Will a collection of hedge funds, carefully selected by experts, return more to investors over the next 10 years than the S&P 500?
That question is now the subject of a bet between Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and Protégé Partners LLC, a New York City money management firm that runs funds of hedge funds - in other words, a firm whose existence rests on its ability to put its clients' money into the best hedge funds and keep it out of the underperformers.
You can guess which party is taking which side.
Protégé has placed its bet on five funds of hedge funds - specifically, the averaged returns that those vehicles deliver net of all fees, costs, and expenses.
On the other side, Buffett, who has long argued that the fees that such "helpers" as hedge funds and funds of funds command are onerous and to be avoided has bet that the returns from a low-cost S&P 500 index fund sold by Vanguard will beat the results delivered by the five funds that Protégé has selected.
We're way past theory here. This bet, being reported for the first time in this article (whose author is both a longtime friend of Buffett's and editor of his chairman's letter in the Berkshire annual report), has been in existence since Jan. 1 of this year.
It's between Buffett (not Berkshire) and Protégé (the firm, not its funds). And there's serious money at stake. Each side put up roughly $320,000. The total funds of about $640,000 were used to buy a zero-coupon Treasury bond that will be worth $1 million at the bet's conclusion.
That $1 million will then go to charity. If Protégé wins, it has asked that the money be given to Absolute Return for Kids (ARK), an international philanthropy based in London. If Buffett wins, the intended recipient is Girls Inc. of Omaha, whose board includes his daughter, Susan Buffett.