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Rajesh Immanuel

With most hedge funds substantially underperforming the major stock market indices year after year since the 2008 financial crisis, it is only natural for hedge fund investors to expect some concession on the fees they pay to hedge funds. However, despite reports of some hedge funds offering to lower asset management fees, it appears that there are a lot of hedge fund investors who feel like they are paying too much for too little with their hedge fund investments. Bloomberg is quoting a large hedge fund investor as saying that 90 percent of hedge fund managers are overpaid relative to their true talent.

Unigestion Holding SA

Unigestion is a large hedge fund investor. The Switzerland-based asset management firm has approximately $16 billion in assets and invests $2 billion of them in about 60 hedge funds. Nicolas Rousselet, who is the head of hedge fund investments at Unigestion says nine out of 10 hedge fund managers are overpaid. He adds that management fees at hedge funds don’t reflect lower interest rates and fund returns.

Hedge funds typically charge 2 percent of assets as management fees irrespective of whether a fund makes or loses money in a financial year. During years of positive returns, hedge funds pocket 20 percent of the profit. For a large hedge fund investor such as Unigestion which has $2 billion in hedge funds, a 2 percent management fee would equate to payout of $40 million every year.

Explaining his frustration with the current fee structure Rousselet says, “The philosophy of the hedge-fund industry, as it should be, is to remunerate true talent. Fund managers should be remunerated when they perform. They should not be remunerated for doing nothing.” Rousselet adds that he prefers a different structure in which the hedge fund industry should either abandon the management fee or combine it with a hurdle rate that must be achieved before collecting incentive fees.

Investor Dissatisfaction With Fees Common

Unigestion invests in 60 hedge funds which gives a lot of credibility to its view that most hedge fund managers are paid more than they deserve. Such dissatisfaction has been felt among other large long term hedge fund investors also.  The largest US public pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System or Calpers is a well-known example of a firm disappointed with their hedge fund investments. It decided to make a significant cut of about 40 percent to its hedge fund allocation this year after weaker than anticipated returns on its hedge fund investments over several years forced a review of its costs associated with investing in hedge funds.

There are many portfolio advisers who share Unigestion’s view. Simon Lack, founder and portfolio manager of investment firm SL Advisors, says that across the hedge fund industry a lot of funds charge fees they don’t deserve. According to Michael Smith, who is the managing director at Global Endowment Management LP, most hedge funds aren’t worth paying 2 percent management fees and 20 percent performance fees.

Relevance to Job Market

This latest example of investor frustration with high fees adds to the thesis that hedge funds no longer enjoy the kind of clout they once had with investors. Even the continued increase in hedge fund assets is a result of a handful of large hedge funds capturing most of the money. With more and more hedge fund investors pressuring for changes to the traditional 2 and 20 fee structure, the net result is likely to be lower operating capital for many hedge funds. This will likely have a negative impact on the job market especially since many hedge funds are finding it difficult to meet targeted returns in the current market.

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Nashville-based hedge fund Rinehart Capital Partners, which specializes in value investing, is closing its operations, lamenting that the current market does not reward funds that employ value investing as a strategy. The seven year old fund was funded, in part, by hedge fund veteran Lee Ainslie who himself is a specialist value investor and who once managed capital at billionaire Julian Robertson’s hedge fund firm. Rinehart Capital founder Andrew Cunagin blamed its poor performance on stimulus driven market conditions and conceded that despite continued backing from Lee Ainslie, the fund was forced to cease operations on redemption pressure from other investors. The fund had been losing money in the last two years and was down again this year as of the end of June.

Value Investors Viewed as Out of Touch

It is not often that a hedge fund manager blames external factors for a fund’s failure but Andrew Cunagin blamed a host of external factors for his inability to generate returns. In his letter to investors, he said the current market is rewarding growth themes over value themes. As opposed to the traditional investment style of buying low and selling high, Cunagin says the strategy that works in this market is one of following momentum and buying high and selling low. The hedge fund manager is critical of high frequency trading and says there is evidence of high frequency traders rigging the price movement of stocks.

