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View the article online at http://citywire.co.uk/wealth-manager/article/a568776

Nick Sketch: why wealth managers got hedge funds so wrong

by Nick Sketch on Feb 28, 2012 at 00:01

Nick Sketch: why wealth managers got hedge funds so wrong

A few years ago, many of us invested in hedge funds via funds of hedge funds. The better examples generally offered a better risk-return trade-off than pure equity investment, while offering likely returns ahead of bonds. However, most had some net exposure to equity markets.

Even without the discount swings that many investment trusts in the sector suffered (or the severe problems caused to some by illiquidity in their underlying assets), this feature made funds of this type less than ideal diversifying assets for an equity-based portfolio (and much less good in extreme circumstances than many of us expected).

Critically, many hedge funds claimed to deliver strong returns with modest volatility most of the time, and some delivered just that. For an investor holding hedge funds and cash, this probably means they were good investments. But to a long-term investor with most of a portfolio in equities, what should matter most is how these investments perform when equities do badly.

In short, many investors have done badly in the last five years from their hedge fund investments because the investments did not do a good job, but many others (with hindsight) just bought the wrong hedge fund investments.

The right hedge fund investments

Fortunately, there are hedge funds available in a form suitable for UK investors that did well in 2008, have liquid portfolios, have low expectations of big discount swings (or are open-ended) and have long records of showing low correlation with equity markets – despite often offering returns over many years that compare well with those expected by bond investors or hoped for by equity investors.

This group of hedge funds usually get labelled ‘macro’, ‘CTAs’ or ‘managed futures’. They typically do not hold illiquid assets or individual equity or corporate bond investments, preferring to invest in currencies and interest rates, plus indices of equities, bonds or commodities, typically via ultra-liquid futures markets.

Some leading examples use computer modelling to capture trends (up or down) in markets, while others rely on the skills of individual managers.

Some of these investments are available to retail investors via investment trusts (like those from Brevan Howard and Blue Crest). Others can be bought through a Ucits III structure (eg, Aspect or Standard Life GARS ) and a few are offshore funds with UK reporting status (eg, Matrix Ascension Fund, which feeds into Winton Managed Futures Fund).

Many of these funds have long records of high returns (some over 10% a year on average) without excessive risk, plus few bad years, and little correlation with equities or bonds.

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4 comments so far. Why not have your say?

martin harris

Feb 28, 2012 at 11:44

Paying 2% per annum and 20% performance fee for an equity long short portfolio is evidence of just how stupid advisers and their clients are.

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Badders

Feb 28, 2012 at 14:09

Have never committed my clients' hard-earned cash to a hedge fund and never will.

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PCIAM

Feb 29, 2012 at 08:50

...but it's damned hard to see through all the sand around my head.

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Anonymous 1 needed this 'off the record'

Feb 29, 2012 at 12:41

Good work from Nick Sketch, it absolutely amazes me how advisers think that not allocating to CTAs or sophisticated UCITS strategies because they can't be bothered to understand them is acceptable. There are so many strategies to generate your clients consistent positive returns with low correlation, and shoving their money in defensive equities, bonds and a bit of property is not one of them.

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