(Adds details on performance, fund’s strategy, comment on Yiannopoulos)
By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
BOSTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, a major backer of conservative causes, said on Thursday he plans to step down as co-chief executive of hedge fund firm Renaissance Technologies and will sell his stake in right-wing news outlet Breitbart News to his daughters.
Mercer, a wealthy investor who spent decades working behind the scenes in conservative politics, made headlines by providing financial support to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He and his daughter, Rebekah, advised Trump’s campaign and suggested it hire Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway who both joined the new administration.
In a letter sent to investors and seen by Reuters, Mercer, 71, said he will hand the reins to co-Chief Executive Peter Brown, 62, in January after eight years of helping lead the $50 billion firm. He is not retiring from the firm which relies on computer models to make its trades and plans to stay active in research, Mercer said.
Renaissance, founded 35 years ago by mathematician James Simons, is considered one of the hedge fund industry’s most successful firms, and the three portfolios open to outside investors are all up double digits this year, beating the average hedge fund’s 6 percent gain in the first nine months of 2017.
Mercer also detailed his political leanings and sought to put some distance between himself and Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist who was seen to have helped shape Trump’s populist stance. He said he is severing all ties with former Breitbart editor and media personality Milo Yiannopoulos after his statements undermined “open and productive discourse.”
“My goal is simply to explain my thinking, the very essence of which is that all of us should think for ourselves,” he wrote.
He said he supports conservatives who favor smaller, less powerful government because he thinks society can advance more effectively when people make their own decisions.
He also said he is not a racist. “Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, creed, or anything of that sort is abhorrent to me. But more than that, it is ignorant,” he wrote.
And he hit back against allegations that his politics mirror those of Bannon, now executive chairman of Breitbart. “I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him. However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically,” Mercer wrote.
He called the decision to sell his stake in Breitbart News “personal”. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Tom Brown)