Wall Street

Anthony Scaramucci, hedge fund showman, finds himself in limbo

Alexandra Stevenson
Anthony Scaramucci, Founder and Co-Managing Partner at SkyBridge Capital, speaks during the opening remarks during the SALT conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, May 17, 2017.
Richard Brian | Reuters

Hedge fund managers know him as one of their own — the wealthy, backslapping host of their industry's splashiest conference each year in Las Vegas.

Regulars at the World Economic Forum know him as the politically connected insider who organizes an annual wine tasting party in the Swiss Alps.

President Trump knows him as a major Wall Street fund-raiser with hopes of joining the administration.

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But as Anthony Scaramucci presided over his annual SkyBridge Alternatives Conference, known as SALT, at the Bellagio Las Vegas hotel this week, he was not quite any of these things.

Mr. Scaramucci sold his stake in SkyBridge Capital, his hedge fund of funds business, early this year, leaving him without a financial institution to his name. His hoped-for job in the Trump administration did not materialize. And an effort to disentangle himself from his business wound up raising conflict-of-interest questions.

On Thursday, William A. Ackman, the billionaire investor who has had a two-year losing streak, described how he was "extremely humbled" by his losses. Mr. Scaramucci, who was interviewing him, said he empathized. "Unfortunately, I have been there," Mr. Scaramucci said.

The lack of a clearly defined role did not stop Mr. Scaramucci, known as the Mooch, from continuing to angle for a role in the White House.

"I am ready to serve," he said in opening remarks at SALT on Wednesday. "And so, to the extent the president needs me, I will be available to him."

Scaramucci: Trump's inaugural address will be inspiring
Scaramucci: Trump's inaugural address will be inspiring

In the absence of a new job, Mr. Scaramucci, in a rambling confessional before hundreds of hedge fund insiders, offered hints about his future.

"I remain loyal to the president and to the cause," he said, telling a story about shaking hands with people at a Trump rally in Albuquerque and learning about the economic desperation many Americans face.

"It took a billionaire who lives in a tower on Fifth Avenue next to the Tiffany's jewelry store to show me something that I missed from my own neighborhood," he said, referring to his upbringing on Long Island, which he has described as a blue-collar community.

Mr. Scaramucci's state of limbo is a stark turnaround for a man who, just months ago, seemed to be on the fast track to a senior role in the Trump administration.

"Anthony is an entrepreneur and a good man," said Leon G. Cooperman, a hedge fund manager. "He professionalized the industry, and SALT is the highlight of the industry."

Mr. Cooperman, who has addressed SALT panels in previous years but was not at the conference this year, said Mr. Scaramucci "would have been a good addition to the administration" but added that Mr. Trump "has already appointed many intelligent people."

Mr. Scaramucci, 53, did not reply to requests for comment.

In what has become industry lore, he transformed SkyBridge from a small seeding business on the brink of failure to a large fund of funds by buying Citigroup's hedge fund business in early 2010, as the bank was trying to shed risky assets.

A longtime Republican donor, Mr. Scaramucci supported a handful candidates, including Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, in the presidential primaries last year. Along the way, he accused Mr. Trump of being a "hack politician" who had a "big mouth."

Mr. Trump had equally tart words for hedge fund managers, who he said were "paper pushers" who were "getting away with murder."

But as Mr. Trump's unlikely candidacy gained steam, Mr. Scaramucci began to defend him. At last year's SALT conference, he hosted Steven T. Mnuchin, then Mr. Trump's campaign finance chairman and now the Treasury secretary.

Mr. Scaramucci arranged meet-and-greets between Mr. Mnuchin and some of the billionaire hedge fund managers in attendance. The men also shared a meal with Kenneth C. Griffin, the billionaire founder of the Citadel hedge fund and other conference speakers. Mr. Griffin contributed $100,000 to President Trump's inauguration.

Mr. Scaramucci raised significant sums for the Trump campaign and joined his inaugural committee.

He said he was offered a job in the White House on Jan. 12. On Jan. 17, he announced that he had sold his stake in SkyBridge to a consortium led by HNA Capital and RON Transatlantic. As part of that sale, the SALT conference affiliated with SkyBridge was spun off to some of his former colleagues.

I've known Anthony Scaramucci for a long time, and I know you'd a fool to bet against him.  Most people would have given up on Wall Street after being fired from a firm like Goldman Sachs, but not Anthony. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps.
Jeffrey S. Gerson
Morgan Stanley managing director

The sale of Scaramucci's SkyBridge stake was meant to remove any entanglements that would have prevented him from serving in the administration. But it may have had the opposite effect.

The timing of the deal raised concerns that the politically connected HNA was currying favor with an incoming White House official.

HNA has extensive ties to the Chinese political leadership, The New York Times has reported. At the conference, Mr. Scaramucci praised HNA as "one of the more magnificent conglomerates coming out of China" and advised participants to get to know its leaders.

The other buyer of Mr. Scaramucci's stake in SkyBridge, RON, is linked to a Venezuelan-born banker who was close to the administration of President Hugo Chávez, Bloomberg recently reported.

Mr. Scaramucci has said the deal will close and that he has already been paid for his share.

But so far, he has been left out of the Trump White House.

Instead, Mr. Scaramucci was back in Las Vegas for his ninth SALT event, a conference he started as a way to market his hedge fund firm. This year, the conference had 1,800 participants and speakers, including Ben S. Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, and William A. Ackman, the activist investor. Entertainment included concerts by the Gipsy Kings and Duran Duran.

"I didn't expect to be here, to be honest," he said on Wednesday at the opening of the conference. "I was offered a job by the administration. The job didn't materialize" he added.

Jeffrey S. Gerson, a managing director at Morgan Stanley who helped put together the deal that transformed SkyBridge in 2010, said he expected to hear about Mr. Scaramucci's next act soon.

"I've known Anthony Scaramucci for a long time, and I know you'd a fool to bet against him," he said. "Most people would have given up on Wall Street after being fired from a firm like Goldman Sachs, but not Anthony. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and basically said, 'I'll be the one who decides if I'm successful or not,'" Mr. Gerson added.

At the conference, Mr. Scaramucci was also distributing copies of his book, "Hopping Over the Rabbit Hole." Stacks of the book were piled high on tables at the registration desks, and every participant received a guest bag containing a copy. Mr. Scaramucci said the book, which was published last year, was an international best seller.

"If you don't believe me," he said, "you can come into my basement, and I can show you every copy I had to buy to make it an international best seller."

Watch: Scaramucci says he's cashed out of SkyBridge

Scaramucci: I'm fully cashed out of SkyBridge
Scaramucci: I'm fully cashed out of SkyBridge