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The Morning Brief: SALT in Vegas Ends and Prepares for Asia

It looks like SALT is returning to Asia. As SALT dropped the curtain on its seventh annual shindig in Las Vegas, the SkyBridge crew was gearing up for its next show, probably sometime in October, and most likely in either Seoul, South Korea or Japan, Alpha has learned. It seems SALT opened an office in Seoul and is hoping to host an event in northern Asia. SALT Asia last took place in 2013 in Singapore. However, the folks at SkyBridge stopped bringing a show there when Singapore Airlines terminated its non-stop flights to New York. The organizers of the event found it nearly impossible to attract North Americans willing to endure what would be a 27 or 28 hour trip, door to door with transfers.

Some administrative staff from the Robin Hood Foundation were guests of SkyBridge at SALT in Las Vegas. It seems the two groups are mulling whether to partner in some manner, Alpha has learned. It is still too early to determine whether they really will team up in some manner. But philanthropy is an important element of the SALT conference and Robin Hood, co-founded by hedge fund luminaries Paul Tudor Jones II and Glenn Dubin as well as others, gets huge support from the biggest hedge fund honchos. The hope is that some of those hedge fund luminaries would be willing to speak at SALT.

How important is philanthropy to SALT? Well, about roughly one-quarter of the revenues generated by the conference goes to a number of charities. The conference organizers each year provide a number of charities access to the attendees in a variety of ways. Several of them are provided trade show booths while others are given the opportunity to make presentations. This year’s non-profit partners included Cycle For Survival, which helps fund cures for rare cancers, which add up to half of all cancers, believe it or not; the Navy SEAL Foundation; Portfolios w/Purpose, which hosts an annual stock selection competition in which participants compete on behalf of their favorite charities; PVBLIC Foundation, which makes media grants to non-profits; Project Violet, which is trying to develop anti-cancer compounds that don’t kill normal cells, and Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. What’s more, The Wounded Warrior Project had a booth and made a presentation at SALT while actor Michael J. Fox and Deborah Brooks, co-founder and executive vice chairman of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, were lunchtime speakers on the first full day of the conference.

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SALT regularly boasts many of the biggest hedge fund names speaking on panels. However, this year, just one speaker ranked among the top-25 on this year’s Rich ListThird Point’s Daniel Loeb. A few others have appeared on the Rich List in prior years, including Paulson & Company’s John Paulson, Omega Advisors’ Leon Cooperman, Kynikos Associates’ James Chanos, Jana Partners’ Barry Rosenstein and T. Boone Pickens, who no longer runs a hedge fund.

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Anthony Scaramucci knows synergy. The SkyBridge founder recognizes the many benefits to running the 12th largest funds of funds (depending upon the ranking), hosting a revived “Wall Street Week” on television and throwing a conference that brings in roughly 2,000 people. As the co-managing partner of a very concentrated hedge fund of funds, SkyBridge Capital, Scaramucci also draws on many of the hedge funds in which he is invested to speak at the conference. In fact four of this year’s speakers manage funds that rank among SkyBridge’s top-10 holdings, including Loeb of Third Point, Barry Rosenstein of Jana, Paulson of Paulson & Company and Deepak Narula of Metacapital Management.

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No hedge fund managers presented Friday, but the half-day program was still well attended. One of the more intriguing speakers was John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, one of several experts to warn about cyber crime. He hammered home how pervasive a threat cyber crime is to governments and major corporations. He said there are “thousands” of intrusions into U.S. networks each day. But he also noted that hedge fund firms are particularly vulnerable. “They are now targeting weak links,” Carlin said in a follow-up interview with a small group of reporters. Hedge funds with their small staffs and very small or outsourced information-technology departments, law firms and other boutique-like operations are deemed to be especially vulnerable. “Hedge funds have proprietary information,” he added, especially those who draw on sophisticated algorithms to trade. “They [so-called bad actors] want to know what hedge funds are investing in.”

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SALT is not all serious business. In fact, one of the cornerstones of the conference is the opportunity to have fun. It’s in Vegas after all. This includes a poolside buffet dinner with DJ under the stars the first full day, skeeball tables, air hockey, foosball and a magician making the rounds. But clearly the highlight was Thursday evening’s private performance of One Republic (I got the name right), several of whose songs I am actually familiar with. El Cheapo NEVER got so close to a stage, unless I was not paying. Good stuff.

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As the conference wound down, a number of highly successful people in fields unrelated to finance or investing made presentations. Tennis great Andre Agassi talked up the case for charter schools, certainly to a receptive audience. And Hollywood legend Rob Reiner wrapped up the conference with a very funny, enjoyable and informative talk about his life, growing up with his legendary father Carl Reiner, pinching Mary Tyler Moore’s behind when he was a teenager and she was 24 and how Carol O’Connor was probably more to the political left than Reiner ever was. He said he started to realize he was not growing up in a normal family when he was 8 and went to his friend’s house, which he quickly realized was not a funny place. Back home, he was used to visitors like Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Norman Lear and Larry Gelbart. These days he says Brooks comes over to his 93-year-old father’s house every single evening to watch a movie and argue over their old memories. What a way to end a conference.

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