West Palm Beach (HedgeCo.net) – The Hedge Fund Journal’s Funds of Hedge Funds GLOBAL50, produced in association with Newedge Prime Brokerage Group, reports that minus a few exceptions, funds were happy to participate in the survey and submitted their assets under management figures as at 30th June 2009, which goes some way to prove that funds are taking the issue of transparency more seriously. Those funds that declined to participate have been given estimates based on a variety of data and industry sources.
In responding to the survey, many funds wanted to emphasise that liquidity terms were often the key to how a firm had been able to retain assets, the Journal reports. Those funds with more generous liquidity terms believed, rightly, that they were victims of what is now aptly-called the ‘ATM effect’.
The data shows that between 30th September 2008 and 30th June 2009, over $200 billion was withdrawn from the top 50 funds. Most funds lost an average of between 25% – 30% of their assets under management. However, UBS Alternative and Quantitative Investments remains in pole position, despite losing over 33% of its assets: at 30th June, 2009 assets under management stood at $31.4 billion (down from $46.6 billion in September 2008).
The top 50 funds are certainly managing less, but they are not out of the game. Smaller funds, of course, are facing an even tougher time. Chicago-based Hedge Fund Research (HFR) has reported that over 200 funds of hedge funds liquidated in 2009. This is a significant increase on the last quarter and represents an annual attrition rate of over 8%; nearly double the previous record set in Q4 2008. Falling assets and rising costs due to heightened due diligence and compliance demands from investors will continue to have a strong impact on the business viability of smaller funds.
Hitting rock bottom
The crisis has raised some important questions. Having grown at more than 20% a year between 2000 and 2008, the reversal in fortunes has come as a shock to many within the industry. At their peak, assets under management for funds of hedge funds reached $825 billion according to HFR, but by the end of Q2 2009, assets in the sector had dropped to $530 billion. Importantly, that marked a $5 billion gain from 31st March 2009 and may indicate that redemptions have bottomed out.
But is the fund of hedge funds industry a victim of circumstance or is it a flawed business model? The connection between the Madoff scandal and the industry was unfortunate, if not unfair, (although, some notable funds of hedge funds had invested with Madoff) and as investors sought to retrieve money where possible, it was inevitable that funds of hedge funds would be called upon. “What we have seen is the latest phase of an evolutionary process,” says Permal’s Roberto Giuffrida, Senior Vice President, Regional Director Europe. “Since hedge funds first emerged 60 years ago, there have been three waves of growth and decline, and we are fully expecting to see the fourth wave of growth over the next few years.”
But without doubt there are weaknesses within the model. One major area of weakness is the asset liability mismatch. Funds of hedge funds have traditionally managed their portfolios with a mismatch between portfolio liquidity and terms offered to investors. In the event of a sudden rush of redemptions, funds had a credit facility to bridge the two. In reality, this system proved to be wholly unreliable. Funds were unable to meet the redemption requests and were forced to impose gates.
Adapt or die
Issues such as alignment between investors and managers in terms of fees and investment objectives as well as transparency and the due diligence process are also areas where practices are being reviewed and changed. In the current environment investors are able to affect changes and do not have to settle for second best.
But despite the recriminations, in relative terms, hedge fund investment held up well during the crisis. For example, in 2008 the Hennessee Hedge Fund Index and the Barclay Hedge Index fell 22.42% and 21.63% respectively, while the S&P 500 slid 38.49% and the NASDAQ plunged 40.54%. “The fact that hedge fund indices outperformed the long only indices proves that hedge funds offer the downside protection. And in 2009 we are seeing investor allocations into hedge funds and funds of hedge funds,” explains Optima Managing Director, Graham Martin.
Data clearly shows the rate of redemptions is slowing. They were lower during Q1 2009 than in Q4 2008 according to Standard and Poor’s and they were lower still in the second quarter of 2009. HFR notes that in the last year, funds of hedge funds have dropped fees by three basis points to 1.25%. There is also evidence which suggests that funds with lower management fees outperformed the funds with higher fees, although the data on this is fragmentary. What’s more, liquidity profiles are improving: funds have reduced leverage and many are showing positive cash balances.
Could this be the nadir for the industry? HFR, BNY Mellon and Casey Quirk believe so. Many managers and not a few studies are projecting that assets will grow further in the second half of this year. And regardless of the industry setbacks, funds of funds will continue to be a major channel into single manager hedge funds. But Craig Stevenson, Senior Investment Consultant, Watson Wyatt believes that while funds of hedge funds will stage a comeback, they will face increased competition from single manager funds. He attributes this to the fact that before the crisis, funds of funds could offer capacity to those funds that were closed. The current state of the industry means that single managers are looking to build their own portfolio of institutional assets and virtually all funds, even the most successful, are now open.
Clearly, investors who have less resources and alternative asset experience will continue to invest through funds of hedge funds. “Allocating to hedge funds is a good way of diversifying portfolios and with funds of funds on a base fee for the foreseeable future they are as cheap as they have ever been,” says Stevenson. The business model may indeed be more sound than was thought six months ago since with time investors will return. But some funds that stretched the goodwill of investors may find it is difficult to be fully forgiven.
You can access the Global 50 by clicking on the link below:
The Global 50 is a listing of the largest funds of hedge funds groups ranked by AUM as at 30 June 2009.