New game no gamble for Packer

There’s a new game down at the casino, it’s called „Play with Packer“. Yep, you can roll the dice with Australia’s richest man and share the spoils.

Well, I exaggerate — but only slightly. The new game is not in the casino but on the stock exchange, and it’s going to be called Ellerston Capital, a hedge fund to be listed on July 3 by James Packer.

In fact, the punters can hardly wait for Ellerston Capital — Packer set out with a target to raise AUD 500 million, but with the applications pouring in the door, the target has been raised to AUD 600 million.

And of course I’m sure you know the difference between casino games and hedge funds.

In both situations you are gambling, but with hedge funds you pay huge fees for the right to roll the dice and if you win there’s tax to be paid.

Still, the demand is there and who can blame Packer — Australia’s casino king — for timing the float to perfection? The stockmarket is running hot and hedge funds are flavour of the moment as investors seek those elusive „higher-than- average“ returns.

The head of Ellerston Capital, Glenn Poswell, has said the timing of the float is „purely coincidental“ — but congratulations all the same on impeccable timing, Mr Poswell.

Hedge fund investing is a new game for many Australian retail investors. It is high risk, and in the US there are laws prohibiting „mum and dad“ investors from putting money into many products of this nature.

In Australia the outstanding retail success has been a series of funds from Britain’s Man Financial group, which has quietly raised almost AUD 6 billion from local investors since 1997.

On the stockmarket an outstanding fund is Everest Babcock and Brown, which listed at AUD 1.43 in April 2005 and has now more than doubled in price to AUD 3.60.

Can Packer make money not just for his family but for everyone? That’s what this float is all about. Investors are piling into the fund hoping some of the Packer stardust will be sprinkled across their portfolios.

Yet the Packer family name is no guarantee of success. In 2000 thousands of small investors flocked to Kerry Packer’s tilt at the dotcom ecorp.

In February 2000, ecorp shares hit $ 8.36. Two years later the Packer family folded ecorp into the flagship PBL at 55 cents a share.

Ellerston Capital has no track record worth talking about. It only opened its doors in May 2006 and made 22 per cent in its first year. The fees on the Ellerston Capital funds are comprehensive, including a 2 per cent management fee that will be paid every year whether it does well or not and another 20 per cent for performance.

Will everyone make money? Maybe — hedge funds are notoriously volatile, but there is every reason to believe Packer will hire the best minds in the business.

Will Packer make money? Definitely. The listed fund is costing a massive AUD 18 million to establish — even though an unlisted version has already been running for a year … and those management fees will have to be paid whether Ellerston makes money or not. As Packer would know, the house always wins.