January 2, 2017

How Hedge Funds Closed Out 2016, And Why Hopes For A 2017 Rebound May Disappoint

2016 was a year most hedge funds would be happy to forget. And while the same goes for 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010, in fact virtually every year since the financial crisis in which the vast majority of the two and twenty crowd have failed to generate alpha, in 2016 - a year many said would mark a renaissance for active managers - the "flash hedge fund return" according to a report by BofA's Paul Ciana from Friday was a paltry 3.34%, which as BofA conveniently calculated meant they "underperforming the S&P 500 index by 6.2%" at which point your average underperforming hedge fund manager complains that they shouldn't be benchmarked against the S&P, even as the redemption notices flood in and the AUM gets ever smaller.

Not everyone did poorly: credit related strategies lead HF performance, including Distressed Credit, Convertible Arbitrage and Event Driven strategies. On the other end, predictably, dedicated Short Bias was down 5.10%

In recent weeks there has been a fresh burst of hope that 2017 will be better for the HF community as a result of the recent collapse in cross-asset correlation; it is hoped that the resulting returns dispersion will make it easier for hedge funds to stand out in a world in which due to central bank intervention, correlations had been abnormally high following the financial crisis.

But is that an accurate description of events?  To a great extent, the answer is no.

While correlation between diversified HF performance and S&P 500 price return declined from the May 2016 high (Chart 1), the 1-year correlation (83.7%) was slightly above the 3-year correlation (83.0%) as of the end of November. Overall, correlation remained far higher than it has been historically. Which as BofA redundantly explains, means that "when S&P 500 declines, performance of HFs with higher positive correlation is expected to suffer."

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