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投资理财 - 市场走向

种子资本已成对冲基金新常态

Katie Benner 2011年06月03日

即便是最老牌的对冲基金经理都在考虑引入种子投资,因为金融危机已使得投资者们不再放心将钱交给另起炉灶的基金经理。

    对冲基金业先驱迈克尔•斯坦哈特一直批评对冲基金经理已沦为资产汇集者。今春斯坦哈特在接受CNBC采访时称,如今的基金经理似乎满足于回报率跑赢大盘即可,真正赚钱则是靠扩大资产规模,依赖管理费生存。他说,如今的对冲基金业务正在沦为一个奖励机制,鼓励做大基金,而不是追求制胜的回报率。

    部分观察人士(或者说持怀疑态度的观察人士)认为,对冲基金引入种子投资将使得投资者有机会参与斯坦哈特不屑一顾、却能带来高额回报的机制,以便从中分得一杯羹。毕竟,只要资金持续流入,收取管理费的模式就能保证哪怕最平庸的基金经理都能挣到钱。谁会拒绝这样的好事呢?

    所谓种子投资,正如你可能听到的那样,即注入早期资本。对冲基金种子的规模大到足以帮助一个基金经理起步;而且一些种子投资者还同时提供推介、风险管理和后台帮助。如果投资是来自知名公司——如Larch Lane、Reservoir、Protégé、百仕通(Blackstone)或SkyBridge——则无异于一剂早期的成功定心丸。

    获得种子投资的对冲基金有点像契约奴工。种子投资人提供资金、协助推介,有时可能还会给对冲基金带来好名声,作为回报,投资人将获得对冲基金的股权以及约定时间内的部分基金管理费收入。

    金融危机爆发前,出色的基金经理(至少是业绩记录出色的基金经理)无需种子投资。他们不需要任何帮助,就能轻松筹得大笔资金(当时指的是10亿美元左右的启动资金,而如今1亿美元也被视为大额筹资)。在对冲基金的鼎盛时期,引入种子投资的基金经理有时会被视为无能之辈。

    如今,拉奇•莱恩的一份报告称,即便是最老牌的基金经理都在考虑引入种子投资,因为金融危机已使得投资者不再放心将钱交给另起炉灶的基金经理——即便是声名卓著的基金经理。把宝押在资历尚欠的基金经理身上需要冒很大的风险,不管他/她在自营部门或其他对冲基金的表现如何出色。报告还指出,相比过去,种子投资人现在还能争取更有利的条款。

    总之,大量的基金希望获得资金。“我可以给你看,有无数基金经理书面业绩看来不错,棒球卡很出色,但一碰到市场就完了,”SkyBridge的创始人安东尼•斯卡拉姆齐称,“你必须遴选出具有西蒙•考威尔所谓的某种神秘特质(X-factor) 的经理。”

    我问斯卡拉姆齐,如果想要他为我未来的公司(当我发挥我的X特质时,你懂的)提供种子资本,我必须付出什么代价。在确认我的老板(以及斯卡拉姆齐的合作伙伴)也将参与该方案后, 斯卡拉姆齐表示他可以提供约7,500万美元的资金、融资帮助,并安排我出席SALT (SkyBridge Alternative)会议。作为交换,SkyBridge希望得到Fortune Magazine Capital Partners (FMCP!)管理费收入的25%左右。

    这样的安排能更好地平衡SkyBridge和我的风险及回报。如果这只Fortune对冲基金的资产管理规模从1亿美元飙升至10亿美元的话,那将成为对冲基金界类似励志大篇《冰上轻驰》(Cool Running)的佳话,此外还将给管理团队和种子投资人带来丰厚回报。斯卡拉姆齐和我就能喜笑颜开地依靠不断膨胀的资产收取2%的管理费,从长远来看,一旦某一年的年度业绩不佳的话,这笔不断增加的现金也可应付不时之需。同时,一旦获得SkyBridge的种子投资,其知名度可能会吸引更多的有限合伙人,膨胀的资产规模能使所有人都发财,哪怕我无法企及斯坦哈特在过去28年里取得的年均回报率(24%)的卓越业绩。

