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1000% hedge fund wins subprime bet

Date: Monday, November 26, 2007
Author: James Mackintosh, Financial Times

A Californian hedge fund has made more than 1,000 per cent return this year by betting against US subprime home loans, making it one of the world’s best-performing funds of all time.

Lahde Capital, set up in Santa Monica last year by Andrew Lahde, last week passed the 1,000 per cent mark, after fees, following the latest leg of the credit market turmoil. The fall in the value of subprime-linked securities has boosted a group of funds which spotted the problems in advance.

The decision to use derivatives to short, or bet against, low-quality US home loans taken by a select group of hedge funds last year appears to have become the most profitable single trade of all time, making well over $20bn in total so far this year. John Paulson’s New York-based Paulson & Co, the biggest of the group with $28bn under management, is said by investors to have made $12bn profit from the trade already.

However, Mr Lahde, whose fund is one of the smallest specialists shorting subprime, has now begun to return money to investors, telling them in a letter: “The risk/return characteristics are far less attractive than in the past.”

In his letter, Mr Lahde said he expected the collapse in value of subprime mortgage-linked securities to be repeated for bonds backed by commercial property loans in a deep recession – which he also predicts.

“Our entire banking system is a complete disaster,” he wrote. “In my opinion, nearly every major bank would be insolvent if they marked their assets to market.” He also said he would be putting some of his own profits into gold and other precious metals.

Mr Lahde has used the phenomenal returns to boost his business, launching a fund to bet against commercial real estate this autumn – which made 42 per cent in its first two months – and is in the process of creating a third fund to short credits with a broader mandate.

Lahde’s first fund, US Residential Real Estate Hedge V Class A, soared 712.8 per cent in the year to the end of October, before this month’s sell-off pushed it past the 1,000 per cent mark.

There is no reliable data on how many other funds have made 1,000 per cent, or ten times the investment, in a year. But RAB Capital, London hedge fund manager, shot to prominence in 2003 when it returned 1,475.5 per cent in its Special Situations fund, which now runs $2.4bn and is the biggest shareholder in troubled bank Northern Rock.

Bigger subprime top performers include Paulson’s Credit Opportunities fund, up 550.8 per cent to the end of October, and the Subprime Credit Strategies fund run jointly by Texas-based Hayman Capital and Corriente Advisors, up 526.5 per cent.