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“Vehicle of choice”? Patchy performance fails to dent industry confidence

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After years of rising markets, the current economic reversal has placed alpha generation firmly in focus after hedge funds were hit by the first-half global turmoil.

After years of rising markets, the current economic reversal has placed alpha generation firmly in focus after hedge funds were hit by the first-half global turmoil.

Hedge fund managers are sharply divided on their first-half performance, reflecting the considerable dispersion in returns during the volatile investment environment between January and June. Dispersion reigns across asset classes, strategies and AuM sizes, with macro hedge funds and trend-following strategies taking profits, and long/short equity managers sliding into the red.

As a result, manager sentiment is decidedly mixed at 2022’s midway point. One-third of hedge funds surveyed by Hedgeweek say their flagship strategies exceeded expectations during H1 (see Fig 1.3). But almost a quarter of hedge funds say their main fund underperformed target expectations in the same period, reflecting the mixed fortunes of across the industry beyond the headline figures.

Although the industry as a whole ended H1 in negative territory, hedge funds comfortably outflanked broader markets over the six-month period, which saw the S&P 500 diving more than 20%. Overall, the numbers mark hedge funds’ biggest outperformance of the stock market in the first half since 1990, according to data published by Hedge Fund Research.

Still, this rapid unravelling of the market during the first half of the year upended many strategies that had continued to be positioned for the rising market in recent years.

“The first half of 2022 has proven to be challenging as a combination of tightening global monetary conditions and entrenched inflation has led to concerns around stagflation and an impending global recession becoming increasingly probable,” says Polina Kurdyavko, head of emerging markets at BlueBay Asset Management, and senior portfolio manager of BlueBay’s Emerging Market Credit Alpha Fund.

Ben Axler, founder and chief investment officer, Spruce Point Capital, observes how the past decade had remained difficult for alpha generation, adding that many short sellers had left the market because such an investment approach proved challenging given the equity benchmarks continued to rise.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, central banks took what many managers describe as “extreme measures” to maintain liquidity and support businesses. Now, though, the tide has turned and banks are withdrawing liquidity in a bid to tame inflation.


“They realise that they have kept rates too low for too long, and that was driving excessive speculation – not just in equities, but in other asset classes, with cryptocurrencies a prime example of a new and emerging asset class,” Axler says.

“So the environment has finally changed, at least for short sellers.”

The ability for many hedge fund managers to be long rather than to hedge has led to some false confidence in recent years, observes Manoj Jain, co-founder and co-CIO, Maso Capital.

“Now, though, we’ve gone back to a more normalised environment – zero rates were an aberration. A lot of participants, to their credit, have done well and have benefitted from a performance perspective. But that’s also made the current environment more challenging for certain investors,” Jain adds.

Asked what has been the single biggest factor influencing their flagship fund’s performance during 2022, close to one in three hedge fund managers surveyed name inflation and interest rate rises as key. Similarly, almost a third believe that equity market performance has been the decisive factor in shaping H1 returns, the research data shows (see Fig 1.1).

At 2022’s midway point, attention is now quickly turning to how managers of all strategies will fare in a rapidly-evolving investment environment during H2, and what role hedge funds can ultimately play in insulating investors’ portfolios from renewed economic difficulties.

For their part, most managers are confident they can generate positive returns. Around 46% of all hedge funds surveyed hedge funds surveyed by Hedgeweek are “somewhat positive” on their performance prospects for the second half of the year, and a quarter are “very positive” (see Fig 1.4). But some 12% take a negative stance on their H2 outlook, while 9% expect their second half performance to be flat, as another 9% don’t know what the remainder of 2022 holds in store.

Similarly, recent research by the Alternative Investment Management Association shows hedge fund managers’ sentiment remains upbeat. AIMA’s Q2 Confidence Index, published jointly in June with Simmons & Simmons and Seward & Kissel, found that hedge fund managers’ overall Q2 confidence score totaled +17.8 on a scale of -50 to +50. Overall, more than 85% of hedge funds surveyed by AIMA are confident in the economic prospects of their business over the coming 12 months – despite greater market turbulence, increasing geopolitical tensions in Ukraine, and growing regulatory and compliance hurdles.


“Hedge funds, historically and still, invest in sectors where the long-term returns of the individual companies have very wide dispersion,” says Nick Mazing, director of research, Sentieo.

“If you look at, say, utilities – which are essentially regulated monopolies – or consumer staples, which are extremely steady, the returns are very clustered. In contrast, if you look at the long-term returns of sectors such as healthcare and technology which is where hedge funds are angling for outsized returns, there are huge winners and huge losers. It’s very binary with very wide dispersion. But both sectors got hit as the rates started moving up – both technology and biotech sectors declined,” he says.


Mazing adds: “Hedge fund-heavy sectors such as these have been doing very poorly. Meanwhile, going into June, energy was about 70% above the worst performing sectors, such as communications, consumer discretionary and technology. While some of those gains have gone out, energy still continues to be extremely strong.”

Reflecting on the prevailing market challenges, Jason Josephiac, senior vice president, Meketa Investment Group, says: “It’s tough to add diversification. Because equities are equities, credit is credit, rates are rates, commodities are commodities. So, unless you’re capitalising on long and short opportunities, as well as long volatility opportunities, then a lot of things are going to be correlated during the worst types of market environments.”

“Generally speaking, hedge funds should show absolute return – absolute positive return – and not be tied to any benchmark,” says David Amaryan, founder, Balchug Capital.

“As a hedge fund manager, whenever there’s volatility and I can more or less understand what’s going on, I can always think of some opportunities where I can be long or short, or use some other approach to take advantage of the situation.”

Kurdyavko says: “We cannot speak on behalf of other hedge fund managers; however, it is precisely in this market environment that hedge funds should be the vehicle of choice for investors. The uncertainty prevailing across all asset classes has left investors unclear regarding market direction and the ensuing volatility can lead to overshooting of prices. 

“Hedge funds that are able to take both long and short positions can capitalise on both negative and positive stories in this context.  Moreover, managers that can couple this with bottom-up analytical capability can quickly identify mispriced assets and be very well positioned to generate positive returns on both the long and short side.” 

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