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Why do Investors Love Large Hedge Funds?

Date: Thursday, April 24, 2014
Author: Attain Capital

It’s the always present question mid-size and start-up funds ask themselves day in and day out. Why do investors keep plowing money into the largest of the large hedge funds when the statistics have shown time and again that those large hedge funds tend to underperform their smaller counterparts. Alternatives research and analysis firm Preqin tackles the question with some hard data in their most recent piece: “What are Investors Looking For?”, showing that the small and mid-size hedge funds outperformed the largest funds by about 1.7% in 2013:

Preqin 2013 AUM performance(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Chart Courtesy: Preqin

One answer to the large versus medium/small debate given by some institutional investors we’ve talked to, highlights the deviation in returns, not the returns themselves,  as the reason to choose a ‘brand name’ Billion Dollar+ hedge fund over a smaller upstart which may provide better performance. The logic is that while they may perform a little worse in terms of return – their worst case scenario is a lot less when choosing Goliath over David.  This is the same reason we reach for the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese versus the generic brand, why all else being equal we go with American Airlines instead of Spirit, and so forth. It’s not all about saving money (or making more of it in case of hedge funds), it’s about having a sense of comfort as well.

But how much of this type of “comfort” are the biggest hedge funds really delivering?  To dive deeper, we took a look at Preqin’s details on how the hedge fund performance in these different size groups was dispersed.

“Fig. 2 shows performance over 2013 according to the 25th percentile, median and 75th percentile values among each of the fund size categories, and the data shows that the top three-quarters of all fund groups achieved positive returns in 2013.”

Performance by Percentile(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Chart Courtesy: Preqin

The invest with a behemoth logic would have us believe the dispersion of the small and medium size funds would be many times that of the large funds in order to make up for the underperformance of the behemoths, and that the so-called worst case scenario of the small and medium size funds would be much worse than the billion dollar big boys. But the stats show quite a different story (at least in 2013…), with the 25th percentile return for the big boys (the worst case) actually less than the 25th percentile average return for the small and medium-sized funds (the startup funds came in a distant fourth).

And what about that comfort level, the dispersion in the large hedge funds returns was indeed less, but not drastically so. Consider medium ($500-999mm) versus large funds ($1b+), where the medium had returns 1.13 times the large, yet a deviation less than that (just 1.06 times as large as the large), and a worst case scenario 1.38 times better. Now, one year doesn’t tell the whole story, and the data for the smallest hedge funds (under $100mm) support the comfort argument with higher deviation and a worse worst case scenario – but don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water by lumping in small and medium-sized hedge funds with the startups. The small and medium-sized provided better returns, with similar comfort in 2013.

Hudge Fund AUM Deviation(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)