Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

When our global funds partners decided to meet in the Entertainment Capital of the World, there was a great deal of scepticism from the rest of the firm as to how constructive our collective output from the meetings might be.

One of our kindly litigation partners even had the temerity to question whether given the performance of the hedge funds sector in 2016 so far, we would be better suited meeting at a Holiday Inn in Blackpool (for those not familiar with this UK city, try and keep it that way).

However, we then explained hand on heart that we were actually there to also attend a variety of events being hosted around the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference, it made a little more sense. SALT is one of the largest conferences in the US focusing on the alternatives market and brings along some fantastic speakers ranging from Michael Bloomberg and Mark Cuban through to Kobe Bryant and Will Smith. Eclectic to say the least. I should at this point make it very clear that we did not attend SALT, but rather the unofficial gathering of service providers that has grown year on year and now commands a pretty impressive standing of its own right. Think New York Mets as compared to the New York Yankees.

But our colleagues did have a fair point; you have some rather big hitters in the industry right now spreading some rather gloomy messages.

At the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting on April 30, Warren Buffett criticized the high fees at many hedge funds and the high pay given to managers for subpar performance. Dan Loeb of Third Point struck a similar chord in his first quarter commentary, writing that this is one of the most catastrophic periods of hedge fund performance since his fund’s inception. Sadly, these messages were continued at SALT.

Hedge fund manager J. Kyle Bass, the founder of Hayman Capital Management, made an ominous observation about the markets when he said: “If I was to draw an analogy to where we are today, comparatively speaking, to where we’ve been in the past, I think we’re in March or April 2007 in the context of the credit and equity markets.”

Given the period of financial crisis that followed-on from that time, these words were received heavily indeed.

So, with all of this going on, you’d have expected a very sombre mood indeed around the poolside cabanas. But actually, when we co-hosted over 400 invitees on the Wednesday, the atmosphere was pretty positive. Clearly, the sunshine and free alcohol were catalysts towards this, but we did all bump into a number of managers who were very successfully navigating the markets and service providers who were far busier than they had ever been before.

Now, to some degree, this came as no surprise when speaking to the regulatory experts who have seen the interest in their offerings rapidly increase over the last few years, especially those that have carved out a niche in cyber-security as well. Indeed, at SALT they invited Admiral James Stavridis to speak on this very topic.

But there were also plenty of managers who had been running successful domestic funds for a few years and are now looking to launch offshore vehicles to complement their onshore offering, although clearly in this current climate, they are all looking for the most cost-effective and efficient way to do it given the huge costs involved now with moving from being an emerging manager to attracting institutional money. The Harneys offering in both the BVI and Cayman meets those demands and our offshore blog cards were more in demand than ever before.

So a huge thank you to everyone we met for taking the time to talk to us and very much looking forward to seeing you next year already. If a kindly person out there could also take it upon themselves to prevent the Harneys group from hitting an off-strip karaoke bar at 3am one evening (with clients in tow of course), 2017 might be an even bigger success….

Philip Graham
Philip is a partner and expert on offshore funds at Harneys who puts his ever increasing grey hairs down to three young children, supporting Liverpool Football Club, and being married. In no particular order.

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