A hedge fund is an investment fund that pools capital from accredited investors or institutional investors and invests in a variety of assets, often with complex portfolio-construction and risk management techniques. It is administered by a professional investment management firm, and often structured as a limited partnership, limited liability company, or similar vehicle. Hedge funds are generally distinct from mutual funds and regarded as alternative investments, as their use of leverage is not capped by regulators, and distinct from private equity funds, as the majority of hedge funds invest in relatively liquid assets. However, funds which operate similarly to hedge funds but are regulated similarly to mutual funds are available and known as liquid alternative investments.
Many hedge fund investment strategies aim to achieve a positive return on investment regardless of whether markets are rising or falling ("absolute return"). Hedge fund managers often invest money of their own in the fund they manage. A hedge fund typically pays its investment manager an annual management fee (for example, 2% of the assets of the fund), and a performance fee (for example, 20% of the increase in the fund's net asset value during the year). Both co-investment and performance fees serve to align the interests of managers with those of the investors in the fund. Some hedge funds have several billion dollars of assets under management (AUM).
During the 1990s, the number of hedge funds increased significantly, with the 1990s stock market rise, the aligned-interest compensation structure (i.e., common financial interests) and the promise of above high returns as likely causes. Over the next decade, hedge fund strategies expanded to include: credit arbitrage, distressed debt, fixed income, quantitative, and multi-strategy. US institutional investors such as pension and endowment funds began allocating greater portions of their portfolios to hedge funds.
The elements contributing to a hedge fund strategy include: the hedge fund's approach to the market; the particular instrument used; the market sector the fund specializes in (e.g., healthcare); the method used to select investments; and the amount of diversification within the fund. There are a variety of market approaches to different asset classes, including equity, fixed income, commodity, and currency. Instruments used include: equities, fixed income, futures, options, and swaps. Strategies can be divided into those in which investments can be selected by managers, known as "discretionary/qualitative", or those in which investments are selected using a computerized system, known as "systematic/quantitative". The amount of diversification within the fund can vary; funds may be multi-strategy, multi-fund, multi-market, multi-manager, or a combination.
Global macro strategies can be divided into discretionary and systematic approaches. Discretionary trading is carried out by investment managers who identify and select investments, whereas systematic trading is based on mathematical models and executed by software with limited human involvement beyond the programming and updating of the software. These strategies can also be divided into trend or counter-trend approaches depending on whether the fund attempts to profit from following market trend (long or short-term) or attempts to anticipate and profit from reversals in trends.
Corporate transactional events generally fit into three categories: distressed securities, risk arbitrage, and special situations. Distressed securities include such events as restructurings, recapitalizations, and bankruptcies. A distressed securities investment strategy involves investing in the bonds or loans of companies facing bankruptcy or severe financial distress, when these bonds or loans are being traded at a discount to their value. Hedge fund managers pursuing the distressed debt investment strategy aim to capitalize on depressed bond prices. Hedge funds purchasing distressed debt may prevent those companies from going bankrupt, as such an acquisition deters foreclosure by banks. While event-driven investing in general tends to thrive during a bull market, distressed investing works best during a bear market.
Investors in hedge funds are, in most countries, required to be qualified investors who are assumed to be aware of the investment risks, and accept these risks because of the potential returns relative to those risks. Fund managers may employ extensive risk management strategies in order to protect the fund and investors. According to the Financial Times, "big hedge funds have some of the most sophisticated and exacting risk management practices anywhere in asset management." Hedge fund managers that hold a large number of investment positions for short durations are likely to have a particularly comprehensive risk management system in place, and it has become usual for funds to have independent risk officers who assess and manage risks but are not otherwise involved in trading. A variety of different measurement techniques and models are used to estimate risk according to the fund's leverage, liquidity, and investment strategy. Non-normality of returns, volatility clustering and trends are not always accounted for by conventional risk measurement methodologies and so in addition to value at risk and similar measurements, funds may use integrated measures such as drawdowns.
Hedge funds share many of the same types of risk as other investment classes, including liquidity risk and manager risk. Liquidity refers to the degree to which an asset can be bought and sold or converted to cash; similar to private equity funds, hedge funds employ a lock-up period during which an investor cannot remove money. Manager risk refers to those risks which arise from the management of funds. As well as specific risks such as style drift, which refers to a fund manager "drifting" away from an area of specific expertise, manager risk factors include valuation risk, capacity risk, concentration risk, and leverage risk. Valuation risk refers to the concern that the net asset value (NAV) of investments may be inaccurate; capacity risk can arise from placing too much money into one particular strategy, which may lead to fund performance deterioration; and concentration risk may arise if a fund has too much exposure to a particular investment, sector, trading strategy, or group of correlated funds. These risks may be managed through defined controls over conflict of interest, restrictions on allocation of funds, and set exposure limits for strategies. The performance fee is typically 20% of the fund's profits during any year, though performance fees range between 10% and 50%. Performance fees are intended to provide an incentive for a manager to generate profits. Performance fees have been criticized by Warren Buffett, who believes that because hedge funds share only the profits and not the losses, such fees create an incentive for high-risk investment management. Performance fee rates have fallen since the start of the credit crunch.
Hedge fund management firms are usually owned by their portfolio managers, who are therefore entitled to any profits that the business makes. As management fees are intended to cover the firm's operating costs, performance fees (and any excess management fees) are generally distributed to the firm's owners as profits. Funds do not tend to report compensation and so published lists of the amounts earned by top managers tend to be estimates based on factors such as the fees charged by their funds and the capital they are thought to have invested in them. Many managers have accumulated large stakes in their own funds and so top hedge fund managers can earn extraordinary amounts of money, perhaps up to $4 billion in a good year.
A hedge fund is an investment vehicle that is most often structured as an offshore corporation, limited partnership, or limited liability company. The fund is managed by an investment manager in the form of an organization or company that is legally and financially distinct from the hedge fund and its portfolio of assets. Many investment managers utilize service providers for operational support. Service providers include prime brokers, banks, administrators, distributors, and accounting firms.