Four college kids started a hedge fund. Should I invest?

TBT: Originally posted August 2012

One of the biggest problems with having large corporations as clients is that there’s so much crap you’re not allowed to invest in actively in order to prevent any potential allegations of insider trading. There’s also a bunch of rules and paperwork that, honestly, few bankers have time to keep track of.

As a result, a lot of bankers just stick their money in ETFs (or a nice piece of Hamptons real estate) and forget about it. (I admit it, most of my money’s in ETFs right now.)

But let’s face it, we all know that you haven’t made it until you pay more in capital gains tax than in ordinary income tax. Passive investment is boring and is largely for betas and scrubs whose 401(k) is their largest source of liquid capital ( psssh!).

So as you start to accumulate capital, if you want to get those big returns, you eventually have to find someone to manage things on the personal investment front for you.

This isn’t easy. No-name firms and individuals deliver inconsistent results and are sometimes shady. Bulge bracket firms deliver consistently shitty results and are consistently shady. And you're never gonna get personalized attention unless you've got $50m+ (which I don't have) or you are one of the larger clients in a small shop.

To this end, I've been doing a little due diligence lately, and thanks to this article (http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/10/worlds-most-oblivious-hedge-fund.html) I uncovered a real gem that I wanted to share with you guys.

Presenting Lumina Investments (http://www.luminainvestments.com/), a group of college kids from UNC (but UNC Wilmington, not UNC Chapel Hill). And one guy from East Carolina University. (I always thought the Carolinas were divided into North and South, but I admit being a tad fuzzy on those southern states.)

Anyway, Lumina provides “global macro event-driven investing,” which sounds like a pretty good idea. Of course, they’re not the only global macro shop out there. So what are Lumina’s points of differentiation?

Well, one of their goals is “performance during macro events,” which I take to mean that when something is going on in the world, they try to make money on it. That’s the kind of thinking I want in the guys who are managing my money. So far, so good.

But that’s not all. They also aim for “capital preservation during non-event environments”. By “capital preservation”, I assume they mean that they don’t come to work on slow news days. I would hazard a guess that they switch over to “capital preservation” mode during midterms and finals as well. Overall, I approve of this. If the guy who manages my money doesn’t know how to make money in a steady market, I don’t want him trying.

But more importantly, I can’t find a single thing on their website I disagree with. Listen to the CEO, Elliot Carol, who says in big screaming quotes on the front page: “Right now, macro events are driving the market. We believe this is the new normal.”

Now, anyone who was around 10/20 years ago would probably also say that it was the old normal. But let’s not split hairs. This is a pretty sage statement for a 21-year-old.

Let’s check out the head of investor relations, who says, “When it comes to investor relations, Lumina’s primary goal is to maximize transparency between our investors and the investment team.” Now here’s a man who knows what investor relations is. Nicely played.

I read the quote where they admit to having less than a million dollars under management, so I was still a little wary of handing these kids my money until I saw that two of them have passed the Series 65. There’s a picture of them wearing actual suits (and even gold tie clips). And there is a Firm CRD number proudly displayed at the bottom of every page. So you know these kids are serious. At least serious enough to have paid the $300 CRD fee to FINRA.

You gotta admit, these kids are douching way above their weight. I wouldn't be surprised to see this level of douching out of Dukies or UNC-Chapel Hill, but Wilmington? I bet panties are dropping all up and down the Carolina coast. (Hopefully not all of them are size XXL from WalMart.)

The only problem is that I can’t tell exactly what Lumina Investments is. Apparently the director of research and investments, Zach Cefaratti, said to the reporter, "We’re not playing around here. This is a serious hedge fund, doing serious and big things. This isn’t a joke."

But after the story, the firm said on Twitter: “To clarify, Lumina isn't a hedge fund, it's an IA firm. We don't turn on the lights w/o asking our compliance guy.”

But, regardless of what they are, the press believes in this "serious hedge fund" and the "serious and big things" they are doing. At least, the hometown press does. A quote on Lumina’s webpage from the Greater Wilmington Business Journal says, “Both innovative and conservative, these young men believe that their strategy will create long-term success.” So the hometown paper reports that these kids believe in themselves. You can't get much more glowing praise than that.

But what do folks from the big city think? Well, no less a personage than Kevin Roose (New York Times alum, writing for New York Magazine) says, “We don't typically provide investment advice, but trust us on this one: Get on the ground floor, if you still can.”

At first I had a suspicion that Roose’s quote was meant as sarcasm since it was the last line of a not-exactly-glowing article, but I was reassured once I saw that Lumina had stuck the whole quote on its front page as an endorsement from New York Magazine.

I don’t typically take investment advice from journalists, but maybe Roose is onto something. These kids have a really unusual combination of traits. Youth. Passion. A website designer. A passing familiarity with investment buzzwords. The balls to wear contrasting collars while still in college. And a near-total lack of self-awareness that promises, if not outsized returns, at least an outsized opportunity for entertainment.

I’m thinking of calling them up this week and asking what their minimums are. It might be worth it to become a client just so I can watch the fun. What do you monkeys think?

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