Hedge fund couple split businesses after separation

Reuters | 13 October 2011
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Susan Payne and David Murrin, co-founders of Emergent Asset Management, which they claim was the largest agricultural fund in Africa.

(Reuters) - David Murrin and Susan Payne, the UK-based husband and wife hedge fund team accused by one U.S. thinktank of fuelling and exploiting a global commodity crisis, are to split the two businesses they founded together after agreeing to separate.

Murrin, a former oil company geologist well known in the hedge fund industry for his outspoken geopolitical views, has taken sole ownership and become CEO of London-based Emergent Asset Management, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Canadian Payne, a former Goldman Sachs banker, has quit as Emergent's CEO and become UK-based executive chairman of South Africa-based Emvest, which will continue to run the African Agriland fund -- a portfolio that has courted some controversy for its investments in African farmland.

"They've had an amicable separation ... and they've decided to divide up the businesses," a spokesman said.

The company has declined to say how much money it manages, although it said in January that Agriland was the largest agricultural fund in Africa.

The separation follows news of the high-profile divorce of Pierre Lagrange, star manager at GLG, part of Man Group (EMG.L).

This summer Emergent came in for criticism from California-based thinktank the Oakland Institute over the Agriland fund, which aims for returns of 25 percent a year from land price appreciation, and food and biofuel production.

In a June report entitled "Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa", Oakland -- which said Emergent has close to $540 million invested in African land deals -- said the hedge fund firm was engaged in a "quest for control of global food markets".

It added that Murrin and Payne "have played leading roles in creating the commodity crises they are presently exploiting through funds such as the African Agriland Fund".

In a statement emailed to Reuters, Emvest said Oakland had "misrepresented ... the reality of much agricultural land development in Africa.

"Our focus concerns increasing food production involving commercial farms and smallholders alike, uplifting communities through, for example, the provision of employment, access to agricultural support for improved crop production, access to markets for small scale farmers, access to clean water, and various facilities and health care."

Murrin, who has stepped down from the board of Emvest, plans to unveil new directors and new projects for Emergent, the spokesman said, although he declined to give further details.

Emergent's investments are driven by Murrin's views as outlined in his book "Breaking the Code of History", which focuses on his theory of historical cycles.

One prediction included "armed conflict" as China expands and the United States' power declines.

Earlier this year he outlined plans for funds based on six trends he believes will define the coming decades: the rise of a multipolar world, increased commodity rivalry, increased polarisation and a "move to war", growing military spending, a rising tide of epidemics and climate change.

Payne confirmed her new role but declined to give detailed comments.

Meanwhile Emergent director Alfred Vinton, who owned 5 percent of the firm, has left the firm.

(Reporting by Laurence Fletcher, editing by Sinead Cruise and Will Waterman)
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