Hedge fund firms and other alternative asset managers are playing an increasingly important role in financing the economy, according to a new paper published by the Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA).
The paper says that private debt funds such as hedge funds now manage around USD440 billion in assets, with some USD64 billion of new capital allocated to the sector in 2014 alone. 
The paper finds that the most popular borrowers of non-bank private debt are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such businesses are typically too small to raise capital through the public corporate bond market and have been finding it difficult to borrow from the traditional banking sector since the crisis. Refinancing existing loans, pursuing acquisition and expansion plans and improving working capital are all common uses of such private finance.
A number of case studies are published with the paper, including examples of private debt funds that have supported sectors as diverse as social housing, health, renewable energy and shipbuilding.
The sector still predominately comprises US-based funds, but European and Asian funds have grown significantly in prominence since the financial crisis, the paper says.
The AIMA paper also finds that private debt funds typically use little or no leverage and are structured in a way to prevent bank-style ‘runs’ or other systemic problems.
The paper, titled ‘Financing the Economy: The role of alternative asset managers in the non-bank lending environment’, has been produced by AIMA’s Alternative Credit Council, a committee of alternative asset management firms which are financing the real economy.
Its Chair, Stuart Fiertz, the President of Cheyne Capital, says: “Non-bank private debt financing, as distinguished from public corporate debt markets, has grown dramatically in popularity and volume in recent years. Buoyed by both increased demand from investors as well as a growing appetite from businesses for alternative sources of funding, these markets are starting to have a noticeable impact on economic activity.”
Jack Inglis, AIMA CEO, says: “This paper builds on our recent research in highlighting the ‘real economy’ impact of hedge funds. Our paper last year on the activities of hedge funds and other participants in the capital markets showed a clear correlation between capital market depth and economic growth. As this new paper shows, many small and medium sized businesses would miss out on growth opportunities or fail altogether if it were not for the absolutely vital support of hedge funds and other alternative asset managers.”