Macro Mondays: Hedge Funds

Welcome to another edition of Macro Mondays! It isn't easy getting rich in the stock market, but what about if you wanted to get SUPER rich? This is how hedge funds came about: super aggressive traders have the potential to make TONS of money by working 24/7, yet all that energy comes at a high cost. Today we will talk about the birth of hedge funds and what makes a company a hedge fund.

To learn more be sure to visit Investopedia's page on hedge funds by CLICKING HERE!

What is a 'Hedge Fund'?

Hedge funds are alternative investments using pooled funds that employ numerous different strategies to earn active return, or alpha, for their investors. Hedge funds may be aggressively managed or make use of derivatives and leverage in both domestic and international markets with the goal of generating high returns (either in an absolute sense or over a specified market benchmark).

It is important to note that hedge funds are generally only accessible to accredited investors as they require less SEC regulations than other funds. One aspect that has set the hedge fund industry apart is the fact that hedge funds face less regulation than mutual funds and other investment vehicles.

So what exactly do hedge funds do? Are they legal?

Each hedge fund is constructed to take advantage of certain identifiable market opportunities. Hedge funds use different investment strategies and thus are often classified according to investment style. There is substantial diversity in risk attributes and investments among styles.

Legally, hedge funds are most often set up as private investment limited partnerships that are open to a limited number of accredited investors and require a large initial minimum investment. Investments in hedge funds are illiquid as they often require investors keep their money in the fund for at least one year, a time known as the lock-up period. Withdrawals may also only happen at certain intervals such as quarterly or bi-annually.

Who Established the First Hedge Fund?

Former writer and sociologist Alfred Winslow Jones’s company, A.W. Jones & Co. launched the first hedge fund in 1949. It was while writing an article about current investment trends for Fortune in 1948 that Jones was inspired to try his hand at managing money. He raised $100,000 (including $40,000 out of his own pocket) and set forth to try to minimize the risk in holding long-term stock positions by short selling other stocks. This investing innovation is now referred to as the classic long/short equities model. Jones also employed leverage to enhance returns.

In 1952, Jones altered the structure of his investment vehicle, converting it from a general partnership to a limited partnership and adding a 20% incentive fee as compensation for the managing partner. As the first money manager to combine short selling, the use of leverage, shared risk through a partnership with other investors and a compensation system based on investment performance, Jones earned his place in investing history as the father of the hedge fund.

Hedge funds went on to dramatically outperform most mutual funds in the 1960s and gained further popularity when a 1966 article in Fortune highlighted an obscure investment that outperformed every mutual fund on the market by double-digit figures over the past year and by high double-digits over the last five years.

However, as hedge fund trends evolved, in an effort to maximize returns, many funds turned away from Jones' strategy, which focused on stock picking coupled with hedging and chose instead to engage in riskier strategies based on long-term leverage. These tactics led to heavy losses in 1969-70, followed by a number of hedge fund closures during the bear market of 1973-74.

The industry was relatively quiet for more than two decades until a 1986 article in Institutional Investor touted the double-digit performance of Julian Robertson's Tiger Fund. With a high-flying hedge fund once again capturing the public's attention with its stellar performance, investors flocked to an industry that now offered thousands of funds and an ever-increasing array of exotic strategies, including currency trading and derivatives such as futures and options.

High-profile money managers deserted the traditional mutual fund industry in droves in the early 1990s, seeking fame and fortune as hedge fund managers. Unfortunately, history repeated itself in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s as a number of high-profile hedge funds, including Robertson's, failed in spectacular fashion. Since that era, the hedge fund industry has grown substantially. Today the hedge fund industry is massive—total assets under management in the industry is valued at more than $3.2 trillion according to the 2016 Preqin Global Hedge Fund Report.

The number of operating hedge funds has grown as well. There were around 2,000 hedge funds in 2002. That number increased to over 10,000 by 2015. However, in 2016, the number of hedge funds is currently on a decline again according to data from Hedge Fund Research. Below is a description of the characteristics common to most contemporary hedge funds.

What are some of the key characteristics of hedge funds?

There are four main characteristics to pay attention to...

1. They're only open to "accredited" or qualified investors: Hedge funds are only allowed to take money from "qualified" investors—individuals with an annual income that exceeds $200,000 for the past two years or a net worth exceeding $1 million, excluding their primary residence. As such, the Securities and Exchange Commission deems qualified investors suitable enough to handle the potential risks that come from a wider investment mandate.

2. They offer wider investment latitude than other funds: A hedge fund's investment universe is only limited by its mandate. A hedge fund can basically invest in anything—land, real estate, stocks, derivatives, and currencies. Mutual funds, by contrast, have to basically stick to stocks or bonds, and are usually long-only.

3. They often employ leverage: Hedge funds will often use borrowed money to amplify their returns. As we saw during the financial crisis of 2008, leverage can also wipe out hedge funds.

4. Fee structure: Instead of charging an expense ratio only, hedge funds charge both an expense ratio and a performance fee. This fee structure is known as "Two and Twenty"—a 2% asset management fee and then a 20% cut of any gains generated.

There are more specific characteristics that define a hedge fund, but basically, because they are private investment vehicles that only allow wealthy individuals to invest, hedge funds can pretty much do what they want as long as they disclose the strategy upfront to investors. This wide latitude may sound very risky, and at times it can be. Some of the most spectacular financial blow-ups have involved hedge funds. That said, this flexibility afforded to hedge funds has led to some of the most talented money managers producing some amazing long-term returns.

The first hedge fund was established in the late 1940s as a long/short hedged equity vehicle. More recently, institutional investors – corporate and public pension funds, endowments and trusts, and bank trust departments—have included hedge funds as one segment of a well-diversified portfolio.It is important to note that "hedging" is actually the practice of attempting to reduce risk, but the goal of most hedge funds is to maximize return on investment. The name is mostly historical, as the first hedge funds tried to hedge against the downside risk of a bear market by shorting the market. (Mutual funds generally don't enter into short positions as one of their primary goals). Nowadays, hedge funds use dozens of different strategies, so it isn't accurate to say that hedge funds just "hedge risk." In fact, because hedge fund managers make speculative investments, these funds can carry more risk than the overall market.

What are some of the risks associated with hedge funds?

Again, all investments have exposure to risks, but here are just a few of the major risks that affect hedge funds specifically:

1. A concentrated investment strategy exposes hedge funds to potentially huge losses.

2. Hedge funds typically require investors to lock up money for a period of years.

3. Use of leverage, or borrowed money, can turn what would have been a minor loss into a significant loss.

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