Prime time at Morgan Stanley's hedge-fund debutantes ball

The Shanghai extravaganza commemorates its fourth birthday and is now at monster-size, with over 300 firms flying in.
"In the summer of a young lady's 16th year, her thoughts turn to balls." û Jane Austen.

Morgan Stanley's hedge-fund ball is back and celebrating its fourth birthday in Shanghai. This capital-introduction event takes place at the Shangri-La hotel through until Thursday. These balls have grown threefold in size since the firm began organising them in 2003.

This year 235 investors who manage $1.2 trillion are being ushered into Shanghai to feel the fetlocks of 68 hedge-fund managers who are presenting funds that manage $14 billion.

"2008 will be about the separation of alpha and beta," says Kurt Baker, head of Morgan Stanley prime broking in Asia. "The challenge is for managers to perform in the face of difficult markets."

There are 12 start-ups this year; Morgan Stanley reports that 60% of the funds it takes live are follow-ons from existing managers. That helps to account for the weighting away from doe-eyed hedgie debutantes this year. The auditorium this week features more wrinkles and bald heads than in previous years.

"Investors want to see [managers'] skill in beating indices," says Richard Webb, Asia head of sales and cap intro at Morgan Stanley. "In the past, investors have seen a hedge fund as purely an alternative source of alpha in their portfolio. Nowadays they are looking to make an investment in a business with robust risk controls and operating infrastructure."

The organisers invite hedge funds that offer strategies that are particularly in-demand from investors. Last year country funds were all the rage. This year, the must-have hedge fund accessory is pan-Asian, event driven or special situations.

Spearheading local capital introductions and MC'ing the event is Jim Fallon. For a hedge fund to get a ticket to this event they have to have at least one key decision-maker physically based in Asia. It's a busy schedule in Shanghai: one very popular hedge fund is marked down to dally with 75 potential suitors.

Leaving the last word to the debutantes themselves. What do they want from a good introductions service?

"I like to be patient and for it to happen organically," says Eddie Tam of Hong Kong-based Central Asset Investments. "Relating to investors is like matrimonial relations, you have to wait for the right partner to come along." After a moment of reflection: "Or multiple partners!" Now what would Ms. Austen say to that?
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