What is a Hedge Fund and how to invest in one

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While it is perhaps not ideal to utilize a gambling expression to help describe an investment instrument, it seems appropriate to do so when talking about hedge funds. The phrase “hedge your bets” means to reduce your risk of a loss on one bet by taking out a second bet with the opposite outcome. This means that if the first bet loses, then the second bet should help to reduce your total loss.

The expression commonly extends beyond the realms of gambling and is often used to describe the strategy of following two courses of action if the outcome of one course of action is not sufficiently certain.  Hedge funds got their name from the original “Long-Short Equity” strategy, which was adopted to protect against downside risk by taking short positions in stocks that are expected to decrease in value to balance long positions taken in stocks that are expected to increase in value.

The Propel(x) team is talking about hedge funds not only because we believe it is important for investors to have a broad understanding of investment opportunities that are available in the marketplace but also because Propel(x) is planning to provide access for qualified Propel(x) members to invest in a hedge fund with small check sizes via a syndicate using a Special Purpose Vehicle. We will release additional information on this opportunity as it becomes available.

What is a Hedge Fund?

Many investors may be familiar with mutual funds, where a fund manager pools the funds from multiple investors to create a “pooled investment vehicle” and invests the funds as a whole on behalf of all the individual participants of the fund.  A hedge fund is similar to a mutual fund in that it is also a pooled investment vehicle, but a hedge fund is actively managed, often uses leverage (borrowed money), and typically uses alternative investment strategies. These strategies are often used to seek higher returns than traditional investment strategies, although this also comes with higher risk.

Aside from the usual anti-fraud protection, hedge funds are not regulated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) so are not required to comply with the stringent regulatory requirements that apply to many traditional investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The SEC provides useful information on hedge funds here. Hedge funds tend to target investment returns that outperform the market but that comes with higher risk. The investment strategy of hedge funds often means they are targeting returns that are uncorrelated with the wider market.

The History of the Hedge Fund

The history of the hedge fund goes all the way back to the late 1940s, when the first hedge fund strategy emerged in an effort to create a “market-neutral” portfolio by taking long positions in some stocks and balancing that with short positions in other stocks. This developed further in 1952 with the creation of the first hedge fund product structured as a pooled investment vehicle which utilized a hedged strategy and leverage, and included a performance fee entitling the fund manager to share in the profit of the fund alongside the investors. Over the seventy or so years since their creation, hedge funds have had their share of ups and downs.

Through some periods, hedge fund returns have exceeded those of traditional investments, but there have also been times where their returns have been substantially lower than traditional markets.  The hedge fund sector has grown since its inception and attracts interest from a range of investors. According to industry data analyst Statista, global hedge fund Assets Under Management (AUM) have grown from $118 billion in 1997 to $4.5 trillion in late 2021.

How Do Hedge Funds Work?

A hedge fund manager creates a hedge fund by pooling together investment funds from a group of individual investors under a Limited Partnership (LP) or Limited Liability Company (LLC). Hedge fund managers set investment strategies for the fund covering elements such as risk, leverage, asset class, redemption, etc. and then invests the fund’s money with the objective of generating returns for the fund.  

While the original hedge fund concept involved taking long and short positions in the stock market, the term hedge fund has now expanded to encompass a range of pooled capital arrangements.

Hedge funds can deploy their funds across a wide range of investments including traditional and alternative investments, which might include specific bonds, stocks, angel investments, real estate, venture capital, precious metals, collectibles, and more.  Hedge funds have an operating agreement describing the terms of its operation and its fee structure. 

They often include a management fee as a percentage of assets, which is often in the range 1% to 2%. A performance fee often applies too, with 20% being relatively common, meaning that the hedge fund manager takes 20% of any profit generated by the fund before distribution to the investors.

Requirements of a Hedge Fund and Who Can Invest in a Hedge Fund?

Because of the high-risk, complexity, and lack of regulatory protection, hedge funds are not available to ordinary retail investors on the public market. Hedge fund investors must be a Qualified Purchaser or Accredited Investor, which requires certain minimum levels of financial experience, qualification, income, net worth, or investment assets.  The SEC’s Hedge Fund Investor Bulletin includes additional information and resources relevant to hedge fund investing.

