Hedge Fund makes $4.6 disappear

21 September 2006 |

Conn. hedge fund loses billions


The $4.6-billion loss by Amaranth Advisors may spark activity by Congress or regulators.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

BY KATHERINE BURTON and MATTHEW LEISING
Bloomberg News

Amaranth Advisors LLC, the Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund whose wrong-way bets lost about $4.6 billion this month, reached an agreement yesterday to transfer all of its energy trades to an unidentified third party, according to a letter sent to investors.

Nicholas Maounis, Amaranth's founder, said in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News, that more details will follow "shortly." The firm was in negotiations with Citadel Investment Group LLC as of late yesterday, two people with knowledge of those talks said.

Amaranth was forced to unload the trades after swings in natural-gas prices last week turned it into the biggest hedge fund meltdown since Long-Term Capital Management LP's 1998 collapse. By transferring the bets, Amaranth would stem its losses and the new investor would be at risk of any further declines in the gas market.

Also yesterday, 3M Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and San Diego County's retirement fund say the meltdown of Amaranth may cost them millions.

The $9.2-billion pension fund of 3M, maker of Post-it Notes and electronics and cleaning products, gave less than $92 million to Amaranth, according to Jacqueline Berry, a spokeswoman for the St. Paul, Minn.-based company. Goldman Sachs Hedge Fund Partners LLC has about $13 million with the firm, according to a regulatory filing.

"This will spark activity by Congress, or by regulators, for some oversight of an area that has not been watched," said Dan McAllister, a board member of the $7.2-billion San Diego County Employees Retirement Association. The fund invested $175 million with Amaranth last year.

The San Diego County pension board invested in Amaranth on the recommendation of consultants Rocaton Investment Advisors in Norwalk, Conn., McAllister said. The San Diego County fund is unconnected to the San Diego City Employees' Retirement System, which has a deficit of more than $1 billion.

"We are aware of the Amaranth situation, and we are in dialogue with our clients," Rocaton spokesman Todd Miller said, declining further comment.

It will take weeks to find out how much pension money melted away with Amaranth's bad trades, Damon Silvers, associate general counsel of the Washington-based AFL-CIO, said.

The largest U.S. labor association, whose member unions hold more than $400 billion in pension assets, has criticized provisions of the pension-reform law signed by President Bush last month that loosened restrictions on pension-money flows into hedge funds.

"This shows what an appalling decision that was," Silvers said.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he's examining Amaranth's losses.

"We are taking some initial steps to investigate what went so terribly wrong, whether there was a truthful and accurate disclosure to investors," he said.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor in Connecticut, declined to comment, as did Bryan Sierra, a spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington and SEC spokesman John Nester.

Amaranth, named for an imaginary flower that never fades, had gained more than 25 percent earlier this year on bets that natural-gas prices would rise. Prices tumbled this month, triggering losses that grew as it scrambled to unwind trades.

"Potentially, [the new investors] bought at a very good price," said Mark Williams, a finance professor at Boston University and former risk manager of electricity trader Citizens Power. "If they have a longer time horizon and they can withstand the volatility and the short-term fluctuations, they then have a good chance of making some serious cash."

Amaranth spokesman Shawn Pattison declined to comment. A call to Scott Rafferty, managing director at Citadel, wasn't immediately returned.

Some of Amaranth's energy investments consist of positions in gas futures, options and over-the-counter contracts that would gain in value as prices rise, according to one person with knowledge of the situation.

Amaranth, which made so-called spread trades that aim to profit from price discrepancies among different contracts, was at least the second hedge fund to be rocked by bad investments in natural gas. MotherRock LP, a $400-million fund run by former New York Mercantile Exchange President Robert "Bo" Collins, closed last month.

"It's certainly a reminder that investing in certain hedge funds is a risky business," Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox said yesterday. "It's not for mom and pop."

So-called funds of funds that invested with Amaranth may bear much of its losses. Goldman Sachs Dynamic Opportunities Ltd., a London-based fund, reported that it sustained losses on an investment whose description fits Amaranth.

Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse Group, Bank of New York Co., Deutsche Bank AG and Man Group PLC all run funds of funds that had investments in Amaranth as of June 30.

Amaranth was founded by Maounis, a University of Connecticut finance graduate. After working at Greenwich-based Paloma Partners for 10 years, Maounis, 43, left to found Amaranth with 27 employees and $450 million in 2000.

The firm occupies a beige, four-story office next to a pond and manicured lawn with a fountain in Greenwich, home to more than 100 hedge funds, private pools of capital that allow managers to participate substantially in the gains on clients' investments. The building houses a gym and a game room, with pool tables for employees.

After starting in convertible-bond trades and betting on stocks of merging companies, Maounis expanded into energy, hiring former Deutsche Bank trader Brian Hunter. As of June 30, energy trades accounted for about half of the capital in Amaranth's funds and generated about 75 percent of its profit.

Earlier this month, Amaranth bought a portfolio of gas trades from Amsterdam-based ABN Amro Holding NV, which itself had taken them over from MotherRock. It was Hunter, 32, who orchestrated the bets that triggered Amaranth's losses.

"If one is speculating in that kind of market, there's going to be some downside risk," said Shannon Burchett, who traded oil for JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. in the 1990s and now runs an energy consulting firm in Dallas. "They should have the controls and risk management strategies in place to mitigate those kind of outcomes."

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