San Francisco Pension Not Expected to Approve Hedge Fund Proposal, But Alternate Plan Could Pass

Golden Gate Bridge

Trustees of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System will vote sometime in the next few weeks on a proposal to invest up to 15 percent of assets – or $3 billion – in hedge funds.

The vote has been proposed and tabled nearly half a dozen times since May.

According to reporting by Pensions & Investments, the proposal isn’t expected to pass a vote – although a toned-down version, where hedge fund investments are capped at 5 percent of assets, has a better chance at passing.

From Pensions & Investments:

The board of the San Francisco City & County Employees’ Retirement System is expected to reject Chief Investment Officer William Coaker’s plan for a 15% allocation to hedge funds at a meeting in the next several weeks and instead limit hedge funds to no more than 5% of the portfolio, sources say.

The board had been scheduled to vote on the hedge fund allocation at a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

Board President Victor Makras said in an interview that a new special meeting will be held in the next few weeks. He said he will schedule the meeting as soon as he can poll members for a suitable date.

He said the Nov. 5 meeting was canceled because several board members were traveling out of the country.

The board is also expected, as part of the hedge fund vote, to bar or severely limit the use of leverage by hedge fund managers, a common tactic used by such mangers to increase returns.

Mr. Coaker’s plan would shift assets from fixed income and equities to create the new hedge fund allocation.

If the “15 percent” plan passes, the following allocation changes would occur elsewhere in the fund’s portfolio, according to SFGate:

U.S. and foreign stocks would drop to 35 percent from 47 percent of assets. Bonds and other fixed-income would fall to 15 percent from 25 percent. Real estate would rise to 17 percent from 12 percent. Private equity would rise to 18 percent from 16 percent. And hedge funds would go to 15 percent from zero.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System currently does not invest in hedge funds. It manages $20 billion in assets.

Interview: Hedge Fund Mogul Talks CalPERS’ Pullout, Manager Selection and Justifying Fees

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Forbes released an interview Thursday morning with Anthony Scaramucci, founder and co-managing partner of alternatives investment firm SkyBridge Capital.

The interview touched on CalPERS’ hedge fund exit, how the pension fund picked the wrong managers and how to pick the right ones. Later, Scaramucci touched on justifying the industry’s fee structure.

On CalPERS’ pullout:

Steve Forbes: Thank you, Anthony, for joining us. To begin, in terms of hedge funds, as you know the overall performance of hedge funds has lagged the market in recent years. CalPERS, the largest hedge fund in the country, made headlines by saying, “We’re getting out of this.” What is that a sign of? Either the hedge fund industry is going away and is only sustained because there’s nothing else around that’s suppressing interest rates or is this a sign of the bottom? When a big one gets out does that mean this is the time to get in?

Anthony Scaramucci:  Well, so, the question’s is it going to get easier or harder from here?  That was a good start, Steve.  But the short answer is that there’s a lot of reasons why the industry’s underperformed. The main one has to do with something you often talk about, which is Federal Reserve monetary policy.

So, the policy since March of 2009 has been to hammer down the rates, artificially stimulate the market. This makes it impossible for about 40% of the hedge fund managers to perform. If you look at the overall hedge fund manager index, 40% of it is in long-short managers.

And so if you’re long something, you’re doing great in this market. But I’ve got to tell you something, Steve. If you’re short something, even if you’re right on the security analytics, you’re going to be wrong on the momentum of the market. And so what’s happened to the long-short managers is the longs are going up, the shorts are going up, and they have this little tight spread. They’re making 3%, 4%, 5% when the market’s rip roaring and the media is writing all these nasty articles about them.

But there are places to make money. There’s structured credit, activism. There’s a whole host of distressed guys that have done well over the last six years. But I think the media has been justified in pointing out that, in general, the hedge funds have not done well.

The CalPERS thing is a little different. They only had 1.5% of their assets there. Joe Dear, who was a legendary guy at CalPERS, when he passed I think it became one of those things where they weren’t going to get bigger for political reasons, and so they decided to get way smaller.  But I don’t think it’s a death knell of the industry yet. In fact, I’ll make a prediction that we’ll look back two or three years from now and say that they caught the bottom of the hedge fund performance market.

