WASHINGTON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - A preliminary analysis of a new trove of hedge fund data has found that the industry may not be as risky as conventionally thought, a U.S. Treasury Department official said on Monday.
Richard Berner, director of the Treasury's new Office of Financial Research, said the tentative conclusion is based on an examination of hedge funds' leverage levels, risk modeling and the amount of hard-to-value assets, among other factors.
The findings are important because the office's research may influence policymakers' debate on which financial institutions need to be more tightly regulated.
The office has new access to data on thousands of hedge funds, after the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act required certain large private funds to submit confidential information to regulators, in an effort to help them better police for systemic risks.
"While these results are very preliminary, they seem to contradict the idea that hedge funds typically employ risky strategies," Berner told an audience at The Brookings Institution.
"I want to emphasize that these conclusions are very tentative. They are based on a preliminary analysis of the data. And one should really take them as the starting point for further work," he added.
The office, also created by Dodd-Frank, did not formally release information associated with its analysis.
The Managed Funds Association, representing mainly hedge funds, welcomed Berner's comments.
"We appreciate the OFR's analysis of the ... data, which largely confirms the history of data on hedge fund strategies and their use of leverage, and tracks with MFA's view that hedge funds currently do not pose a systemic risk," said Richard Baker, president and chief executive of the MFA.
However, Berner on Monday stood by a report his office produced earlier this year that upset mutual funds by finding that certain activities by large asset managers could pose risks to the broader marketplace.
The Sept. 30 study focused more on risks posed by highly regulated mutual funds, but it did not contain data or analysis on less-regulated hedge funds.
Berner said the prior report did not include such data because regulators had recently started to collect information and did not yet have a clean data set.
The research is expected to play a role in whether a U.S. panel of regulators designates larger asset management firms such as BlackRock or Fidelity as "systemic" - a tag that requires firms to set aside more cash and face heightened oversight by the Federal Reserve.
The Sept. 30 study concluded that risks are posed by the activities of large firms, including the use of leverage to help boost returns and "herding" behavior in which managers crowd into the same or similar assets. Any financial shocks could then trigger investors to rush for the exits, the report found. It did not single out firms as particularly risky, although it did provide data about specific firms.
"We stand by the report," Berner said on Monday, also noting that it is not up to his office to decide whether firms ultimately get designated.
Since the OFR's Sept. 30 report was released, it has been widely panned by the industry and some members of Congress. Critics say the report was poorly informed and fundamentally misunderstood asset managers' business models and how they differ from banks.
Privately, regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the agency that oversees asset managers, also contested the report, Reuters previously reported, citing people familiar with the matter.