Credit crunch casualty Eckert plots hedge fund reincarnation

LONDON (Reuters) - As comebacks go, it’s one of the more ambitious.

Fred Eckert - the hedge fund manager who lost $250 million of his own money, saw his firm go bankrupt in the credit crisis, went through a divorce and spent two months in a coma - is back with the launch of his new firm.

The 65-year-old former Goldman Sachs GS.N executive, who once lived in one of the most expensive houses in New Jersey, has launched a new firm called Phoenix Star Capital.

Eckert believes he has spotted an opportunity in complex debt securities, based on loans which banks are having to sell to boost their capital positions under the Basel III regulations.

He has already an initial $100 million from investors to pursue the strategy.

And despite a chastening credit crisis, the man who once enjoyed a fleet of 18 vintage cars and a 1,500-bottle wine collection before filing for personal bankruptcy in 2010, remains optimistic about his chances.

“I’m not afraid of being able to raise substantial amounts,” Eckert told Reuters in the American bar of the luxury Savoy hotel in central London. “They (investors) believe my record is excellent.”

Two potential seed investors are “billionaire names you’d know”, said Eckert, relaxed and smartly dressed in suit and tie.

Eckert’s former hedge fund firm GSC Group ran $28 billion at its peak, but filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after borrowing around $250 million, some of it just before the credit crisis sent asset prices tumbling and froze money markets.

He recently wrote in a letter to former GSC employees that he took “responsibility for my decisions and their effects”, adding he “went down with (the) ship”.

Like most investors, Eckert didn’t foresee the catastrophic events of the credit crisis.

“I regret not being wise enough to see that, even if something is one in 100 (probability), it doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” he told Reuters.


Eckert’s plan is for investors to back the management company, which will launch a collateralized loan obligation (CLO) - a vehicle that invests in loans and issues its own debt - in the United States with profits shared among investors.

The firm also plans to launch distressed debt funds and provide consultancy services, and aims to have a London office in two years’ time.

“There are good investment opportunities in bankruptcies (in the UK), because the British bankruptcy code has been modified, and there are good opportunities in mezzanine lending,” he said.

Eckert recently went to the prestigious SALT hedge fund conference in Las Vegas to meet potential investors.

He found some executives surprised to see him, believing he was dead after an accident in 2011 left him in a coma for two months and incapacitated for most of the year.

That accident came after a lunch at which he believes alcohol mixed badly with a cocktail of prescription drugs he was taking for bipolar disorder.

Eckert collapsed in a car park before being found by a stranger who called 911. He remembers waking up at the hospital, then waking up again two months later.

He’s now “in good shape”, he said. “It’s a miracle, I should be dead”.

But while his ambitions remain high, his lifestyle - formerly a reflection of the ostentatious boom years of the hedge fund industry - has changed significantly.

Eckert would fly by private jet to American football games and at one stage was living in a $65,000-a-month suite in Manhattan’s luxury Towers at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Famously, he once ordered a $6 tuna sandwich for lunch, accompanied by a $120 bottle of white burgundy.

“I’ve dropped 90 percent of my living standards, but the average person would see me as part of the 1 percent,” he said.

But even with the 11-bedroom house and the cars long since sold, he has few regrets about his lifestyle and said cashing out at the top of the boom was never a possibility.

“I lived large, I could afford to. I don’t regret anything.”

Additional reporting by Brian Grow in New York; Editing by David Holmes