One would imagine that hedge fund managers, regulators and academics on a remote island might create a Lord of the Flies-like scene, given the contentious discussion going on these days about how to best monitor the growing hedge fund industry.
But the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s conference this week in Sea Island, Georgia, entitled “Hedge Funds: Creators or Risk?”, proved a convivial affair featuring a robust exchange of ideas between the disparate groups.
However, one exception came when Atanu Saha discussed his research on how hedge fund index returns are inflated. The award-winning research paper, co-written by Random Walk Down Wall Street author Burton Malkiel, has not sat well with the industry. The hedgies have criticised the research as riddled with flaws and biases that reflect the Random Walk ideology, which holds that outperformance by managers is as much a function of luck as talent. Naturally, this flies in the face of everything hedge funds stand for.
The criticism of Saha (and Malkiel, in absentia) came fast and furious, including a gem from Cadogan Management’s Paul Isaac. Saha’s notion of aggregating performance in such a diverse universe as hedge funds was akin to lumping together “race horses, plough horses, horseradish and sea horses” to aggregate performance in the horse category.
Suits among suits
It is “upfront” week this week in New York, an annual media pageant when the largest networks present next year’s programmes to advertisers and the press, usually with all the pomp and fanfare of the Westminster Dog Show.
This year was no exception: News Corp has been busy trumpeting its most recent acquisition of internet darling Myspace.com, the website that has made Rupert Murdoch one very hip septuagenarian.
But one upfront event was unlike any of the others. Univision’s presentation on Wednesday was attended not only by advertising executives but by a star-studded slate of buy-out gurus.
Insiders say Texas Pacific Group, Providence Equity Partners and Madison Dearborn were among the private equity groups that sent top emissaries to spy on next year’s hot Spanish-language shows.
The reason? Univision, which the major networks have been itching to buy for several years as a way to enter the fast-growing Spanish language market, is up for sale, and these groups are participating in the auction. There are certainly worse ways of spending a morning of “due diligence”.
You don’t have to be as famous as Bono or film star Angelina Jolie to pluck the heartstrings of politicians for a good cause. Oliver Stoltz, a little-known German filmmaker, has proven this point with his documentary Lost Children, about child soldiers in northern Uganda’s bloody armed conflict.
The film not only last week won the best documentary prize at the German film awards, but a special screening made such an emotional impact on a group of legislators that they drafted a (very rare) cross-party parliamentary motion urging Germany and the European Union to take a tougher stance towards Kampala over dealing with the long-running rebellion.
Stoltz’s success is perhaps even more surprising as he is not a hardened documentary maker.
“Normally I make comedies and other programmes for commercial television in Germany. I made this film because the topic was important to me,” he told Observer. Bono et al watch out: even lesser mortals can make a difference.
Who said leftwingers never bury the hatchet?
Asked to nominate their top 50 Heroes of Our Time, readers of Britain’s leftwing New Statesman magazine threw up some unlikely results. It was not just the fact that Tony Blair, UK prime minister – who may still (just) be leader of the Labour party but is reviled by many grassroots members – made it on to the list at number 18.
What about Margaret Thatcher? The Iron Lady who gave the left serial handbaggings during her 11-year premiership spanning the 1980s, makes a shock appearance at five.
That may put her behind the likes of Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi but ahead of more predictable contenders such as Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, Bill Clinton and Noam Chomsky. Time is a great healer.
Apart from the European constitution, there is no more bitter topic in the EU than the merits of Finnish food.
Silvio Berlusconi, the ex-Italian premier, attacked it in a fight over the siting of the EU’s food standards agency – the agency went to Parma instead of Helsinki. President Jacques Chirac of France was then overheard having a giggle with Vladimir Putin of Russia and Gerhard Schröder of Germany, both countries noted for their gourmet pickles. “One cannot trust people whose food is so bad,” he reportedly said of the British. “After Finland, it is the country with the worst food.”
Observer is relieved to hear Helsinki is putting the thorny issue at the heart of its six-month EU presidency, starting in July. The Helsingin Sanomat daily reports that a booklet on local delicacies is being released. “Food in Finland can be praised for its purity, and for the nature of the north that one can – possibly – taste in it. Even the cows give the purest milk in Europe,” it boasts in a most un-Finnish way.
Connoisseurs of long standing still have booklets from the last Finnish presidency, explaining the difference between hundreds of varieties of berries.