Monthly Archives: September 2008

What happens if a hedge fund doesn’t do proper diligence to ascertain that a client meets the qualified purchaser standards?

This question came to us yesterday:

Question: What happens if a hedge fund doesn’t do proper diligence to ascertain that a client meets the qualified purchaser standards? Does the hedge fund have to register or notify the SEC?

Answer: In practice I don’t know how this would happen unless someone at the hedge fund management company was completely asleep at the wheel.

The job of the hedge fund attorney is to provide the hedge fund offering documents to the manager and to inform the manager of how the offering documents should be completed.  The hedge fund’s subscription documents usually include some sort of investor questionnaire where the investor will need to make certain representations to the hedge fund manager.  One of these representations will be whether the investor is an accredited investor and, if the fund is a 3(c)(7) fund, whether the investor is a qualified purchaser.  When the investor returns the subscription documents (and before the investor has sent a wire to the fund), the manager should make sure that the offering documents have been completed in their entirety and correctly.  If a manager has a question about whether the investor has completed the subscription documents correctly, the manager should bring up such questions or concerns with the hedge fund attorney.  In the event that the manager does not receive properly completed subscription documents, the manager should discuss this issue immediately with the attorney.

I cannot think of any reason why a hedge fund manager would have to register as an investment advisor because of incomplete (or improperly completed) subscription documents.

Hedge fund performance fees – is it time to rethink the high watermark?

There are many news stories out covering what may be a worst case scenario for many hedge funds – the distinct possibility of no performance fees this year.  This seems to be a major topic of conversation for many people within the industry and just yesterday I received the following comment with a link to a Wall Street Journal article discussing this issue.

The comment:

Regarding performance fees: the underlying hedge funds naturally also have high performance fees. But in the current climate, they aren’t making them. “Just one in 10 hedge funds is currently receiving performance fees from their funds.” See:

Unfortunately, with the current market conditions, many funds are going to be feeling the pressure of little to no performance fees at the end of the year.  For many hedge fund managers, the problem is compounded by the fact that their asset management fee is simply not enough to keep the business going.  Many managers cannot keep operations going with only the management fee.  Without performance fees, hedge fund managers may have their operations disrupted for a number of reasons, including the fact that for some, the traders will be expecting bonuses no matter the performance of the fund as a whole.  If these traders don’t receive bonuses, then some hedge funds could see talent drain, to the extent that such traders thought they could receive greater compensation at other firms or by starting their own fund.

Still worse, managers who have negative performance numbers at the end of the year will have another issue to deal with – the high watermark.  The high watermark is a concept designed as an investor-friendly provision that essentially prevents a manager from taking a performance fee on the same gains more than once.  The high watermark is a similar concept to the clawback provision in a private equity fund.

When a fund suffers a significant drawdown during a performance fee period, the high watermark will actually create a perverse incentive for the investment manager – either take extra risk to generate higher returns so that there will be a performance fee in the next performance fee period or close down the fund and start again.  Both of these potential actions would be taken to the detriment of the investor, and the investor may only have the choice of making a redemption or letting the investment ride. 

If the manager does shut his doors, the investor is going to have his assets at risk as the hedge fund wind-down takes place.  Depending on the hedge fund’s strategy, the wind-down could subject the fund to a fire sale of its assets which will reduce the value of the investment even further.  If such investor was to move into another hedge fund, he would step into the new fund with a high watermark equal to his investment and would be subject to performance fees on those assets anyway. Because such a turn of events is detrimental to such an investor, it might make sense for such investors to allow for some sort of modification of the high watermark.

Some potential alternatives to the standard hedge fund highwatermark might include the following:

No high watermark – this is probably not a viable solution as it would afford investors absolutely no protection from paying two sets of performance fees on the “same” gains.  Additionally, without the threat of the high watermark, there would be little deterrent for a manager to improperly manage risk.  Additionally, because the highwatermark provision is one of the most uniform provisions in the hedge fund industry, it is unlikely to simply disappear.  (Although I have seen a couple of funds which actually did not have the provision.)

Modified high watermark – I have seen all types of variations within the performance fee structure and the withdrawal structure, but the high watermark is one provision which is generally resistant to modification. The high watermark could potentially be modified in many ways including the following:

Reset to zero – under certain circumstances, that if stated in the offering documents prior to investment, the investment manager can be given the ability to reset the high-watermark to zero.

