Why SALT Is Happy to Have the Mooch Back This Year

May 17, 2017   Stephen Taub

The annual Las Vegas hedge fund show will go on, with co-founder and driving force Anthony Scaramucci firmly at the helm, after his White House job didn't materialize.

  Anthony Scaramucci, founder of SkyBridge Capital LLC (Photo Credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg). 

When it looked like Anthony Scaramucci, the founder of fund-of-funds business SkyBridge Capital, might be headed to the White House for a full-time job, many hedge fund industry observers wondered what this might mean for the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, the annual hedge fund industry conclave known as SALT.

After all, while he co-founded the conference with SkyBridge partner and head of business development Victor Oviedo, the Mooch's as Scaramucci is known – is the face, and heart and soul, of the four-day event. Earlier this year it was announced that Scaramucci was selling SkyBridge to a consortium led by RON Transatlantic and China's HNA Capital and would spin out the SALT conference as a stand-alone business after reports surfaced that he would be taking a top job in President Donald Trump's administration. So, it seemed fitting that he would scale back his involvement with SALT. Indeed, early versions of the itinerary showed Scaramucci playing a low-key role for him.

However, the 1,800 or so people who are gathering this week at the Bellagio Resort and Casino in Las Vegas will notice when the panels and presentations begin on Wednesday that Scaramucci has assumed his familiar high-profile perch, serving as chairman of the event. This is because a job working for President Trump didn't materialize after all.

But Scaramucci will be plenty busy in Vegas this year. He is planning to welcome everyone and deliver the opening remarks, head up some panel discussions, and conduct the keynote interviews with Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management and Dan Loeb of Third Point. Repeat attendees will likely feel once again that they are at a Gatsby-esque party hosted by the Mooch – that is, when he is not hosting private dinners with the biggest-name speakers.

That's a good thing for SALT. For months many people in the hedge fund industry were speculating whether the event would still enjoy the same gravitas and pizzazz of years past if Scaramucci were no longer involved. And if you look at the hedge fund speaker lineup, you realize this event needs a healthy dose of glitz. That's because you probably won't get it from the speakers.

Sure, there will be the usual big name non-Wall Street celebrities and luminaries, such as former vice president Joseph Biden, former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, singer Jewel, and former boxing great Mike Tyson. However, what attendees won't be getting are the huge, Las Vegas' worthy hedge fund names – the people who create the kind of buzz all conference promoters covet, as David Tepper did in 2014 when he memorably warned attendees, Don't be too frickin' long right now.

This year, however, there are virtually no top-shelf managers that are attendance and publicity magnets, the kinds of speakers for whom people contort their schedules so as not to miss their speeches.

Of course, these kinds of speakers don't always work out. Remember, last year's luminary, Kenneth Griffin of Citadel, ended up not saying anything particularly memorable or noteworthy.

One person who could have served the dazzling-speaker role this year is Pershing Square’s Ackman. But his buzz-generating ability has diminished, in large part because his big long bet on Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and high-profile short bet on Herbalife both wound up being big losers. Suddenly he is not as interesting as he used to be. To wit, Ackman spoke just last week at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York, where he delivered a rather dry case for one of his oldest holdings, Howard Hughes Corp. Clearly, Ackman has lost at least some of his media mojo.

The only other sort of big name is Third Point's Loeb. But as it turns out, Loeb's presentation is off the record. So, you won't get a real-time account of his presentation, although I'm sure at least one of the attendees will "leak" his comments.

Altogether, of the hedge fund speakers at this year's SALT event, only one qualified for this year's Rich List: Loeb. Just seven represent hedge fund firms that rank among the 100 largest hedge fund firms in the world. Of this group, Joshua Friedman of Canyon Partners (No. 31) and Loeb of Third Point (No. 32) represent the largest hedge fund firms with speakers at the conference this year.

Several of the speakers are from smaller firms that don't have much to brag about these days after losing money last year or posting very small gains. One panel features John Lykouretzos of Hoplite Capital Management, which declined 6.15 percent last year; Jason Karp of Tourbillon Capital Partners, whose long-short fund lost 9 percent last year; Ricky Sandler of Eminence Capital, which rose just 2.2 percent last year; and short-selling specialist James Chanos of Kynikos Associates, who has been predicting China's blowup for years.

There are also fewer hedge fund sessions than in the past, or so it seems. For me, that's a partial blessing because maybe this year I'll have more time to hear some of the luminaries instead of typing away in my room. (I cover only what the hedgies have to say.)

But I'll make sure I don't say hello to or even acknowledge the presence of Steve Harvey. Don't want to upset him and trigger a tirade, right?

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