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A Very Special Situations Hedge Fund

Report: Systematic Strategies

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Stockholm (HedgeNordic) – After a relatively difficult first year since launching in December of 2015, Danish special situations fund Formue Nord Markedsneutral is providing more evidence of its uniqueness with each passing month. The market-neutral fund focusing on special situations delivered a return of 13.6 percent last year when most players in Nordic hedge fund arena stumbled, but more importantly, has exhibited close to zero correlation with global equities since inception.

In an interview with HedgeNordic, founder and chief investment officer Rasmus Viggers (pictured right) explains the flagship strategy and sub-strategies employed by Formue Nord Markedsneutral, gives examples of special situations and outlines the main features differentiating the fund.

Wide Range of Tools at Disposal

Formue Nord Markedsneutral employs an opportunistic investment approach focusing on special situations, aiming to deliver uncorrelated returns to all asset classes by capitalizing on complex, misunderstood opportunities. As Viggers describes the approach, “we mainly focus on Nordic small- and mid-cap companies seeking funding arrangements involving either equity or short-term debt (or a combination of both).” Run by a team of three out of the city of Aalborg in Denmark, Formue Nord Markedsneutral allocates capital to six sub-strategies, four of which relate to business funding: bridge financing, underwriting, buying and exercising subscription rights, and equity lines.

“Our flagship strategy is to participate in rights issues and other deals related to these issues,” Viggers tells HedgeNordic. Bridge financing deals, for instance, accounted for one-third of allocated capital at the end of last year. “Bridge loans are short-term loans that typically lead up to a rights issue or other permanent financing deals,” explains the CIO. Around 22 percent of capital, meanwhile, was allocated to underwriting deals. “We underwrite rights issues in listed companies in exchange for an underwriting fee. If the shareholders do not provide the full amount of capital needed by the relevant company, we will subscribe for shares in the issue and thus help the company receive the required amount of funding,” says Viggers.

“Our flagship strategy is to participate in rights issues and other deals related to these issues.”

“We also buy and exercise mispriced subscription rights,” continues Viggers. Equity lines, which enable companies to raise cash against its equity in tranches by selling shares at a pre-determined discount, are also part of the fund’s strategy toolkit.

“Danish company Gomspace, which is listed in Sweden, issued new shares via a rights issue in December 2018. We normally participate as underwriters in rights issues, but in this case, the issue was structured without an underwriting consortium. We followed the case closely and believed that the subscription rights were undervalued. In the last days prior to the issue, the share was trading around SEK 13.5 and a new share could be acquired by buying and exercising rights at a total price of approximately SEK 10.5. In this case, we were harvesting the spread as a semi-arbitrage trade while providing a higher degree of subscription for the rights issue, which made Gomspace better off. In the meantime, we were short in equity index futures to make the trade beta-neutral.”

The fund’s special situations strategy draws upon the actual opportunity set. “There is a great degree of seasonality,” says Viggers. “The deal flow is not constant, with many rights issues taking place before summer seasons and before year-end,” he adds. Formue Nord Markedsneutral, therefore, distributes unallocated capital to other alpha-generating strategies. One of these strategies involves exploiting the well-known January effect, a seasonal increase in stock prices during the month of January. Another strategy, termed relative-value, involves buying “carefully-selected small- and mid-cap companies we believe are mispriced.”

Neutralizing Beta Exposure and Analysis Process

Despite employing a wide range of sub-strategies, Formue Nord Markedsneutral aims to maintain a beta-neutral portfolio at all times. “We only invest when the investment itself is beta-neutral or if we can eliminate the beta exposure through the use of equity index futures or other derivatives,” explains Viggers. “When going long mispriced small- and mid-cap companies as part of our relative-value strategy, for instance, we hedge the market exposure by shorting relevant equity index futures,” he adds. “We estimate the beta-exposure at the portfolio level according to our models, but those estimates will always be a proxy for the actual beta exposure.”

“We only invest when the investment itself is beta-neutral or if we can eliminate the beta exposure through the use of equity index futures or other derivatives.”

The team running the market-neutral fund, comprised of CIO Rasmus Viggers, CEO Thøger Dam Johansen (pictured left) and analyst Mikkel Hagel, was involved in 150 transactions last year, underwriting around 50 rights issues and offering short-term financing to more than 20 listed companies. Handling so many transactions in a single year requires a well-defined and speedy evaluation process. “Each type of special situations has certain key elements that require our attention,” Viggers comments on the research process. “We like to focus our efforts on the few key elements that we know from experience are the make-or-break characteristics,” he adds. This enables the team to evaluate investment opportunities swiftly and provide quick answers to companies in need of financing. “We believe this is one of our edges,” says Viggers.

The selection process of mispriced public companies primarily hinges upon a qualitative research approach. The team reaches out to their network to discuss their investment candidates. “We try to limit the in-depth research to certain aspects, namely because we found that simplifying the research process often yields the best results,” explains Viggers.

Historical Performance and Main Risk

Formue Nord Markedsneutral delivered a net-of-fees return of 13.6 percent in 2018, after having gained 8.9 percent in the prior year. The fund was the third best-performing member of the Nordic Hedge Index (NHX) in 2018. The special situations-focused fund earned an average annual compound return of 10.9 percent during its beta-neutral period starting in February 2016. The fund had full market exposure during the first two months of its operations.

The fund’s main competitive advantage also represents its main risk. According to Viggers, “the main risk of our investment approach is manager risk due to our investment team’s expertise in the niche special situations we focus on.” The young team, however, plans to keep delivering uncorrelated returns going forward, with manager risk staying non-essential for the time being.

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Eugeniu Guzun
Eugeniu Guzun
Eugeniu Guzun serves as a data analyst responsible for maintaining and gatekeeping the Nordic Hedge Index, and as a journalist covering the Nordic hedge fund industry for HedgeNordic. Eugeniu completed his Master’s degree at the Stockholm School of Economics in 2018. Write to Eugeniu Guzun at eugene@hedgenordic.com

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