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Weiss: 1970s Hedge Fund Pioneers

Predicting shift from fixed income to alternatives

The Hedge Fund Journal visited Weiss’s offices in New York’s Park Avenue to meet the team, hear how the firm has evolved over the years – and why Weiss sees seismic change for the investment industry over the next few years. “Back in the 1970s, George Weiss started one of the original market neutral hedge funds, with a focus on utilities, running money from Hartford, mainly for local insurance companies,” Jordi Visser, President and Chief Investment Officer of Weiss Multi Strategy Advisers, told us. Founder George Weiss explained that “we started running money for six insurance companies in 1971, but the basic philosophy of the firm has remained the same for more than 40 years, a focus on downside protection and preservation of capital.”

Through the 1980s and 1990s Weiss grew its staff to one hundred, often hiring from the Wharton School, which George Weiss has a major involvement with, and has made donations to as one of his range of philanthropic activities. In common with many luminaries of the hedge fund industry, Weiss at one stage became a family office, running money for George Weiss and the firm’s partners. But 2006 saw Weiss launch its flagship multi-strategy fund, Weiss Multi Strategy Partners (WMSP), which returned Weiss to its roots in market-neutral equities – and saw the firm once again open up to outside investors. Now aged 72, George Weiss, although still actively involved in the office, has crafted clear succession plans in the form of a unique partnership structure, to ensure that the brand survives the future.

“We want to leverage the brand and the culture in a world where the overall return climate is low,” is how Visser describes the firm’s vision. Weiss sees opposing forces for growth. Low returns in a post-2008 world mean allocators are under pressure to turn over managers more often. Yet huge potential exists for a mountain of assets to migrate from fixed income to alternatives. “The money earmarked for fixed income, looking for low and steady returns, in all environments, is looking for a new home,” Visser observes.

New offerings

Weiss as a firm senses that the investment industry is at an inflexion point. “The hedge fund industry is going through structural change, and we are at the cutting edge of new products,” foresees George Weiss. To tap into this demand, Weiss is adding to its range of investment strategies and vehicles. In 2015 Weiss has launched a new fund, Weiss Alpha Balanced Risk (WABR), a scalable balanced risk product combining unleveraged allocations to bonds and equities with a 25% weighting in the flagship Weiss product. Later in 2015 Weiss will launch a ’40 Act mutual fund product that could attract retail investors – as well as those institutions that prefer a ’40 Act structure. Weiss is revamping its internet site to cover “all aspects of the business from content delivery to marketing” Visser reveals.

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