The stock market is a simply amazing organization when it comes to creativity. Take hedge funds for example, they're not exactly mutual funds, and they're not exchange traded funds either.
Technically, a hedge fund is defined as a private investment fund. They are usually organized as limited partnerships, and often employ non-traditional investment strategies. This means they often shy away from approaches that involve long-term buying and holding of securities in a portfolio.
Hedge funds have been around since the late 1940s. In their early days, these funds were used to reduce market risk, by selling short some stocks then buying others at the same time. Today, some hedge funds don't even include stocks in their portfolio, so they've certainly evolved over time.
Whenever the stock market is under performing, whispers of hedge funds start to be heard. The word "hedging" itself implies taking a defensive position, or placing an insurance "bet" to balance against down markets. The past decade has seen a pretty flat stock market, and a corresponding rise in interest in these funds. As of May 2017, there were approximately 9,000 hedge funds managing roughly $3.0 trillion in assets.
There are several published studies that found hedge funds will outperform their mutual fund counterparts in bear markets. As is the case with any security, investors should understand the balance of risks and rewards. In the sections below, we'll review the differences between hedge funds and mutual funds. Later on, we'll also examine a fund with a funny name: a fund of hedge funds.
Just like mutual funds, a hedge fund pools money from various investors in an effort to provide acceptable returns. However, unlike mutual funds, most hedge funds are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. This means they do not have to abide by their reporting requirements, and the SEC does not provide the investor with any degree of regulatory oversight.
As mentioned earlier, hedge funds are considered private investment vehicles, and are restricted to accredited individuals with net worth in excess of $1 million, or an income in excess of $200,000 per year. Qualified purchasers can also join hedge funds if they own at least $5,000,000 in qualified investments.
Hedge funds have a limited number of investors in each group, typically less than 500. That's why they are organized into limited partnerships. There is no limit on the fees these funds can charge, and many have generous performance incentives for the fund managers in addition to standard management fees.
If successful, starting a hedge fund can be very rewarding for the fund's management team. The fund manager is sometimes referred to as a "general partner," and this position is responsible for making investment decisions that are aligned with the fund's overall strategy. The normal payment arrangement for a manager is to receive one or both of the following:
Hedge funds offer the investor less liquidity when compare to mutual funds. Often there is a short window of opportunity to invest or close out a position; this timeframe can be quarterly or even annually. Hedge funds are not limited to a single class of investment such as stocks. They can utilize instruments such as financial leverage, derivatives, short selling, commodities, and they can even take a large position in just a single company.
A fund of hedge funds closes some of the gaps between hedge funds and mutual funds. Most of these funds have a lower minimum investment; typically, in the range of $25,000. The idea behind a fund of hedge funds is to lower the risk of a single hedge fund by creating a portfolio of hedge funds.
Some funds of hedge funds are registered with the SEC. If registered, they are required to provide investors with a prospectus and file semi-annual reports; just like a mutual fund. Unfortunately, a fund of funds can also carry with it an additional layer of management fees. In addition to paying the fees mentioned above, an additional 1 to 2% of assets might be paid to the fund managers as well as added performance incentives.
The bulleted list below outlines some of the factors an investor needs to understand before deciding to invest in a hedge fund or a fund of hedge funds:
Because of the way these funds can be structured, do not expect to automatically get the same protections offered by mainstream investments. The SEC and other securities agencies may only have a limited ability to monitor the activities of the fund. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Check out the track record of the fund manager, and be skeptical of inconsistent patterns.
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