Brexit lands hedge fund chief Odey a double winner

LONDON (Reuters) - Crispin Odey, a hedge fund manager who backed the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, could turn out to be one of the biggest financial winners of the vote to quit the bloc.

A TV shows the resignation of Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron as traders from BGC in London's Canary Wharf watch. REUTERS/Russell Boyce

The boss of Odey Asset Management had bet his $10.2 billion firm’s assets on a fall in financial markets, including a series of “short” trading positions and a punt on gold.

Those bets looked to have paid off on Friday when markets tumbled in reaction to Britain’s decision on Thursday to leave the EU, providing a much-needed boost for Odey, whose fund had been one of the worst-performing in Britain this year.

“I think I may be the winner. I’ve had a pretty tough year,” Odey, who bet much of his portfolio on gold, told Reuters.

Odey, one of Britain’s richest men, who British newspapers reported in 2014 had built a stone Romanesque temple to house his prized chickens, had signed a public letter backing Brexit and donated to the “Leave” campaign.

He said in a telephone interview following the British EU vote that he had been 100 percent net short across his investment portfolio, which means he gained when markets fell.

Odey’s fund had been down 29 percent in the year to June 3, performance data seen by Reuters showed.

The 57-year-old fund manager, who is based in London’s plush Mayfair district, said he expected to recover 15 percent off the year’s low, largely thanks to his bet on gold.

Odey said Britain’s decision to quit the European Union would allow it to cope better with a slowing global economy.

“It was great news,” said Odey. “It will give us much more flexibility (given) what I think is coming down the road, which is a recession in the United States and a difficult time.”

Among his other bets were that sterling, the Hong Kong dollar and the euro would all fall against the dollar and that gold and gilt prices would rise, an investor in his fund said.

After rising 7 percent and piling on the pain for Odey in the week leading up to the vote, Britain’s blue-chip stock index was down 5 percent on Friday and all of Odey’s 17 major short bets - which profit if prices fall - were in the black.

Any short position bigger than 0.5 percent in a company’s stock is made public by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Of all his flagged positions, the biggest fall came for London-focused housebuilder Berkeley BKGH.L, in which Odey had a 1.42 percent short position, which fell 21 percent.

His biggest short as a percentage of the target company's stock was in insurer Lancashire Holdings LRE.L, which fell 3.2 percent and in which he had a 5.2 percent position.

Other investors, burnt by last year's surprise British general election result, had been more cautious, with many expecting Britain to vote to remain in the EU, in line with late polls, Russell Barlow, Head of Hedge Funds at Aberdeen Asset Management ADN.L, said on Friday.

“Hedge funds had been reducing risk in the lead up to the referendum but the majority were positioned in the expectation of a ‘Remain’ vote,” Barlow said.

But Odey was not the only one who called it right, said Akshay Krishnan, head of macro strategies at $3.5 billion fund-of-hedge-fund firm Stenham Asset Management.

“Some of our guys had been long gold leading up to it (the referendum)... I do think some people will come out making decent money for it.”

Editing by John O’Donnell and Alexander Smith