    当然,这不是说种子投资人不是在真心寻找最佳的基金经理。只是说经济景气时,只要基金能够实现资产扩张,种子投资人就能从哪怕是平庸的基金经理身上赚到钱。

    随着“种子”一词不断出现在对冲基金新闻、业内会议以及机构投资者的交谈中,可见这股趋势的意义已经不再仅仅局限于帮助新生基金公司或者弥合对冲基金有限合伙人与羽翼未丰的基金经理之间的分歧。诸如高盛(Goldman Sachs)、摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)这样的投资银行、私募股权公司以及更多大型投资平台都在为种子基金募集资金,希望能够准确把握市场脉搏,顺应驱使基金经理自立门户的动力——即市场顺风顺水、鸡犬升天,资金重新涌入对冲基金时,基金经理们锁定现金的能力。

    Hedge fund pioneer Michael Steinhardt has criticized hedge fund managers for becoming nothing more than asset gatherers. Steinhardt told CNBC this spring that managers today seem happy to perform just well enough to stay ahead of the market, and make their real money by growing assets and living off of the management fees. He says the business is turning into a compensation scheme, which has encouraged big funds rather than killer performance.

    Hedge fund seeding is a business that some observers (well, cynical observers) think gives investors a chance to partake in the compensation scheme that Steinhardt disdains, but that has made people a lot of money. Afterall, the management fee structure allowed even mediocre managers to profit so long as money rolled into their firms. Who wouldn't want in on that?

    A seed investment, as you may have gleaned, is an injection of early stage capital. A hedge fund seed is large enough to help a manager get off the ground; and some seeders also kick in marketing, risk management, and back office help. If the investment is from a prestigious firm – i.e. Larch Lane, Reservoir, Protege, Blackstone (BX), or SkyBridge – the seed can act like an early imprimatur of success.

    The seeded enter into a relationship that operates like indentured servitude lite. In exchange for money, marketing, and (sometimes) prestige, seeders get some combination of an equity stake in the business and a cut of the fee income generated by the fund for an agreed upon period of time.

    Before the financial crisis, the most talented managers (or at least those with the best track records) didn't need to be seeded. They were easily able to raise big money (about $1 billion for a launch vs. the $100 million that is now considered a great raise) without any help. At the height of the hedge fund boom, managers who relied on seeding platforms were sometimes thought of as the sort of guys who couldn't succeed on their own.

    Now a Larch Lane report says that even the most pedigreed managers are considering seeders, since the financial crisis has made investors wary of putting money with managers -- even established ones -- just striking out on their own. It's high risk to put a bet on an emerging manager, regardless of what kind of track record he or she created while at a prop trading desk or at another hedge fund. The report adds that seeders are also in a position to negotiate even better terms for themselves than before.

    In short, there's a glut of funds who want money. "I can show you countless managers who looked good on paper, whose baseball card so to speak looked great, who blew themselves to pieces the minue they had contact with the market," says SkyBridge founder Anthony Scaramucci. "You have to find managers who have what Simon Cowell calls the X-factor."

    I ask Scaramucci what I'd have to give up if he seeded my future firm (you know, when I unleash my X-factor). After reassurance that my boss (and Scaramucci's Wall Street 2 partner in cameo crime) would be a part of the package, Scaramucci says he would probably provide about $75 million, fund raising help, and a spot in his SALT conference line up. In exchange, SkyBridge would want about 25% of the fee revenue generated by Fortune Magazine Capital Partners (FMCP!).

    This is how the arrangement more closely aligns SkyBridge's risks and rewards with mine. If the Fortune hedge fund rockets from $100 million in assets under management to $1 billion, it would not only be the Cool Runnings of hedge fund stories, it would be a huge pay day for the management team and the seeder. Scaramucci and I could happily collect the 2% fee charged on the burgeoning assets, and use the growing pile of cash as some nice rainy day money should I not actually perform all that well on a long term, annualized basis. Since SkyBridge is a well known seeder, that stamp of approval would hopefully beget more limited partners and create the bloated asset base that will make everyone rich even if I don't knock it out of the park a la Steinhardt's famed 24% average annual returns over 28 years.

    This is not to say, of course, that seeders aren't genuine in their desire to find the very best managers. It is only to note that seeders can still make money on mediocre managers if those funds manage to gather assets during a boom.

    So as the word 'seed' keeps popping up in hedge fund news, at industry conferences, and in conversations with institutional investors, know the trend is doing more than helping nascent firms or filling in the gap between hedge fund LPs and fledgling managers. Banks like Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS), private equity firms, and more big investment platforms are raising money for seeding funds to be on the right side of what motivates hedge fund managers to hang a shingle – the ability to lock in some cash as a rising tide lifts all boats and money roars back to the asset class.

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