Amortization – one potential way could be to “amortize” the losses over a 2- or 3-year period so that some performance fees can be earned on a going forward basis.  Additionally, if the investor chose to withdraw before the end of the high watermark amortization period, there could be some sort of clawback.

Rolling – the high watermark can be taken under certain circumstances over a rolling period.  The concept is that the high watermark will be determined for a certain window so a drawdown would in essence be erased after a certain amount of time has elapsed.  This might work better for those funds that have a monthly or quarterly performance fee period.

Resetting to zero and an amortization reduction method could be both potentially valuable to investors as it will keep a manager in the game and it will reduce the incentive for a manager to abandon risk management procedures. Also, management companies may be willing to decrease fees if investors agree to keep their investment in the fund for a certain amount of time after the reset or amortization.

[HFLB note: any new investors coming into a fund during a performance fee period will have an initial high watermark that is equal to the initial investment value; depending on the time of the contribution and when the fund made its losses, there may be some performance fees paid even during a down year for such incoming investors.]

Further Resources

Another good article and some good comments on the article can be found here.

For an interesting academic paper on this subject, please click here. The paper is by William N. Goetzmann, Yale School of Management.  The abstract for the paper states:

Incentive or performance fees for money managers are frequently accompanied by high-water mark provisions which condition the payment of the performance fee upon exceeding the maximum achieved share value. In this paper, we show that hedge fund performance fees are valuable to money managers, and conversely represent a claim on a significant proportion of investor wealth. The high-water mark provisions in these contracts limit the value of the performance fees. We provide a closed-form solution to the high-water mark contract under certain conditions. This solution shows that managers have an incentive to take risks. Our results provide a framework for valuation of a hedge fund management company.

We conjecture that the existence of high-water mark compensation is due to decreasing returns to scale in the industry. Empirical evidence on the relationship between fund return and net money flows into and out of funds suggest that successful managers, and large fund managers are less willing to take new money than small fund managers.

Chairman Cox talks to the Senate regarding hedge funds and the markets

There has been so much news and volitility over the past couple of weeks that it is hard to get a feeling of where things are headed.  It seems pretty clear, however, that this in this brave new world of government sponsored capitalism there is likely to be more hedge fund regulation in the picture.  Look forward to some interesting articles that we have coming up and this article on Chairman Cox’s statements to Congress.

This morning the Securities and Exchange Comission’s Chairm Christopher Cox testified to the Sentate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs regarding the current market events. Pertinent excepts from the speech follow:

On the new short sale rules

Last week, by unanimous decision of the Commission and with the support of the Secretary of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, the SEC took temporary emergency action to ban short selling in financial securities. We took this action in close coordination with regulators around the world. At the same time, the Commission unanimously approved two additional measures to ease the crisis of confidence in the markets that threatened the viability of all financial firms, and which potentially threatened the ability of our markets to function in a fair and orderly manner. The first makes it easier for issuers to repurchase their own shares on the open market, which provides an important source of liquidity in times of market volatility. The second requires weekly reporting to the SEC by hedge funds and other large investment managers of their daily short positions — just as long positions are currently reported quarterly on Form 13F.
All of these actions relying upon the Commission’s Emergency Authority under Section 12(k) of the Securities Exchange Act remain in effect until October 2, and are intended to stabilize the markets until the legislation you are crafting becomes law and takes effect.t

The Commission’s recent actions followed on the heels of new market-wide SEC rules that more strictly enforce the ban on abusive naked short selling contained in Regulation SHO. These new rules require a hard T+3 close-out; they eliminate the options market maker exception in Regulation SHO; and they have put in place a new anti-fraud rule expressly targeting fraudulent activity in short-selling transactions.

On Bear Stearns

Recently the Commission brought enforcement actions against two portfolio managers of Bear Stearns Asset Management, whose hedge funds collapsed in June of last year. We allege that they deceived their investors and institutional counterparties about the financial state of the hedge funds, and in particular the hedge funds’ over-exposure to subprime mortgage-backed securities. The collapse of the funds caused investor losses of over $1.8 billion.

