Eric Yun, CEO of Seoul-based LK Asset Management Ltd., predicted in an interview that high-net-worth investors could drive growth for South Korea's hedge fund industry in coming years.
Many investors in equity-linked securities — a product sold over the past decade to South Korean investors as a moderate risk/moderate return option — suffered unexpectedly steep losses when markets plunged at the start of 2016, said Mr. Yun. That could leave them receptive to considering alternatives, he noted.
LK, which had 42 billion won in long/short managed accounts at the end of 2015, got its hedge fund license in December and quickly launched two hedge funds. Mr. Yun said those funds pulled in 36 billion won between Dec. 22 and mid-April.
That, and a hefty 28 billion won mandate from a South Korean bank, contributed to a doubling of the firm's AUM since the start of 2016 to 130 billion won, said Mr. Yun, who declined to name the bank client.
With public pension funds, insurance companies and banks in South Korea all facing low sovereign bond yields and a moribund local stock market, some analysts say institutional allocations are poised to begin climbing as well.
Shinhan Investment's Ms. Son noted in an e-mail that some of South Korea's biggest public pension funds, including the 520 trillion won National Pension Service and the 15 trillion won Teachers Pension, are mulling initial allocations to foreign hedge fund-of-funds strategies, while others — including the 22 trillion won Korean Teachers Credit Union, the 9.2 trillion won Military Mutual Aid Association and the 8 trillion won Public Officials Benefit Association — already are awarding mandates to South Korean hedge funds.
The importance those investors place on track records has favored the industry's biggest names, but more recent recipients of licenses — such as Quad, Anda Asset Management and Lime Asset Management — have been able to leverage track records managing long/short strategies, she said.
In an interview, James Jong-pil Lee, managing director and head of Seoul-based Lime's hedge fund group, said public pension funds and financial institutions already are contributing to the combined 160 billion won of client assets garnered by the seven multistrategy hedge funds Lime launched after obtaining its hedge fund license in December. He declined to name them.
Quad's Mr. Hong said his firm began managing long/short market neutral strategies from the start of 2011, and got its hedge fund license in October 2014. Quad launched five hedge funds since then, starting with a long/short Korean equity market neutral strategy, followed by a long-biased, global health-care long/short fund and a regional long/short strategy.
In her April 26 report, Ms. Son said NPS likely will move within a few years to extend mandates to South Korean hedge fund firms, which will be a major driver of industry growth. She said the other major driver will be high-net-worth allocations to hedge fund-of-funds vehicles should regulators — as she anticipates — open the door soon to such investments.
If that proves prescient, then Samsung Asset Management, South Korea's biggest hedge fund manager with 1.2 trillion won in assets, or 30% of the industry total, could remain ahead of the pack.
Dongha Kim, Seoul-based senior manager of Samsung Asset Management's hedge fund division, said in an e-mail that Samsung last month launched a partnership with Mesirow Advanced Strategies — a division of Chicago-based Mesirow Financial — aimed at developing SAM's global hedge fund-of-funds management capabilities.
For the partnership's initial phase, SAM will invest third-party client money in a Mesirow commingled global fund-of-funds strategy, to be broken out eventually as a managed account as the AUM increases. At that point, SAM gradually will take a more active role — with the ultimate goal of SAM directly allocating capital to underlying hedge funds, with advice from Mesirow, said Dongha Kim.
He said the partnership with Mesirow includes “knowledge sharing” in areas such as the hedge fund-of-funds management process and due diligence.
While SAM officials anticipate some South Korean high-net-worth investor interest in the SAM-Mesirow fund-of-funds offering, institutional investors are “our main target,” said Dongha Kim.
He declined to predict when SAM could develop a fully independent hedge fund of funds business, conceding it will take “huge” commitments of time and resources to develop the kind of sophisticated research process and advanced management skills of a Mesirow.