The Morning Brief: SALT Opens with a Day Full of Talking Hedgies

Here’s a confession. As the SALT Conference officially gets underway in Las Vegas Wednesday morning, my primary interest is actually hearing from hedge fund managers. The rest of the speakers are a side show, garnish to the main course.

This means I’m going to have to wait until shortly after 10 a.m. to hear from Michael E. Novogratz, the president of Fortress Investment Group, one of a handful of publicly-traded alternative investment firms.

Novogratz should be interesting. The official title of his presentation is “The Big Picture: Unique Perspectives & Opportunities for Your Portfolio.”

I’m interested to hear what he has to say, given that his Fortress Macro Fund and Fortress Macro Onshore Fund each lost 4.7 percent in the first quarter after falling 1.6 percent in 2014. Other high-profile macro funds have been in the black, but their portfolio managers are not speaking at SALT.

After Novogratz, the hedge fund panels get rolling.

We’ll hear from Bruce Richards, co-founder of Marathon Asset Management, who is on a panel discussing volatility and risk with managers from less-well-known firms, with the exception of York Capital Management. Unfortunately, York founder James Dinan — No. 24 on the Rich List — won’t be attending; instead we’ll get York partner and portfolio manager Michael Weinberger. That’s okay.

Still, if you’re attending SALT for hedge fund luminaries, the event doesn’t really get rolling until after actor Michael J. Fox speaks with Maria Bartiromo, now with Fox Business (which I’ll admit I’ve watched for probably 10 minutes since it was launched). I’m sure by the time the inspiring Fox —Michael J., that is, not the network — finishes delivering his lunch remarks, most of the audience will undoubtedly feel guilty for kvetching about their relatively trivial travails.

At that point, Anthony Scaramucci, the founder of SkyBridge Capital and host of SALT, will do a one-on-one interview with Third Point’s Daniel Loeb. The sometimes activist last Friday identified Yum! Brands as a new major investment on the same day — coincidentally? — CNBC reported that activist Keith Meister of Corvex Management planned to discuss the same stock at this past Monday’s Sohn Investment Conference.

Keep in mind that activists frequently reveal new positions right before they speak at investment conferences.

If you didn’t notice, Meister made his debut on this year’s Rich List Second Team. Loeb ranks No. 14 on this year’s main Rich List. Loeb’s Third Point Offshore fund was up 3.3 percent in the first quarter and 3.8 percent through April.

Loeb’s presentation is just a warm-up for a panel on activist investing. I just hope one of them identifies a fresh idea. Come on, we didn’t trek to Vegas to hear the old ideas.

Three of the panelists recently spoke at an April investment conference: Clifton Robbins of Blue Harbour Group, Barry Rosenstein of Jana Partners (who also offered some ideas up Monday at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York) and Jeffrey Smith of Starboard Value. Chances are Smith will talk about Brink’s. On Monday, after the markets closed, Starboard disclosed an 8.2 percent stake in the security company. You see? I told you they reveal new positions before speeches.

Meanwhile, on CNBC Monday Rosenstein said he is confident Qualcomm will work with him on some reforms. “If they were to go off track and decide to fight us on some of these obvious changes, then the tenor of the discussions would change,” he warned. “But so far, I’m hopeful that they are heading in the right direction.”

The most intriguing speaker may be Tom Sandell of Sandell Asset Management, mainly because he isn’t on the hedge fund speaking circuit as often as his fellow panelists.

The final hedge fund speakers of the day are Paulson & Co.’s John Paulson, who lost money last year in most of his funds, and Canyon Partners’ Joshua Friedman. Scaramucci will jointly interview the pair.

Will they discuss credit ideas or the next potential threat to global markets? Looking forward to it.

Friedman and Canyon co-founder Mitch Julius made the Rich List Second Team.

After these hedge fund panels, we’ll have to wait until the next day to hear from more hedgies. But that’s okay. That’ll give us time to digest all the ideas.

On Thursday we’ll get some macro views when Scaramucci interviews former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

At that point, the discussion will change dramatically. First, we’ll hear about the current state of turmoil, terrorists, fear, cyber-security and other threats meant to shake everyone’s repose from General David Petraeus and General Keith Alexander. I’ll probably wish I was walking home from the conference after hearing from them.

Ah, but then to lighten the moment before cocktails, we’ll get the panel of baseball hall of famers. The big suspense: What in the world are they going to talk about? Who cares?

Hopefully by then the Mets will have finally scored a run.