Opal Conference: Hedge Fund Heaven and Regulatory Rules
The recent Alternative Investment Summit held December 5-7 at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California provided a little bit of everything for attendees – including a slice of hedge fund heaven and a less appetizing dollop of regulatory rules. If you are going to work hard, why not do it in an unrivaled, picturesque setting along the sandy shores of Dana Point? The well-attended conference, which was hosted by Opal Financial Group, was designed to address the interests of a broad set of constituents in the alternative investment food-chain, including representatives of hedge funds, fund of funds, endowments, consulting firms, private equity firms, venture capital firms, commodity trading advisors (CTAs), law firms, family offices, pension funds, along with various other vendors and service providers.
Although the topics and panel experts covered diverse areas, I found some interesting common themes emanating from the conference:
1) Waterboard Your Manager: In the wake of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and the recent sweeping insider trading investigations, institutional investors are having recurring nightmares. Consultants and other service-based intermediaries are feeling the heat in a fever-pitched litigation environment that is driving defensive behavior to avoid “headline risk” at any cost. As a result, institutional investors and fund of funds are demanding increased transparency and immediate liquidity in addition to conducting deeper, more thorough due diligence. One consultant jokingly said they will “waterboard” managers to obtain information, if necessary. In the hedge fund world, this risk averse stance is leading to a concentrated migration of funds to large established funds – even if those actions may potentially compromise return opportunities. In response to a question about insider trading investigations as they relate to client fund withdrawals, one nervous panel member advised clients to “shoot first, and ask questions later.”
2) Lurking Mountain of Maturity: Default rates in the overall bond markets have been fairly tame in the 2.0 – 2.5% range, however a mountain of previously issued debt is expected to mature over the next few years, meaning many of those corporate issuers will need to refinance the existing debt and issues longer term debt. For the most part, capital markets have been accommodating a large percentage of issuers, due to investors’ yield-hungry appetite. If the capital markets seize up and the banks continue lending like the Grinch, then the default rate could certainly creep up.
3) CLO Market Gaining Steam: The collateralized loan obligation market is still significantly below pre-crisis levels, however an estimated $3.5 billion 2010 new issue market is expected to gain even more momentum into 2011. New issuance levels are expected to register in at a more healthy $5.0 billion level next year.
4) Less Fruit in Debt Markets: The general sense among fund managers was that previously attractive bond prices have risen and bond yield spreads have narrowed. The low hanging fruit has been picked and earning similarly attractive returns will become even more challenging in the coming year, despite benign default rates. Even though bonds face a tough challenge of potential future interest rate increases, many managers believe selective opportunities can still be found in more illiquid, distressed debt markets.
5) Fund of Funds vs. Consultants: Playing in the sandbox is getting more crowded as some consultants are developing in-house investment solutions while fund of funds are advancing their own internal capabilities to target institutional investors directly. By doing so, the fund of funds are able to cut out the middle-man/woman consultant and keep more of the profit pie to themselves. From a plan sponsor perspective, institutional investors struggle with the trade-offs of investing in a diversified fund of funds vehicle versus aggregating the unique alpha generating capabilities of individual hedge fund managers.
6) Emerging Frontier Markets: There was plenty of debate about the dour state of global macroeconomic trends, but a healthy dose of optimism was injected into the discussion about emerging markets and the frontier markets. One panel member referred to the frontier markets as the Rodney Dangerfield (see Doug Kass) of the world (i.e., “get no respect”). The frontier markets are like the immature little brothers of the major emerging markets in China, India, Brazil, and Russia. Examples of frontier markets provided include Vietnam, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Kenya. In general, these markets are heavily dependent on natural resources and will move in unison with supply-demand adjustments in larger markets like China. Of the approximately 80 frontier markets around the globe, 30 were described as uninvestable, with the remaining majority offering interesting prospects.
All in all the Opal Financial Group Alternative Investment Summit was a huge success. Besides becoming immersed in the many facets of alternative investments, I met leading thought leaders in the field, including an unexpected interaction with a world champion and living legend (read here for a hint). Many conferences are not worth the price of admission, but with global economic forces changing at breakneck speed and regulatory rules continually unfolding in response to the financial crisis, for those involved in the alternative investment field, this is one event you should not miss.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) is the General Partner of the Slome Sidoxia Fund, LP, a long-short hedge fund. SCM and some of its clients also own certain exchange traded funds (including emerging market ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Entry filed under: Announcements, Themes - Trends. Tags: Bernie Madoff, CLO, consulting firms, CTA, emerging markets, endowments, family offices, fund of funds, hedge funds, law firms, pension funds, private equity firms, venture capital firms.