Tag Archives: prime brokerage

Prime Brokers, Margin Lock-ups & Hedge Funds

Today we have another guest post from Karl Cole-Frieman who specializes in providing legal advice to hedge funds and other alternative asset managers.  Mr. Cole-Frieman specializes in Loan Trading and Distressed Debt Transactions, ISDAs, Soft Dollars and Commission Management arrangements, and Wage and Hour Law Matters among other legal matters which hedge fund managers face on a day to day basis.

The Margin Lock-up Returns to Prime Brokerage
By Karl Cole-Frieman, www.colefrieman.com

In 2009, the problems affecting major banks have also impacted their prime brokerage units, and accordingly there is less appetite to extend credit to hedge funds.   As the banking industry recovers, however, credit terms are beginning to loosen up again.  As a result, we are beginning to see the return of the margin lock-up for larger prime brokerage clients, who may in fact be in a stronger bargaining position for such agreements than they were a year ago.

What is a Margin Lock-up or Term Commitment?

In the most basic terms, a “margin lock-up” or a “term commitment” is a credit facility extended by a prime broker to a hedge fund or other institutional client.  The terms are used interchangeably in the industry.  Margin lock-ups prevent the prime broker from changing margin rates, collateral requirements, and often from declining to clear the hedge fund’s trades during the term of the lock-up.  For large managers, they are often 90 days, but can range from 30 days to 120 days, and perhaps even longer for the largest hedge fund managers.  Practically speaking, the way the arrangement works is that if a prime broker wants to make a change covered by the margin lock-up, they will provide the manager with the requisite notice before doing so.

Margin Lock-ups and Prime Brokerage Agreements

A margin lock-up is negotiated separately from a prime brokerage agreement, but ideally the two agreements are negotiated at the same time.  Our experience has been that it is significantly more difficult to negotiate a margin lock-up after the prime brokerage relationship has been established, and that a fund’s greatest negotiating leverage is before signing the prime brokerage agreement.

Negotiating a Margin Lock-up

There are two significant points to negotiate in a margin lock-up: (1) the scope of the commitment (and exclusions), and (2) the termination events.  For the scope of the commitment, it is essential that the commitment includes clearing trades.  Remember that a prime brokerage arrangement is a demand facility, and the prime broker can normally decide to stop clearing a hedge fund’s trades at any time and for any reason.  This is potentially highly disruptive, and could result in significant losses for a fund.  If clearing trades are covered by the margin lock-up, the prime broker will have to provide the requisite notice, which will allow time to make alternative arrangements with other counterparties.

Termination Events and Margin Lock-ups

Termination events can be very contentious in a margin lock-up negotiation.  The termination events in a margin lock-up give the prime broker the right to terminate the margin lock-up if a certain event occurs.  The prime brokers will want to negotiate off of their templates, which will initially have so many termination events it would make the margin lock-up worthless.  Managers should be wary of a completely subjective termination event, and such provisions should be negotiated out of the agreement.  For example, some prime brokers will try to insist on including a provision that it will be a termination event if the prime broker determines that it would cause the prime broker reputational risk to continue to do business with the fund.   More typical termination events include NAV triggers and key person provisions.

Bilateral Termination Events are a Secondary Consideration

Some hedge fund lawyers advocate that the termination events in a margin lock-up should not be completely unilateral, meaning, for example, that the credit rating of the prime broker should be a termination event.  We view this as a secondary consideration, and not a point to get bogged down on in the negotiation.  If a manager is concerned about the credit rating of the prime broker, they can simply move their balances.  They don’t need to terminate the lock-up – leave it in place in case the fund restores balances with that prime broker.

To find out more about margin lock-ups 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]


If you are thinking of starting a hedge fund, please contact Mr. Bart Mallon, Esq. at 415-296-8510.  Other related hedge fund law and start up articles include:

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.


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]


Other related hedge fund law and start up articles include:

Operational Issues for Hedge Fund Managers Using Multiple Prime Brokers

The hedge fund and investment management industry has seen many radical changes during the last year, including the consolidation (or elimination) of the large prime brokerage firms.  Because of these events many funds have moved to a multi-prime broker model instead of the more traditional single prime broker model.  There are obviously many advantages to going to a multi-prime broker model (including the reduction of prime broker bankruptcy risks), but there are also many logistical issues which need to be considered.

Start up hedge funds which wish to use a multi-prime broker approach should discuss this option with their hedge fund attorney as well as their hedge fund administrator which will be able to help with the back end aggregation of the prime brokerage fees.  Additionally, managers may want to seek a software solution like the one from Advent described in the press release below.  Continue reading

Prime Brokerage Survey Results

The following is a press release regarding the results from a prime brokerage survey.

