Bay Area Hedge Fund Roundtable Event

Panel Discussion on State of Hedge Fund Industry

Yesterday afternoon (May 6th) the Bay Area Hedge Fund Roundtable, a group of professionals within the hedge fund industry, gathered for a panel presentation entitled “Change…Critical Legal, Tax, Acounting and Regulatory Updates You Need to Know.”  The presentation was moderated by Pamela S. Nichter (Osterweis Capital Management) and included the following panel participants:

Vincent J. Calcagno (Rothstein Kass)
Geoffrey Haynes (Shartsis Friese)
Tony Hassan (Ernst & Young)
Anita K. Krug (Howard Rice)

Presentations like these are great because they allow professionals to share insights into what is going on in different parts of the industry – many of the topics discussed allowed the panelists to really dig deep into the issues and provide some context to what is happening at both the regulatory and investor levels.  I took notes during the presentation and will summarize some of the main points discussed by each of the presenters (please don’t hold anything against the speakers if I mis-paraphrase or mis-interpret and as always nothing in this summary is tax or legal advice)…

Anita K. Krug

Anita discussed a number of the laws which have been discussed or proposed over the past 6 to 8 months including the following:

  • Barney Frank’s Recent Comments (see Reuters article)
  • Mary Shapiro’s Recent Comments (see Bloomberg article where Shapiro says she wants the ability to make rules regulating hedge funds)
  • Discussion of the Hedge Fund Transparency Act which was proposed in the Senate earlier this year (see also Overview of the Hedge Fund Transparency Act)
  • Hedge Fund Advisor Registration Act which was proposed in the House earlier this year
  • Geithner’s hedge fund proposals (see NY Times article for background information)
  • Discussion of the past short selling rules (see HFLB article) and the new short selling rules which will be closer to the old “uptick” rule (see SEC overview; note: I have not yet had an opportunity to thoroughly review these proposed rules)
  • European Rules which have been proposed which may have an effect on US based managers with EU investors (Anita raised many of the same issues which were also raised in this article)

Geoffrey Haynes and Vincent J. Calcagno

Geoffrey and Vincent went back and forth discussing some of the tax issues which managers are likely to face this year and potentially going forward.  This discussion included the following issues:

  • Discussion of the new offshore deferral rules by dint of new Section 457A of the Internal Revenue Code (see generally this alert).  Note: discussions on the ramifications of this new section to managers who currently have deferral arrangements took a majority of the time.  There are a number of issues involved including issues with side pockets, options, and non-conventional performance fee periods.
  • San Francisco Payroll Tax of 1.5% (see background on this issue here)
  • Discussion of the Levin proposal to tax the carried interest as ordinary income (see Hedge Fund Carried Tax Increase?).  [The panelists seemed to think that Congress would not vote on this bill until sometime in 2010 (if the bill was actually even voted on) with an effective date, if passed, of sometime in 2010 – the panelists did not seem to think it would be retroactively applied.]
  • Discussion of a bill which would eliminate UBTI for U.S. based non-taxable investors investing in U.S. hedge funds which utilize leverage (note: I was not aware of this bill and am not sure what bill exactly was referred to – please feel free to contact me if you know about this bill).  The panelists seemed to think this bill was likely DOA.
  • Discussion of the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Bill by Senator Levin (see Senator Levin’s press release)
  • Discussion of Obama’s Offshore Tax Plan (see generally the White House press release)

Tony Hassan

Tony discusses what is changing in the area of hedge fund operations.  Tony’s discussion of current topics was maybe one of the more important parts of the panel in terms of providing insight on current investing trends and due diligence requests.  Many of the items in this section were part of a dialogue between Tony and Vince as noted in the parenthesis below.

  • There is no secret that due diligence is a more central and important part of the investing process than it was previously.  (Tony and Vince)
  • Due diligence is also changing in many respects – at E&Y Tony has had specific requests from potential invests to send them directly the financial statements.  Of course this brings up many legal and client issues (the hedge fund, not the potential investor, is the client of E&Y) and because of this these requests are often denied. (Vince)
  • Managers are providing verified transparency “quarterly reviews” which aim to show investors that the fund’s assets are actually there.  (Vince)
  • Some funds are instituting a half-yearly audit (in addition to the end of year audit).  (Vince)
  • Some funds are instituting agreed upon procedure reports.  In these reports the auditor will come in an verify that certain procedures are being completed.  This may be especially important with regard to the valuation of the fund’s assets.  (Vince)
  • Tony noted that this is really a new form of due diligence and used the term “Hedge Fund Due Diligence 2.0” – a term I used in October of 2008 (see post).
  • Investor questions to hedge funds are changing.  While previous questions would have stopped after “Do you have a 3rd party administrator?”  Now the questioning continues – investors want to know about the administrators technical expertise, who exactly will be the account representative and what type of capital markets experience does that person or group have, what inputs will be used to value assets, etc.  Investors also want to know what sort of contingency plan is in place should the administrator fail or if there is a disaster; investors will want to know if the fund is keeping shadow books.  (Tony)
  • Tony also participated in the discussion with Pamela below with regard to managed accounts.

Pamela S. Nichter

Pamela, the moderator of the discussion, also weighted in on certain operational issues which fund managers should be prepared for in the new climate.  In general Ms. Nichter is seeing more investor requests and communications.  Now there is greater communication between the investor and the fund manager.  Ms. Nichter also discussed the trend toward greater liquidity and transparency through separate account structures.

Separate accounts are something that more and more investors are seeking but there are many considerations for managers.  Specifically separate accounts can be a drain on resources, especially if the investors request their own specific administrators or auditors.  Because of the greater amount of resources which need to go into the back office to handle what is in essence a more traditional asset management business, the manager must be ready to change the business model to a certain extent.  Specific issues will include:

  • having a robust trade allocation policy
  • understanding that there is likely to be a disparity of performance
  • potential registration issues
  • potential integration issues
  • performance reporting issues (may need to go back to GIPS)

Questions and Conclusion

After the panel finished their discussion the floor was open to questions.  During this time there were a number of good questions.  One issue focused on what will performance fees look like going forward which led to a discussion about creative performance fees (like instituting some sort of clawback provision like what is found in private equity funds).  Another issue was whether and to what extent the Managed Funds Association will be representing the industry during this time of legislative/regulatory changes.  The answer is that the MFA will be doing everything it possibly can to represent the hedge fund industry and it is our job to make sure that the MFA knows how the industry feels about many of the current legislative proposals.

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