Question: I wanted to inquire as to legalities for a new hedge fund formation. My question is can I get by the limit of 500 investors and qualification requirements. I mean is there another type of fund to start with same freedom and lack of regulation with breadth of trading types, but that can accept investors with net worth under $250,000…and more than 500 of them?
Answer: Let’s break down your question first:
“…can I get by the limit of 499 investors and qualification requirements”
A little preliminary background on hedge fund laws may be helpful. Hedge funds are investment vehicles which, by definition, would be subject to the registration requirements of the federal Investment Company Act of 1940. This means that, absent an exemption from registration, these funds would need to be regulated as mutual funds under the ICA. Many funds do not want to be registered as such because the regulations under the ICA are extremely onerous.
Luckily, the ICA contains two different exemptions for hedge funds – the Section 3(c)(1) exemption and the Section 3(c)(7) exemption. Under the 3(c)(1) exemption a hedge fund manager can accept investments from up to 99 outside investors. Generally these investors will need to be “accredited investors” and may also need to be “qualified clients” (these requirements come from other federal securies acts, and state laws, as appropriate). Under the 3(c)(7) exemption, a hedge fund manager can accept investments from an unlimited amount of “qualified purchasers.” A “qualified purchaser” is a very high net worth individual or institution (generally those persons who own $5 million in “investable” assets, which does not include a person residence). Because of other federal rules, a 3(c)(7) fund will often limit the amount of qualified purchaser investors to 500. Because many beginning hedge fund managers do not have a rolodex filled with “qualified purchaser” contacts, many of these start-up managers will initially begin a 3(c)(1) fund.
To your question, assuming you run a 3(c)(7) fund, you can “get by” the 499 investor limit but you would be subject to other federal laws. The 499 investor limit is in place because of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“34 Act”). While most hedge funds do not need to register their securities because of the private offering exemption (Regulation D) under the Secutities Act of 1933, the hedge fund would still potentially be subject to registration under the 34 Act. The 34 Act requires an issuer (the hedge fund) to register its securities if (1) it has $10 million or more in total assets as of the end of a fiscal year and (2) has a class of equity interests which are owned by 500 or more persons. Generally a 3(c)(7) fund will have no problem meeting the first requirement and therefore the limit to 499 investors keeps such a fund from the registration provisions of the 34 Act.
So the answer to the first part of the question is yes – if you want to register your fund under the 1934 Act.
The second part of the question is no – unless you want to register under the ICA.
The next question you asked was:
I mean is there another type of fund to start with same freedom and lack of regulation with breadth of trading types, but that can accept investors with net worth under $250,000…and more than 500 of them?
Yes, you can start a registered fund – either (1) a mutual fund or (2) a fund registered under the 1933 Act. As noted above mutual funds are very highly regulated and a hedge fund manager probably does not want to start a mutual fund. The considerations involved in starting a mutual fund are considerable, and the legal costs to establish a mutual fund will be anywhere from about $50,000 to $150,000, whereas the legal costs to establish a hedge fund will be anywhere from $15,000 – $45,000 depending on the strategy. When establishing a mutual fund there are other considerations such as distribution and administration which can quickly escalate all costs.
If you only trade forex and certain types of futures, you may be able to do a registered fund (under the 1933 Act), but that is a longer and more expensive process than a traditional hedge fund. The legal costs to establish a fund registered under the 1933 act will be similar to the costs to establish the mutual fund. Additionally, the distribution and administration costs will need to be considered.
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