Hedge fund industry loses out again

A bear sculpture symbolising falling markets stands in front of the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany.

Story highlights

  • Hedge fund managers suffered another year of disappointing returns
  • Bearish managers fared worst, as the eurozone avoided a costly break-up

Bearish hedge fund managers have lost out in 2012, with the $2tn industry suffering another year of disappointing returns as traders were wrongfooted by a change in fortunes for the eurozone.

According to Hedge Fund Research, slight gains in December were likely to mean the average hedge fund manager made just more than 5 per cent over the year -- a period watched closely by many investors after disappointing returns in 2011, when the average hedge fund lost 5 per cent.

Flows into the industry are also expected to have slowed markedly, hit by a wave of high-profile closures. The first 9 months of last year saw hedge funds pull in a net $30bn from investors, compared with $70bn in 2011.

As with 2011, the eurozone crisis dominated most funds' trading. Global macro funds, which aim to profit from shifts in economic sentiment, were among the hardest hit, entering a second year of losses for investors.

Some of the strategy's most prominent players eked out low returns. Paul Tudor Jones' flagship fund made just more than 5.2 per cent in the year to mid-December, according to an investor.

Brevan Howard, Europe's largest macro hedge fund, made 3 per cent, while Caxton Associates, another prominent group, lost 3.4 per cent in the year to November.

Bearish managers fared worst, as the eurozone avoided a costly break-up even though it fell back into recession in 2012. Comac, a London-based macro hedge fund, was down 8.9 per cent for the year in mid-November.

So-called "tail risk" funds, which aim to profit in times of market dislocation, also suffered. The $2bn Capula tail risk fund, the world's largest so-called "black swan" trader, had lost 14 per cent by November.

Other notable losses for the year included those of John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made billions shorting US subprime mortgages in 2007. Mr Paulson's flagship Advantage Plus fund lost more than 20 per cent in 2012, compounding losses of more than 50 per cent the previous year.

Some hedge funds have succeeded, however.

The activist Children's Investment Fund made more than 25 per cent in 2012, according to an investor, thanks to wagers on out-of-favour companies like News Corp and Disney.

DE Shaw, the US quant-focused fund manager, has seen its flagship Oculus Fund return 14 per cent and its Heliant Fund rise 18 per cent.

Barnegat, a New Jersey-based relative value bond trading company, has made more than 45 per cent for its investors. A credit-focused fund run by London-based Cheyne Capital has meanwhile returned 68 per cent for 2012.

Managers specialising in trading asset-backed securities have had a notable year too. Tilden Park, a hedge fund set up by Goldman Sachs' former mortgage trading team, has made a 35 per cent return, while a mortgage-focused fund run by BTG Pactual is up over 40 per cent.