As Hedge Funds Endure Rocky Year, | Stock Market News Today


Investments in private companies are saving the year for stock-picking hedge funds.

Prominent managers that invest in both public and private companies in the same funds have seen their portfolio of public investments flail, weighed down by losses from January’s meme-stock rally and a retreat by fast-growing technology stocks. But soaring valuations of private companies and a hot U.S. IPO market have boosted their private wagers. That has helped mask their poor performance in public markets and driven up their overall returns.

Dan Sundheim’s $25 billion D1 Capital Partners, for example, is down 4% in its public bets for the year through September—but up 71% before fees in its private investments, said people familiar with the firm. The S&P 500 had a total return of 15.9% for the period.

D1 clients opt into share classes that offer varying levels of exposure to private investments. Clients in the share class that can invest up to 15% in private companies have seen gains of about 4.5%, after fees, for the period. The gains stand at 14% and 21% for clients in share classes that can invest up to 35% and 50% in private companies.

Meanwhile, Boston-based Whale Rock Capital Management was down 11.2% for its public investments in a hedge fund that can invest up to a quarter of its clients’ money in private companies, said people familiar with the fund. The performance of the fund’s private wagers shrank the fund’s losses to 3.3% for the year through September.

Hedge funds without private companies in their portfolios have had a rougher time. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Light Street Capital Management, which manages late-stage growth and other funds along with a hedge fund that only invests in public companies, is down 18.6% for the year through September in its hedge fund, said people familiar with the firm. That has brought the fund’s size down to about $1.7 billion. Its growth funds have fared much better, the people said, with Light Street’s first such fund, whose investments include the restaurant-software provider

Toast Inc.

and the software-development company

GitLab Inc.,

expected to have an internal rate of return of more than 100%.

The rush into private investing by public-market investors has helped fuel surging valuations for private companies. And as hedge funds, along with mutual funds and sovereign-wealth funds, deploy billions of dollars, they often crowd out venture and growth funds.

Hedge funds made up 27% of the money raised in private rounds this year through June, despite participating in just 4% of the deals, according to a recent report by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“These tech companies are growing exponentially, and managers want to capture that huge exponential growth for their clients,” said Susan Webb, founder and investment chief at the New York-based outsourced-investment firm Appomattox Advisory.

The higher-return potential is stark. Private-equity and venture strategies gained an average 14.2% a year in the decade ended in 2020, Goldman said, while hedge funds overall averaged half those annual returns over the period—and were subject to the stresses of regular redemption cycles.

Toast, a restaurant-software provider that went public last month, is an investment of a Light Street Capital Management growth fund.



Photo:

Richard Drew/Associated Press

Hybrid funds can offer distinct benefits, said Udi Grofman, global co-head of the private-funds group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. “The beauty of the structure is that it allows the capital of the investors, in between being invested in private investments, to be exposed to public markets,” Mr. Grofman said. Clients typically sit on cash to fund capital calls by venture and private-equity funds.

Stock-picking hedge funds had a banner year in 2020, buoyed by markets that set new highs after bottoming that March.

Their fortunes in public markets have changed this year. The meme-stock rally in January, which sent the price of companies including GameStop Corp. and

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.

to extraordinary heights, dealt losses to myriad hedge funds. Whale Rock gained 71% last year, while the D1 share class investing up to 15% of clients’ money in private companies climbed 60%; in January they lost about 11% and 30%, respectively, in just their public investments.

While D1 has almost recouped those losses, Whale Rock and other growth-oriented stock pickers have struggled. Fund managers say sector rotations that have alternately favored growth or value have made it difficult to navigate markets. Long out-of-favor sectors such as energy and financials have been on a tear.

Meanwhile, private markets have continued to be supportive. The U.S. IPO market is flourishing, and companies are continuing to raise more money in private markets than in the past. Hedge funds are contributing to the brisk pace of fundraising. D1 and Tiger Global Management, which manages a series of private-equity funds in addition to a hybrid hedge fund, have participated in private funding rounds this year through September at a pace of more than a deal a week for D1 and more than two deals every three days for Tiger, according to PitchBook Data Inc.

The 44-year-old Mr. Sundheim, who started D1 after several years as chief investment officer at Viking Global Investors, said at a recent capital-introduction conference that he hadn’t expected to get as big in private companies as he has. D1 is invested in 90 private companies, he said.

