U.S. ends probe of hedge fund "idea dinner"

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hedge fund managers can go back to eating, drinking and sharing trading ideas now that sources say federal investigators have dropped an inquiry into whether a group of money-managers conspired at a so-called “idea dinner” to drive down the value of the euro.

Officials with the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division recently told representatives of several hedge funds that the six-month inquiry had been closed, said three people close to some of the funds.

That means that no action will be taken against any of the traders attending a February dinner at a New York restaurant where some participants had swapped ideas on how to profit from shorting or betting against the euro.

Federal authorities launched the inquiry days after the dinner meeting was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Soros Fund Management, Greenlight Capital, and SAC Capital Management were among the better-known hedge funds that had analysts or traders at the dinner sponsored by brokerage firm Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. These firms and others, including Paulson & Co, were then contacted by the government to save their email and trading records.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

In late February, lawyers with the Justice Department’s antitrust division sent letters to all the hedge funds that attended the dinner and asked them to save any emails and trading records related to the euro.

The dinner had taken a place during a time the euro was plunging and there was mounting concern about a default by Greece on its debt.

Idea dinners are not uncommon in the hedge fund industry. The dinners are a way for managers to not only socialize but kick around trading ideas and strategies.

The way most of these dinners work is that each person in attendance is supposed to bring at least one idea for trading stocks, bonds, currencies or other assets.

In the wake of the Justice Department investigation many hedge fund managers, even those not attending the February dinner, reacted angrily. Some managers suggested federal authorities were singling out short-sellers -- traders who bet against stocks, bonds and commodities.

Other managers worried that the inquiry would have a chilling effect on the hedge fund industry and make traders reluctant to share ideas.

At the time, a number of market professionals said given the amount of liquidity in the currency markets it would be difficult for a group of hedge funds to work in concert to drive down the price of the euro.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Matthew Goldstein. Additional reporting by Jennifer Ablan in New York. Editing by Robert MacMillan