On manager selection:

Forbes: You said that they [CalPERS] picked the wrong hedge fund managers.

Scaramucci: Yes.
Forbes: How do you pick the right ones? Because it’s fine to say, “Well, if you look at the top 10%, you would have done nifty.”

Scaramucci: Yes.

Forbes: But, like, the top 10% of stocks, how do you do it on a consistent basis?

Scaramucci: Well, okay. So, not to use a baseball analogy, but just think of it this way.

Forbes: You can, I’m a fan.

Scaramucci: Okay. So, well then you’ll probably know this from the Bill James Abstracts.  Sixty percent of the everyday players are batting .260 or below, yet every midsummer classic we see 40 guys on the field that are Hall of Famers or the top of what they do. And I think that’s indicative of most industries, frankly, whether it’s the media, the hedge fund industry or, you know, political landscape and so forth. And so there are certain metrics that you can use to identify who’s going to do well. But the number one metric is the macro environment.

If you tell us what the economic dashboard looks like over the next 12 to 18 months, we have pretty high capabilities on the prediction side of what sectors are going to do well. As an example, 2009, if you and I were having this conversation, I would have told you that the residential mortgage-backed security market was going to do very, very well. Those assets were distressed. They were technically oversold by the large institutions. The Federal Reserve monetary policy at that time with Helicopter Ben bringing things down so aggressively, that was going to be an easy place to make money.

And so if you looked at SkyBridge at that period of time, we had about 45% of our assets there. So, the first factor is the macroeconomic factor. The second factor then is, once you figured out what sector you’re going to be in, who are the best guys in that sector and why are they the best? And frankly, a lot of them will be different depending on different markets.  Some guys are longer than others. They’ll always be longer. Lee Cooperman is an example of that. If you’re a bull on the market, Lee’s a good bet. It’s that sort of thing.

On the fee structure of hedge funds:

Forbes: You’re a fund of funds, so to speak.

Scaramucci: Yes. Yes.

Forbes: And you know the rap, hedge funds 2%, 20%.

Scaramucci: Sure.

Forbes: Now your fees 1.5%, whatever it is, on top of that.

Scaramucci: Yes. Yes.
Forbes: How do you justify your existence?

Scaramucci: Well, listen. We’re up there with child molesters with most people, so I’ve got a hard time in justifying my existence at times. But I tell people the same thing that I think you would tell them if you were in my seat. Focus on net performance.

If you’re worried about fees, well then you certainly shouldn’t be in the hedge fund industry.  But I think what we’ve proven, if you look at our long-term track record, we can help clients get to their actuarial goals by taking less risk, or less beta, if you will.

And so our performance is high single-digit, low double-digit over the last ten years with relatively low volatility. And so I think we’ve been able to justify that. But we did shift our model.  I often talk about hedge fund fund of funds 3.0 in the sense that we’re viewing ourselves more like a multi-strat now. We look at the macro environment rather than trying to hug the index, like some of our peers.

The typical fund of funds got a bad rap because they weren’t doing the due diligence. And then they give you 50 managers. They’d give you a 2% in each of those managers. And you’d be hugging the index on your way to mediocrity. What we’ve tried to do, is we’ve tried to concentrate our portfolio on things that we think are working. We have a dynamic approach, where we will move out of securities or move out of hedge funds quickly if we think the market environment has changed. And we believe in concentration.

So, the top ten managers for us, Steve, are about 65% of the assets. And I think that’s differentiated us from our peer group. One last point, if you don’t mind me making it is that, if I’m giving a billion dollars out to somebody, if SkyBridge is giving out a billion dollars, we’re asking for fee concessions. And so we pass those on to our investors. So, even though we have all these loaded fees, so to speak, we’re giving back 75, 80 basis points a year in fee concessions, which I think is meaningful.

The entire interview can be read here.

Pension Funds Need To Stay Out of the “Bargain Bin” When Shopping For Hedge Funds


More than ever, pension funds are negotiating fees with hedge funds in an effort to lower the expenses associated with those investments.

That sounds like a wise course of action. But a new column in the Financial Times argues that pension funds need to stop shopping in the “bargain bin” for hedge funds—because the hedge funds that are willing to negotiate fees are also the ones who deliver lackluster returns.