On monitoring the large investment banks

The SEC’s own program of voluntary supervision for investment bank holding companies, the Consolidated Supervised Entity program, was put in place by the Commission in 2004. It borrowed capital and liquidity measurement approaches from the commercial banking world — with unfortunate results similar to those experienced in the commercial bank sector. Within this framework, prior to the spring of 2008, neither commercial bank nor investment bank risk models contemplated the scenario of total mortgage market meltdown that gave rise to, for example, the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as IndyMac and 11 other banks and thrifts this year.

But beyond highlighting the inadequacy of the pre-Bear Stearns CSE program capital and liquidity requirements, the last six months — during which the SEC and the Federal Reserve have worked collaboratively with each of the CSE firms pursuant to our Memorandum of Understanding — have made abundantly clear that voluntary regulation doesn’t work. There is simply no provision in the law that authorizes the CSE program, or requires investment bank holding companies to compute capital measures or to maintain liquidity on a consolidated basis, or to submit to SEC requirements regarding leverage. This is a fundamental flaw in the statutory scheme that must be addressed, as I have reported to the Congress on prior occasions.

Because the SEC’s direct statutory authority did not extend beyond the registered broker dealer to the rest of the enterprise, the CSE program was purely voluntary — something an investment banking conglomerate could choose to do, or not, as it saw fit. With each of the remaining major investment banks now constituted within a bank holding company, it remains for the Congres.s to codify or amend as you see fit the Memorandum of Understanding between the SEC and the Federal Reserve, so that functional regulation can work.

On the CDS Markets

The failure of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act to give regulatory authority over investment bank holding companies to any agency of government was, based on the experience of the last several months, a costly mistake. There is another similar regulatory hole that must be immediately addressed to avoid similar consequences. The $58 trillion notional market in credit default swaps — double the amount outstanding in 2006 — is regulated by no one. Neither the SEC nor any regulator has authority over the CDS market, even to require minimal disclosure to the market. This is an area that our Enforcement Division is focused on using our antifraud authority, even though swaps are not defined as securities, because of concerns that CDS offer outsized incentives to market participants to see an issuer referenced in a CDS default or experience another credit event.

Economically, a CDS buyer is tantamount to a short seller of the bond underlying the CDS. Whereas a person who owns a bond profits when its issuer is in a position to repay the bond, a short seller profits when, among other things, the bond goes into default. Importantly, CDS buyers do not have to own the bond or other debt instrument upon which a CDS contract is based.   Certainly we

Hedge Fund Series 7 question

As I’ve noted in many of my posts, I will try my best to answer your questions or point you to a post within the site which discusses the subject. Below is a common question for licensed brokers who are getting into the hedge fund industry.

Question: I currently hold a series 7 agent license as well as a series 65. I am employed with a broker dealer and soon will make a job change to a hedge fund as a marketer. Can the hedge fund maintain my licenses even though they are not a broker dealer and given the fact that I do not need to have a series 7 license to market the hedge fund? I do not want my license to lapse while in the employ of the hedge fund. I do know that FINRA will hold my license for 24 months before expiring. I would like to maintain my licenses and keep them current by fulfilling my continuing education responsibilities. Please advise.

Answer: No, unfortunately the hedge fund will not be able to “hold” your license if it (or a related entity) is not a broker-dealer. Only a FINRA licensed broker-dealer will be able to “hold” your license – and by “hold” we mean that you would be registered as a representative of the broker-dealer.

This should not be confused with “parking” a license with a broker-dealer which is illegal under FINRA rules. Parking a license basically means that you are registered with a broker-dealer for no business reason other than to keep your licenses current. In the situation above, as you noted, the series 7 designation will expire two years after a U-5 has been submitted by your employing broker-dealer.

One potential way to keep the license is to stay on with your broker dealer and conduct your hedge fund selling activities through the broker-dealer. This may not be possible for a number of business reasons and the broker-dealer may not have the proper compliance procedures in place to market and sell hedge fund interests to its customers. For this reason staying with a broker often is not a viable option and unfortunately I have not come across a good solution to this very common problem.

SEC releases statement on protection of customer assets

One of the major questions right now from both hedge fund investors and hedge fund managers is how safe are their assets.  I will be writing an article detailing the answer to this question over the next couple of days.

