Hedge funds pay price for silence

Hedge fund managers in my experience are intelligent, polite, socially aware, committed and at a loss to understand why they cannot simply be left alone to do what they do.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

In recent times a few of the bigger firms began to talk to the press and showed more concern about their public image. But a majority took the view that they wanted nothing from the media and would offer nothing to them in return.

They failed to appreciate that hostility breeds hostility and people behave according to stereotype. So the coverage they did get tended to be just what they did not want, which only served to reinforce their conviction that nothing good ever appeared in a newspaper.

I heard of several PR firms that had hedge fund clients where the brief was to keep them out of the papers, and if that proved impossible, to field all calls so there was no chance of direct contact ever being made.

But on the other hand, several of the key firms co-operated to produce a code of conduct. They worked hard to take the industry as a whole with them and while critics said the code did not go far enough, it was a huge advance on anything that had gone before.

Given the nature of the industry it was all that could realistically be achieved. It also seemed to have done the business. Politicians and regulators were pleased with the initiative and attention moved elsewhere.

Now, however, the industry is in deep trouble. Only one in ten did well enough to levy a performance fee in the first half of the year. This has been compounded by sudden changes in the rules imposed by the authorities as they struggle to contain the crisis. And no-one cares about their cries of pain.

This is the nub of it. The industry is friendless in the bad times because it made insufficient effort to make friends and explain itself in the good times. It showed an indifference because the only thing it thought mattered was the judgement of the markets and clients. That misjudgement will cost many their future. They failed to secure their licence to operate in the court of public opinion.

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