Picking the right hedge fund manager was probably never easy, but in recent years it has become an even greater challenge. Yet it is essential: You can invest in a winning strategy but still lose if the manager lacks the right expertise.
Top hedge fund managers do much better than the strategy average; their less skilled counterparts can do dramatically worse. Whether an investment in a given style is a brilliant success or painful failure depends on the choice of the fund and the individual or team managing it. An investor in global macro could have made 20% in the past 12 months–or lost 10%.
“This is a talent pool; not an asset class,” says Robert Discolo, head of hedge fund strategies at AIG Global Investment Group, the asset management arm of the insurance and financial services company. “We can tell a good manager from a bad one early on, but it is very hard to tell the good from the great.”
AIG was one of the earliest institutions to invest in hedge funds–in 1982. Now Discolo’s group employs 25 analysts, who are divided into four groups in the United States covering long/short equity, event-driven, macro, and commodity trading adviser strategies. They also work as generalists in Europe and Asia.
They assess between 500 and 600 managers a year, first analyzing returns and volatility and then evaluating qualitative characteristics. It takes different skills to do this. It helps to be affiliated with a large financial organization and its global network. For instance, the team can use the AIG investigative unit to do detective work.