While the fact is that hedge funds are considered “unregulated,” there are some major stipulations to that claim. No investment is legally allowed to be unregulated, and so the term unregulated may give people the wrong impression. Regulation is necessary for hedge funds, although in practice they are quite a bit different from other investments. In terms of regulations regarding hedge funds within the United States, there are several things potential investors (and the average person) should know about.
The most direct way that the US has found to regulate hedge funds is by regulating the practices of financial advisers (the money managers). While it is true that hedge funds are considered to be private investments, and that money managers have limited transparency when engaging with the investments, they must still adhere to any regulations set down. This regulation is to protect against illegal activity and fraud, and to protect investors who trust their money to another party. The biggest issue with money managers is compliance with mandatory record keeping. Money managers/advisers with over one hundred and fifty million dollars in managed assets are required to register as such. This is one way of “keeping track” of hedge fund investors and their managers. Because of the privately owned status of hedge funds, they are exempt from reporting with SEC (US Securities and Exchange Commission); although in some situations there are exceptions to that rule of exemption. One such exception is the fact that hedge funds with equity securities with more than four hundred and ninety-nine owners/investors have to report to SEC.
Under the Investment Company Act of 1940, hedge funds are limited to one hundred or fewer investors. Another requirement under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (which was what allowed hedge funds to be exempt from SEC in the first place) stipulates that there is certain criteria that potential investors must meet in order to be able to invest in the first place. If investors can jump through those regulatory hoops and become a “qualified purchaser,” the hedge fund investment can move forward and take place. Individuals who meet “qualified purchaser” status would have to have at least five million dollars in investment assets. Companies, meanwhile, would need twenty five million dollars in investment assets. That is the very beginning of the criteria for investor qualification, and much of it specifically varies by state.
Other regulations to keep in mind regarding hedge funds in the United States would be that hedge funds cannot sell their securities publicly. Hedge fund shares are not registered. Hedge fund managers that own more than five percent of any equity securities are subject to public disclosure as well. These are just some of the additional regulatory stipulations and scenarios that investors and managers must comply with. All of this information is the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to hedge fund regulation inside of the United States. As mentioned earlier, specific regulations may vary by state, and this complicates an already confusing situation.
No one hedge fund resembles another, and the name of the game in today’s world of hedge fund investments is diversity. There are any number of strategies used with hedge funds, and many different types of investments to boot (everything from regular stocks and bonds to internet startups and currency).
Let us not forget that hedge funds located outside of the United States function very differently from those within it! However, there are a few things about the structure of most hedge funds that everyone should know.
- Hedge funds are private partnerships (or companies) between investors and skilled money managers. Investors do not make the investment decisions regarding the hedge fund portfolio; that is left up to the money manager. There are no assets or employees within the hedge fund – aside from, of course, the investments themselves.
- There are other roles within the hedge fund aside from investor and manager. These may include: administrator, prime broker, and distributor
- Depending on where the hedge fund is located, its legal status (including regulations and taxes) may differ greatly. In America, hedge funds are considered private investments and are therefore unregulated (although in some ways that is a misconception; there is indeed regulation for all kinds of investments, including hedge funds. The major difference is that in most cases the SEC does not regulate hedge funds). In offshore locations, the investor is required to pay fees, rather than the money coming from the fund itself. Taxes on offshore hedge funds are also paid out by the investment manager, according to how much they receive for managing the hedge fund.
- Location really is a huge key to how hedge funds work. While many hedge funds may be technically located offshore, the majority of popular hedge fund managers can be found on shore, near financial hubs.
- Most hedge funds are designed to be open ended. This means that investors can withdraw their money periodically from the fund, and also add money as time progresses. There may be a requirement for a minimum balance, and of course a requirement to open a hedge fund, but there are typically no other restrictions set on the balance amount. (Frequent withdrawals from hedge funds are not encouraged, however.)
- Before redemption of the hedge fund, usually profits are not distributed to investors. The profits from hedge funds are typically arranged to be withdrawn either monthly, quarterly, annually, or bi-annually. Individual hedge funds may have specific policies about when money can be withdrawn from the hedge fund.
This was a brief outline of how hedge funds are structured and work. The reality of hedge funds is that they are complicated, diverse investment portfolios. As mentioned above, no hedge fund truly resembles another, even if the specialization of the investment(s) is similar, or if the strategies used are similar. A hedge fund located in New York is going to be very different from one located in London, and even two hedge funds both located in New York are going to be nearly unrecognizable from each other.