From the Financial Times:

With many pension funds facing deficits, and needing investments that will generate high returns, the promise of hedge funds has an obvious appeal.

The problem is, like the star chef, the small number of hedge funds that have made staggering amounts of money for their investors over several decades already have too many clients and are closed for business.

Among these are Renaissance Technologies’ Medallion Fund, founded by the mathematician James Simons, which has long been all but shut to new money, and Seth Klarman’s Baupost Group, which last year returned $4bn to clients and has a highly select number of investors.

At the same time investors in hedge funds, such as pension managers, are loath to pay high fees for their services, and must enter into tough negotiations to bring these fees down. This makes sense.

But few of the handful of truly top tier hedge funds have any need to lower their fees for new investors and tend to politely show such requests to the door.

Mediocre hedge fund managers on the other hand cannot afford to be so dismissive, and are more than happy to gather more assets to play with.

The outcome is that many pension funds end up forcing themselves to shop in the hedge fund equivalent of the reduced aisle in a supermarket. They should stop. At the root of this problem is the flawed thinking that a large number of investors have been either seduced into, or institutionally obliged to believe in: the idea that hedge funds constitute an “asset class” all of their own, distinct from other types of active fund management.


Wholesale shopping for hedge funds is a bad idea. Instead of deciding to bulk invest in hedge funds as a questionable means of diversification (the HFR index shows the majority of hedge funds have underperformed the S&P 500 while being correlated to it), investors should only seek out the select few.

And if the best are closed to new investment they must find something else to do with their money.

The author puts the situation in context by comparing hiring a hedge fund to hiring a caterer. From the column:

You are planning a party and have decided to hire a caterer. A trusted friend has recommended two of the best in the city. One is a famous chef who has won numerous awards for his cooking, and another is a younger caterer who previously worked for one of the best restaurants in the world.

You call them both, only to have second thoughts. The first, the famous chef, is simply too busy with existing work to help you.

The other is unbelievably expensive, costing at least double what a regular caterer would charge. But you need your guests to be fed, so you look for an alternative option. You find a cheaper company on the internet and book them.

Come the party the food arrives late. When you taste it, the hors d’oeuvres are stale and the wine tastes like biro ink. Embarrassed and enraged, you mutter under your breath about the money you have wasted, vowing to never hire a caterer ever again.

This flawed thinking resembles the way too many institutional investors select hedge fund managers.

Pension360 has previously covered studies that suggest problems with the way pension funds select managers.


Photo by Gioia De Antoniis via Flickr CC License

Report: New York Common Fund Picks Above Average Hedge Fund Managers

Manhattan, New York

Some observers have openly questioned the manager selection habits of pension funds. But a recent analysis shows that at least one fund, the New York Common Retirement Fund, picks “above average” hedge fund managers. From Pensions & Investments:

An analysis of public holdings shows that equity hedge fund managers in the New York State Common Retirement Fund‘s absolute-return strategy exhibit “above average” skill as stock pickers, but are outside the top 25th percentile of the fund universe as a whole.

Symmetric Information Technologies analyzes 13F filings of hedge funds and calculates security selection skill based on funds’ long positions, and their relative performance to overall sector returns. The most recent analysis notes the “accomplishment is still impressive given the restrictions pension funds operate under and shows they are able to pick managers that produced for them better than average skill compared to what is available in the HF universe. This is no easy task.”

Symmetric says three New York State Common Retirement Fund managers – HighFields Capital, ValueAct Capital and Viking Global Advisors – ranked in the top 25th percentile in terms of stock selection.

The Common Fund makes investments for the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) as well as other major systems.

The Common fund allocated 3.2% of its assets or $5.6 billion, toward hedge funds.

Hedge Funds Feel “Pressure” To Reduce Fees

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Some major hedge fund managers are feeling “pressure” to reduce fees according to the Wall Street Journal:

Two titans of the hedge-fund and private-equity world say they are growing more open to reducing fees in the face of rising scrutiny of the compensation paid to managers of so-called alternative investments.


