The US hedge fund industry is gearing up to let down its hair – and possibly its scruples – at the biggest annual conference for the sector, taking place this week in Las Vegas.
AsianInvestor is crossing the Pacific to attend this year’s SkyBridge Alternatives Conference (Salt) in Sin City, which kicks off on May 8.
We have been duly preparing by examining the day-time conference programme and reading up on one of Vegas’s more typical evening activities, which will carry on as usual at the Bellagio, as some 1,800 hedge fund delegates descend on the hotel.
About half of attendees will be investors, with 25-30% comprising managers and 10% service providers, according to organiser SkyBridge Capital, the US-based alternatives manager running about $7 billion in assets. The remainder represents non-profit organisations, public policymakers, academia and media.
We will not be alone in making the 16-plus hour flight from Asia, as it is understood the National Pension Service of Korea, a Japanese broker-dealer and a few hedge funds from Hong Kong and the mainland will be in attendance as well.
The Dubai International Financial Centre Authority will also be making a desert-to-desert journey.
With the launch of Salt Singapore last year, Asia will have a bigger representation at the Las Vegas event than in previous years, says SkyBridge, although the bulk of its delegates are still primarily from the US.
While capital introductions remain the main focus of the event, the conference retains its cachet as a wide-ranging programme featuring renowned speakers.
This year’s roll-call includes former prime minister of Greece George Papandreou, France's ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, John Paulson, the embattled president of Paulson & Co, and Carson Block, the controversial founder of Muddy Waters Research.
Other scheduled speakers include a pair of Hollywood magnates: Wall Street director Oliver Stone and actor Al Pacino, the latter of whom is immortalised in the minds of many for a six-word line in Scarface.
The widened range of speakers reflects the evolution of Salt, says SkyBridge, with the inaugural event having taken place in the aftermath of the crisis in 2009.
This year’s conference is being held amid rosier circumstances, with global industry assets now standing at about $2.2 trillion, a shade under peak AUM of $2.7 trillion in mid-2008, according to HedgeFund Intelligence figures.
As a result, the aim is to present broader topics for innovators of all stripes, says SkyBridge.
The brighter state of the industry might also be reflected in the fact that there will be a clampdown on freeloaders this year.
Most notably, a crackdown on cabana-crashing is being undertaken at the Bellagio's poolside, which has traditionally been a popular off-venue location for hedge fund meetings by crafty interlopers seeking a piece of the action without paying for a delegate pass.
However, the organiser is said to have booked out the cabanas and offered them to guests as part of a sponsorship package.
It is a sly solution to what had been a vexing problem for SkyBridge – one that had not been repeated at the Marina Bay Sands’ infinity pool during Salt Singapore last October.
We had been informed – perhaps warned – that the two events have a very different flavour, with the Lion City event designed to be more straitlaced than its raunchy Las Vegas counterpart.
Vive le difference, we say, and viva Las Vegas.
AsianInvestor will be reporting from the glittering trenches all week. While it’s been hinted that moderation is not a common practice among Salt-goers, we’ll take care not to follow the example of one previous Hong Kong visitor to Nevada, and avoid crashing into the state’s famous landmarks.