Who Manages a Hedge Fund?

A hedge fund manager is a person or firm responsible for the management of the fund. Hedge fund managers set the investment strategy, make investment decisions, and manage the operation and performance of the fund.

The Advantages of Hedge Funds

Hedge funds allow qualified investors to access investment opportunities with the potential to achieve high returns. An investor may consider including a hedge fund in their investment portfolio to benefit from alternative investments that may have the potential for higher returns than traditional investments. Typically, most hedge funds have some liquidity options compared to some direct alternative investments, for example startup investments or collectibles, which usually do not.

Most alternative investments are highly illiquid, whereas a hedge fund investor typically has greater access to their funds. However, it is important to understand that most hedge funds have lockout periods during which investors are unable to withdraw their funds and there are often restrictions on the timing for withdrawals, so hedge funds do come with liquidity restrictions.

The Risks of Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are generally a high-risk investment, with the level of risk varying according to the fund investment strategy. Risks include speculative investments and the use of leverage (borrowed money), as well as lock-out periods when investors are unable to withdraw their funds. The structure of many hedge funds means the potential exists for hedge fund investing to fail completely and for investors to lose their entire investment.

Should I Invest in a Hedge Fund?

The decision of whether to invest in a hedge fund depends on an investor’s personal circumstances and their investment goals, objectives, risk appetite and liquidity needs. The high-risk nature of hedge funds means it is important to take a portfolio perspective and to maintain an appropriate balance of risk and return in the overall investment portfolio.

Other Pooled Investment Vehicles

As noted above, a hedge fund is a type of pooled investment vehicle, where an individual’s funds are combined with other investors. Examples of some other pooled investment vehicles include:

  • Mutual funds, which invest in regulated stocks, bonds, and debt, and can be accessed by retail investors on the public market.
  • Exchange-traded funds (ETF), which track a particular market index such as the S&P 500 or a specific commodity, sector, or asset. They can be traded on a stock exchange in a manner similar to stocks.
  • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT), which invest in property on behalf of its investor pool.

Hedge Funds vs. Mutual Funds

Hedge funds and mutual funds are both managed investment portfolios that utilize pooled funds from various investors but there are some important differences between the two, as noted below.

ElementMutual FundsHedge Funds
RegulationHighly regulatedOnly lightly regulated
AccessAvailable to regular retail investors on the public marketAvailable only to accredited investors and qualified purchasers on the private market
RiskVaries according to the fund objectives, ranging from low risk to high riskHigh risk
ReturnVaries according to the fund objectives, with some funds aiming for average market returns and others aiming for higher or lower than the market Targets higher than average market returns
LiquidityHigh liquidityLower liquidity than mutual funds but with a few liquidity advantages compared to some direct alternative investments
FeesLow to moderate feesHigh fees, including profit performance fees

Examples of Hedge Funds

Estimates from a range of sources such as Time Magazine, Yahoo Finance, and the Hedge Fund Association put the number of hedge funds around the world somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000.

 Included within this extensive list are some well-known names with tens of billions of dollars in global assets under management such as Bridgewater Associates, Blackrock, Man Group, AQR Capital, Two Sigma, Elliott Asset Management, Renaissance, and more.

Conclusion

Accredited investors have the opportunity to include hedge funds in their portfolio to potentially benefit from high returns that hedge fund strategies may bring. However it is important to remember that the high-risk nature of hedge funds brings with it the potential to lose some or all of the investment. Hedge funds can also provide a few liquidity advantages over some other direct investments in alternatives. 

Stay tuned for upcoming opportunities for Propel(x) members to access investments in hedge funds. Follow us on our various social media channels and subscribe to our newsletter.

This article is for informational purposes only. This is not an offer to buy or sell any hedge fund. We do not provide legal, financial, or tax advice and investors should consult their advisors prior to making any investment. As with any investment, past performance is no guarantee of future performance, and any investment decision must balance the risk against the potential return. Private investments are highly illiquid and risky and are not suitable for all investors. There is no guarantee that a liquidity event will ever take place.

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