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5 Jan 2007

Office Space

Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin is investigating whether leased office space and other services that investment bank UBS provides to hedge funds have created a conflict of interest that could hurt investors, Galvin's spokesman said in an announcement.

It was reported that UBS and other investment banks lease space to young hedge fund traders in various cities, hoping they may become larger clients eventually. The arrangement could amount to a conflict of interest, Brian McNiff, Galvin's spokesman, said in his announcement, comparing it to "soft dollar" payments. These drew criticism when they were commonly paid by mutual funds in the 1990s, because the services often benefit managers more than shareholders who cover their costs.

The investigation is focused on whether the hedge funds are paying higher trading fees to the banks to compensate them for the office space, and failing to disclose the expense to investors. "He's looking at potential violations of securities laws, and a conflict of interest would be one of those," McNiff said.

Galvin's probe was disclosed in stories in The New York Times and The Boston Globe on Tuesday. McNiff told the press he was aware only of Galvin's interest in UBS, which leases space to hedge fund traders in a downtown Boston office tower. The space comes with receptionists, espresso machines and consultants to manage information systems, the Times said.

McNiff said the investigation into what he called "hedge fund hotels" was at a preliminary stage, and it was too early to say whether the probe might lead to enforcement actions.

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