He said judgment was the only competitive advantage in public markets as private markets offered the additional benefit of firms’ reputations playing a role in gaining access to deals. He said D1 in its earliest investments acted as a resource to management teams so they would be strong references for D1. Mr. Sundheim also said he was confident in his portfolio of public investments over the next three to five years.

Write to Juliet Chung at [email protected]

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UBS Profit Jumps on Wealth Management Boom | Sidnaz Blog


A pedestrian passes a UBS branch in Zurich earlier this month.



Photo:

Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg News

UBS Group AG


UBS -2.22%

posted better-than-expected second-quarter earnings from strong client activity in the world’s buoyant markets.

On Tuesday, Switzerland’s biggest bank said net profit jumped to $2 billion from $1.23 billion a year earlier, outpacing analyst expectations of $1.34 billion. It said wealth clients traded more, pushing transaction revenues 16% higher from a year earlier, and added that recurring fees were 30% higher on their existing trades and products.

At UBS’s investment bank, deal advice for mergers and acquisitions and other corporate transactions pushed global banking revenue 68% higher, helping to offset a 14% decline in market-trading income.

UBS said markets revenue would have been flat but it took an additional $87 million hit the quarter from the late March default by family office Archegos Capital Management. UBS was one of about a half-dozen banks that lent to Archegos to take large, concentrated positions in stocks. The Swiss bank said in April that it had lost $861 million when exiting the trades, most of it booked in the first quarter.

UBS helps the world’s rich manage their wealth and competes with Wall Street banks in investment banking.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive

Ralph Hamers

said wealth clients are investing more with the bank in private markets and in separately managed accounts, adding that they are also freeing up liquidity as a buffer against unforeseen events by refinancing assets and borrowing from the bank.

He said momentum is on UBS’s side and that its strategic choices are paying off. The bank refocused around wealth management a decade ago and pared back its investment bank. It has been less in the limelight than its smaller domestic rival,

Credit Suisse

Group AG, which lost more than $5 billion from the Archegos affair this year.

Write to Margot Patrick at [email protected]

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William Ackman Needs a Soothing Pitch After Universal Music Drama | Sidnaz Blog


Pershing Square Tontine Holdings had planned a $4 billion purchase of a 10% stake in Universal Music Group.



Photo:

Bing Guan/Bloomberg News

William Ackman’s

blank-check company picked a good target but a poor deal structure. To keep investors happy, both need to be right on a second attempt.

On Monday,

Pershing Square Tontine Holdings


PSTH -1.45%

$4 billion purchase of a 10% stake in Universal Music Group was called off. The world’s biggest record label will be spun off from its French owner

Vivendi

and listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange in September. The SPAC’s investors were offered early exposure to an attractive business at a low valuation.

The deal’s complexity has been part of its undoing. After spending 72% of the SPAC’s cash on the Universal stake, $1.6 billion would be left over for another acquisition. Investors also would get warrants to buy into an additional blank-check deal. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is scrutinizing SPAC deals more closely these days, said that as more than 40% of its assets would be in a minority stake, Pershing Square Tontine risked becoming an unregistered investment company.

The SPAC’s workaround caused a headache for investors. The Universal shares were to be locked up in a trust for four months, which would trigger a fall in Pershing Square Tontine’s share price—bad news for a sizable chunk of the SPAC’s shareholders who bought the stock on margin. The final nail in the coffin was the SEC’s opinion that the Universal stock purchase wouldn’t meet the New York Stock Exchange’s SPAC rules.

Mr. Ackman still gets his hands on the record label because the

Pershing Square Holdings


PSH -4.85%

hedge fund will buy the stake instead. This way, though, he will tie up a lot more capital in Universal than initially planned. Under the original deal, his fund would have owned a 3% stake but that number could now be closer to 10%.

More pressing is the need to pacify institutional investors and family offices that liked the idea of a stake in Universal and missed out. The deal also was supposed to showcase what the hedge-fund billionaire could accomplish with future blank-check vehicles. It hasn’t been a good start.

Pershing Square Tontine Holdings’ shares are down almost one-fifth since the Universal deal was announced and now trade just in line with their net asset value. Its founder has learned the lesson to keep things simple; the SPAC will do a conventional deal next, according to an investor letter Monday. Investors will be harder to impress the second time around.

