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Next Phase of the Post-Lehman Evolution of Prime Brokerage

Date: Friday, October 9, 2009
Author: Riskcenter.com

It’s a year after the hellish nightmare of the Lehman Brothers implosion when billions of hedge fund assets were frozen and prime brokerage relationships were forever changed. Yet, after setting off a fury of account openings, due diligence projects and technology updates, the steps many hedge funds are now taking are more evolutionary than revolutionary.

According to TABB Group in part one of annual benchmark industry research on the US hedge fund industry, “Prime Brokerage 2009: The Hedge Fund Perspective,” the shocks of September 2008 set in motion a re-evaluation of existing relationships; the development of new prime relationships; the development of true multi-prime capabilities; new custodial arrangements with prime brokers and non-prime broker affiliated custodian banks. Only a full year later is this industry beginning to settle down and the pace of change and instability finally slowing.

While starting to recover, the hedge fund industry remains at a crossroads. Nearly 80% of hedge funds have the same or fewer assets under management (AuM), leverage is down, investors are queasy and legislators are angry. As a result, the prime brokerage industry is equally challenged. While AuM is still down from all-time highs, significant net inflows and performance-related asset increases are well on their way.

TABB Group sees the prime brokerage market as still significant and expects prime broker revenues to top $10 billion in 2010 with hedge funds’ AuM totaling $1.5 trillion, strikingly similar to 2007 levels.

The crisis of confidence in the banking sector had a sharp impact on hedge fund attitudes toward prime brokerage, explains co-author and TABB Group analyst Matt Simon. “When Lehman Brothers collapsed, funds scrambled for new relationships that would reduce the fear of waking up to a zombie provider. Even hedge funds less concerned about the imminent collapse of their prime brokers felt it was a good opportunity to reassess existing relationships.” Before the collapse, he adds, over 30% of the funds had a prime relationship with Lehman or Bear Stearns. As a result, over the past year, 45% of the funds added at least one new prime broker agreement. JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Jefferies were most frequently cited as gaining relationships.

Although there are operational challenges involved, the reassessment of existing relationships is underway as 66% of the single-primed hedge funds are considering multi-prime broker relationships, allowing for quick movement of assets between brokers by year’s end 2010. TABB also sees the rise of mini primes, garnering an estimated 10% of new prime agreements, driven by the need for increased service levels. The new study also examines issues around the soundness and safety of assets as funds increasingly are examining the differentiation of prime brokerage versus traditional custody and tri-party arrangements.

Although a hedge fund’s initial implementation of a more diversified prime brokerage model is likely to negatively impact the primary provider, the greater impact on long-term market share will be determined by whether or not asset growth comes from existing funds, many of whom will keep the majority of assets with longstanding relationship, or new fund launches, concludes co-author and TABB Group’s head of research, Adam Sussman. “If a new crop of hedge fund managers is going to be responsible for a renewal of industry assets, it could very well be the smaller prime brokers that gain in market share. Then, the challenge will be to hold onto those relationships as today’s Davids become tomorrow’s Goliaths.”

This TABB Group interview-based study is based on interviews with 62 US-based hedge funds and supplemented by discussions with prime brokers and directors at leading global investment banks,

The hedge funds interviewed by TABB have a combined US $127 billion in AuM, representing approximately 10% of total US-based hedge fund assets.

The 45-page study with 40 exhibits provides an in-depth analysis of hedge fund/prime brokerage relationships, including: new drivers of market share; top five executing brokers (2008-2009); current providers and the selection process; prime brokerage operations; strengths of prime brokers; new solutions/improvements wanted from prime brokers; challenges of having multiple prime brokers; new prime relationships within the last 12 months; technology used to reconcile and aggregate data; percentage of assets loaned out; the rise of mini primes, custody and the safety of funds’ assets and the impact of the volatile market environment over the past year.

The study is available for download by TABB Group Equity Research Alliance clients and all pre-qualified media at https://www.tabbgroup.com/Login.aspx.