What Do Clients Want From Hedge Fund Exposure?

Apr 2018 by Joe Burns

WHAT DO CLIENTS WANT FROM HEDGE FUND EXPOSURE? - CoverEvaluating hedge funds in the context of a diversified portfolio is fundamentally challenging, mainly due to the widely disparate investment strategies, liquidity pro les, and distinct risk/return characteristics across many different funds.


Evaluating hedge funds in the context of a diversified portfolio is fundamentally challenging, mainly due to the widely disparate investment strategies, liquidity profiles, and distinct risk/return characteristics across many different funds. While it is imperative to have access to the highest quality managers investing in various strategies that are complementary to an existing portfolio, the more fundamental question is: what am I looking to solve for in the context of an overall portfolio; specifically, are my clients looking for hedge funds to provide capital preservation, portfolio diversification or enhanced returns?


This approach is often focused on larger, established funds that trade in many different markets and dynamically deploy capital amongst multiple strategies across the capital structure. These funds can o er investors capital protection while still delivering strong risk-adjusted returns over time. A Preqin survey of institutional investors found that almost half (46%) of investors use hedge funds to dampen portfolio volatility, with 30% citing the mitigation of risks in other areas of their portfolio as a key objective of their hedge fund allocation.1


Investors have grown comfortable with the negative correlation between equities and bonds, such that when equities falter bonds rally in a flight-to-quality scenario. But what happens if or when equities struggle for a protracted period of time, corresponding with a rising rates and declining liquidity environment for fixed income? The value of alternative strategies uncorrelated to both stocks and bonds increases considerably as a primary source of portfolio diversification in such a scenario. Global macro strategies and systematic trading strategies have consistently shown the lowest correlation to traditional markets over the past two decades. Following the recent period of uncommonly strong long-only performance, these strategies have unsurprisingly lagged, but o er clients’ an opportunity to diversify their risk exposures and introduce new return drivers long-term.


There are three primary ways in which an advisor can help clients achieve enhanced returns via hedge funds, and all seek to take advantage of the flexibility that hedge funds have over long-only strategies in traditional markets. The first is where the hedge fund has a specialized focus, either geographic, sectoral or factor-based (e.g. value or small-cap) to generate returns from a long and short perspective. Portfolio returns over time will come from idiosyncratic risk rather than market exposure, driven by a more dynamic portfolio management approach.

Co-investments o er another way of enhancing returns, allowing investors to participate alongside a hedge fund in a single investment idea. Fund managers will occasionally have an exceptionally high conviction idea that is not capacity constrained, but if the position is fully-sized in a portfolio the manager may create a vehicle for investors who wish to get additional exposure to a specific investment. These co- investments are typically a single company or particular theme that has a discrete time horizon (often 1 to 2 years). These structures can also bene t investors by charging lower fees than a typical fund investment.

Finally, advisors seeking to enhance returns for clients should focus on accessing emerging funds that historically have delivered outperformance vs. larger peers. Strategically, these managers tend to focus on fundamentally driven long/short equity and event-driven strategies. These emerging funds can outperform their larger counterparts due to:

• Broader Opportunity Set: Emerging managers are less constrained by liquidity and thus can invest across the market capitalization spectrum. This allows them to invest in smaller stocks but also to take larger positions more freely, as liquidity may a limiting risk factor for a large fund looking at the same investment.

• Talent & Experience: The best managers often self-select in launching their own firms following years of successful experience at a larger firm.

• Alignment of Interest: There are many motivational factors that help drive smaller managers to focus on returns; the limited asset base means the performance fee represents the majority of their personal profit, the entrepreneurial desire to ‘make it’ can be a driving factor, and the small size of the team means that the founder is more intimately involved with all aspects of the portfolio.

Considering the significant contribution to returns that equities have provided over the past decade, the protection from bonds and the negative correlation between the two asset classes, advisors may feel as though their clients are well- positioned from a returns, risk and portfolio diversification perspective. However, it is difficult to overestimate the impact of monetary stimulus and effect on market structure. As the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet contracts, interest rates and volatilities increase, valuations normalize, and correlations shift across markets and asset classes, the need to access new return drivers and risk mitigants rises exponentially. Specific hedge funds, large and small in multiple strategies can provide investors with an opportunity to improve the quality of their portfolios and increase risk-adjusted performance in a new market regime.

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(1) Investing in Hedge Funds: All About Returns? The Real Drivers for Institutional Investor Allocation, Preqin, June 2014. The results of this study are based on a Preqin survey of over 100 investors conducted in April 2014, with these investors representing more than $13tn in assets under management. The investors were located globally and represented a broad spectrum of investor types from the largest pension funds, through to family offices and other private wealth institutions. Additional data was taken from Preqin’s Hedge Fund Online service, which maintains data on over 4,600 investors in hedge funds, 16,500 hedge funds and 6,700 fund managers.


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