The Changing Role of Hedge Funds in the Global Economy
THE CHANGING ROLE OF HEDGE FUNDS IN THE GLOBALECONOMYDR. EVERETT M. EHRLICH September 2011
A rising number of institutional investors, including public and private pensions, university endowments and philanthropic foundations, are devoting larger shares of their portfolios to hedge funds.Once considered an elite investment for wealthy individuals, a majority of hedge funds assets – by one independent measure 65 percent – are now owned by institutional rather than private investors. Thus, the role of hedge funds in the economy is changing as new classes of investors come to embrace them.This research explains the objectives of hedge funds, estimates their potential value to institutional portfolios and examines some of the basic public policy concerns surrounding the role of hedge funds in the financial markets.
When compared to a ―standard‖ portfolio without hedge funds, adding hedge funds to an investment portfolio increases the probability of achieving positive returns and lowers volatility. A modest allocation to hedge funds would improve returns to U.S. public pension plans by approximately $13.67 billion annually. Similarly, hedge funds have the potential to add $1.73 billion in expected annual returns to U.S. college and university endowments and their affiliated foundations. Hedge funds as an asset class display many of the characteristics we would find desirable in an investment. Hedge fund managers’ incentives are closely aligned to the interests of their investors; they are generally too small to affect the integrity of financial markets and therefore, systemic risk in the economy.
The objective of hedge funds is to offer investors an absolute, positive return regardless of market conditions. Hedge funds offer investors a rich variety of strategies to pursue this objective. The defining characteristic of hedge funds is their focus on managing risk. A hedge fund manager’s pay is directly correlated to his fund’s performance, aligning the interests of the manager and the investor.
Estimated Growth in Hedge Fund Assets 1990-2012 (source, Hedge Fund Research)$2,500,000 Q4 2012$2,000,000 $2.375 Trillion$1,500,000$1,000,000 Assets (In $ Millions) $500,000 $0 1990 1993 1996 1999 2002 2005 2008 2011 • The hedge fund industry has grown significantly from $38.9 billion in assets under management in 1990 to $2.25 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2012 • Over the last 20 years, 40 percent of the growth in hedge fund assets has come from new capital given to funds by their clients – the rest, or 60 percent, comes from the returns earned by funds and then reinvested.
◦ Hedge funds have evolved from an elite investment to a tool used by pension funds, colleges and universities, and other institutions to diversify investments, manage risk, and deliver reliable returns.◦ Sixty-five percent of hedge fund assets are held by institutional investors – pensions, endowments, foundations, and others.◦ These investments help provide critical resources to fund retirement benefits, scholarships, philanthropic grants and other services.
◦ By understanding the statistical distribution of returns earned by each asset class (average returns and the risk entailed) and the correlation between asset classes, models can calculate returns and risk for investment portfolios. o By simulating the risk and returns of a portfolio twice — once with hedge funds among the asset classes and then once without hedge funds — it is possible to estimate the contribution that hedge funds make to this representative portfolio.
◦ Compared to a ―standard‖ portfolio, hedge fund investments can help increase the probability of achieving positive returns.
◦ Adding hedge funds to a diverse portfolio reduces the probability of negative returns.◦ Annually, hedge fund investments decrease the likelihood of negative investment returns by approximately 10 percent.
◦ Adding hedge funds to a portfolio improves the probability of achieving positive returns.◦ A modest allocation to hedge funds would improve returns to U.S. public pension plans by approximately $13.67 billion annually.◦ Similarly, hedge funds have potential to add approximately $1.73 billion in annual returns to U.S. college and university endowments.
◦ Hedge funds offer investors superior risk management techniques.◦ A recent study performed by economists at Columbia University and the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that ―hedge fund leverage is fairly modest, especially compared with the listed average of broker/ dealers and investment banks.‖
Given the relatively low level of hedge fund holdings among pensions, the pressures to improve returns, and the modeling results provided in this research, we should expect greater hedge fund holding by these institutions in the future.
Dr. Everett E. Ehrlich is former Undersecretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration and now President of ESC Company, an economics consulting firm in Washington, D.C.The full study can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/pmVkxM
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