In the interim, the SEC has released a statement and so has FINRA.  I have posted a brief portion of the FINRA statement which can be found here.  I have also posted the entire SEC statement which can be found here.

FINRA Statement

In virtually all cases, when a brokerage firm ceases to operate, customer assets are safe and typically are transferred in an orderly fashion to another registered brokerage firm. Multiple layers of protection safeguard investor assets. For example, registered brokerage firms must keep their customers’ securities and cash segregated from their own so that, even if a firm fails, its customers’ assets will be safe. Brokerage firms are also required to meet minimum net capital requirements to reduce the likelihood of insolvency, and to be members of the Securities Investor Protection Corp (SIPC), which insures customer securities accounts up to $500,000. SIPC is used in those rare cases of firm failure where customer assets are missing because of theft or fraud. In other words, SIPC is the last course of action in the unlikely event that the other customer protections have failed.

SEC Statement

Statement of SEC Division of Trading and Markets Regarding the Protection of Customer Assets

Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2008 — The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Trading and Markets today issued the following statement:

In recent days, Securities and Exchange Commission staff have received a number of questions from investors regarding the protection of their assets held by broker-dealers.

Customers of U.S. registered broker-dealers benefit from the extensive protections provided by the Commission rules, including the Customer Protection Rule, as well as protection by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). The Commission’s Customer Protection Rule requires a broker-dealer to segregate customer cash and securities from a broker-dealer’s own proprietary assets. More specifically, the rule requires that a broker-dealer keep customer cash and fully paid securities free of lien and in a safe location.

Any person who has deposited funds or securities in a securities account at a broker-dealer is a “customer” under the Customer Protection Rule. Securities customers of U.S. broker-dealers are not permitted to opt out of the protections afforded by the Customer Protection Rule. There is a technical exception for affiliates of the broker-dealer, but this exception would not affect the protections generally extended to a customer’s funds and securities deposited at the broker-dealer.

In addition to the Commission’s rules that protect securities customers, SIPC also protects securities customers up to $500,000 per customer, including a maximum of $100,000 for cash claims. To determine if your broker-dealer is a member of SIPC, or to learn more about the SIPC protections, you can check the SIPC website at

Real Estate Hedge Fund Structure

Real estate hedge funds have always been popular and considering the current stock market turmoil and volatility many real estate hedge fund sponsors believe that the time is ripe to offer a real estate product to market weary investors.

Potential Investments

Real estate hedge funds are not limited in their investment strategy and many such funds have different strategies. Many funds purchase real property and hold onto the real property for appreciation. Other funds will purchase raw land and then develop the land or hire other companies (including companies related to the sponsor of the fund) to develop the land. Still other funds will buy properties to manage for current income. Our law firm has handled all of these types of funds, as well as funds which seek to profit from turning around distressed real estate. The real estate may or may not be located in the United States. Other popular strategies include investing in commercial, multi family, general investment quality properties, and properties which have not yet been developed.

Structure and offering documents


The real estate hedge fund structure is similar to a hedge fund focused on trading securities; however there are some important differences. Most importantly, as long as the real estate fund is not investing in any securities (or money market accounts which may, in certain circumstances, be deemed to be securities), the fund will not be subject to the Investment Company Act of 1940 and therefore will not need to fall within either the 3(c)(1) or the 3(c)(7) exemption. This allows the real estate hedge fund a little more flexibility than securities hedge funds. Notably, the fund will need to adhere to the Regulation D requirements of the Securities Act of 1933 only and not the Investment Company Act. This means that the fund will be able to have an unlimited amount of accredited investors and up to 35 non-accredited investors. There is no requirement that investors in a real estate fund be either a qualified client or a qualified purchaser.


Because real estate hedge funds invest in assets which are not easily valued the real estate hedge fund will oftentimes take on a private equity like fund structure. The major characteristics of the private equity fund structure is the (i) closing/drawdown process for capital contributions and (ii) the limit on withdrawals until there is a disposition event. In this way the private equity fund does not have to deal with valuation issues until a value is determined. This helps to prevent the problem of the general partner taking a performance fee on an unknown rise in the asset value. In addition many general partners will also agree to a clawback provision.