Alpha Magazine Survey Ranks Merlin Securities as the #1 Prime Broker for Small Hedge Funds in 2008
Merlin Securities Receives Top Honors for Second Year Running

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 28, 2008 — Merlin Securities, a leading prime brokerage services and technology provider for hedge funds, funds of funds and long-only managers, today announced that Alpha magazine has named it #1 prime broker for hedge funds with less than $1 billion in assets under management. This is the second year that Merlin Securities has received top honors as the “Small Firms’ Favorite” in Alpha’s survey of more than 1,000 hedge fund firms.

“We feel very privileged to be voted by so many funds as the top prime broker for the second year running,” said Aaron Vermut, senior partner and chief operating officer of Merlin Securities. “This award recognizes the hard work of our entire team and our continuing commitment to providing quality customer service and leading-edge technology.”

About Merlin Securities

Merlin Securities is a leading prime brokerage services and technology provider for hedge funds, funds of funds and long-only managers. The firm provides single- and multi-primed hedge fund managers with dynamic performance attribution portfolio analytics and reporting. In January 2008, Sequoia Capital, a leading venture capital firm, invested $20 million in Merlin Securities. The firm has offices in New York and San Francisco and is a member of NASD and SIPC.

In 2007, Global Custodian named Merlin Securities the #1 prime broker in North America, the #1 prime broker for single-strategy funds and the #1 prime broker for funds under $100 million. Merlin was also named the #1 prime broker for funds less than $1 billion by Alpha magazine in their 2007 Hedge Fund Service Provider Survey. In the 2008 Global Custodian survey, Merlin achieved the highest overall scores in the single- and multi-primed brokerage categories.

For more information, please visit www.merlinsecurities.com.

Mini-Prime Brokers – Prime Brokerage for Start-up, Small and Mid-Sized Hedge Funds

Historically, prime brokerage was relegated to a few of the very large Wall Street investment houses – the Goldmans, Merrills, Bears and Lehmans.  Many of these firms  provided prime brokerage services to the very large hedge funds.  However, these firms could not provide the comprehensive trading services required by smaller hedge funds because the relationships were not as profitable as the relationships with larger hedge funds.  Eventually the large prime brokers began to neglect the smaller hedge funds (those with less than $50 or $100 million in assets) which made way for the “mini-prime brokers.”

Mini-prime brokers are registered broker-dealers that essentially act as introducing firms to the prime brokers and handle the front end relationship while the trading, execution, clearing and custody are handled through the back end of the large prime brokerage firms.  Mini-prime brokers fill an important niche for smaller hedge funds who desire better support services than the discount or online brokerages provide, but who are not yet big enough to get the very personalized services that bigger funds receive from the large prime brokers.

Types of Instruments

Mini-prime brokers have access to the same investments as the large prime brokerage firms, including stocks, bonds, options, futures and foreign exchange.  Additionally, mini-primes have access to the executing primes short box so that managers can short as well as go long.

Access to Soft Dollars and Trading Platforms

In addition to brokerage and custody, many mini-prime brokers also provide small and start-up managers with many additional services.  Such services may include soft dollar services, operational services, back office services and potentially even capital introduction services.  Many of the mini-prime brokers will also provide their customers with complementary access to many of the most popular trading platforms like REDIPlus, Bloomberg and Neovest.  Each mini-prime will be able to provide different services and execution prices and a hedge fund manager should talk with a few before making a decision.


For a start-up or small hedge fund manager, a mini-prime will be a better choice than the large prime broker.  In general, a mini-prime can provide all the same services that a large prime broker can, and the mini-prime will probably be able to better respond to a small manager’s needs.  Fund investors are also more comfortable with the fact that custody of the hedge fund’s assets will also be maintained at the large brokerage firm.

A hedge fund attorney will be able to provide a start-up manager with referrals for prime and mini-prime brokerage services.  Please contact us if you have any questions or would like recommendations for hedge fund mini-prime brokers. Other HFLB articles:

Hedge Fund Service Providers Expanding During Market Turmoil

If you read a lot of the stories which have been coming out in the last couple of weeks, you would think that the hedge fund industry was about to go the way of the dinosaur.  (See NYT Deal Book Article)  Personally, I think the exact opposite – that the hedge fund industry, after a bit of a cooling off period, will see assets come back to the table in greater force than before.  I also believe that hedge funds will become more institutionalized products with more robust due diligence procedures as a standard practice and that hedge funds will (eventually) emerge as retail products.  Whether any of the above happens quickly or slowly remains to be seen, but there were four separate press releases we published last week that shows hedge fund service providers are especially bullish on the industry.

The four press releases deal with (1) expanding hedge fund due diligence; (2) increased investment from single family offices; (3) prime brokers continuing expansion based on industry changes and (4) a hedge fund administrator moving into the prime brokerage arena.  I’ve highlighted the takeaways from the press releases below.

