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Balyasny Shutters His "Best Ideas" Hedge Fund

While the S&P may be trading just shy of its all time highs, hedge funds are having another miserable year, and according to HFRX, as of today, the average equity hedge fund was not only down on the year, but the performance was at 2018 lows.

Of course, this is hardly news in a time when the “2 and 20” crowd has had an acute difficult generating alpha, resulting in almost daily reports of prominent hedge funds shuttering. Case in point, yesterday Reuters reported that the once-iconic hedge fund Highfields Capital Management was shutting down and converting it into a family office “amid a period of lackluster returns and as its founder said he needs a change after two decades of managing money for prominent clients including Harvard University.”

Now another prominent asset manager has thrown in the towel with Dmitry Balyasny deciding that it is time to shutter his “best ideas” hedge fund.

According to Bloomberg, Balyasny Asset Management has shut down the Atlas Fundamental Trading Fund – which was created during the financial crisis to trade on Balyasni’s “best ideas” – after deciding it’s more cost effective to manage the capital within Atlas Enhanced, the levered version of the firm’s flagship vehicle. The Atlas Fundamental fund had lost all of its outside capital and shrunk to no more than $150 million in assets when it closed, according to Bloomberg sources.

Similar to SAC Point72, Millennium and Citadel, Balyasni has traditionally allocated capital to roughly 80 internal teams, or pods, that specialize in strategies ranging from credit and global macro investing to quantitative systematic and equity trading. The fund’s total assets totaled about $10.8 billion as of March 1, down from $12.7 billion a year earlier. And like Steve Cohen, Balyasny had run a portfolio within the main fund while allocating capital among the various teams.

Atlas Fundamental, however, operated differently: Balyasny had ultimate discretion over the fund and decided how much leverage it employed, according to company documents.

It primarily traded stocks tied to the best ideas from Balyasny and the firm’s portfolio teams. The fund also made macro bets in highly liquid financial instruments, such as futures, based on his market views.

Perhaps Balyasni had simply run out of good ideas? Recent returns would appear to confirm this: Balyasni had posted lackluster performance this year, trailing multistrategy rivals like Citadel and Millennium Management.

Atlas Fundamental, billed in marketing materials as providing “direct access to Dmitry Balyasny,” declined about 5.9 percent this year through Aug. 24, and Atlas Enhanced is up less than 1 percent through Sept. 21, according to investor documents. Balyasny declined to comment.

And the punchline: Atlas Fundamental, which started during the 2008 financial crisis, had a goal of providing uncorrelated returns and preserving capital, particularly during down markets. The problem is that 10 years later, central banks and passive investing have made down markets a thing of the past.

Balyasny and other insiders owned about 35 percent of the fund, according to a December 2017 filing. Net assets stood at $308 million in December before investors fled this year and the fund closed.

Considering the pace of hedge fund shutterings in recent years, many more will follow with the financial community’s attention these days squarely focused on how long David Einhorn hopes to fight the Fed. With his fund down a record 26% YTD, one can’t help but marvel at both Einhorn’s resilience, and the patience of his LPs.