The world's largest hedge fund is not located in the top floor of some shiny, floor-to-ceiling glass clad skyscraper in New York, London, Hong Kong or Shanghai. It isn't in some sprawling mansion in Greenwich or Stamford which houses a state of the art trading desk behind a crocodile-filled moat. Instead it can be found in tiny, nondescript office in Suite 225 located on 730 Sandhill Road in Reno, Nevada.
"That's not possible" one may say - the world's largest hedge fund is Ray Dalio's Bridgewater, which at last check had about $100 billion in AUM (and which has so far had a less than stellar performance in 2012, underperforming the S&P by a substantial margin). Turns out it is: the fund which was at $117.2 billion as of June 30, and which has lately been growing at a pace of about $15 billion per quarter (which would put it at about $130 billion currently), is none other than Braeburn Capital, a Nevada-based asset management corporation.
Who is Braeburn?
Braeburn is a subsidiary of another far more famous company, which since 2006 has had one simple task: manage the cash of the parent company.
At Braeburn's inception, the cash pile was modest, yet absolutely massive in unlevered terms, at just over $10 billion. Fast forward 6 years, and the massive cash pile has now grown to be epically gargantuan. Of course, the parent company in question is none other than Apple, whose publicly reported cash horde at June 30, 2012 was a whopping $117,221,000,000. This is the AUM of Braeburn.
Any substantial follow up diligence on Braeburn will not reveal much if anything.
CapitalIQ has the following description of the firm: "Braeburn Capital Inc. is the asset management arm of Apple Inc. The firm invests in the public equity markets. Braeburn Capital Inc. was founded in 2006 and is based in Reno, Nevada." And that's it - there is no breakdown of which "public equity market" investments Braeburn is invested in, as is to be expected.
Bloomberg provides the following minimalist information:
Some more useful information cn be found in the Nevada Annual Report of tax-filing entities:
- Entity Name: BRAEBURN CAPITAL, INC.
- Filing Status: Active
- Date Filed: 10/03/2005
- Type: Domestic Corporation
- File Number: E0667452005-7
It also lists the firm's principals:
730 Sandhill Road
Reno, NV 89521
730 Sandhill Road
Reno, NV 89521
730 Sandhill Road
Reno, NV 89521
The LinkedIn profile of Braeburn CIO Steve Johnson is also rather bland:
As is that of Braeburn Portfolio Manager Ted Mulvaney, who before taking over capital allocation of tens of billions worked at a fund named for a Douglas Adams planet.
Oddly enough, the only actual personnel link between Braeburn and Apple can be found in the profile of principal Gary Wipfler who just happens to be the official Treasurer, and thus as expected, the person responsible for the mega cash stash of the behemoth tech company.
For some other clues on Braeburn one has to go to the NYT, and a certain article discussing AAPL's ability to legally and quite successfully bypass American corporate tax laws.
In 2006, as Apple’s bank accounts and stock price were rising, company executives came here to Reno and established a subsidiary named Braeburn Capital to manage and invest the company’s cash. Braeburn is a variety of apple that is simultaneously sweet and tart.
Today, Braeburn’s offices are down a narrow hallway inside a bland building that sits across from an abandoned restaurant. Inside, there are posters of candy-colored iPods and a large Apple insignia, as well as a handful of desks and computer terminals.
When someone in the United States buys an iPhone, iPad or other Apple product, a portion of the profits from that sale is often deposited into accounts controlled by Braeburn, and then invested in stocks, bonds or other financial instruments, say company executives. Then, when those investments turn a profit, some of it is shielded from tax authorities in California by virtue of Braeburn’s Nevada address.
Since founding Braeburn, Apple has earned more than $2.5 billion in interest and dividend income on its cash reserves and investments around the globe.
Naturally, Apple is less than eager to discuss the role of its Nevada asset manager:
Apple declined to comment on its Nevada operations. Privately, some executives said it was unfair to criticize the company for reducing its tax bill when thousands of other companies acted similarly. If Apple volunteered to pay more in taxes, it would put itself at a competitive disadvantage, they argued, and do a disservice to its shareholders.
There is much more in the NYT article, but in short, while Apple for now uses Braeburn primarily in its capacity to find legal tax loophole all around the world and avoid paying taxes, there is no denying that with a cash balance that in a two years may be well over $200 billion, applying even a modest amount of leverage would make AAPL the best capitalized bank, mutual fund or asset manager in the world.
What's more, Braeburn has no reporting obligations: there is no Investment Advisor Public Disclosure (IAPD) entry on Braeburn for the logical reason that it is not an investment advisor: it merely manages an ungodly amount of cash for AAPL's millions of shareholders. There is also no SEC filing 13-F filing on Braeburn's holdings. As such, not confied by the limitations of being a "long-only", it is in its full right to hold any assets it feels like, up to and including CDS on housing, puts on Samsung, or Constant Maturity Swaps that pay if the 10 Year collapses. It just doesn't have to report any of them.
Nobody knows: and that's the beauty of Braeburn. It is the world's largest hedge fund that is not really a hedge fund, nobody has heard of, and nobody knows just what assets it holds.
Which is precisely what Apple wants. Incidentally, what Apple probably wants more is to keep the status quo as is. However, with the topic of finding effective tax loopholes which are perfectly legal, yet which apparently are unfair, serving as the basis of the entire presidential race to date, what Apple can be absolutely certain of is that once the farce culminating on November 6 is over, the government's eye will finally turn to minimizing "externalities" among such companies which have been able to pass through corporate tax savings to end consumers by abiding within the legal system that countless other muppet congressmen, senators and presidents have developed over the ages.
Because while AAPL may have built the iPhone, very soon it will be only fair that it share its profits acquired over the years, and thus its cash balance, which at last check was double that of the US Treasury, with the general public.
At that point Braeburn will almost certainly be a household name.