Friday, January 30, 2009

About Hedge Funds

· ‘Survivorship bias’
Hedge funds that die are not included in the index, and since the mortality rate among hedge funds is higher than among mutual funds, it produces a greater gap between the returns reported in the indices versus those earned by a typical investor. There are about 9000 funds. Half of them have a life span of three years. About one out of ten goes bust.

· Distortion of returns reported to hedge funds versus the typical investor
– associated with the higher mortality rate of hedge funds. Also the reporting for hedge funds is voluntary and they tend not to report bad results.

· Lack of auditing.
They represent a relatively small share of total financial assets but their relative share has increased significantly.

· Substantial leverage
Hedge funds have the ability to take on substantial leverage.

· Large potential impact on financial market conditions
The substantial leverage of hedge funds magnifies the potential impact on financial market conditions.

· Hedge funds play a large (inappropriate) role as an insurer for regulated institutions
"Hedge funds have become an important source of protection to regulated institutions by being large sellers of credit insurance in the rapidly growing market for credit default swaps . But highly-leveraged and unregulated hedge funds are not the ideal type of insurer!"

· Hedge funds are receiving money from Australian superannuation funds.
Because of the current great doubt experienced by the two major political parties about the virtues of the fiduciary habits of ordinary workers, they feel compelled to take their savings away. The money is placed in pension funds for their old age. Workers are not allowed to withdraw this money and especially they are not permitted any control over the way in which these dollars are invested. (Meanwhile we'll continue to tout the virtues of a 'free market' system).

..Superannuation fund trustees have traditionally not invested in hedge funds both because of the infancy of the hedge fund market in Australia and because of the legal obligations described above. Rather,superannuation trustees have tended to prefer to invest in fixed interest investments, cash, government bonds and property investment trusts.

Hedge funds have not been favoured areas of investment principally because of perceptions concerning:
• the volatility of returns;
• level of regulation;
• the perceived lack of transparency of hedge funds ;
• levels of management fees; and
• additional risks associated with the use of derivatives by hedge fund managers.

In order to make such investments, superannuation trustees need to give careful consideration to the legal restrictions imposed in the form of general trustee duties and the investment parameters imposed by their trust deed, investment plan and the SIS Act.

However, despite this traditional reluctance to invest in hedge funds, superannuation trustees in Australia are now starting to use hedge funds to diversify their investments. Hedge fund investment is providing superannuation trustees with a way of counter-balancing the decline in returns on investments in traditional products. Those trustees are also attracted by the relative low correlation between the performance of some hedge funds and that of the equity markets more generally. There is also a considerable degree of liquidity with hedge funds, something that real estate or other structured assets may not offer. Finally, the introduction of hedge funds for retail investors has made the product apparently more mainstream and therefore, for trustees, possibly less likely to result in fund member concern..."
Australia: Some Legal Issues relating to Superannuation Trustees as Hedge Fund Investors
By Tessa Hoser and Katherine Henzell, Blake Dawson Waldron
1 December 2002.

· One third of hedge fund capital comes from pension funds
One third of hedge fund capital comes from pension funds. “Pension funds reusing hedge fund investment to diversify their own risks, but a situation where almost one-third of the capital for institutions on the cutting edge of financial risks comes from institutions whose first priority is safe investments certainly bears watching”.
Rodrigo Rato, IMF Managing Director

· The insurance provided by hedge funds lacks integrity.

1. How can you collect on an insurance contract when no-one can agree on the amount of the losses??

2. Both the buyer and seller of CDS may trade their obligation in the OTC market. There is nothing to prevent the insurer from offloading his obligation to an unqualified or unreliable party, in the process irreparably damaging the value of the insurance originally purchased.

I would be interested to learn if anyone can shed light on a potential problem in financial markets larger by at least an order of magnitude greater than subprime + CDO s sold to the SIV s and other institutions that hold them. Dr. Roubini has put numbers on subprime and alt-A plus CDO s, of about 1.5 trillion, and we don't have good estimates yet for auto loan and credit card securitized debt. Dwarfing these numbers is the 30 to 40 trillion dollar (or more) value of credit default swaps (CDS) outstanding. These swaps are essentially insurance policies between 2 parties. The FIRST buyer, presumably, is one with an asset (bond or securitized debt) to hedge. The FIRST seller, presumably, is a party known to the buyer who is financially able to provide the contracted protection in the event being insured (default) in return for the fee collected. But if both sides of this equation may TRADE their obligation in the OTC market, what is to prevent the INSURER from offloading his obligation to an UNQUALIFIED party, damaging irreparably the value of insurance originally purchased. If the insured has no control over the assignment to a third party of the obligation, of what value is the insurance. You may recall that in the DELPHI automotive bankruptcy, with 2 billion in bonds outstanding, there were over 20 billion in CDS outstanding. If the presumed solvency of unregulated insurance providers has enabled careless debt instrument purchases, watch out.
Written by RHK on 2007-11-06 08:01:26

