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Hedge Funds 101: Unpacking the essentials for smart investors

| Investments

The world of finance thrives on complexity, and few corners embody this more than the realm of hedge funds. Yet, for smart investors with the right appetite for risk, these alternative investment vehicles can offer compelling opportunities. To better leverage them, understanding the essentials is crucial. So, let’s unpack the fundamentals of hedge funds.

Demystifying Long-Short Strategies:

At the heart of many hedge funds lies the versatile long-short strategy. Unlike traditional mutual funds that simply buy and hold, long-short funds engage in both going long on assets they believe will rise in value and going short on those anticipated to fall. This creates a fascinating dynamic:

Long and Short Positions: Imagine a fund investing R100 million in Company A, expecting its value to rise, and simultaneously takes a short position of R50 million in its competitor, Company B, anticipating its value to fall. The total amount invested/gross exposure is R150 million. (gross = long + short) but the net exposure is only R50 million, which is the difference between the long and short positions. (net = long – short)

Net vs. Gross Exposure Impact: The distinction between net and gross exposure is crucial. A low net exposure means the fund is less affected by overall market changes, minimizing risk. On the other hand, a high net exposure makes the fund more sensitive to market movements, amplifying both gains and losses. On the other hand, the gross exposure tells you how much leverage the manager is employing.

In simpler terms, long-short hedge funds aim to balance their bets by going both long and short on different assets, and the difference between these positions (net exposure) determines how much they are affected by market fluctuations.

Market Neutral strategies: Hedging Your Bets

One intriguing subset of long-short strategies is market neutral strategies. Aiming to neutralize the overall market’s impact, these funds focus on generating returns from individual stock movements rather than riding market waves. Imagine a fund holding long and short positions in two highly correlated stocks.

If the market rises or falls, both positions will likely move in tandem, offsetting each other’s impact.

However, if one stock outperforms the other due to company-specific news or events, the fund stands to profit from this unique, non-market related risk/idiosyncratic risk.

In essence, market-neutral funds aim to navigate the market’s ups and downs by focusing on individual stock dynamics, seeking to find opportunities in the differences between specific stocks rather than relying on broader market movements.

Pair Trading: A Balancing Act

A classic example of a market-neutral strategy is pair trading. Here, the fund identifies two securities whose prices should theoretically move in lockstep but have temporarily deviated. By taking a long position in the undervalued security and a short position in the overvalued one, the fund capitalizes on this mispricing, aiming to profit when the prices eventually converge.

Understanding Risk and Reward: Choosing Your Champion

Hedge funds come in a spectrum of risk profiles, catering to different investor types:

  • Conservative funds employ moderate leverage and net exposure, prioritising capital preservation and steady returns.
  • Conversely, aggressive funds leverage their bets and net exposure more heavily, aiming for amplified returns but accepting higher risk.

Return enhancer vs risk diversifier

Understanding your own risk tolerance and investment goals is paramount when choosing a hedge fund to partner with. Hedge funds have more to offer than the promise of great returns. Hedge fund strategies broadly fall into two categories – return enhancers and risk diversifiers.  Hedge funds with a high net exposure will move quite closely with equity indices.

These hedge fund strategies will generally be more impacted by market fluctuations and have greater correlation to the market. While these hedge funds may deliver returns in excess of the market, they also come with greater volatility and drawdowns and are not a great diversifier to your portfolio. You should view these type of strategies as your portfolio sweeteners.

Is your goal diversification and lowering the risk in your portfolio? 

Whether measured through volatility or drawdowns, you need to look for hedge funds that have a unique investment strategy with very little relation to the market. These types of hedge funds offer greater benefit to traditional long-only investors because they move in a unique way relative to equities, and thus serve as a great hedge to a traditional long-only portfolio during periods where equities fail to deliver or worse, experience significant losses.

Fees and Transparency: Lifting the Veil

Hedge funds often levy performance-based fees alongside fixed management fees. However, it is important to keep in mind that hedge fund managers are much more limited in terms of capacity than a traditional long only manager. The success of hedge strategies are much more sensitive to higher levels of AUM.

Moreover, transparency can be a double-edged sword. While complete openness might reveal valuable insights, some funds strategically maintain a degree of confidentiality to protect their alpha-generating strategies.

How does it add value for investors?

Hedge funds offer alluring possibilities for sophisticated investors seeking uncorrelated returns and alpha generation. However, navigating this complex landscape requires careful research, a clear understanding of risk tolerance, and a critical eye towards fees and transparency. By demystifying the jargon and exploring key strategies like long-short and market neutrality, you can confidently navigate the world of hedge funds. It’s all about seeing beyond the surface and uncovering hidden value, a skill that lies at the heart of many successful hedge fund strategies.

The added benefit of partnering with an advisor that understands these factors can greatly enhance the potential of your portfolio and deliver better results for your investments. Especially one that is for your future.



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