Lost in the shuffle of the recent economic crisis, American financial institutions now have the opportunity to service clients of their now-failed counterparts. No where has this been more evident than the world of hedge fund prime brokerage. When Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns failed, the rest of the banking industry went into defense mode and began to cut servicing to riskier or less profitable hedge fund clientèle. Hedge funds were losing money anyway, and prime brokerage departments couldn’t fathom spending time, effort, or money to service these smaller, less-conspicuous hedge funds.
Now, hedge funds are roaring back, and many new prime brokerage departments are opening to take advantage of the availability of new or formerly-undesirable prime brokerage clients. According to Jenny Strasburg of the Wall Street Journal, FBR Capital Markets and Cantor Fitzgerald &Co. have both added prime brokerage units in the past few months. Conifer Securities began servicing prime brokerage clients in January, Merlin Securities opened its prime brokerage department in 2004, and Jeffries & Co. launched prime brokerage in 2007.
While these new prime brokerage departments are operating in relative obscurity, they are doing big business with hedge funds with less than $500 million in AUM. In 2007, analyst estimated the prime brokerage market to be worth more than $10 billion, and these new firms are poised to take in clients that can’t find servicing from the major brokerage houses like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan. At the end of the day, Wall Street is an eat-what-you-kill industry, and the big boys are leaving a lot more than scraps for the smaller brokerage houses to fight over.