UPDATE 1-Doric shuts flagship hedge fund to focus on small cap strategy

Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:05am EST

By Nishant Kumar

HONG KONG Feb 22 (Reuters) - Doric Capital Corp, one of Hong Kong's oldest hedge fund firms founded by former Man Group Plc executive Michael Nock, has shut its decade-old Asia ex-Japan long/short equity fund and plans to focus on managing its small-cap strategy.

Launched in October 2001, the flagship Doric Focus Fund closed in January following a 28 percent loss in 2011, according to a letter to investors seen by Reuters this week. Assets were down to about $25 million from a peak of just over $350 million in 2006.

The firm had decided to dedicate its efforts to managing the Doric Asia Pacific Small Cap Fund, Managing Director Howard Wong told Reuters in an e-mail.

"It was a tough decision to close down the Doric Fund given its long and respectable track record spanning over 10 years," Wong said. "Nevertheless, its less-than-splendid performance in recent years has prompted us to re-align our core competency with our goal and thus focus on the Doric Asia Pac Fund."

The $45 million small-cap strategy was up 4.8 percent in January and Wong said gains in February had lifted the fund's return to double digits. The fund was down 14.5 percent last year, according to data collected by Thomson Reuters Lipper.

The Eurekahedge Asia long/short equities index fell 10.2 percent last year, as Europe's debt crisis, a sluggish U.S. recovery and events such as Japan's nuclear disaster combined to create a tough trading environment for hedge funds.

That has led to investors pulling out from funds with closures surging past launches for the first time since 2008, putting pressure on the industry which remains $52 billion behind its peak assets of $176 billion.

Doric's core team, including Wong and Rajesh Ranganathan, who have won seven awards in the past decade in the equity long/short space, will continue to manage the small-cap strategy.

Wong said several small and mid-cap companies, especially in China and India, remained inexpensive even after the recent market recovery and while growth expectations had moderated, business prospects and financial condition remained attractive.

"We believe the Doric Asia Pac Fund would provide the best equity alternative product for investors in Asia and our total dedication on one single product should ensure its continued success," Wong added.

Firms that launch many funds tend to underperform other firms by between 3 to 5 percent per year after adjusting for risk, according to a study by Melvyn Teo, a professor of finance at the Singapore Management University.

Doric was founded by Nock in 1999. Hamon Investment Group, in which Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has a minority stake, bought a 46 percent stake in the firm in 2009.

Senior managing executives Howard Wong, Rajesh Ranganathan and Jeff Liu formed an equal partnership with Hamon then, while Nock retained a stake.

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