An alternative to the strictly private equity structure is for the fund to implement side pocket investments. In their most simplest form a side pocket investment is an investment which is carried on the books to the side. Generally only those investors who were in the fund at the time of the investment (or in some programs, those who opt into the investment) are “owners” of that investment. Generally there will be no performance allocation on any investments in a side pocket account until there has been a disposition of the investment. Then, profits can be distributed to the investors in the side pocket account. Like the private equity structure this allows the fund to invest in hard to value assets without having to actually value the assets until distribution.

The side pocket account also allows a real estate hedge fund to offer a “hybrid” hedge fund product. Managers are finding that hybrid hedge funds are becoming more popular with investors and allow them to sell a product which may potentially resonate with a larger group of potential investors.

There are numerous iterations of a side pocket account and what is allocated to the account and when so we will not go into these in detail here. Once the manager has decided on a general structure the lawyer will work with the manager to identify any questions or issues with the structure. The general rule is that any structural design of the fund can be accommodated within the hedge fund structure – the question is how long it will take the manager and the lawyer to talk through and identify all of the issues of any particular structure.

The real estate hedge fund offering documents will follow the same standard format for hedge fund offering documents which includes a private placement memorandum, a limited partnership (or limited liability company) agreement, and subscription documents.

Real estate hedge fund fees and expenses

Because no two real estate hedge funds are going to have the same investment program and structure of the investment program, there are not any standard fees for these funds. Generally there will be some sort of asset management fee which might range from 1% to 3%. Often a fund will feature a preferred return and then some sort of carry over the preferred return. In this way the performance fees of a real estate hedge fund resemble the structure of the private equity funds. Because of the great variety of fee structures, though, for real estate hedge funds, there is no expected fee structure like for a securities hedge fund.

In addition the asset management fee and performance fees, real estate funds are unique in the fact that they have other expenses which are different from a securities only hedge fund. Specifically there are property acquisition fees as well as fees related to: property managers, leasing and sales agents, construction managers or other services as necessary. It is very common for the general partner to control entities which will provide such services to the fund. Generally the offering documents will note this conflict of interest and/or include a statement that such affiliated entities will be compensated at current market rates.


As with any asset for which there is not a liquid exchange market, valuation of real estate is subjective. Accordingly valuation becomes a major issue for many real estate hedge funds if there is going to be withdrawals from the fund or if the general partner will receive a performance fee for any “paper” gains attributable to increase in the value of the real estate. Valuation becomes less of an issue if there the real estate will be placed in a side pocket account or if there are no withdrawals or performance fees until a disposition event. In the event that a fund needs to implement a valuation policy, the real estate hedge fund manager will basically choose from between three methods of valation (or some combination thereof).

The basic methods of valuation include: (1) book value; (2) outside valuation agent; or (3) by formula. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one of these methods and if you need to have a valuation methodology your lawyer will be able to help you to decide on one of theses methods.


There are always a number of risks involved in any type of hedge fund structure.  One potential risk when dealing with real property is eminent domain.  Depending on the real estate holdings and other investments a fund will make, there are considerations about the ability of the government to reposes the hedge fund holding through the eminent domain process (for more information, please see Washington state eminent domain). This is a risk which should be disclosed in the offering document if it is applicable to the fund’s investments.


Real estate hedge funds are a great structure for the current market and allow non-traditional hedge fund managers an entry point into the alternative investments industry. If you are a real estate professional who is thinking of establishing a real estate hedge fund, please feel free to contact us.

Hedge Fund of Funds

One hedge fund strategy is a hedge fund of funds or fund of funds for short. Fund of funds managers invest in other hedge funds rather than trade directly in the financial markets, and thus offer investors broader exposure to different hedge fund managers and strategies. Like hedge funds, funds of funds may be exempt from various aspects of federal securities and investment law and regulation.

Structure and Offering documents

As noted above the FOF structure is generally the same as a regular hedge fund. The FOF manager will need to consider whether he will need to be registered as an investment advisr with the SEC or state securities commission. The FOF also may be a 3(c)(1) fund or a 3(c)(7) fund and of course, the FOF may also be an offshore fund. The fund of funds offering documents are going to look exactly the same as the hedge fund.