Private companies are flooding to special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, to bypass the traditional IPO process and gain a public listing. WSJ explains why some critics say investing in these so-called blank-check companies isn’t worth the risk. Illustration: Zoë Soriano/WSJ

Write to Carol Ryan at [email protected]

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Ackman SPAC Decides Against Buying 10% Stake in Universal Music | Sidnaz Blog


Universal Music’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., earlier this year.



Photo:

Bing Guan/Bloomberg News

Pershing Square Tontine Holdings Ltd.


PSTH -1.81%

, a blank-check company led by hedge-fund manager

William Ackman,

said it won’t proceed with its proposed acquisition of a 10% stake in Universal Music Group and will assign its share-purchase deal to

Pershing Square Holdings Ltd.

Vivendi

SE—Universal’s majority owner—said it approved Pershing Square Tontine’s request to assign its rights and obligations under a June 20 agreement to investment funds with significant economic interests or management positions held by Mr. Ackman.

The French media company said the equity interest eventually acquired in Universal Music will now be between 5% and 10%. If it falls below 10%, Vivendi said it would still sell the additional interest to other investors before the planned spinoff of Universal Music into an Amsterdam-listed company in September.

On June 20, Pershing Square Tontine agreed to buy 10% of the ordinary shares of Universal Music in a deal valuing the world’s largest music company—home to stars including Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Queen and the Beatles—at about $40 billion.

Pershing Square Tontine said its decision to withdraw from the deal was prompted by issues raised by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said its board didn’t believe the deal could have been completed given the SEC’s position.

The blank-check company said its board concluded that assigning its Universal Music stock-purchase deal to Pershing Square was in the best interest of shareholders. Pershing Square Tontine said Pershing Square intends to be a long-term Universal Music shareholder.

Pershing Square Tontine said it would seek a new transaction, which will be structured as a conventional special purpose acquisition company merger. The company said it has 18 months remaining to close a deal.

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NortonLifeLock in Talks to Buy Avast | Sidnaz Blog


Prague-based Avast primarily makes free and premium security software, offering desktop and mobile-device protection.



Photo:

david w cerny/Reuters

NortonLifeLock Inc.


NLOK -0.92%

is in talks to buy European cybersecurity firm

Avast

Plc, according to people familiar with the matter, in a deal that would expand the U.S. company’s focus on consumer software.

A deal could be finalized this month, assuming talks don’t fall apart, the people said. Avast has a market value of around £5.2 billion ($7.2 billion). Assuming a typical deal premium, the deal could value the cybersecurity firm at more than $8 billion.

Avast is based in Prague but trades in London. It primarily makes free and premium security software, offering desktop and mobile-device protection. Avast traces its roots back roughly 30 years to when founders

Pavel Baudiš

and

Eduard Kučera

established the company, then known as Alwil. It says on its website that it rebuffed an acquisition offer from rival McAfee in 1997, instead licensing its antivirus product to the company. It became Avast in 2010 and went public in London in 2018. In 2014, private-equity firm CVC Capital Partners took a significant minority stake.

Avast’s founders control roughly 35% of the shares and sit on its board.

The deal would be a big one for NortonLifeLock, which is based in Tempe, Ariz. With a market value of about $16 billion, the company was known as Symantec Corp. before it closed a $10.7 billion deal to sell its enterprise-security business to

Broadcom Inc.

in 2019. What is left mainly sells Norton antivirus software and LifeLock identity-theft-protection products to consumers.

The company had attracted takeover interest of its own a few years ago, but nothing has come of it.

Activist investor Starboard Value LP owns a roughly 3% stake in NortonLifeLock, according to FactSet, and holds a board seat. It first took the position in 2018.

Write to Cara Lombardo at [email protected] and Dana Cimilluca at [email protected]

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Credit Suisse’s SPAC Bonanza Dries Up | Sidnaz Blog


Now the market for SPACs—or special-purpose acquisition companies—has come off the boil, and new underwriting fees are threatening to dry up. Credit Suisse’s SPAC deals are being closely watched by investors and analysts, because revenue from them came to represent a large chunk of overall investment-banking revenue last year. That raised concerns that the fees and deal volume might not be sustainable.

Credit Suisse went from making an estimated $466 million in gross SPAC underwriting fees in the first quarter, to $16.1 million between April 1 and June 15, according to data provider Refinitiv.

Across banks, SPAC underwriting fees fell to $541 million in the second quarter to June 15, from a record $4.85 billion in the first quarter, according to Refinitiv data. Other banks, including

Citigroup Inc.

and

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.,

also saw sharp dives in their SPAC initial public offering fees in the second quarter, according to Refinitiv data.

