For the five years ending in 2013, U.S. public equity markets returned between 16 percent and 23 percent annually. In one of the strongest ever periods for equity markets, investors’ portfolios benefitted from core equity investments while allocations to anything else became a drag on performance and an opportunity cost for portfolios.
Alternative investments, including equity-oriented long/short hedge funds, have struggled to keep pace with the U.S stock market. In this accelerating equity market, hedging equity market risk has hampered performance, and making money from buying and shorting mispriced stocks proved difficult for most of the period.
So why allocate to alternatives?
Is there validity to media claims that the hedge fund is dead? If so, then why have we seen an emergence of alternatives to hedge funds where access to “hedge fund-like” strategies can be achieved through mutual funds and other daily liquid structures?
As equity valuations have risen and bond funds face lower returns, is a “hedge fund-like” mutual fund better than no hedge fund at all? In this paper, we will share Federal Street Advisors’ view of the role of hedge funds and the risks and opportunities presented by these new daily liquid alternative strategies.
We still believe that hedge funds play a critical role in investors’ portfolios.
Despite the performance dispersion between hedge funds and traditional equity strategies over the last five years, we still believe that hedge funds play a critical role in investors’ portfolios, reducing risk and volatility while (over time) offering equity-like or greater returns.
Despite broad-based underperformance of the hedge fund peer group over the most recent period, if we look back over a more complete market cycle that includes multiple up and down markets, hedge funds have outperformed the public equity markets with less risk. In fact, if we look at preliminary returns from January 2014 when markets lost 3 percent to 5 percent, the hedge fund peer group was down just 0.7 percent, with many strategies within that group performing positively for the month.
This performance pattern has not been isolated to just January 2014; we have also seen hedge funds offer greater downside protection during periods of market stress over the last 5 years. Not all hedge funds are alike. And they can prove challenging for some of the same reasons they are beneficial to a portfolio.
Hedge funds are traditionally offered to investors in a private, limited partnership structure, which gives them access to opportunities that historically have been inaccessible in other structures like mutual funds. These include the ability to invest both long and short, where an investor can benefit not only from the price appreciation of purchased securities, but also from losses in securities that are sold short.
Hedge funds can invest with more flexibility, having the ability to invest in both debt and equity instruments across corporate capital structures. Hedge funds can make larger macroeconomic bets; and they can use derivatives, portfolio insurance, and leverage above the levels allowed by mutual fund regulation.
Additionally, the vehicles are intended to be longer-term and more exclusive in nature, excluding investors who do not meet certain net-worth requirements. They have much higher fees and minimum required investments.
And they carefully control when investors can make contributions and redeem their investments. They are much less liquid than traditional mutual funds and, because of their private nature, have been able to be less transparent.
Limited liquidity can make investors feel less in control of their assets.
These hedge fund features present both benefits and challenges. Their exclusivity and limited liquidity are intended to protect the funds from the negative impacts that mutual funds experience when investors actively trade their investments and disrupt the fund’s portfolio management.
But limited liquidity can make investors feel less in control of their assets. And if a fund is not managed properly, investors can experience long-term lockups of capital similar to what can happen in private equity structures.
The ability to charge higher fees has traditionally drawn the best and brightest managers to the space. But high fees, especially if a fund is not performing well, can quickly eat away at returns.
Finally, high net worth requirements and high minimum investments limit access, making it difficult to build a diversified portfolio of hedge funds. So how can all investors get the benefit of hedge funds without these shortcomings? Over the past several years, traditional mutual fund and hedge fund managers have started to launch mutual fund vehicles that address these shortcomings by opportunistically investing both long and short in a variety of strategies and securities. Currently there are over 400 alternative mutual funds with over $530 billion of assets.
The pace of launches for these vehicles has tripled since 2009. Goldman Sachs predicts that alternative mutual funds could represent a $2 trillion opportunity for asset managers, capable of growing 15-20 percent per year over the next 5-10 years. To put this into perspective, the hedge fund industry as a whole is currently valued at just over $2 trillion.
Much of this growth has been focused on long/short equity and multi-manager strategies as retail and institutional investors search for mutual funds with lower correlations, better risk adjusted after-fee returns, and enhanced yield and protection from a poor bond market outlook.