Back in the summer of 2012, we had some fun when we reported that Whitney Tilson - the consummate, if always late immitator of other prominent investors especially Warren Buffett and Bill Ackman - following several years of abysmal returns, closed his then-hedge fund T2 (with Glenn Tongue), splitting off into his own, oddly-named venture, Kase Capital. Well, Whitney - who in recent years was better known for his bizarre family photos from Africa than managing money- has done it again and according to the WSJ, Tilson closed his hedge fund... again, "the latest high-profile investor to close shop amid an extended period of disappointing returns for the industry."
As the WSJ adds, Tilson, 50, shared his decision with clients (apparently he still had some) on Sunday. His latest hedge fund, Kase Capital, which was managing a whopping 50 million at the time of closure, and down from a peak of $180 million, lost about 8% so far this year, a more than 20% underperformance relative to the S&P YTD gain of more than 13%.
As the WSJ adds sarcastically, "while he ran a relatively small fund, Mr. Tilson was a well-known hedge-fund manager thanks to television and conference appearances, as well as books and regular writing about investing and other topics." In other words, Tilson was not so much a "hedge fund manager" as its straight-to-CNBC marketer, and the results have confirmed it.
In an amusing twist, in 2016 Tilson - a staunch never-Trumpter - inexplicably found himself the subject of scathing criticism by Elizabeth Warren, after Tilson expressed modest public support of some of President Donald Trump’s cabinet and other appointments from the banking world, "even though Mr. Tilson is a lifelong Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton."
“The next four years are going to be a bonanza for the Whitney Tilsons of the world,” the Massachusetts Democrat said at the time. She later apologized to Mr. Tilson for her criticism.
And so Tilson joins a long procession of managers, some of whom managed actual real money, who decided that it was impossible to navigate these centrally planned markets and an exit was the noble way to go.
He is hardly the last one: in the past several months, a couple of well-known hedge funds have closed. Among them, investor Eric Mindich closed his $7 billion hedge-fund firm, Eton Park Capital Management LP, billionaire Richard Perry shuttered his hedge-fund firm and Hugh Hendry exited his flagship fund in London. “I died in active combat,” Mr. Hendry told Bloomberg at the time. “The last three months were harrowing.”
Many more closures are coming as investors redeem cash ahead of year-end at a pace not seen since the financial crisis.
As for Whitney, who somehow managed money for more than 18 years, the WSJ says that he is "expected to manage his own money." Considering Tilson was one of the founding, and most vocal members of "Patriotic Millionaires" group begging to be taxed more, we assume he does, in fact, have money to manage (we are not so sure about his clients) and this wasn't just yet another marketing gimmick from the now former hedge fund manager.
Whitney's full farewell letter below:
I recently decided to close my funds and return capital to investors (excerpts from my letter to them are below). It was a hard decision, but the right one.
Now, I am filled with enthusiasm about what I will do with the second half of my life. What might that be? I’m not sure, but I want to share a few thoughts – and would be grateful for your feedback and ideas.
I’ve been working full time for more than 30 years, almost all of that time in an entrepreneurial capacity. While my one “regular” job early in my career was a good experience, I like being independent and plan to remain so. My goal is to find opportunities that are personally interesting, give me the chance to collaborate with great people, and are sufficiently remunerative (contrary to Elizabeth Warren’s belief, I am most definitely not a billionaire!).
I expect that most of my work will continue to be in the investment field, as I still love it and am confident that I can put my energy and 18 years of experience to good use. While I no longer intend to manage others’ money, I’m exploring a number of ideas, such as:
1) Unearthing a few great investment opportunities each year, in which I can invest personally as well as share with a few others;
2) Serving on corporate boards;
3) Doing consulting in areas in which I have expertise such as capital allocation, strategy, and activist investing; and
4) Teaching and mentoring young value investors via writings, videos and seminars.
I would welcome your advice and suggestions, so please don’t hesitate to email me at WTilson@kasecapital.com or call me at (646) 258-0687.