Sunday, September 30, 2007
David Wighton, the New York Bureau Chief for the Financial Times, quotes extensively from my new article Black Market Capital in his lead-in article to today's Report on Fund Management in the Financial Times. The article is entitled SEC seeming perverse about risk and is accessible on the FT website here. You can also get it on the newstand. A few quotes for flavor:
"Told you so," said many critics of hedge funds surveying the damage caused by the summer credit market turmoil. The high-profile collapse of several funds and the dismal performance of many others have provided just the ammunition the sceptics were looking for. Surely it proved that hedge funds were dangerous and should be kept out of the hands of retail investors, they said. How wise of the Securities and Exchange Commission to propose barring individuals with less than $2.5m (£1.2m, €1.8m) in liquid assets from investing in hedge funds, up from the current limit of $1m.
This is nonsense. Average hedge fund returns are generally less volatile than the equity market as a whole and you are much more likely to lose your shirt on an individual stock than on a hedge fund. The rules preventing small investors from putting money into hedge funds are positively perverse.
As Steven Davidoff, a professor at Wayne State University Law School, points out in a new paper, the rules have an even more perverse consequence.
Retail investors may not be able to invest in hedge funds - or private equity funds for that matter - but they can invest in the funds' managers, which Prof Davidoff argues are more risky.
"This is because the future income of an adviser is derivative upon the fund advisers' capacity to continually earn extraordinary positive returns." If they do not earn such returns, investors will shift money away, which means the impact on the investor in the manager will be greater than on the investor in the fund.
Prof Davidoff suggests that the spate of flotations of alternative asset managers - albeit slowed by the credit market turmoil - is partly the result of the rules against public issues by alternative funds. Prevented from buying the funds directly, public investors look for something that replicates their benefits. The financial industry quickly meets that demand. But it does so with less suitable vehicles such as asset managers, special purpose acquisitions companies and the growing array of exchange-traded funds and indexes that attempt to track private equity or hedge fund performance.
These vehicles, which Prof Davidoff dubs Black Market* Investments, tend to be more risky on an individual basis than the hedge fund and private equity funds they substitute for. So public investors who buy them bear more risk and together inject more risk into the US capital markets than if they were allowed to invest in the funds.
Investors' other option is to buy funds on non-US markets, a process that the SEC is considering making easier. But without the benefit of SEC regulatory oversight and the US securities law enforcement, Prof Davidoff argues that this would be more risky and costly than a prohibited US-based purchase of the funds.
Investors should be allowed to make up their own minds on whether hedge funds are good value for money. The asset qualification for retail investors should not be raised. It should be scrapped.
Check it out.