Prof. Jayanth R. Varma's Financial Markets Blog

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Prof. Jayanth R. Varma's Financial Markets Blog, A Blog on Financial Markets and Their Regulation

© Prof. Jayanth R. Varma
jrvarma@iimahd.ernet.in

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Tue, 11 Oct 2005

Hedge Fund Frauds


In August 2005, investors in the Bayou Group of hedge funds in the United States discovered that the $400 million of assets that Bayou purported to have did not really exist. For several years, the accounts of the fund had been completely falsified. Since then there have been many proposals for tighter regulation of hedge funds.

Many of these proposals which try to make hedge funds look more like mutual funds do not make sense. Academic research going back several decades has consistently shown that buying an index funds (or perhaps even better, an Exchange Traded Fund or ETF) out performs actively managed mutual funds. Research has also generally shown that by and large those who beat the market in any single year are not likely to do so year after year on a consistent basis. In short (apart from ETFs) mutual funds provide a completely useless asset class - they do not expand the investment opportunity set for investors.

Basically, the regulatory restrictions on leverage, derivatives and short selling mean that all mutual funds are just more expensive versions of an ETF. Like branded gasoline, mutual funds are a branded commodity where one uses expensive marketing efforts to demonstrate that one’s product is somehow different from (and superior to) the competition.

Academic research on hedge funds is more recent and perhaps therefore less conclusive. But the limited evidence that is there suggests that hedge funds do expand the investment opportunity set. They provide absolute returns that are weakly correlated with the market. Risk compensation per unit of beta is therefore excellent, and risk compensation per unit of standard deviation is respectable. This makes them a useful addition to the portfolio of many investors.

If we defined investor protection in objective finance theory terms therefore we should make mutual funds more like hedge funds rather than the other way around.

So what is the right regulatory response to Bayou? Jenny Anderson has an interesting proposal on this subject (“A Modest Proposal to Prevent Hedge Fund Fraud”, New York Times, October 7, 2005) which requires only a simple modification to the SEC’s registration requirememt for hedge funds that comes to effect in February 2006.

“The [SEC] should ask for two other pieces of information: the name of the accountant responsible for auditing the fund and the name of the broker-dealer through which the hedge fund trades - including whether that broker-dealer is affiliated with the hedge fund.

These issues were critical red flags in the fraud at Bayou. Its auditor, Richmond-Fairfield Associates, was a fake accounting firm created to produce false audits of Bayou. Bayou Securities was the broker-dealer through which trades were made to create real commissions for Bayou’s principals, who used them as compensation on top of 20 percent incentive fee they made on their fraudulent returns.”

This is perhaps the most sensible response to Bayou.

Posted at 17:42 on Tue, 11 Oct 2005     2 comments     permanent link

Comments...

babu wrote on Sat, 24 Dec 2005 16:58

Re: Hedge Fund Frauds

true to say that this article has tell everything a common investor wants to describe. It stands outside of the crowd and assess what is going on in, what you called, professional advise given to every investor. It reitreate the point that how is the hedge fund differ from the usual breed that can pinpoint market for inability.

baburajan wrote on Sat, 24 Dec 2005 17:00

Re: Hedge Fund Frauds

true to say that this article has tell everything a common investor wants to describe. It stands outside of the crowd and assess what is going on in, what you called, professional advise given to every investor. It reitreate the point that how is the hedge fund differ from the usual breed that can pinpoint market for their inability.



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