Opinion on the Usage of Hedge Funds
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This is different than a mutual fund or ETF, where this is a stated objective the fund must adhere to.
Hedge funds started out being viable investment vehicles for those with enough resources to hedge against adverse market moves.
However, most of these rouge investment managers have been taking advantage of the regulatory loophole to open hedge funds not using any hedging strategies at all.
These "fake" hedge funds are what this page is about.
Hedge funds were initially designed to be "market-neutral" by always holding investments that will go up when the markets stay flat or go down. This means that no matter what the markets do, you should always make money via the spread, which is usually substantially more than the T-bill rate.
So even if the stock markets went down 20%, you'd probably stand to make about 5%. True hedge funds still follow this strategy.
This investment methodology, and the investor net worth restrictions, allows them to circumvent SEC regulations on pooled investments (via the Investment Company Act).
So most of the rules, regulations, and safeguards designed to stop abuse placed on traditional investment managers are null and void with hedge funds.
In English, if you give your money to a hedge fund manager, they are allowed to put 100% of your money into pork belly futures one day, then the next sell all of that to speculate in the oil markets, then the next day speculate on emerging markets distressed debt.
As you would imagine, this is a recipe for disaster - which is pretty much what's been going on since hedge funds have mutated from their original purpose (to hedge against down markets), and have proliferated to the point of being the world-eating monsters of today (credit default swaps debacle version 3.0).
Marketers quickly realized all the ways tons of easy money could be made by not having to abide by any rules. So they quickly set up thousands of "fake hedge funds" that do not follow market-neutral methodology (which require actual talent / wisdom / experience that these scammers do not have).
This is why there are now more of these hedge funds than mutual funds.
People can just make a hedge fund by spending a couple hundred bucks filling out SEC forms, then market it as if it were a real hedge fund. Then they can buy and sell things willy nilly until all of the investors' moneys are lost, then they fold up shop, and start over with new one.
Because they primarily use market timing techniques, which don't work at all, they will probably lose your money faster than a drunk in Las Vegas. So most of the people making any money on fake hedge funds, are the managers themselves.
Hedge funds use mostly technical analysis to time markets. In order to make money like that, you'd need to make money on four correct decisions: You'd need to sell something (#1 - what to sell out of all of the things you currently hold) at the right time (#2), to drum up the money to make the new purchases (#3 - what to buy) at the right time (#4).
Usually a mistake is made on one of the four decisions, and those losses wipe out the all of gains on the one correct decision.
If that weren't true, then someone would have figured out how to make market timing work, and they would be on TV all day every day.
Nobody can predict the future no matter what computer models they use, so that's why you never see the same market timing guru on TV for more than a couple of years. It's usually the one that got lucky recently. Then when their luck runs out, they're off the air, and a new one is on
They get very rich very fast even if they lose, because of the very high fees - typically 20% of the profits and/or 2% annual fees are at the bottom of the range.
This is a very powerful incentive for literally thousands of people to set up new fake hedge funds every year - and most have no experience running money whatsoever.
The SEC did recently start to regulate hedge funds under the Investment Advisors Act (not the Investment Company Act). This helped keep people with criminal records out, but that's all it does. It basically makes sure convicted criminals are not running money, and forces the actual managers to disclose who they really are, but it does nothing about how the money is run and how it's labeled or marketed - which are the main problems.
Why has this gone on so long with no end in sight? Because only people with so much money that losing some of it won't matter, can invest in them.
The SEC feels that if these people are so dumb as to give their money to Wild Wild West fly-by-night money slingers, then they deserve to lose it.
If it were the regular public that were losing their life savings, it would be different story. But since it's only "stupid rich people" that are getting hurt, things will probably continue this way forever.
Unfortunately, as we found out from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, when rich people lose their money, the rest of the world economy suffers too. This is why something real needs to be done about fake hedge funds.
What needs to be done to solve this problem: The SEC should require all hedge funds to operate in a true market-neutral mode, or not be allowed to call themselves hedge funds.
Then another kind of (unregulated) pooled investment vehicle should be created for the scammers to market to dumb rich people that like losing their money to market timers.
So just make a new name for the vehicle (e.g., Casino Fund for Stupid Rich People) and make all fake hedge funds use that name instead. No other laws or rules need to be changed.
But since there is no public outcry, the regulators are already up to their ears dealing with other scams against the public, their buddies are getting rich from this, payoffs, kickbacks, and just politics as usual, nothing will probably ever be done. It's capitalist caveat emptor (buyer beware) at its best.
As people put more and more money into hedge funds, another 1998 Long-term Capital Management debacle is just waiting around the corner to ignite another global financial crisis, requiring taxpayers to spend bazillions bailing out all of the Wall Street firms that shouldn't have been investing in them in the first place.
This is why former SEC Chairman William Donaldson, CFA, has said this is the most distressing period since 1929 - "As hedge funds struggle to achieve returns, I think there's a tendency to skate on thinner and thinner ice, and it's kind of an accident waiting to happen."
More disadvantages of fake hedge funds:
• High fees.
• Lack of transparency.
• About half of the number of new hedge funds created each year go under each year (around 2,000 new ones open and around 1,500 close).
• Returns over time are both declining, and/or reverting to market averages.
• Benchmark indices comprised of Hedge funds have overstated returns because of selection bias, survivorship bias, and backfilling bias.
Also the reason most hedge funds used to seem like they were the best things since the invention of the wheel, is that they were cheating in one way or another.
Shortly after the government clamped down on that (around 2009), and put several of the most egregious offenders in jail, hedge fund returns petered out to the point where few even beat the markets anymore.
The bottom-line on hedge funds is to do the usual due diligence, but also make sure the fund is a real hedge fund and not a fake one.
Just ask to speak to the manager (not sales) and ask, "What's your current strategy to maintain a market neutral posture? How do you plan on making ~5% in the current year if the S&P 500 is down 10%?"
If they can't or don't explain why you'd make safe money if the markets go down, or you don't understand, then it's probably a fake hedge fund.
Just say no to fake hedge funds. All it takes is one bad call, and you could lose a large chunk of your money in moments.
Just find and use a real market-neutral hedge fund instead.
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