Scaramucci Vegas Show Returns With Focus on Trump Insiders

(Bloomberg) -- The Mooch came back to Vegas this week, but it was a different kind of gig.

After putting his SkyBridge Alternatives Conference on hold last year following a rough patch -- a foul-mouthed interview led to his firing after 11 days at the White House, then came his investment firm’s scrapped deal with HNA Group Co. -- Anthony Scaramucci struck a more restrained tone for the 10th anniversary of his swanky hedge fund show. As investors flocked to the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas for three days of panels and hobnobbing, gone were the celebrities and fund titans that presented in years past.

Scaramucci Vegas Show Returns With Focus on Trump Insiders

So-called masters of the universe like Bill Ackman, Jim Chanos and David Tepper, who once graced the stage at SALT, were absent. Marc Lasry and Jason Mudrick, among the highest-profile hedge fund names on this week’s agenda, canceled at the last minute.

Political Heavyweights

Hollywood types like Will Smith and singer Jewel, who spoke at the 2017 edition, were gone too. In their place were political heavyweights -- Valerie Jarrett, Ben Carson, John Kelly, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions and Corey Lewandowski. The latter two were fired by President Donald Trump.

“We’re FBLs,” Scaramucci, who founded SkyBridge Capital, said on the sidelines of the conference Thursday. “You know what FBLs is? Fired but loyal.”

The conference impresario said he invited “all the blockbuster hedge fund names, but if they don’t want to come, I can’t pull their teeth.”

The $3 trillion hedge fund industry hasn’t done well lately, he said, “so if you haven’t had a great year and you’re a household name you’re like, ‘OK, I’m going to stay out of there,’ you know?’”

Speakers included Angelo Mozilo, the former Countrywide Financial Corp. chief executive who the New Yorker called “the face of the financial crisis” in the wake of the housing collapse. He warned on Bloomberg Television of a coming rout in luxury homes.

Logan’s Gaffe

Omeed Malik, who founded merchant bank Farvahar Partners this year, moderated a panel. The former Bank of America Corp. executive was fired in January 2018 after a woman alleged he made unwanted advances. His attorney said Malik hadn’t engaged in any misconduct and that he was terminated over internal politics and discrimination. The company ultimately agreed to pay Malik a multimillion-dollar sum to settle a defamation suit.

In a slightly awkward moment, journalist Lara Logan made a gaffe as she introduced Malik for his panel, saying he’s “no saint” before correcting herself to say no “stranger” to the SALT audience.

“He’s been a friend to SALT for a long period of time, so if he wants to be involved, it’s the right thing to do,” SkyBridge co-Chief Investment Officer Troy Gayeski said in an interview.

Cannabis, Crypto

Multiple cannabis, cryptocurrency and opportunity zones panels were on the agenda, as were venture capital and private equity discussions. Attendees had requested a broader mix of topics this year, Gayeski said. That may also reflect shifting tides within the hedge fund industry as investors increasingly turn to other kinds of asset managers for yield.

The conference drew 1,950 attendees this year, compared with the typical 1,600 to 1,800, said Ray Nolte, SkyBridge’s co-CIO.

“There was great skepticism in the beginning,” Scaramucci said about getting the event back off the ground. Some sponsors allocated their budgets elsewhere because it was canceled last year. But things ramped up in April when the speaker list was more set, he said, adding, “It’s the highest level of ‘A’ players that we’ve put together in SALT history.” This year the conference set up a second stage that hosted a flurry of additional panels and presentations.

Poolside Deejay

The vibe at the Bellagio, which was patrolled with K-9 dogs, was more subdued than in years past, and the parties less lively. The annual poolside barbecue dinner, which in 2017 featured a performance from the Gipsy Kings, this year had a deejay.

“Wednesday night at the pool, it looked like somebody died,” said Adriana Da Silva, a principal at Adas Investments who was attending her fourth SALT.

The past two years have been busy for the Mooch, as Scaramucci is known. After his exit as White House communications director, he launched a Twitter account, The Scaramucci Post, did a stint on the TV show “Celebrity Big Brother” and now co-hosts the “Mooch and the Mrs.” podcast with his wife.

For Greg Royce, whose SALT ticket cost $4,250, the payoff was there. He’s launching his own hedge fund and is seeking investor capital. Royce said he was able to secure at least 14 meetings.

“Yeah, I’ll come back next year for sure,” he said.

The sentiment was shared by Andy Scott, a managing director at Societe Generale SA.

“There are many health benefits to salt: it improves hydration and sleep,” he said. “SALT in Las Vegas gave me neither, but I still enjoyed it.”

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