Cunagin says his unwillingness to subscribe to the new rules and go against the grain of convention did not find favor with his investors after a sustained period of underperformance. Rinehart was launched in 2007, just months before the pre-crisis peak. It outperformed most funds in 2008, losing only 12 percent during the year, compared to much bigger losses for several hedge funds. It also generated positive returns in each of the years 2009, 2010 and 2011, but struggled thereafter. The hedge fund lost 7 percent in 2012, and followed that up with a 15 percent loss in 2013 and extended its lean period through a further 4 percent loss in the first half of this year.

Some Hedge Funds Struggle

While the overall assets in the hedge fund industry continue to surge, it has not translated into widespread optimism within the industry. The demise of Rinehart Capital is not an exception and there are other funds that continue to struggle in this market.

Hedge fund Emrys Partners,which had assets as high as $200 million, is another example of a fund managed by a once successful manager ,but found the going tough in the current market. The fund was managed by Steve Eisman, who was one of the star managers during the financial crisis. He earned returns of 67 percent in 2007 by shorting the sub-prime mortgage market and for-profit education companies when working at hedge fund FrontPoint Partners. He started Emrys Partners in March 2012 after leaving Frontpoint. His fund reported gains of 3.6 percent in 2012 and 10.8 percent in 2013, significantly lagging the broader market in both years. The hedge fund was also losing money this year.

This year Emrys Partners noted in one of its investor letters that making investment decisions by looking solely at the fundamentals of individual companies is no longer a viable investment philosophy. It closed its operations at the end of June.

A separate report by research firm eVestment found that investors are preferring larger funds over smaller funds. The report found that at the end of 2013, the number of hedge funds with assets in excess of $1 billion increased by 13 percent, while those hedge fund groups with assets between $750 million and $1 billion rose 44 percent. The hedge fund industry growth in assets came from funds with greater than $750 million in assets while reported assets in the universes of funds smaller than $750 million witnessed decline.

Relevance to Job Market

The recent shutdown of hedge funds Rinehart Capital Partners and Emrys Partners may not have much of an impact on the job market given the relatively small size of the two funds. But the concerns about the changed market conditions, as expressed by the two fund managers, are shared by many other hedge fund managers. It will be hard for the job market to see a rebound when many hedge fund managers, especially those managing small funds, are finding it hard to generate acceptable returns for investors.

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Hedge Fund Exposure Cut at Some Pension Funds

August 25, 2014

Patience is wearing thin among some large public pension funds with regard to their hedge fund investment returns. Years of weak returns combined with high investment fees have forced a few prominent pension funds to consider reducing allocation to hedge funds. Among the pension funds planning cuts in hedge fund allocation include the largest US […]

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US Hedge Funds Force Argentina to Default on Its Sovereign Debt

August 11, 2014

The extraordinary influence hedge funds can sometimes have on markets was on full display recently when a small number of hedge funds and some individual investors together forced the sovereign South American country Argentina, with a population of almost 42 million people, to default on its debt commitments. The group led by US hedge fund […]

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Many UK Hedge Funds Setting Up US Operations

July 28, 2014

Sensing a favorable environment for hedge funds among US institutional investors, a number of UK-based hedge funds are setting up operations in the US to grab a slice of the growing institutional money moving into hedge funds. Well known UK funds such as Winton Capital, Odey Asset Management and Cheyne Capital are among a large […]

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Hedge Funds Switch Political Loyalty Toward Republicans

July 14, 2014

Political contributions by corporations are often balanced with more or less equal amounts donated to competing parties. Corporations adopt this approach so as to project a neutral image towards the leading parties. But surprisingly hedge funds have been one-sided in recent years in their support to the political parties according to data published by the […]

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Billionaire Ziff Brothers Shut Down Family Office Hedge Fund

June 30, 2014

Ziff Brothers Investments, the multi-billion dollar family office hedge fund that invests the family fortunes of the three billionaire brothers is shutting down according to Wall Street Journal. The move to close the last of their two hedge funds is a result of a growing difficulty in coming to a consensus in decision making among […]

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