SPACs are shell companies that raise money to target a private company and take it public. They became a popular cash cow for big-name investors and celebrities in soaring stock markets, but demand cooled in the second quarter as shares of some companies that merged with SPACs tumbled and the Securities and Exchange Commission toughened its stance on the format.

The drop-off in activity doesn’t mean banks will stop reporting strong SPAC revenue. Refinitiv calculates full IPO underwriting fees upfront, while in practice, banks receive around 2% of money raised when the SPAC goes public and another 3.5% or so if and when the SPAC buys or merges with another company. Mergers continued in the second quarter, producing those deferred underwriting fees, and frequently additional fees too for deal advice or raising more cash.

Nearly 300 SPACs have said they intend to raise money, meaning new blank-check IPOs and underwriting could pick up again.

The SPAC business is emblematic of the bank’s post-Archegos dilemma: It wants to ratchet down risk and focus on managing the wealth of the global rich—but investment banking brought in 40% of revenue last year. Credit Suisse Chairman

António Horta-Osório,

who started May 1, said there could be strategic changes and that tough decisions lie ahead.

Credit Suisse’s share price has been among the worst performers of global banks this year, down 14%. Over the same period, an index of European banking stocks is up by more than one quarter.

Credit Suisse’s new chairman, António Horta-Osório, has said tough decisions lie ahead for the bank.



Photo:

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News

The SPAC fee surge last year helped Credit Suisse offset $1.3 billion in unexpected charges from a legal case, and revaluing a hedge-fund stake. The revenue took on more importance when Archegos Capital, the family office of hedge-fund manager

Bill Hwang,

couldn’t meet margin calls at several banks in March, causing more than $10 billion in losses at lenders exiting the Archegos positions.

Credit Suisse said it was able to largely contain losses from Archegos because of the strong quarter it had elsewhere in the investment bank, including in underwriting SPACs and other IPOs. It reported a $275 million first-quarter net loss and tapped shareholders for $2 billion capital in April.

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The bank said losses could also be material from the collapse of another client, financial firm Greensill Capital, with which Credit Suisse ran $10 billion in investment funds.

Credit Suisse doesn’t break out SPAC revenue in published earnings. However, its chief financial officer,

David Mathers,

told analysts in April that around $300 million of $1.5 billion capital markets and advisory fees in the first quarter came from SPACs. Revenue across Credit Suisse was around $8.4 billion.

Credit Suisse was the biggest underwriter of SPACs last year, benefiting from relationships with serial SPAC founders such as venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya and deal maker and Vegas Golden Knights owner

Bill Foley.

The Swiss bank invested in the sector in the years before SPACs went mainstream, hiring veteran SPAC banker Niron Stabinsky in 2015.

WSJ explains why some critics say investing in SPACs isn’t worth the risk. (Originally published Sep. 29, 2020)

Write to Margot Patrick at [email protected]

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HSBC to Take $3 Billion in Losses on Sale of Troubled French Bank | Sidnaz Blog


A HSBC bank branch near Paris.



Photo:

gonzalo fuentes/Reuters

HSBC Holdings PLC


HSBC -2.88%

expects to take $3 billion in losses as part of an agreement to sell its unprofitable French retail bank, in a sign of the souring fortunes of European banking.

London-based HSBC, one of the world’s largest lenders, said Friday that it had agreed to sell the bank to a company owned by Cerberus Capital Management LP, a New York-based private-equity firm.

HSBC said it would receive 1 euro for the bank, equivalent to around $1.19, and that it might be required to put additional cash into the deal, which isn’t expected to close until the first half of 2023. It expects to take a pretax loss of $2.3 billion on the sale, plus a further $700 million goodwill write-down.

Two decades ago, HSBC paid $10.6 billion to acquire Credit Commercial de France, as part of a broad growth strategy to expand its footprint to economies large and small around the world.

Its sale reflects the dire straits of European banks, with slow growth, negative interest rates and regulatory and political obstacles to consolidation.

“It is not expected that the potential transaction will result in any net proceeds of sale for the HSBC Group,” HSBC said.

In 2000, when it bought Credit Commercial de France, the total value of takeovers of European banks was over $90 billion, according to Dealogic. Last year, the value of European banking takeovers slumped to under $50 billion.

Write to Simon Clark at [email protected]

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