As Big Mergers Wane, Macro and Activist Funds May Wax

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Vanishing credit for big mergers is damping demand for hedge fund managers and traders who specialize in merger arbitrage.

But it might aid buy-side professionals expert in other strategies, including activist investing and macro trading.

Large, prominent hedge funds are poking their noses into small mergers lately, notes a recent post on the Financial Times' Alphaville blog. That's an indication that merger arbitrage funds are seeing both less capital and fewer opportunities than six months ago.

"Many investors, panicked by the seizure in the debt markets, withdrew their money from merger arbitrage around three months ago and reallocated it to more traditional, or macro strategies," the post says.

Macro strategies involve big-picture bets on currencies, country allocation or asset classes, often based on macroeconomic or geopolitical forecasts. They gained wide attention in the 1990s when high rollers like George Soros and Julian Robertson made huge profits across the globe, sometimes betting against central banks.

Activist investing is another activity that could take up some of the slack. "The less merger arbitrage opportunities there are, the more dangerous these funds can become," says the FT. "To create action, they will be less tolerant of incompetent management at companies. With valuations so volatile at the moment, some situations could get nasty."

In other words, arb investors might increasingly take stakes in languishing companies and pressure them to put themselves on the block. And that would boost demand for buy-side types experienced in playing that game.