Friday, 21 January 2011

Chart of the Day – Funds of Hedge Funds Flat-line in Asset Flows in North America

My Chart of the Day comes from The Eurekahedge Report which looks at 2010 hedge asset flows and investment returns. The chart compares the monthly asset flows to North American hedge funds and funds of hedge funds since the start of 2008. The contrast in flows in the recovery phase is very striking: single manager hedge funds net redemptions stopped four months earlier than net redemptions to funds of funds; and there have been net subscriptions to single manager funds in most months since April 2009, and net subscriptions to funds of funds have flat-lined over the same period.

Monthly asset flows to North American hedge funds vs North American funds of hedge funds

The North American component of the hedge fund story is very constructive at the single manager level. Not only have NAVS recovered well since the Credit Crunch but in doing so last year the Eurekahedge North American Hedge Fund Index was ahead of the S&P 500 until the last month of the year. Over the last three years North American single manager hedge funds produced annualised returns of just over 7 1/2 %, versus 5 1/2 % for the Global Eurekahedge Index. Indeed American hedge funds produced better returns than funds managed from other developed regions in each of the last three years. So American single manager hedge funds have done better in performance terms than those in other regions.

The three year annualised returns of North American funds of funds are negative according to Eurekahedge, just as the MSCI North America had negative returns over the same period (to end November 2010). Further the 3-year annualised standard deviation of returns of funds of funds is the same as that for single manager hedge funds. So that on a three year basis funds of funds have not delivered absolute returns, and the volatility of returns over that period has not been lower than single manager funds (which historically had previously always been the case). So the return-for-risk argument is weak for funds of funds relative to single manager funds in North America.

As a source of capital for the whole hedge fund industry American investing institutions have become dominant. Survey evidence shows some recovery of appetite amongst institutional investors in hedge funds – questions on investment intentions produce a net positive balance from respondents on a consistent basis since the end of 2009, with US investors more positive than investors in other regions. But the "intentions" have turned into net positive flows only for single manager hedge funds in aggregate (though around 30% of funds of hedge funds report net inflows in the second half of last year). There several plausible explanations for the contrast in flows depicted in the chart.

The gap in performance between single manager hedge funds and funds of funds may have got too wide for investing institutions to bear. Historically there were a few years, over the course of decades, in which multi-manager hedge funds out-performed single manager hedge funds. So in those years there was a (relative) pay-off for strategy allocation and avoiding the under-performers and blow-ups – which is for what investors pay funds of funds. It was commercially crucial that funds of funds did that in the key year of 2008, and they didn't, as a whole. It is now many years since funds of funds in aggregate even got near single manager returns.

Given the return records for single manager and multi-manager hedge funds the additional layer of fees in the latter cannot be justified in the minds of institutional investors. Fund of funds' management fees have been falling for more than a decade, reflecting the balance of supply and demand over that time. In contrast single manager fees have held up much better, with the exception of the immediate post Credit Crunch period. Indeed Eurekahedge record that the average management fees for single manager start-ups in 2010 was higher than for 2009's start-ups.

A third plausible explanation for the difference in asset flows to the two hedge fund sectors in North America is the increased accumulated knowledge and experience of the investing institutions there. The model seems to have shifted. For most of the last decade funds of funds were the mechanism for investing institutions to allocate to hedge funds, but a knowledge transfer has taken place. The senior staff at institutions now have a familiarity with hedge fund concepts and can interpret hedge fund data readily. Whilst funds of funds companies can demonstrate advantages in due diligence process, depth of understanding of investment strategies, and risk management and portfolio construction of funds of funds compared to the dedicated resources available to most investing institutions, the latter can now comfortably find these capabilities on an out-sourced basis. External advisors for strategic decision making and tactical monitoring of hedge funds have usurped the role of the dedicated funds of funds. The same tasks are being carried out, but maybe by a combination of a very small dedicated in-house team with input from an external advisor on a fixed fee basis. A number of funds of funds companies may be retained by investing institutions to give a plurality of opinion and form of analysis, for benchmarking, but experienced investing institutions may not feel the need to pay the old fee scales. Plus the marginal increases in allocations to hedge funds by pension plans is increasingly going to direct investing in single manager funds.

In each of these regards the North American part of the industry is in the vanguard. Most of the assets of the hedge fund industry are managed by managers in the United States. For a U.S. investor to visit (and allocate to) an American hedge fund manager is a lot easier than for a Japanese investing institution – hence there will always be a place for funds of funds for Japanese investors in hedge funds. American investing institutions are the largest contributors of capital to the hedge fund industry at the moment, and will be for some time. Given all the above - relative performance, regional strengths, fee structures etcetera - plus the fact that large, branded hedge fund groups are highly likely to be American, is it any wonder that 85% of the global flows into hedge funds are going into American single manager hedge funds? 

To see more postings on multi-manager hedge funds click on "funds of hedge funds" in the LABELS gadget on the lhs of the page.

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