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Hedge-Fund Managers Talk About Obama's Tax Hike Plan

President Barack Obama
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President Barack Obama

Many of the hedge-fund managers at the Delivering Alpha conference are not pleased with Barack Obama's proposal to raise taxes on carried interest. But they're hardly panicking about it either.

"It doesn't really change my tax treatment all that much," one prominent hedge-fund manager told me.

The manager explained that the idea that he pays just 15 percent on his income is "political mythology."

"I talked to my accountants. I have a 44 percent tax rate, all in," he said.

Another well-known hedge-fund manager I spoke with at the conference said that for actively trading funds, carried interest treatment isn't such a big deal.

"It's more of a thing for the private equity guys, for (venture capitalists)," he said.

Both managers singled out Warren Buffett as the source of public misunderstanding about carried interest. Buffett wrote on op-ed in The New York Times in August that advocated raising taxes on carried interest.

Delivering Alpha - presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor
Delivering Alpha - presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor

"Buffett talks about hedge fund managers. But the reason he pays so little in taxes is just because of capital gains in general, not carried interest. If he were to advocate raising capital gains taxes to the level of ordinary income, at least he'd be consistent. But he doesn't want that," one said.

Cliff Asness, the founder and managing principal of AQR Capital Management, said the worst part of the tax plan was the enterprise-value tax. That tax would require owners of investment partnerships that have earned as little as $1 of carried-interest income to pay ordinary income tax, rather than capital-gains rates, when they sell their businesses.

"It raises your taxes after the fact, reaching back and punishing value-creation," Asness said.

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