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Hedge fund history

Conceived in 1949 by Alfred Winslow Jones, then an editor at Fortune
magazine, a hedge fund hedged its bets by taking "long" positions on
undervalued stock and "short" positions on overvalued stocks. The idea
was to be smart and nimble and bold, and to make oversized returns.

In the last decade, however, hedge fund companies have started to
resemble mutual fund companies: big, plodding institutions for
pensioners. Fewer and fewer hedge funds are now making impressive
returns for their investors. In the 10 years through April 1995,
according to the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index, the typical
hedge fund has only just managed to beat the S.& P. 500 Index, with
an average annual return of 11.97 percent compared with 10.26 percent
for the S.& P. 500. In other words, the Wild West has become a
suburban community, where managers ride golf carts instead of bucking

What happened? For one thing, the amount of money invested in hedge
funds has doubled in the last five years, to $1 trillion. It's hard to
find creative places to park that much money. Besides, no special
skills are needed to create a hedge fund - that's why everyone and his
uncle know somebody who's starting one. Investors are partly to blame.
They love the glamour of investing in hedge funds, but, at the same
time, they can't tolerate risk. Most investors can't tolerate even a
month of losses.

The real problem with hedge funds may be the managers themselves:
they're earning too much money. It's almost vulgar. In the past, hedge
funds were paid 1 percent of assets under management, plus 20 percent
of that year's return. Recently, even as their performance has sagged,
more and more hedge funds have increased their fees to 2 percent of
assets under management - plus 20 percent of returns. To make big
money for themselves, hedge fund managers don't have to make big
returns; they just need to hold on to their pool of clients.

[via Nina Munk]

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