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Blurred Lines: Between Mutual and Hedge Funds, Is the Wrapping the Key Difference?

Picking hedge funds, mutual funds not about winners, but avoiding losers, says author

ERIN E. ARVEDLUND
Published  Thursday, February 13, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer

What is the main difference between a mutual fund and a hedge fund? These days, the goodies inside the portfolios are strikingly similar. The only difference might be the wrapping paper.For instance, which is riskier? A hedge fund holding hundreds of diversified stocks, or a mutual fund such as the popular Fairholme Fund (symbol: FAIRX), which has about 40 percent in one stock – the recovering insurer AIG? An investor’s aptitude for risk should be the result of analysis.

To navigate the increasingly blurred lines between mutual funds and hedge funds, we checked in with Brian Portnoy, whom I first interviewed a decade ago when he was a mutual fund analyst for the Morningstar Inc. database.

Since then, he has worked as a hedge-fund allocator, someone who funnels money to hedge-fund managers on behalf of investor clients, and now helps create alternative investment products for his current firm, Chicago Equity Partners.

“Between 2000 and 2002, you could have lost half your money in an index fund and paid very low fees, or you could have made money in hedge funds,” Portnoy said.

And yet, during this latest rally from 2009 to 2014, the markets are up strongly, and hedge funds have lagged.

“There’s no way when the market goes up like this that ‘hedgers’ can keep up,” Portnoy explained.

Instead, for investors in either a mutual fund or a hedge fund, “the goal over time is to capture a significant part of the upside and avoid the big downside losses,” Portnoy said.

The return after fees and taxes – whether mutual fund or hedge fund – is most relevant.

Here are the questions investors should ask themselves:

What does this portfolio manager do exactly? Don’t be afraid to ask what you think might be dumb questions.

Can I trust this portfolio manager? “Trust is more than forensic analysis by accountants, lawyers and due diligence specialists,” Portnoy explained. “It is tricky.”

Portnoy contended it is a psychological engagement to size up others as potential long-term partners with whom we have a clear understanding of interests.

Are these portfolio managers good at their jobs?

Are they the right fit for me?

Note that Portnoy’s suggested questions for investors don’t ask anything about performance.

“Performance-chasing doesn’t work,” he said. “Like a sugar rush, great returns feel good for awhile and then dissipate, as a manager rarely and consistently meets or exceeds our expectations.”

Portnoy goes into more detail in his new book, The Investor’s Paradox (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), outlining his investment and due-diligence process.


Now Legal, Will Hedge Funds Ads Plague TV Like Mutual Fund Ads?

Philadelphia Inquirer’s Your Money: Advice so you can judge ‘private offerings’

ERIN E. ARVEDLUNDPublished Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 1:07 AM

Do you have an investment or a start-up business for which you’d like to raise money? Now, to that end, you can advertise your venture – legally – on Twitter and Facebook, on television, even at a sports event.

 

Washington watchdogs have updated the Securities Act of 1933, the law that once barred American businesses from raising money by advertising private deals. The change was part of the Obama White House’s proposed JOBS Act, meant to spur small business after the Great Recession.Wall Street’s main regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, this month lifted the 80-year-old ban on advertising for so-called “private offerings” by hedge funds and private equity, angel investments, and other small businesses, or on crowdfunding sites such Kickstarter or Invested. In.

But the new rules don’t prevent bad guys from getting in on the action. So when someone asks you to invest in a businesses, remember the old advice - caveat emptor.

Provided that the correct paperwork is filed with the SEC, a business owner hoping to raise money can now do interviews, put information on websites, and appear at conferences, “and this doesn’t just apply to hedge funds and private equity,” says Terry Reilly, of counsel at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads L.L.P. in Philadelphia. “It applies to small companies in the Philadelphia business community as well.”

To prevent fraud, the SEC enacted a provision to keep out what are known as “bad actors” or those who might steal your money under the guise of a private offering.

But the clock only starts ticking on the “bad boy” rule now. Anyone who has a record of securities violations, such as insider trading, can still raise money via a private offering as long as the record is disclosed.

So read the footnotes carefully on any business deal, or call your state regulator to find out if the company’s founders have a record of such violations.