1.  Hedge Fund Due Diligence Firm Expands. (Link to release)  The press release below provides details on a hedge fund due diligence firm which is expanding its operations.  In the coming months and years hedge fund due diligence is poised to become a central part of the hedge fund investing process. Specifically, the press release quotes the new hire as saying… “in the current markets, hedge fund investors face multiple challenges that, more than ever, involve operational risk. Investors must understand many new issues, including counterparty risks, the impact of FAS 157 and how to deal with funds which impose gates, suspend redemptions or restructure. Castle Hall helps investors enhance their due diligence program and better respond to these new challenges.”  I completely agree.  For more information on due diligence, please see the following HFLB articles:

2.  Single family offices to increase hedge fund investing in the next year. (Link to release) Rothstein Kass, a well known hedge fund audit and administration firm, released a study which indicates that Single Family Offices will continue to invest in hedge funds.  This press release states two interesting items from the report:

Good Performance and Additional Investment – family offices are generally happy with the performance of hedge funds and will commit more money to funds within the next twelve months.

Transparency – the release states that more than 70% of single family offices said that a lack of transparency in their hedge fund investments is concerning.  Additionally, a director of Rothstein Kass is quoted as saying  “while high-net-worth individuals generally recognize advantages of hedge fund investing, they are frequently confounded by the growing roster of products and services available.”  This really comes as no surprise and signals that hedge fund due diligence will become a major focus from here on out.  Transparency is achieved not only through the hedge fund manager, but also through hedge fund service providers who have developed technology solutions to offer to hedge fund managers.  On a going forward basis hedge funds are going to need to be more transparent.  For more information, please also see:

3.  Prime Broker continues to expand during industry changes. (Link to release) The prime brokerage industry is going through a lot of changes currently as the biggest prime brokerage firms, Goldman and Merrill have changed into bank holding companies.  Additionally, with the collapse of Lehman, the conventional wisdom is for larger hedge funds to prime with multiple brokers.  As this trend continues to develop I expect that more firms will jump into the prime brokerage business and that prime brokers will begin to offer more back office and administration services to hedge funds.  New and surviving hedge funds should benefit as prices decrease and quality of services increase.

4.  Hedge fund administration and back office firm, announced that it is expanding into hedge fund prime brokerage. (Link to release) This press release highlights two specific interesting trends in the hedge fund industry.  The first is the move from segregated service providers to shows which provide a whole suite of services including back office, admin and prime brokerage.  The second trend is the move from one main prime broker to housing assets at many prime brokerage firms.  We saw with the collapse at Lehman and the corresponding freeze of some hedge fund assets, that small and large funds alike want to diversify across brokers and custodians.  I believe Conifer is the first in a wave of admin/ back office firms which will put a shingle out as a mini-prime or introducing prime broker.


While none of these individually provide conclusive evidence that the industry will remain strong in the coming months, it does show that people in the industry are investing in the infrastructure which will allow the industry to expand in the coming years. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions or comments on any of the above.

Press Release: Hedge Fund Prime Broker Expands Services

Contrary to the spate of terrible news regarding the financial markets, the hedge fund industry, specifically, the hedge fund service provider industry is poised and ready for continued growth.  The following press release showcases a prime brokerage firm which is actually expanding its operations.

Merlin Securities Expands Client Services Team to Keep Pace with Business Growth

Industry Veteran Michael Tumulty to Lead Client Services in New York David Newman and Walter Paleski Join as Account Executives

SAN FRANSCISCO, Oct 14, 2008 – Merlin Securities, a leading prime brokerage services and technology provider for hedge funds, funds of funds and long-only managers, today announced that it has hired Michael Tumulty, an industry veteran with more than 25 years experience, to head its New York client services team. The firm also hired David Newman and Walter Paleski as account executives in the New York office.

“Merlin is benefitting from the monumental shift taking place in the prime brokerage industry, specifically the movement toward multiple prime brokers and a focus on custodial risk,” said Aaron Vermut, senior partner and chief operating officer of Merlin Securities. “Having experienced account executives in place is critical to maintaining our commitment to outstanding client service. I am delighted to welcome Mike, Walter and Dave to the team.”

Michael Tumulty has more than 25 years of financial services experience, most of which has focused on prime brokerage. Most recently he was a director of financial client management at Merrill Lynch’s prime brokerage, where he worked closely with the firm’s top-tier hedge fund clients. Prior to that, he was with Bear Stearns for 17 years as a director of hedge fund client services. Tumulty holds an M.S. in investment management and a B.S. in business administration.

David Newman is returning to the prime brokerage industry after successfully co-founding and serving as president of Holedigger Studios, an independent film company. Previously, he served as vice president of operations for GH Associates and managed relationships with hedge fund clients at the prime brokerages of Banc of America Securities and ING Furman Selz.

Walter Paleski brings more than 20 years of industry experience and was most recently at CastleRock Asset Management as financial controller, operations manager, and trader. Previously he was a senior account executive for prime brokerage hedge fund clients at ING Furman Selz and, prior to that, Morgan Stanley. Paleski began his career with Shearson Lehman.