The president and two senior analysts have resigned from Keefe Managers, the New York money management firm that invests primarily in bank stocks.
President Matthew F. Byrnes and analysts Marge Demarrais and Felice Gelman left separately this month because advancement opportunities were not available, sources said.
Fund founder "Harry Keefe is 78 years old and owns the entire firm," said a source who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. The three executives were concerned about "succession and ownership issues. A transition plan was put in place, but it never happened," the source said.
The departures raise questions about the fund's ability to raise or retain investor dollars. "Keefe Managers is a big player in our market," said Jeffrey Miller, manager of Acadia Fund, Villanova, Pa., a hedge fund that specializes in financial stocks. "They have fairly large positions in many bank stocks, and the fact that the investment team has left makes one take notice.
"At the same time, there could be some opportunity for others," Mr. Miller added. "A lot of stock could come on the market cheaply. Some of their investors could also be looking for a place to go, and for those that are, we have a great suggestion for them. They can come to us."
Mr. Keefe did not respond to phone calls. The source who spoke on the condition of anonymity dismissed speculation that the departures were prompted by the addition this month of former bank examiner John J. Lyons and investor William Kearns to Keefe's advisory board.
Mr. Kearns and Mr. Lyons were brought in to lead a series of small-bank rescue efforts.
Mr. Byrnes and Ms. Demarrais had worked eight years at Keefe Managers, and Ms. Gelman six years.
Mr. Byrnes was not only the president of Keefe Managers but also its portfolio manager. He had worked with Mr. Keefe since 1990, when the latter launched the investment firm Keefe Bank Stock Advisors, which closed in 1991.
Mr. Byrnes also helped steer the fund through last year's tumultuous market. Keefe Managers was down only 2.2% for the year, though the median decline for financial hedge funds was 7.42%, said James Record of SNL Securities in Charlottesville, Va.
Investors might opt to follow the trio; many speculate that the three will start a financial hedge fund together or launch separate funds. None of the three could be reached for comment.
This would not be the first time that Mr. Keefe has clashed with senior managers or partners in his businesses. Eight years ago, then-partners Dale F. Jacobs and Daniel Byrne sued Mr. Keefe, sources said. The two were equal partners with Mr. Keefe in Keefe Bank Stock Advisors, the defunct parent of Keefe Bank Stock Fund, a hedge fund that closed along with its parent in 1991. They sued when Mr. Keefe tried to increase his stake in the parent company, said the sources, and the case was settled out of court.
In 1989, Mr. Keefe resigned as chairman and chief executive officer of bank investment boutique Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. over a strategy dispute. Having helped found the firm in 1962, he quit after partners sold its rating agency, Keefe BankWatch, to International Thomson Publishing Corp., the parent of American Banker.