Morgan Stanley Said to Move Asia Hedge-Fund Event to U.S.

Morgan Stanley will hold a gathering in New York to showcase Asian hedge funds to investors after pulling its capital introductions event in China because of the bird flu, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

Morgan Stanley told managers and investors last month the annual forum scheduled for Shanghai between May 21 and May 23 would be postponed and relocated to New York in July because of health concerns after the avian flu outbreak earlier this year, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is private. Xu Li, a Beijing-based spokeswoman of Morgan Stanley, declined to comment on the delay.

The response reflects international concern about the new virus, which has killed more than a quarter of the people known to have been infected. Some investors and managers declined to travel to Shanghai, said two of the people. Thirty-three cases of the H7N9 avian flu -- 13 of them fatal -- have been reported in China’s financial center, according to the municipal government. No new cases have been reported there since mid-April, about a week after authorities imposed restrictions on live poultry sales.

“It’s understandable but an over-reaction nonetheless,” Peter Alexander, principal of Shanghai-based fund research company Z-Ben Advisors Ltd., said of the bank’s clients’ reaction. “If you look at the number of cases, number of deaths, it was coming down and it was nowhere near as bad as SARS.”

SARS Losses

SARS, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome, spread globally in 2003, killed 774 people worldwide and caused an estimated $40 billion in economic losses.

The H7N9 avian flu virus is known to have infected 131 people in China and Taiwan since March and killed 36 of them, according to data from the World Health Organization as of May 24. It is capable of being spread from human to human, scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, and the University of Hong Kong said earlier this month after a study.

“When a new epidemic emerges with serious infections, it does make people think twice about visiting infected areas,” said Ben Cowling, infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong’s school of public health. “People tend to err on the side of caution.”

The actual risk of contracting the H7N9 virus depends on exposure to live poultry, an unlikely scenario for many travelers, Cowling added.

Chasing Assets

The Asian industry has struggled to recover assets lost during the global financial crisis in 2008 as investors have become more risk-averse and prefer large managers. Hedge funds focused on the region oversaw a combined $139 billion at the end of last year, 27 percent less than the end-2007 level, according to AsiaHedge data. Globally, assets hit a record $2.4 trillion by March, 27 percent above the 2007 figure, according to Chicago-based data provider Hedge Fund Research Inc.

This was the first time the New York-based bank has had to move the event out of the region since it began hosting it in the communist country in 2005, said one of the people. In most years it took place in Shanghai, home to the country’s largest stock exchange, except on two occasions when it was held in Beijing and in Hong Kong, the person said. About 60 Asia-focused hedge funds are typically featured at the Morgan Stanley conference, said the person.

Morgan Stanley was the second-largest prime broker in Asia-Pacific region this year by the 151 sole and shared mandates it received from hedge funds, or 13 percent of industry total, according to a survey by AsiaHedge released earlier this month.

The trade journal estimated that it commanded $21.3 billion of client assets, a 14 percent share, placing the bank in the third place behind Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Credit Suisse Group AG.

Capital introductions teams at prime brokers link hedge funds with potential investors.

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