Tag Archives: Lehman

Hedge Funds and Rehypothication

Ongoing Legal Issues For Hedge Fund Managers

While many of the posts on this blog deal with start-up and regulatory issues that hedge fund managers face, we also are aware that there are many ongoing legal issues which affect the business of the fund.  Below is a guest post from Karl Cole-Frieman on hedge fund rehypothication and the prime brokerage relationship.

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What is Rehypothication?
By Karl Cole-Frieman, www.colefrieman.com

One of the most frequent questions that I am asked these days is to explain the term “rehypothication” in the context of a prime brokerage agreement.  The concept of rehypothication has been imbedded in the credit arrangements of prime brokerage agreements for years, but until 2008 and the collapse of Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, it was rarely discussed (except by certain lawyers who negotiate these agreements).  In the simplest terms, hypothication is the posting of securities or other collateral to a prime broker in exchange for credit or margin.  Rehypothication is the further pledging or lending by the prime broker of the already hypothecated securities or other collateral by the customer for its own purposes.

Prime Brokerage and Rehypothication

In modern prime brokerage, rehypothication is deeply ingrained in the business model of the major prime brokers.  Typically, hedge fund customer assets are rehypothicated to other banks to raise cash for the prime brokers.  Allowing the prime brokers to rehypothicate assets has historically kept down the cost of borrowing money for hedge fund managers.  In recent years, hedge funds have benefited from this arrangement by obtaining very cheap margin pricing.

Bankruptcy of a Prime Broker

The problem for hedge fund managers is that if there is a bankruptcy filing of their prime broker, hedge funds may have difficulty getting their rehypothicated assets back, particularly if these assets are held by the prime broker’s London affiliate, as the UK has more relaxed rules regarding rehypothication.  A number of highly successful managers had to literally shut their doors in September 2008 because their assets were tied up in Lehman Brothers’ London affiliate.  Lehman filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Lehman’s European administrator, currently estimates that assets may be returned to clients in the first quarter of 2010 – a year and a half later.

Hedge Fund Managers and Rehypothication

It is important for hedge fund managers to understand this concept of rehypothication for several reasons.  First, managers need to take ownership of their prime brokerage arrangements and understand them in general.  It has been my experience that many managers that take extreme care in making portfolio decisions pay absolutely no attention to their prime brokerage or custody arrangements.  As the events of 2008 demonstrated, they do so at their peril.  Imagine being up for the year, and then losing everything because the manager neglected to monitor their prime brokerage and custody arrangements.

Second, investors are asking about it.  The concept of rehypothication entered the hedge fund vernacular in 2008 and is here to stay.  Investors now frequently ask about rehypothication, and other prime brokerage concepts/arrangements, in due diligence, and there are a lot of misconceptions about the term.  Nevertheless, especially in the current environment, a lack of understanding about prime brokerage, custody, etc . . . can make the difference in receiving an allocation from an investor or cause a manager to fail operational due diligence.  Managers need to be prepared to discuss these concepts and be aware of the terms in their own prime brokerage agreements.

To find out more about rehypothication and other topics relating to prime brokerage or custody, please contact Karl Cole-Frieman of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP (www.colefrieman.com) at 415-352-2300 or [email protected]

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Other related hedge fund law and start up articles include:

SEC comments on Lehman Bankruptcy

From the SEC website.  The release can be found here.

Statement Regarding Recent Market Events and Lehman Brothers (Updated)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2008-198

Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2008 — The decision by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. to file for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy laws is expected to lead to the winding down of Lehman Brothers Inc., its U.S. regulated broker-dealer, outside of bankruptcy. The accounts of Lehman’s U.S. retail securities customers are with the broker-dealer. In cases such as this, Lehman Brothers’ customers will benefit from their extensive protections under SEC rules, including segregation of customer securities and cash as well as insurance by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. These safeguards are designed to ensure that a broker-dealer’s customers will be protected.

In the weeks ahead, SEC staff who have been on-site at the U.S. broker-dealer will remain in place to oversee the orderly transfer of customer assets to one or more SIPC-insured brokerage firms. The holding company bankruptcy filing does not affect in any way the SIPC protection applicable to the firm’s customers.

The SEC is also coordinating with overseas regulators to protect Lehman’s customers and to maintain orderly markets.

“For several days, we have worked closely with regulators around the world including the FSA in the United Kingdom, the BaFin in Germany, and the FSA in Japan, as well as our counterparts in other markets around the world, to coordinate our actions in the interest of orderly markets,” said SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. “In doing so we have also worked closely with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve and market participants. We are committed to using our regulatory and supervisory authorities to reduce the potential for dislocations from Lehman’s unwinding, and to maintain the smooth functioning of the financial markets.”

In furtherance of these objectives, the SEC is focused on ensuring that customers of the U.S. broker-dealer, which is not part of the bankruptcy filing, remain protected through, among other means, enforcing continued compliance with the SEC net capital and customer asset protection rules, and with SEC requirements that the U.S. broker-dealer conduct its affairs so as to minimize the effect of the holding company’s bankruptcy on customers, and that it ensure access to customer cash and securities.

In the meantime, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. will continue to operate while the bankruptcy process facilitates the reconciliation of claims and the realization of value from its assets in an orderly fashion.

Customers of Lehman Brothers Inc. may contact the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy for individual assistance at [email protected]