Wow, it’s just starting and it’s not going to stop. Basis Capital is an Australian hedge fund. They run about a billion dollars under management. What you have to keep in mind however is that hedge funds use LEVERAGE, big leverage. The average hedge fund manager in the United States is using 6 times the capital base of the money he is managing, as leverage. In the race for performance or the elusive alpha, some hedge fund managers are pushing the envelope and using as much as 10 times leverage. This can cause serious problems because when leverage goes against you, it’s DEADLY.
An example is now the latest announcements coming out of Basis Capital. Apparently this hedge fund was invested in the US home loans to investors are less than creditworthy. The hedge fund claims that the collateral in their portfolio is sound, but sound is a matter of judgment. Unfortunately for Basis Capital, the prime broker clearing for the hedge fund doesn’t agree with them. The prime broker has re-priced this so-called sound collateral.
What does it mean?
The hedge fund now has to go into a crisis mode to survive. Immediately many investors will ask for their money back. This is the step that kills off the hedge fund. In order to prevent a run on the bank, as they like to say, the hedge fund has announced that they may restrict redemptions, which is the right of the investor to withdraw their money at, will. If investors are allowed to withdraw their funds, the collateral securing the underlying investments usually collapses because other smart money knows that that collateral has to be sold in order to fund the redemptions.
Prior to originating a hedge fund, most hedge funds will install restrictive covenants in their investor agreement that build in what are called gates. These gates limit by quarter what can be withdrawn from the fund. It’s about self-preservation. In this case Basis Capital and its two hedge funds require 90 days notice before capital can be withdrawn. Once again this policy attempts to prevent a forced liquidation of the underlying collateral securing the hedge funds’ investments.
Basis Capital has warned that the true extent of their problems might not become evident until September. What does that mean? These people mark to market every day. They have the finest computer pricing systems in the world. PhD’s in mathematical modeling are a dime a dozen in the hedge fund industry, and yet this hedge fund doesn’t know where it stands financially. This is a breakdown in the system, and it has great meaning to the rest of the hedge fund industry.
What happened to Basis Capital is very simple. In the range of assumptions they used to make their bets they determined normal risk parameters. They did not give any consideration to the possibility that the investments they were making might, just might move outside their normal variability ranges. In other words they excluded worst-case possibilities from their consideration. The melt down of the sub prime lending market is such a possibility and it has HAPPENED.