Fund of Funds Fees

FOFs regularly face a lot of criticism for the fee structure. FOFs will generally charge annual management fees of 0.5% to 1.5% and annual performance fees of 5% to 15%. These fees are on top of the management and performance fees which are paid out at the fund level. Because of the two layers of fees FOFs can be very expensive.

Reason for FOFs – Diversification

Although FOFs face criticism because of their high fees, they do offer investors a greater degree of diversification than individual hedge funds. Because FOFs invest in many hedge funds the performance of any single hedge fund will not, in theory, affect the whole portfolio. In extremely volatile times like we are currently experiencing, the FOF is trying to dampen volatility by being diversified. Many FOFs can weather these volatile times, but many FOFs are suffering along with their underlying funds.

Reason for FOFs – Access to managers

One of the main selling points to accredited and high net worth investors is access to hedge funds and managers which the individual investor may not have access to. Many of the very large premier hedge funds are no longer open to any investors. These premier hedge funds may, every so often, open their funds for new investments by existing investors. FOFs which have an investment with these managers will be able to get investor money into these funds.

Many individual hedge funds have very high minimum investment requirements which certain individual investors would not be able to meet. An accredited investor with $250,000 to invest will not be able to invest in a fund with a $1 million minimum, but that same investor will be able to get exposure to that fund through a FOFs. By pooling money from many investors the FOF is able to meet the minimums to these hedge funds with high minimum investments.

Reasons for FOFs – Due Diligence

Fund of fund managers are expected to perform in depth due diligence on the underlying hedge fund investments. This includes both operational due diligence as well hedge fund manager background checks. Many times a FOF manager will actually make in-person visits to the hedge fund’s offices to make sure that the hedge fund is not acting fraudulently.

Entry point for Institutional Investors

Fund of funds serve as a common entry point for institutional investors who want to get into the alternative investment arena. While there is a very large amount of assets in hedge funds through institutional investors, investments by these groups is growing at a great rate. Because these investors are typically conservative by nature, the more diverse FOFs serve as a great way for the investor to test the alternatives market. It is expected that institutional investors will become even bigger players in the alternatives area and therefore it is expected that FOFs will continue to serve as a good entry point to the industry.

For more information on this topic, please see our earlier post (GAO hedge fund report) which details what institutional investors look for when they invest in hedge fund of funds.

Non-active management – Sponsor

The FOF managers main job is to monitor investments in underlying hedge funds. While most fund of hedge funds managers were once active stock pickers, brokers or other industry professional, we are seeing the advent of the FOF manager who is really a sponsor of the fund of funds. A great example of this is Ron Insana, the CNBC analyst who became a FOF manager.

These types of FOF managers have great connections and are able to raise assets for investments in hedge funds but will not spend as much time determining the investments which will be made in the fund. In fact these managers may hire a sub advisor (paid out of the management fee) who will determine the investments the FOF will make. Other parts of the FOF back office can be outsourced – for instance there are firms which will do much of the initial hedge fund manager screening (through databases and other sources) and hedge fund due diligence. If you would like more information on these groups, please contact us.

Hedge funds and ERISA

Hedge fund managers have to be especially aware of the ERISA rules with regard to their hedge fund and the investors in the fund. ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and it governs, among other things, pension investments into hedge funds.  The Department of Labor is the governmental agency which is in charge of promulgating regulations regarding ERISA.

There are many items to be aware of with regard to ERISA. The most important item for a hedge fund manager is the 25% ERISA threshold limitation for “benefit plans.” If investments into a hedge fund by “benefit plans” exceed the 25% threshold then the manager will become subject to certain ERISA rules. For these purposes the term “benefit plan” means both traditional pension plans and also Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

Requirements for hedge fund managers subject to ERISA

The hedge fund manager who is subject to the ERISA rules will, most importantly, need to (i) be registered as an investment adviser with either the SEC or the state securities commission and (ii) maintain a fidelity bond (which usually costs a few thousand dollars a year).

