Viking Global portfolio manager Parsons to quit

BOSTON, March 16 Fri Mar 16, 2012 5:02pm EDT

BOSTON, March 16 (Reuters) - Hedge fund titan Viking Global, which invests billions of dollars for prominent U.S. pension funds, told clients this week that one of its top portfolio managers is exiting after Viking's founder and the manager disagreed over how to run the firm.

James Parsons who specialized in technology, media and telecommunications investments is leaving the Greenwich, Connecticut-based firm, its founder, Andreas Halvorsen, wrote to investors this week. Parsons was also a member of the firm's management committee.

A person who had seen the letter but was not permitted to discuss it publicly read portions to Reuters. A spokeswoman at Viking declined to comment.

The news was first reported to AR Magazine.

The roughly $14 billion firm has been a darling in the investment community ever since Halvorsen, a former Norwegian Navy SEAL, left Tiger Management and set up his own firm in 1999.

Thanks to strong returns right from the start, including a roughly 8 percent gain last year when the average fund lost about 5 percent, Viking has become a favorite with pensions funds like the state of Massachusetts.

Since launching nearly 13 years ago, the firm's Viking Global Equities fund has returned an average 19 percent per year, boasting one of the industry's best records.

But the firm has also been beset by a several high level departures in the last two years, beginning when David Ott, who had been with Viking since the start, left in 2010. Dris Upitis, who has also been a management committee member, resigned in early 2011. Several analysts have also left in the last year.

At the end of 2011, Viking, which specializes in picking stocks, listed technology powerhouse Apple as its largest position on its regulatory filing with the Securities Exchange Commission. Financial services companies Invesco Ltd and US Bancorp and Chinese Web services company Baidu were the next largest positions.

Investors familiar with Viking said they expect little dramatic change in the wake of the Parsons departure, adding that similar splits could occur more often now that the $2 trillion hedge fund industry is maturing.

"There are going to be people who want to start their own funds and there are going to be more of these types of divorces," said an investor who oversees billions of dollars for private investors and is not permitted to speak publicly.