Mr. [John] Paulson [founder of hedge fund firm Paulson & Co.] said he feels “pressure” to act in the wake of “enormous numbers in compensation” for hedge fund managers. Mr. Paulson, 58, earned a reported $2.3 billion last year, counting both fees and the appreciation of his own personal investment in his funds.

“Institutions are becoming a little more demanding…they are putting pressure on the management fee and the incentive fee,” he said Monday during a panel discussion at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Joseph Landy, co-CEO of $39 billion buyout shop Warburg Pincus, echoed Mr. Paulson’s experience.

“There are a lot of private-equity managers out there who can make a lot of money before they return a dime to investors,” Mr. Landy said. “Most of the pressure [to reduce fees] has been on the actual annual management fee.”

Neither he nor Mr. Paulson, however, were too concerned about any widespread threats to their businesses.

“We came out relatively unscathed from the crisis. We’re doing pretty much the same things we did as before [with] very little restrictions on how we invest the money,” Mr. Paulson said.

Paulson said he think more hedge funds will start using “hurdles”, a fee structure which prevents managers from collecting performance fees until they’ve met a certain benchmark return. From the WSJ:

John Paulson, founder of $22 billion hedge-fund firm Paulson & Co., said he predicted more use of instruments known as hurdles, which bar managers from collecting their traditional 20% performance fee until they have earned a minimum return over a benchmark.

Traditionally, hedge funds are paid for any positive performance whatsoever–even if it falls well short of targets—in addition to a flat annual fee in the range of 1-2% for operating expenses.

Advisors, Fund Managers React To CalPERS’ Hedge Fund Pullout

Scrabble letters spell out Hedge Fund

We’ve heard what CalPERS officials had to say about the decision to cut ties with hedge funds. But how are advisors and fund managers within the industry reacting to the news?

A few anonymous hedge fund advisors have claimed that CalPERS’ problem wasn’t hedge funds as an asset class—the problem was that the pension fund was bad at picking which hedge funds to invest in. From Business Insider:

“I think CalPERS is not a particularly good hedge fund investor,” one prominent hedge fund manager told Business Insider. He cited the pension fund’s lackluster annualized rate of return of 4.8% over the last ten years. “I would redeem too.”

He continued: “I think it’s not hedge funds as an asset class. It’s the ones they invest in.”

Another prominent hedge fund manager echoed that same sentiment.

“They got what they paid for since they only invested in managers who would cut fees. So the best funds wouldn’t do that, so they had a mediocre portfolio.”

Another investment officer gave a more measured response to the New York Times:

“I think the industry is changing. There is less tolerance for underperformance in an environment when you have a relative huge outperformance with more liquid opportunities like an S.&P.-500 index fund,” said Elizabeth R. Hilpman, chief investment officer at Barlow Partners.

“There is a lot of disappointment that hedge funds have not been able to capture more of the market results,” she added.

Several advisors gave some interesting opinions to Wealth Management, too:

“All taxable investors should take notice of this decision, because if Calpers doesn’t think the asset class is adding value for them, how does any taxable investor believe the asset class can add value in their portfolio—especially those in the top couple tax brackets?” said Scott Freund, president of Family Office Research.


“We already ignore the [hedge fund] genre because they are the Groucho Marx club of investing: The only ones that will let us in are the ones in which we don’t want to be invested,” said Stephen Barnes, investment manager and chief compliance officer of Barnes Investment Advisory. “Fees are too high. Truly a ‘heads I win, tails I don’t lose’ proposition for the hedge fund manager.”

Some advisors defended hedge funds in light of CalPERS’ decision. From Wealth Management:

Ryan Graves, wealth advisor with FirstPoint Financial, said alternatives play an important role in mitigating the risks associated with traditional asset classes.

“The time for a ‘true’ hedge fund (and not the levered up investment vehicles that many morphed into pre-2008) is when valuations are high, not after the correction has already occurred,” Graves said. “Just wait for a pullback in next 12-24 months and see how they try to explain away dumping an absolute return strategy.”

“To a contrarian this might mean it is time to consider investing in hedge funds,” said Kris Maksimovich, president of Global Wealth Advisors. “The decision could push hedge funds, especially the more expensive variety, to reconsider their pricing.”

There are plenty more quotes in the linked articles.

Photo credit: Lending Memo