3. The Over the Counter (OTC) trade is opaque and allows for the creation of fictionalised capital.

· There’s been a dramatic acceleration in number and type of derivative instruments.
(But current accounting and regulatory practice – as of December 2007 - allow for the creation of huge amounts of imaginary capital that is opaque and not subject to appropriate credit ratings. With the possibility of firms upping their trade in derivatives to hide the day of reckoning that comes with insolvency. See the linked article on credit default swaps.)

Hedge funds (holding Russian corporate bonds with ‘put options’) are demanding either full payment of debt or much higher interest rates; up to 16% during 2008.

· The total number of hedge funds has grown dramatically.
In 2007 there existed about 9000 funds. Half of them have a life span of three years. About one out of ten goes bust.

· Hedge funds are ‘Program Trading outfits’. They make money by buying large baskets of stocks.
A hedge fund, like investment banks, are referred to as ‘Program Trading outfits’. They make money by buying large baskets of stocks and then will blow out of those positions when their computers are programmed to sell.

· The range of hedge fund returns is large and unprecedented.

· Hedge fund managers’ earnings are astronomical. are determined by the gains of their own capital in their funds and their share of their firm’s management and performance fees. Most funds charge a 5% management fee and a 44% performance fee)

Of the 200-plus funds that Permal invests in, the poorest performer in the year to date – from January through to November 15 – had reported a loss of 7 per cent, and the top performer had returned 70 per cent. [unsourced]

“…Combined, the top 50 hedge fund managers last year earned $29 billion. That figure represents the managers’ own pay and excludes the compensation of their employees. Five of the top 10, including Mr. Simons and Mr. Soros, were also at the top of the list for 2006….”
Wall Street Winners Get Billion-Dollar Paydays
Published: April 16, 2008

“Hedge fund managers, those masters of a secretive, sometimes volatile financial universe, are making money on a scale that once seemed unimaginable, even in Wall Street's rarefied realms. One manager, John Paulson, made $3.7 billion last year. He reaped that bounty, probably the richest in Wall Street history, by betting against certain mortgages and complex financial products that held them. Paulson, the founder of Paulson & Company, was not the only big winner. The hedge fund managers James Simons and George Soros each earned almost $3 billion last year, according to an annual ranking of top hedge fund earners by Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine, which comes out Wednesday. Hedge fund managers have redefined notions of wealth in recent years. And the richest among them are redefining those notions once again. Their unprecedented and growing affluence underscores the gaping inequality between the millions of Americans facing stagnating wages and rising home foreclosures and an agile financial elite that seems to thrive in good times and bad. Such profits may also prompt more calls for regulation of the industry…”
Hedge fund managers get billion-dollar paydays
By Jenny Anderson
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

· G8 finance ministers meet on the issues relating to hedge funds but fail to address the issues.

G8 finance ministers met on the issue of the lack of supervision of hedge funds but they failed to address the issue. (When?, Source?)


Robert D Feinman said...

If I understood correctly the original hedge funds were involved in hedging, that is taking positions on both sides of a transaction so that they would be protected whichever way things went.

The simplest example would be using puts and calls simultaneously.

In exchange for this limit on risk exposure the investor would be assured of a stable return, but one that was less than a one sided bet might yield.

Somewhere along the line hedge funds decided to abandon this cautious strategy and start placing imbalanced bets. With a generally rising market betting on the upside would tend to produce better returns if the weighting was on gains in price.

So hedge funds stopped being cautious and suckered in groups that were supposed to be "prudent" investors like pensions funds and college endownments.

Either the trustees of these funds were duped into thinking they were engaging in low risk investments or they violated their fiduciary responsibility.

Regulating hedge funds is only part of the fix, there needs to be a restructuring of how funds held on behalf of other are managed as well.

Economics of Contempt said...

A protection seller can't assign a CDS contract to another party without the prior consent of the protection buyer. Same with novation.

Also, the $30 trillion number constantly applied to the CDS market is wildly misleading, since it's the gross notional outstanding, not net notional. Net notional outstanding is in the neighborhood of $3-$6 trillion (I tend to think closer to $6 trillion). That's still big, but nowhere near as big as journalists constantly claim. But I guess "$30 Trillion Market You've Never Heard Of!" makes for a better headline, truth be damned. Such is the way of modern media, I suppose.