Hedge fund trends tend to change over time – hence why they’re trends! Hedge funds themselves have a long and storied history of changing over time; think of the massive diversification into the internet with the Dot Com boom, and more recently, the newest regulations with the Dodd-Frank Act reshaping traditional hedge funds as we know them.
Recent hedge fund trends are all over the map (and there is no guarantee that these trends will continue), but here is a small selection:
- Hedge funds in the early part of 2012 have shown a move toward global markets. The fact that hedge funds have a very large global presence, and that there is virtually no limit to what kind of investments can be made inside of a hedge fund portfolio, means that now is the perfect time to invest in emerging global markets.
- The uber rich have been careful with their assets lately, seemingly looking to protect themselves against margin calls and looming finance changes. Many hedge funds have taken their assets out of funds in the form of cash. Hedge fund portfolios are still going strong, though, with 2012 seeing the best performance in the beginning of a year since 2006.
- Managed futures are up, as are global macros!
- Larger funds are seeing larger inflows. Small funds are still mostly experiencing redemptions, but not the kind of net inflows that larger funds are seeing. The number stands as funds with more than one billion dollars in assets receiving 78% of inflows.
- Hedge funds that beat their ‘peers’ in 2011 had similar results in 2012 – at least thus far. 57% of those peer-beating funds saw net inflows in the first quarter.
- The trend did seem to be that those hedge funds which saw positive results in 2011 continued to do so into 2012. The majority of large hedge funds saw net inflows in the first quarter of 2012, where 63% of mid-size funds with positive performance in 2011 saw net inflows into 2012.
- There was a marked trend of investors who discovered their investments had under-performed shifting out of them and heading for seemingly greener pastures. This is usually the case (no investor typically has the patience to “hang around” an under performing fund), but the numbers were higher in the first quarter of 2012.
One of the biggest changes of 2011, leading into 2012, is the continued implementation of the government’s insider trading charges and other legal actions. Some funds have closed, many managers are under investigation, and some funds are doing poorly in general due to the continued investigation and allegations. While it is true that some funds have had a rough year so far, a good portion of funds are seeing decent to good profits on their invested assets. It remains to be seen if these positive trends will continue through the rest of 2012. It is evident to some that in the wake of the Dodd-Frank Act that regulation may begin to increase on hedge fund investments across the globe.
Like many other types of investments, hedge funds have indices that track the industry. There are some differences between hedge fund indices and more traditional investment indices, as hedge funds are considered private investments, and more than that, they are mostly all illiquid. This poses some issues with the reliability indices; how comprehensive, and thus satisfactory, are they, really? This is part of why several different methods of hedge fund indexing have been created over the years.
Regardless of whether or not hedge fund indices are fully satisfactory, there is no question that they exist, and that people use them. There are generally three types of hedge fund indices, and these include:
- Non-investable indices – Using a hedge fund database from which to measure performance, non-investable indices are the oldest type of hedge fund indices used. The databases use weighted mean, medium, and mean in order to measure performance. No one database will represent all funds, which means that no one database is the same as another; every single performance result will be different. This is an issue that some have with the reliability of non-investable indices. Another issue that some have with them is that they are subject to a lot of bias. For one, database reporting is voluntary, which in some cases may lead to self-selection bias. Additionally, hedge funds may come and go (fail and succeed, if you will) annually, which changes the database selection significantly every year.
- Investable indices – the main goal of an investable index is to eradicate some of the bias and issues raised with using a non-investable index. The main method it does this is by making the index return available to all shareholders. In an investable index, the index provider/manager will select certain funds to develop something somewhat like a “fund of hedge funds” portfolio. The investments created by the index provider must be accepted by any hedge funds, in order to be properly investable.
- Hedge fund replication – this is more of a statistical look at how hedge funds have performed, analyzing past returns in order to make models of how hedge funds will perform under various circumstances with different assets. The model(s) can be used to make an actual portfolio of assets, and thus makes the index investable. Of the three types of hedge fund indices mentioned here, hedge fund replication is probably the newest. One of the pitfalls that goes along with this index form being so new is that there is very little history or data to support its usefulness in practice – especially when one considers the private, rarely disclosed nature of hedge funds themselves.
This is essentially the beginning of what hedge fund indices entail. They are meant to give investors – and the financial market as a whole – a view of what average returns on hedge funds are, and how they change throughout time. Even though there is some question as to the reliability of hedge fund indices, given that most of the data found within is self-disclosed and therefore very limited, they are popular and continue to grow.