $1,070.60 a troy ounce - The European Council says it has extended the mandate of the European Union Special Representative (EUSR) for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia until 28 February 2017. Herbert Salber was appointed in July last year. EUSRs promote the EU's policies and interests in troubled regions and countries and play an active role in efforts to consolidate peace, stability and the rule of law. The first EUSRs were appointed in 1996. Currently, nine EUSRs support the work the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini - Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) approved 3,118 foreign direct investment projects (except from China) with a total value of $3.689bn in January-October 2015, respectively increasing 6.34% and decreasing 6.77% on year, according to MOEA statistics released on November 20th. In the same period, MOEA approved 378 outward direct investment projects (except in China) proposed by Taiwan-based companies or individuals with a total value of $9.4bn, respectively dropping 5.74% and growing 40.42% on year. Also in January-October, MOEA approved 135 investment projects proposed by China-based enterprises with a total value of $134.27m. On the other hand, there were 276 approved projects of direct investment in China proposed by Taiwan-based companies or individuals with a total amount of $8.723bn, slipping 17.61% and rising 11.43% respectively on year. Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) approved 3,118 foreign direct investment projects (except from China) with a total value of $3.689bn in January-October 2015, respectively increasing 6.34% and decreasing 6.77% on year.

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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.
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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