Who can invest

The private-offering marketplace is small but growing. In 2012, the estimated amount of capital raised under these Rule 506 and Rule 144A offerings was $173 billion and $636 billion, compared with $1.2 trillion raised in registered offerings, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association (www.nasaa.org).

Does that mean potential investors will start seeing hedge-fund advertisements during golf tournaments on TV – the same time we see all those mutual-fund ads? Reilly says those questions remain unanswered. “Will hedge funds advertise like mutual funds with specific dates and prominent performance numbers? We don’t know yet.”

Still, “this levels the playing field for those trying to get their name out,” adds Ron Geffner, a securities lawyer with Sadis & Goldberg in New York.

Also, those investing in private offerings will have to prove they are “accredited” – meaning they either have net worth of $1 million (excluding the value of primary residences) or annual income of $200,000 for at least two years, $300,000 with a spouse.

Even when the relaxed rules take effect, they won’t make investments in small businesses less risky – just more prevalent.

And the JOBS Act provisions don’t eliminate fraud, an unfortunate but not infrequent feature of small business, particularly those raising money on the Internet. Dubious investments in oil and gas, real estate, precious metals, commodities pools, and free-lunch seminars already advertise heavily on the Web, and many prove to be scams.

If you’re interested in investing in a private offering and want to know more about the people running it, you can start by calling the NASAA for the number of your state regulator!


Litespeed’s Jamie Zimmerman Buying MF Global Bonds

Happy Days in Distress

By ERIN ARVEDLUND, Barron’s Magazine

Hedge fund Litespeed Partners finds opportunities in bankruptcies like American Airlines, MF Global and Eastman Kodak. And what’s Tronox, and why is it so valuable?

Table: Best, Worst and Biggest Funds

As a sign of her competitiveness, Litespeed Partners founder Jamie Zimmerman named her hedge fund after her favorite model of racing bike. The fund has managed to maintain a pretty good pace of its own: It has averaged an 11.3% annual return since its founding in 2000 and has grown to just over $1.1 billion in assets.

Because of its event-driven style, Litespeed’s portfolio seems as current as today’s business pages, as it seeks out distressed debt and stocks, particularly companies that are filing for bankruptcy, undergoing restructuring or being targeted for possible acquisition or merger. “We’re value investors with an event overlay. Stocks can stay cheap, unless you buy something that monetizes of its own accord, say through a tender offer, a bond with a coupon in a takeout, or a distressed situation with a package of cash and bonds. To us, plain stock is the most questionable — you have to sell it to someone else for more, unless someone buys the company.”

Profile_0227zim

Brad trent for Barron’s

Among its holdings, Litespeed owns distressed debt of AMR, the parent ofAmerican Airlines (AAMRQ.OTC) andEastman Kodak (EKDKQ.OTC), as well as bank debt of MF Global, the failed brokerage run by New Jersey’s former governor Jon Corzine. Litespeed is also a holder of preferred stock of Strategic Hotels & Resorts (BEE) and shares ofTronox (TROX.OTC), a former unit of Kerr-McGee that got saddled with much of its environmental liability.

Before founding Litespeed, Zimmerman was head of research for the risk-arbitrage situations portfolio at Toronto-Dominion Bank. Zimmerman received a B.A. from Amherst, where she played soccer, basketball and softball, and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School. She began her career as an attorney clerking for a federal bankruptcy-court judge in the Southern District of New York, but then jumped into finance as a Wall Street risk-arbitrage analyst. She ran an Oppenheimer proprietary account that invested in post-reorganization equities. She also was a member of a Dillon Read risk-arbitrage group responsible for distressed securities and research on merger-arbitrage opportunities. Today she oversees Litespeed’s 16-person staff in midtown Manhattan.

A marathoner and bicyclist who’s ridden across the country, Zimmerman still works out at 6:30 a.m. daily. A torn Achilles tendon has ended her basketball career, but she remains a big fan of the New York Knicks.

ZIMMERMAN’S FUND WILL TRADE some positions, though it holds others for years, waiting for a company’s fortunes to improve. For instance, once it comes out of bankruptcy, American Airlines, she believes, eventually will mimic carriers like Northwest, United and Delta, which emerged in much stronger financial shape. “They’ve all come out with labor costs significantly lower. Northwest’s labor costs were 33% of revenue, and after bankruptcy they were 21%. United Airlines was even higher; salaries as a percent of revenue were cut in half.”