Additionally, there are many other issues the hedge fund manager will need to be aware of and which he should discuss with his attorney including:

  • Performance Fees
  • Soft dollars and brokerage
  • Dealing with “Parties in interest”
  • Use of Affiliated Brokers
  • Cross Trades
  • Principal Transactions
  • Expenses
  • Information reporting and side-letters
  • Record retention

The 25% threshold

There are many intricacies to the 25% threshold and if you have any questions you should speak further with an attorney regarding the specific facts of you situation.  A couple of items to note about the 25% rule:

1. Investments by the manager and affiliates do not count toward determining the 25% threshold.

For example, if a hedge fund has shares outstanding with a total net asset value of $100M and the fund manager and its affiliates (e.g., portfolio managers, employees, etc.) hold a $20M investment in the fund, the 25% threshold would be 25% of $80M (i.e., $20M), rather than 25% of $100M (i.e., $25M).

2. You will need to test on a class basis.

For example if a hedge fund has two classes of interests, you will need to determine the 25% threshold for each class of interests. If Class A has $90M in assets and no “benefit plan” investments and Class B has $10M in assets and has a $5M investment by benefit plans, then the whole fund, not just the Class B, will be subject to ERISA because of the Class B investment.

Additionally, with the advent of new structures such as the Delaware Series LLC and the offshore Segregated Portfolio Company, the application of the test is likely to be at the series of segregated portfolio level, and not simply at the fund level. The last time we researched this question the issue was not definitively decided, but there may have been some definitive guidance since that time. If you are contemplating one of these structures you should discuss this issue with legal counsel. Also, the calculations may get a little get a little difficult with an offshore master-feeder structure.

3. Continuously monitor the 25% threshold.

Because hedge funds typically will allow additional capital contributions as well as withdrawals at regular intervals, the percentage of fund’s investments by benefit plans will change. If, because of a redemption of another investor, the 25% threshold is reached, the hedge fund manager will be subject to ERISA.

Only IRA investments – still subject to ERISA?

One items that always comes up is what happens if the fund exceeds the 25% threshold but only has IRA investments.  Although a fund which exceeds the 25% threshold will generally be subject to the ERISA rules, those rules only will apply to the pension plans and not the IRAs (although the manager will need to make sure to conform all actions to certain IRS requirements).  In this way a hedge fund manager which exceeds the 25% threshold and only has IRA money will not be subject to the registration and bonding requirements.  Many of our clients fall within this category.


ERISA is one of the more specialized parts of hedge fund law. If a manager is thinking of potentially being subject to ERISA the manager should thouroughly discuss the possibility with his hedge fund counsel. The manager should always make sure that the law firm he works with has an attorney which specializes in ERISA or works with an outside ERISA counsel on all ERISA issues.

While many managers will make sure that their fund is never subject to ERISA, I have seen many managers who have become subject to ERISA because of a significant investment by certain pension plans. Indeed in many situations it will make a lot of sense to become subject to ERISA and start up hedge fund managers should not automatically reject potential investments because they may become subject to ERISA. Our firm has worked with many managers who becomes subject to ERISA and it has worked out well – one suggestion I would make is to start the process early because investment advisor registration will be necessary.

What is a private equity fund?

Question: What is a private equity fund?  What is the difference between a private equity fund and a hedge fund?

Answer: For many people who are not familiar with the alternative investment industry, hedge funds and private equity funds look like the same thing.  The distinction is not necessarily in the legal structure (which is similar), but in the investment style.  The GAO’s hedge fund and pension report, which I discussed recently, provided a great definition for private equity funds:

Like hedge funds, there is no legal or commonly accepted definition of private equity funds, but the term generally includes privately managed pools of capital that invest in companies, many of which are not listed on a stock exchange. Although there are some similarities in the structure of hedge funds and private equity funds, the investment strategies employed are different. Unlike many hedge funds, private equity funds typically make longer-term investments in private companies and seek to obtain financial returns not through particular trading strategies and techniques, but through long-term appreciation based on corporate stewardship, improved operating processes and financial restructuring of those companies, which may involve a merger or acquisition of companies. Private equity is generally considered to involve a substantially higher degree of risk than traditional investments, such as stocks and bonds, for a higher return.

