Friday, June 19, 2009

China Ready to Place Bets on Hedge Funds

By JENNY STRASBURG in New York and RICK CAREW in Hong Kong China Investment Corp. is poised to invest $500 million in a Blackstone Group hedge-fund unit as part of a broad effort to put cash to work while global markets are rallying but remain below earlier peaks. A hefty injection from China would be welcome news for hedge funds, eager to raise fresh capital after brutal markets and an exodus of investors hurt the industry. It also would offer another sign that some big money is stepping off the sidelines as markets stabilize world-wide. Companies and investors are watching to see if sovereign-wealth funds will once again channel significant money into new deals, after several were burned by high-profile U.S. investments during the financial crisis. Though Middle East funds have ratcheted up spending lately, some remain hobbled by woes at home. View Full Image EyePress News/Newscom STEPPING UP: Lou Jiwei of China Investment Corp. sees opportunity. CIC is considering opening its checkbook to a handful of hedge funds, a move that comes as CIC Chairman Lou Jiwei is concerned his fund may miss opportunities near the bottom of the market, according to people who work closely with the Chinese fund. That is a reversal in attitude from December, when Mr. Lou said he didn't have "the courage" to invest in the developed world's financial institutions because "we don't know what trouble they are in." A spokeswoman for CIC and a spokesman for Blackstone declined to comment. Set up in 2007 and capitalized by Beijing, CIC is one of the world's largest sovereign-wealth funds, controlling some $200 billion. The fund already knows Blackstone well, and has suffered some from the relationship. CIC invested $3 billion for a nearly 10% stake in Blackstone just before it went public in 2007, an investment that brought it ridicule in China when the private-equity firm's shares fell. Since Blackstone's IPO two years ago this coming Monday, Blackstone shares have dropped about 64%, leaving CIC with a loss of about $1.9 billion. Still, CIC managers later struck a deal with Blackstone allowing the fund to increase its stake to 12.5%, signaling confidence in the firm's prospects. And committing capital to Blackstone's hedge-fund unit is a bet more on its expertise than its stock. That Blackstone division has about $26 billion in investments doled out to hedge funds on behalf of Blackstone clients. One of the world's largest so-called fund-of-fund managers, Blackstone commands access to some of the biggest funds. It isn't clear how much CIC might allocate to hedge funds. In the past, CIC officials have said they plan to farm out up to $80 billion to asset managers, with private-equity firms and hedge funds likely to get a chunk of that capital. Prominent hedge funds have been talking to CIC for months. Eric Mindich of Eton Park Capital Management and John Paulson of Paulson & Co. are among hedge-fund bosses who have met with CIC representatives, among other Asian investors, in recent months, according to people familiar with the matter. Wall Street insiders see those hedge funds as on a relatively short list of managers more likely than peers to get CIC money, though such decisions could take months. Investment staffers at the Chinese fund also have sought the hedge-fund managers' view of the credit crisis and global markets in general. Last year, James Simons, head of big hedge-fund firm Renaissance Technologies, talked with CIC about selling a stake in Renaissance but didn't do a deal, people familiar with the matter said. Spokesmen for the hedge funds declined to comment. The China fund's plans don't necessarily mark a trend toward more global investments by sovereign-wealth funds. Temasek Holdings Pte. Ltd., Singapore's state-owned investment firm, this year has moved to focus more on Asia investments, selling off stakes in foreign banks at big losses. In the Middle East, there has been continued deal activity. In March, Abu Dhabi investors snapped up a 9.1% stake in Daimler AG. And earlier this month, the government-backed investment company of Qatar said it is considering a deal to invest in Porsche Automobil Holding SE. The buying comes as the region's fortunes have started to turn around, thanks in large measure to climbing oil prices. But some big Mideast players remain reined in. Kuwait, hobbled by political infighting and a banking crisis, withdrew from a planned joint venture with Dow Chemical Co. late last year, blaming the global financial crisis. And Dubai, another U.A.E. emirate, is still reeling from its property-market bust and lately has refrained from big international deal-making. CIC has been ramping up activity. CIC in late 2007 put $5.6 billion in Morgan Stanley convertible securities whose value later plunged. But earlier this month, CIC plowed an additional $1.2 billion into Morgan Stanley. On Tuesday, CIC struck its first known property deal, agreeing to commit 200 million Australian dollars (US$158.9 million) to a financing facility for Goodman Group, Australia's largest industrial-property trust. Elsewhere, CIC put $3.2 billion toward a $4 billion fund managed by J.C. Flowers & Co. to hunt for opportunities among financial institutions. —Chip Cummins in Dubai contributed to this article.

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