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Hunter, Touradji Hedge Funds Outperform as Commodities Plummet

Date: Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Author: Saijel Kishan and Stewart Bailey, Bloomberg

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Commodity hedge-fund traders Brian Hunter, Paul Touradji and Renee Haugerud made money in July as prices for energy, metals and agricultural products fell the most since 1980.

Peak Ridge Commodity Volatility Fund in Boston, advised by Hunter, the former Amaranth Advisors LLC energy trader, returned about 24 percent, leaving it up at least 230 percent this year, according to an investor. The main fund of New York-based Touradji Capital Management LP gained 6.5 percent, cutting its loss to 5 percent in 2008.

Commodity prices in July fell 10 percent, the biggest monthly decline since March 1980, as measured by the Reuters/Jefferies CRB Index. The index has plunged 19 percent from its July 3 peak. Rising inventories and slumping demand sent contracts from oil to soybeans tumbling, raising the prospect of an end to the six-year commodity boom.

``They timed their trades well when everybody else missed the beginning of the correction,'' said Aoifinn Devitt, founder of Clontarf Capital, a London-based investment consulting firm. ``And this correction is increasingly looking like it's got legs.''

Commodities prices have fallen 8 percent this month, dragging down shares of companies in the mining, energy and agricultural industries.

Six Years

Surging demand for raw materials in China and other expanding economies spurred six straight years of gains, according to the UBS Bloomberg Constant Maturity Commodity Index of 26 prices. The index is up 11 percent this year.

By comparison the Standard & Poor's Index of 500 companies had lost 11 percent this year. Ten-year Treasury notes returned 2.98 percent, according to Merrill Lynch & Co. indexes.

``Commodities are akin to the Nasdaq back in the late 1990s,'' said Peter Rup, chief investment officer at New York- based Orion Capital Management LLC, which invests in hedge funds. ``It's in a bubble and the game is going to be over very quickly in the second half of the year as China's economy cools.''

Natural gas has plunged 40 percent since reaching $13.31 per million British thermal units on July 2, its highest since December 2005. Corn has plunged 35 percent since its June 27 record of $7.96 a bushel, while oil is down 22 percent from its July 11 peak of $147.27. Gold has declined about 14 percent from its high of $1,017.50 an ounce on March 18.

Extreme Volatility

``Traders who've been around for years are used to volatility in these markets,'' said Christopher Peel, partner at London-based BlackSquare Capital LLP, which invests in hedge funds. ``Yet the volatility we've seen lately is pretty extreme. The fundamentals haven't changed enough to warrant this price action.''

Volatility jumped to 20 percent at the end of July from 13 percent at the start of the year, based on the UBS Bloomberg Constant Maturity Commodity Index, which measures price swings on a 30-day basis.

Touradji, 36, the former Tiger Management LLC trader, told investors in March that a ``buying orgy'' in commodities was inflating prices and increasing the risk of a collapse. Touradji Capital, which oversees $3.5 billion, started in 2005 and has since returned an annualized 31.4 percent.

Hunter, Haugerud

Peak Ridge Capital Group Inc., a Boston-based private equity firm, hired the 34-year-old Hunter last year to advise its commodity fund. Hunter last month failed in his attempt to get a court to prevent the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from proceeding with enforcement action against him for manipulating natural gas prices. In 2006, his trades help trigger $6.6 billion of losses for Amaranth, the most by a hedge fund.

Galtere International's Commodity-Based Global Macro Fund, run by Renee Haugerud out of New York, gained 0.98 percent in July, increasing its return this year to about 18 percent, according to two investors.

Haugerud started Galtere, which manages about $2.5 billion, in 1999. She began her career in 1981 trading commodities at Cargill Inc., the largest U.S. agriculture company, and later worked at NatWest Markets, a unit of U.K.-based National Westminster Bank.

Saracen Energy Partners LP, a Houston-based energy fund, gained about 3 percent in July, trimming its loss this year to about 29 percent, according to two investors. The fund, run by Neil Kelley, 49, had lost 22 percent in February alone.

Allison Duensing, a spokeswoman for Saracen, didn't respond to messages left on her phone. Officials for the other funds declined to comment.

Funds on the Rise

About $70 billion is invested in commodity hedge funds, more than double the amount three years ago, according to estimates by Chicago-based Cole Partners Asset Management, which invests in such funds.

Traders that lost money last month included BlueGold Capital Management LLP, a $800 million fund co-founded in February by 31- year-old Pierre Andurand in London. The fund declined about 19 percent in July, paring its return this year to 109 percent, according to investors.

The flagship fund of New York-based Ospraie Management LLC, the $9 billion hedge-fund firm run by Dwight Anderson, 41, fell 13 percent, extending its loss this year to 15 percent, clients said.

Aisling Analytics' $2.3 billion Merchant Commodity Fund, run by former Cargill traders Michael Coleman, 47, and Doug King, 41, out of Singapore, dropped 11 percent in July, cutting its gain this year to 1.2 percent, investors said.

`Choppy Waters'

``Funds are riding through choppy waters at the moment,'' said Jeremy Charlesworth, founder of London-based Moonraker Fund Management Ltd., which invests in hedge funds. ``There isn't a bull market that doesn't have corrections along the way and this is one of them.''

Christian Levett, 38, a former Moore Capital Management LLC commodity trader who started the $2.5 billion hedge fund Clive Capital LLP in London, lost 8 percent in July, cutting his return this year to 25 percent, investors said.

London-based Armajaro Asset Management LLP's $1.3 billion commodity fund run by former Marc Rich & Co. trader John Tilney, 53, lost 7 percent in July, trimming its return this year to about 12.5 percent, investors said.

Fortress Investment Group LLC's $1 billion Drawbridge Commodities Fund, run by William Callanan in London, lost about 3 percent in July, paring its return to 5.7 percent this year.

Hedge funds are private, largely unregulated pools of capital whose managers can buy or sell any assets, bet on falling as well as rising asset prices and participate substantially in profits from money invested.

To contact the reporter on this story: Saijel Kishan in New York at skishan@bloomberg.net; Stewart Bailey in New York at sbailey7@bloomberg.net.