American’s labor costs when it filed for Chapter 11 in November came to 30.9% of 2010 revenue. “We figure if they can take out enough to bring that number down to 22%, Ebitda [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] will fly, perhaps more than double,” says Zimmerman.

Litespeed bought unsecured bonds issued by American at 19 cents on the dollar, and they currently trade at 30 cents. American is also repositioning its plane fleet and could be bought or re-emerge from bankruptcy in a year and a half, she adds.

“It’s a pattern bankruptcy, in which they cut the pensions and renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement, etc.,” she explains. “You make the assumption that the airline saves $1.6 billion in costs per year and turns that into Ebitda,” Zimmerman says. When American emerges from bankruptcy, she expects Litespeed’s bonds to convert into more valuable equity in a new company. She anticipates more consolidation in the U.S. airline business once American completes its restructuring.

The pioneering camera and film maker Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy in January, and Litespeed invested in secured bonds at 71 cents on the dollar. “There’s enough value between the information technology and other Kodak businesses to make money. There’s over $2.3 billion of value to pay us off at par,” or 100 cents on the dollar.

Kodak has three business segments, some of whose elements are cash-flow positive, and some not. The Rochester, N.Y., outfit is shutting down its digital-photography business, while its online photo-printing unit, Kodak Gallery, and other components like ink-jet printers could be sold, Zimmerman believes. Kodak’s commercial-printing business makes money, while a scanner business could also be bought up by a competitor. However, “I don’t think Kodak emerges as a business again, like American Airlines. Lots of little pieces will be sold off,” she contends.

STRATEGIC HOTELS & RESORTS is a real-estate investment trust that owns and manages luxury hotels like the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, among others. After the financial crisis of 2008, Strategic stopped paying dividends on its common and preferred shares, but Litespeed stepped in to scoop up the preferred about two years ago. They now trade at $29, up from $18.50 when the fund started buying.

“The properties are fantastic, and are recovering occupancy rates, although they’re not back to the peak in 2007 yet,” she says.

This summer the company will pay hefty back dividends owed on the shares, Zimmerman adds. Unpaid dividends payable on June 29, 2012, will be $7.22 per share, which works out to about an 8% return for the firm. If the preferreds trade at par once dividends are reinstated, the shares will be worth $32.22, Zimmerman estimates.

There are companies even an expert distressed investor avoids. Zimmerman says a low interest-rate environment is protecting many weak companies with heavy bank debts like Harrah’s, Univision Communications, Clear Channel and Rite Aid (RAD). “They have heavy debt loads benefiting from low rates; when interest rates go up, the whole system goes.”

ZIMMERMAN, A WIDOW for more than a decade, devotes her time to her two high-school-age daughters and her firm. She’s considering opening a Litespeed office in Europe, depending upon the opportunities that emerge from the euro zone’s debt turmoil and possible defaults.

Litespeed bought some Bank of Ireland (IRE) bonds as the country’s real-estate problems worsened, but the investment underscored for her the risks of government ownership. “We the bondholders should have wound up with full equity; we got a fraction,” notes Zimmerman. The fund still holds the stock into which the bonds converted. The bank’s chief financial officer assured Litespeed that it was the best deal the government would allow. The Irish government still owns about 15% of the lender and therefore is expected to support it. Yet, “you don’t really know the outcome. The opportunity in the crisis in sovereign debt is tricky. It’s just a different risk; you can take it but you have to understand it’s a political calculus rather than just straight payoff.”

Zimmerman has more clarity on industrials like Tronox, the Kerr-McGee spinoff. The maker of titanium dioxide declared bankruptcy in 2009 to get clear of environmental problems its parent encountered in the former subsidiary. Litespeed purchased Tronox bonds, which then converted into stock at an average price of $47 a share.

Without the environmental liabilities, Tronox has a promising future. It’s the fifth-largest producer of the paint chemical. Zimmerman estimates 2012 Ebitda will more than double to $400 million. The market is dominated by a few players that reduced capacity during 2008 and 2009 and are now operating at nearly full bore. As demand recovers, Tronox and its rivals are raising prices, she says.

Tronox now trades at $155 a share, and Zimmerman has a target price north of $200. A little more legwork, and it could push across that line.


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