What Are Hedge Funds?

With Strategies Designed to Produce Positive Absolute Returns, hedge funds have become attractive members of the investment world. However, hedge funds carry the same investment risks as traditional investments, so it’s crucial to know your way around hedge funds to avoid making a big investment mistake.

Hedge funds are similar to mutual funds in that they consist of funds pooled by a collection of investors, and fund managers make money on the stock market using a specific investment strategy. However, unlike mutual funds, Hedge Funds don’t attempt to produce relative returns by outperforming market indexes; they seek positive absolute returns, regardless of how the overall market is performing. While mutual funds engage only in long positions, hedge funds employ speculative strategies, such as short selling and derivatives trading.

Hedge funds are aggressive, engaging in many active investment strategies to maintain a constant profit. In the long/short hedge fund strategy, short positions offset potential losses if the market declines, while long positions yield profits if the market trends up. Arbitrage hedge funds tend to engage in straight forward price exploitation strategies, such as purchasing a futures contract when current prices are low, translating to an immediate profit. These hedge funds are considered to be fairly low-risk, comparatively speaking, but they are not risk-free, and their low-risk approach means only moderate returns.

One of the more aggressive hedge fund strategies monitors current events that are likely to affect the Marketplace. Managers for these hedge funds may react to an acquisition, a distressed company or small, inefficiently organized companies. Hedge funds may buy up shares of a company in anticipation of marketplace reaction, or they may buy a large chunk of ownership in a small company and use the position to force changes. These hedge funds are difficult to predict, and their agenda may not always be transparent.

Since Hedge Funds aim for a positive return in all conditions, that ambitious goal comes at a price. To get into a hedge fund, you need to be willing to invest a high amount up front, sometimes as much as $1 million. There are hedge funds for investors who don’t have as much cash on hand, and funds of hedge funds are also an option, but many hedge funds are for big-league investors only. Then, once you are in, many hedge funds charge a high 2% percent fee and 20% percent of profits, so, even if you enjoy a good return on a hedge fund, not all the money will find its way into your pocket.

Hedge Funds and The Bear Market

While mutual funds may outperform hedge funds in a Bull Market, hedge funds are a popular investing strategy in a Bear Market. Because hedge funds focus on absolute positive performance, successful hedge funds may be one of the few ways to show a profit during a bear market. For example, hedge funds that engage in long/short strategies may be better insulated from overall market performance. But they’re still a risky investment, so keep hedge fund risk management in mind when you’re shopping around for a bear market investment vehicle.

Funds of Hedge Funds

Because hedge funds themselves are subject to volatility depending on market conditions and Investment Strategies, investing in funds of hedge funds has become a way to offset some of that volatility. With funds of hedge funds, investors come together to invest in a pool of hedge funds—anywhere from a few funds to dozens of hedge funds. By investing in many hedge funds instead of a single fund, investors minimize volatility and risk through diversification. However, if funds of hedge funds invest in too many hedge funds, performance is likely to be comparable to overall market performance, and that defeats the purpose of investing in hedge funds.

When looking at funds of hedge funds, be aware that these funds are basically subject to a double fee structure. The underlying hedge funds charge a management fee and a portion of the profits to every investor, including investors from funds of hedge funds. You then have to pay the fund of the hedge fund’s management fees and any profit sharing—which are already high—so you’re basically paying fees twice.

The Risks of Hedge Funds

Hedge Funds are lauded as a sound investment strategy even during a bear market, but the reality is that hedge funds carry just as much risk as any other investment vehicle. While many hedge funds have traditionally turned modest profits even in times of market decline, the 2008 economic issues and stock market volatility made a drastic impact in Hedge Fund performance. Some hedge funds showed a loss of over 17% in 2008, and, while that number isn’t necessarily out of proportion to overall market performance, it’s a far cry from the modest profits that hedge funds boast even in a bear market.

To Practice Effective Hedge Fund Risk Management, look for funds whose investment style is relatively low-risk. Overly aggressive hedge funds that engage in risky market strategies are more likely to cause investment losses. Because hedge funds are pools of private investors, hedge fund regulation is pretty much nonexistent. Hedge funds are not required to report to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) or produce any of the normal performance-related documentation required from other investments. You may not be able to get an accurate idea of hedge fund performance, and some hedge funds are reluctant to reveal fee structures and investment strategies. This is one area in which funds of hedge funds are beneficial; like mutual funds, many funds of hedge funds are registered with the SEC and provide investors with an annual prospectus and quarterly reports.

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