Posts tagged ‘CLO’

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. 

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

December 8, 2010 at 12:32 am 3 comments

Getting Distressed can be a Beach

It was just another 65 degree winter day on the sunny shores of Huntington Beach at the 2nd Annual Distressed Investment Summit (March 1st through 3rd) when I entered the conference premises. Before digging into the minutiae of the distressed markets, a broad set of industry experts spoke to a diverse crowd including, pension fund managers, consultants, and hedge fund managers at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. The tone was somewhat restrained given the gargantuan price rebounds and tightening spreads (the premium paid on credit instruments above government securities) in the credit markets, nonetheless the tenor was fairly upbeat thanks to opportunities emanating from the still larger than average historical spreads.

Topics varied, but several speakers gave their views on the financial crisis, macroeconomic outlooks, general debt/credit trends, and areas of distressed credit opportunity. Like investors across all asset classes, many professionals tried to put the puzzle pieces together over the last few years, in order to provide a clearer outlook for the future of distressed markets. To put the addressable market in context, James Perry, Conference Chair and Investment Officer at the San Bernadino County Employees Retirement Association, described the opportunity set as a $2.5 trillion non-investment grade market, with $250-$400 billion in less liquid securities. Typically distressed securities consist of investments like bonds, bank debt, and/or CLOs (collateralized loan obligations), which frequently carry CCC or lower ratings from agencies such as Standard & Poors, Moodys, and Fitch.

As mentioned previously, since the audience came from a diverse set of constituencies, a broad set of topics and themes were presented:

  • Beta Bounce is Gone:  The collapse of debt prices and massive widening of debt spreads in 2008 and 2009 have improved dramatically over the last twelve months, meaning the low hanging fruit has already been picked for the most part. Last year was the finest hour for distressed investors because price dislocations caused by factors such as forced selling, technical idiosyncracies, and credit downgrades created a large host of compelling prospects. For many companies, long-term business fundamentals were little changed by the liquidity crunch. As anecdotal evidence for the death of the beta bounce, one speaker observed CLOs  trading at  30-35 cents during the March 2009 lows. Those same CLOs are now trading at about 80 cents. Simple math tells us, by definition, there is less upside to par (the bond principal value = 100 cents on dollar).
  • Distressed Defaults: Default rates are expected to rise in the coming months and years because of record credit issuance in the 2006-2007 timeframe. The glut of questionable buy-outs completed at the peak of the financial markets driven by private equity and other entities has created a sizeable inventory of debt that has a higher than average chance of becoming distressed. One panel member explained that CCC credit ratings experience a 40% default within 5 years, meaning the worst is ahead of us. The artificially depressed 4-7% current default rates are now expected to rise, but below the 12% default rate encountered in 2009.
  • Wall of Maturities:  Although the outlook for distressed investments look pretty attractive for the next few years, a majority of professionals speaking on the topic felt a wave of $1 trillion in maturities would roll through the market in the 2012-2014, leading to the escalating default rates mentioned above. CLOs related to many of the previously mentioned ill-timed buyouts will be a significant component of the pending debt wall. Whether the banks will bite the bullet and allow borrowers to extend maturities is still an  open topic of debate.
  • Mid Market Sweet Spot: Larger profitable companies are having little trouble tapping the financial markets to access capital at reasonable rates. With limited capital made available for middle market companies, there are plenty of opportunistic investments to sift through. With the banks generally hoarding capital and not lending, distressed debt investments are currently offering yields in the mid-to-high teens. Borrowers are effectively beggars, so they cannot be choosers. The investor, on the other hand, is currently in a much stronger position to negotiate first lien secured positions on the debt, which allows a “Plan B,” if the underlying company defaults. Theoretically, investors defaulting into an ownership position can potentially generate higher returns due forced restructuring and management of company operations. Of course, managing the day-to-day operations of many companies is much easier said than done.
  • Is Diversification Dead? This question is relevant to all investors but was primarily directed at the fiduciaries responsible for managing and overseeing pension funds. The simultaneous collapse of prices across asset classes during the financial crisis has professionals in a tizzy. Several diversification attacks were directed at David Swensen’s strategy (see Super Swensen article) implemented at Yale’s endowment. Although Swensen’s approach covered a broad swath of alternative investments, the strategy was attacked as merely diversified across illiquid equity asset classes – not a good place to be at the beginning of 2008 and 2009. The basic rebuttal to the “diversification is dead mantra” came in the form of a rhetorical question: “What better alternative is there to diversification?” One other participant was quick to point out that asset allocation drives 85% of portfolio performance.
  • Transparency & Regulation:  In a post-Bernie Madoff world, even attending hedge fund managers conceded a certain amount of adequate transparency is necessary to make informed decisions. Understanding the strategy and where the returns are coming from is critical component of hiring and maintaining an investment manager.  
  • Distressed Real Estate Mixed Bag:   Surprisingly, the prices and cap rates (see my article on real estate and stocks) on quality properties has not dramatically changed from a few years ago, meaning some areas of the real estate market appear to be less appealing . Better opportunities are generally more tenant specific and require a healthy dosage of creativity to make the deal economics work. Adjunct professor from Columbia University, Michael G. Clark, had a sobering view with respect to the residential real estate market home ownership rates, which he continues to see declining from a peak of 70% to 62% (currently 67%) over time. Clark sees a slow digestion process occurring in the housing market as banks use improved profits to shore up reserves and slowly bleed off toxic assets.  He believes job security/mobility, financing, and immigration demographics are a few reasons we will witness a large increase in renters in coming periods. Also driving home ownership down is the increased density of youngsters living at home post-graduation. Clark pointed out the 20% of 26-year olds currently living at home with their parents, a marked increase from times past.

Overall, I found the 2nd Annual Distressed Investment Summit a very informative event, especially from an equity investor’s standpoint, since many stock jocks spend very little time exploring this part of the capital structure. Devoting a few days at the IMN sponsored event taught me that life does not have to be a beach if you mix some distress with a little sun, sand, and fun.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct position on any security referenced. 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.

March 3, 2010 at 2:14 am 3 comments


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