Australian hedge funds, including offshore funds sold in Australia, returned 0.18 per cent in January 2011. Long/ short equity and fixed-income strategies boosted the total with their respective 1.33 per cent and 1.06 per cent results. However, global macro, commodities, managed futures strategies and global macro funds-of-funds hurt posted -0.98 and -1.41 per cent returns.

The top five performers were PM Capital Absolute Performance Fund with 8.6 per cent followed by three Platinum Asset Management funds – Japan, Europe and International Technology, with 5.5 per cent, 5.3 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively, and finally the Mathews Capital Searchlight Asia Pacific Fund with a 4.6 per cent return. It’s heartening to see that 14 of the top 20 funds for January deployed global or Asia-Pacific investment strategies while operating from Australia. This demonstrates that local managers can compete with the best managers in New York, London and Hong Kong to produce strong investment returns while enjoying the enviable Australian lifestyle. The lifestyle advantage was brought home to me last weekend when I competed with a large number of teams in what is known as the 20/twenty Challenge 2011, a sort of mini-endurance event which raises money for cerebral palsy.

Two of our competing teams were from Queensland-based BlueSky Funds Management. Our team, Crawford Two, beat them, but while sharing a beer with Mark Sowerby, BueSky’s CEO, at the event BBQ, I got thinking about situating an alternatives business in Brisbane. BlueSky manages about $200 million across a range of products. Sowerby heads up the funds management holding company which houses BlueSky Private Equity, Water Partners, Private Real Estate and Apeiron, a macro hedge fund. What I found interesting was the diversity of the BlueSky team and their significant international experience. The members of the team have worked in San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo, Johannesburg and London. The team members have worked for the likes of GLG, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Bain & Company, Bankers Trust and Investec, yet they have all elected to return to live in Brisbane or Adelaide.

Each of the BlueSky funds are small. The Macro Fund has $10 million in funds under management but has won a significant number of accolades including Best Emerging Hedge Fund in the Australian hedge fund awards. The fund annualises at 12.5 per cent over a four-and-a-half-year period. David Hobart is the macro fund’s CIO and like the rest of the BlueSky team, he is energetic and passionate about his trading. Most of the fund raising across the products has been domestic, with sourcing from Australian institutions and financial planning groups. They manage some assets for offshore groups but intend ramping up their offshore distribution. Although Brisbane is not on the regular alternative asset route for global allocators of hedge fund capital, it is a lovely place to do business. The team is very health-conscious and it is quite obvious that they spend a lot of time outdoors, (and not regretting their moves back from London or Tokyo, considering the winters in these cities). There is a lifestyle trade-off where you can still manage a lot of money and have the lifestyle as well. ‘Where else but Queensland!’ as the state’s tourism jingle says.

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