Direct from Pension to Hedge Fund

Terry Flanagan

The ever-growing trend of direct pensions-hedge fund programs may have seen its biggest deal yet.

Earlier this week, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), with $109 billion under management finalized a deal to own a non-voting $250 million equity stake in Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund at $122 billion.

Founded in 1975 by Ray Dalio, and headquartered in Westport, Connecticut, the firm’s success is largely attributed to its flagship “Pure Alpha”, strategy, a “go-anywhere” multi strategy and asset class fund that seeks absolute, uncorrelated return. The strategy has its roots in Dalio’s background as a bold commodities trading advisor. As of 2011, the Pure Alpha fund reportedly lost money in only three of its 20 years of existence and had an average annualized return of 18%.

The move towards selling ownership stakes can be construed as synonymous with Dalio’s “think different,” and perhaps unconventional, personality. Currently, Dalio owns 60% of Bridgewater. The move to open doors to TRS may reduce his stake to 20% over the next decade—which is exactly what Dalio is intending, according to those familiar with the matter. He has already sold 20% of his Bridgewater shares to the firm’s key employees, such as co-chief investment officers, Robert Prince and Greg Jensen, as a move towards a more “employee-owned” structure.

The firm’s transition into a Dalio-less Bridgewater may signal a few things down the road, but Dalio plans to stay on board with Bridgewater’s operations for now.

TRS will not be the last institutional investor to take interest in owning Bridgewater. The pension’s chief investment officer is Britt Harris, who was actually co-chief executive of Bridgewater from a brief period in 2004-2005. Dalio reported to Pensions & Investments that Harris didn’t fit culturally within the firm but the two remained cordial.

Other, unidentified institutions have come forward and made undisclosed stakes in the company. While the pension-hedge fund relationship is not entirely new, ownership stakes are somewhat of a new movement, and one that may be taking shape in the near future.

The fund of hedge fund market place has experienced net redemptions 4 years in a row, according to research conducted by Agecroft Partners. Fund of funds have traditionally connected institutions with their alternative counterparts. Yet with institutions establishing direct hedge fund programs in order to cut back on fees, these multi-manager gatekeepers may need to find another way to add value to investors.

Neither a Bridgewater nor TRS spokesperson could be reached by press time.

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