Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- The 10th edition of Anthony Scaramucci’s SALT conference brought nearly 2,000 people to Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel this week and diverted from its prior focus on just hedge funds.
- Politicians, not hedge fund managers, were the big-name speakers, and the investing community in attendance was geared more toward the buzziest topics of the day, like so-called opportunity zones, cannabis, and crypto.
- For more stories like this, visit Business Insider’s homepage.
LAS VEGAS — Missing from Anthony Scaramucci’s SALT conference speaker list this year were the hedge fund titans who have headlined the conference in the past, like the billionaires Steve Cohen and Bill Ackman.
Marc Lasry, the Avenue Capital founder, was a late scratch from the agenda, as he chose to watch the NBA team he owns, the Milwaukee Bucks, instead of flying to Las Vegas. And of the 23 featured speakers at the conference this week, fewer than half are current investors.
The Las Vegas conference this year, its 10th edition, instead expanded beyond its hedge fund roots, vacillating between panels on buzzy topics like cannabis, so-called opportunity zones, and crypto, and talks from former confidants of President Donald Trump, like Chris Christie, John Kelly, and Jeff Sessions.
The shift away from hedge fund headliners comes as the industry is struggling with performance issues. Even as funds gained an average of 5.4% in the first quarter, nearly $15 billion left the industry in the period, according to eVestment.
Held at the sprawling Bellagio resort and casino, with extensive security — replete with bomb-sniffing dogs — sectioning off the conference from the slot machines, the blowout brought together an eclectic mix of politicos, advisers, hedge fund managers, and cannabis-producing CEOs in the return from its one-year hiatus. Last year, Scaramucci, briefly a White House communications director under Trump, didn’t hold the conference as a Chinese conglomerate was in talks (that later collapsed) to buy his firm, SkyBridge Capital.
A partisan nonpartisan event
SALT describes itself as nonpartisan, but the conference featured a heavy tilt toward Scaramucci’s former employer.
While the Obama administration alums Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett made appearances, the loudest panelists were Trump supporters like Christie, while conservative media figures like Charlie Kirk could be seen doing live shots on one of several balconies overlooking poolside cabanas.
The biggest talks at the end of both days were with Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, and Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador. Even on the smaller stage, Trump-connected people like David Bossie, Stephen Moore, and Corey Lewandowski made appearances.
A midday conversation among Christie, Sessions, and MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle was standing room only.
Still, the biggest cheers were not for either party but general anger at both sides — sentiments expressed by Sam Zell and former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo, who implored people to call their representatives to get politicians working for them.
Stays in Vegas
But despite the lack of hedge fund star power, the conference had the second-highest attendance in its history, with nearly 2,000 attendees.
One longtime attendee from a fund said it had gotten harder for investors to persuade compliance to let them come to Vegas for conferences, opening the door for more people from cannabis, bitcoin, and technology to fill the void.
David Bahnsen, a wealth adviser who said he had been to nearly every SALT conference, said it was easily the youngest crowd he had seen, something he attributed to the shift in focus to the buzziest investment topics of the day.
Bradley Saacks/Business Insider
When you attend SALT, one longtime attendee said, you’re there for more than just catching up with investors.
"You go to see famous people walking around, and they nailed it," this person said, mentioning that he had just bumped into Mark Cuban taking a selfie with a couple of fans.
You can meet investors at any conference, this person said, but the chance to rub shoulders with celebrities is what makes SALT big.
But with hedge funds’ margins shrinking, it can be a hard pitch to get the OK to come to a conference in a Vegas casino rather than one at a Dallas convention center, another attendee said.
"You never know who is going to wake up the next morning here," this person said on a balcony overlooking one of the Bellagio’s many pools.
- Canopy Growth’s CEO is pushing back against activist investors and says there’s a ‘like 0%’ chance the landmark Acreage Holdings deal doesn’t go through
- Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of Countrywide who was widely blamed for the housing crisis, says banks should get back into mortgage lending
- Multi-billion-dollar hedge fund manager Daniel Sundheim is pumping up Netflix, but dismisses the Canadian pot industry