While strategies of private equity funds vary, most funds target either venture capital or buy-out opportunities. Venture capital funds invest in young companies often developing a new product or technology. Private equity fund managers may provide expertise to a fledgling company to help it advance toward a position suitable for an initial public offering. Buyout funds generally invest in larger established companies in order to add value, in part, by increasing efficiencies and, in some cases, consolidating resources by merging complementary businesses or technologies. For both venture capital and buy-out strategies, investors hope to profit when the company is eventually sold, either when offered to the public or when sold to another investor or company. Each private equity fund generally focuses on only one type of investment opportunity, usually specializing in either venture capital or buyout and often
specializing further in terms of industry or geographical area. (Other less common types of private equity include mezzanine financing, in which investors provide a final round of financing to help carry the company through its initial public offering, and distressed debt investments, in which firms buy companies that have filed for bankruptcy or may do so and then typically liquidate the company.)

Investment in private equity has grown considerably over recent decades. According to a venture capital industry organization, the amount of capital raised by private equity funds grew from just over $2 billion in 1980 to about $207 billion in 2007; while the number of private equity funds grew from 56 to 432 funds over the same time period.

As with hedge funds, private equity funds operate as privately managed investment pools and have generally not been subject to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) examinations. Pension plans typically invest in private equity through limited partnerships in which the general partner develops an investment strategy and limited partners provide the large majority of the capital. After creating a new fund and raising capital from the limited partners, the general partner begins to invest in companies that will make up the fund portfolio. Limited partners have both limited control over the underlying investments and also limited liability for potential debts incurred by the general partners through the fund.

SEC to hedge funds – show us your shorts

In a time of unprecedented moves by the federal government, the SEC is halting short sales in certain financial stocks.  The SEC is also requiring large institutional investors, such as hedge funds, to show the world their short positions.  The press release can be found here.  The list of financial stocks which cannot be shorted by hedge funds can be found here.

SEC Halts Short Selling of Financial Stocks to Protect Investors and Markets
Commission Also Takes Steps to Increase Market Transparency and Liquidity

Washington, D.C., Sept. 19, 2008 — The Securities and Exchange Commission, acting in concert with the U.K. Financial Services Authority, today took temporary emergency action to prohibit short selling in financial companies to protect the integrity and quality of the securities market and strengthen investor confidence. The U.K. FSA took similar action yesterday.

The Commission’s action will apply to the securities of 799 financial companies. The action is immediately effective.

SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said, “The Commission is committed to using every weapon in its arsenal to combat market manipulation that threatens investors and capital markets. The emergency order temporarily banning short selling of financial stocks will restore equilibrium to markets. This action, which would not be necessary in a well-functioning market, is temporary in nature and part of the comprehensive set of steps being taken by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and the Congress.”

Today’s decisive SEC action calls a time-out to aggressive short selling in financial institution stocks, because of the essential link between their stock price and confidence in the institution. The Commission will continue to consider measures to address short selling concerns in other publicly traded companies.

Under normal market conditions, short selling contributes to price efficiency and adds liquidity to the markets. At present, it appears that unbridled short selling is contributing to the recent, sudden price declines in the securities of financial institutions unrelated to true price valuation. Financial institutions are particularly vulnerable to this crisis of confidence and panic selling because they depend on the confidence of their trading counterparties in the conduct of their core business.

Given the importance of confidence in financial markets, today’s action halts short selling in 799 financial institutions. The SEC’s emergency order, pursuant to its authority in Section 12(k)(2) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, will be immediately effective and will terminate at 11:59 p.m. ET on Oct. 2, 2008. The Commission may extend the order beyond 10 business days if it deems an extension necessary in the public interest and for the protection of investors, but will not extend the order for more than 30 calendar days in total duration.

The Commission notes today’s similar announcement by the U.K. FSA. The SEC and FSA are consulting on an ongoing basis with regard to short selling matters and will continue to cooperate in carrying out regulatory actions.

The Commission also has taken the following steps to address the recent market conditions:

  • Temporarily requiring that institutional money managers report their new short sales of certain publicly traded securities. These money managers are already required to report their long positions in these securities.
  • Temporarily easing restrictions on the ability of securities issuers to re-purchase their securities. This change will give issuers more flexibility to buy back their securities, and help restore liquidity during this period of unusual and extraordinary market volatility.

The Commission may consider additional steps as necessary to protect the integrity and quality of the securities markets and strengthen investor confidence.