Hedge funds have had their best Q1 performance in more than two decades, despite the recently negative coverage caused by the Archegos collapse and the Gamestop short squeeze. Nevertheless, these negative events have not affected the performance numbers of hedge funds to a large degree. In particular, since hedge funds delivered a good performance in 2020, while mitigating the drawdown when Covid-19 emerged. As a result, hedge funds have seen increased inflows. Figure 1 shows the returns of hedge funds over the last year. Hedge funds lost less in Q1 2020, then they did not manage to keep up with the growth of the S&P 500 during Q2 and Q3 2020. However, since then, hedge funds performed equally or better compared to the S&P 500. Our equity strategy benchmark is down slightly in March 2021, largely driven by strategies focusing on tech and healthcare, which had a stellar 2020. Other strategies that struggled in 2020 are now the key drivers of the returns. The best equity strategy is up almost 17% in 2021.
The interventions of central banks have been a major topic over the last year, aside from the surging stock markets and Covid-19. This is certainly justified, as the scale of the interventions are enormous. The common measure of lowering interest rates was not sufficient, and quantitative easing in form of money printing and purchases of treasuries went way further than the during the GFC. Figure 1 shows the liquidity injections of central banks across the world. These injections were certainly one of the core reasons why the stock markets surged to that extent. Figure 2 shows the extent of the liquidity provision of the FED during the outbreak of Covid-19 from March 1st to April 20th in 2020. Within almost a month, the FED bought bonds worth almost $2tn. These interventions caused the FED to now being the largest holder US Treasuries. As emphasized before, this development applies to many other countries, albeit to a lesser extent. In Figure 3, it shows the holders of UK gilts over the last 30 years. Starting in 2008, BoE started buying UK gilts and is now as well the largest holders of them.
Alternative Markets Update March 2021
In the current uncertainty in the markets, macroeconomic factors play an important role aside from Covid-19 and the vaccination efforts. Inflation is a major concern in 2021, even though it was very obvious in 2020 already. However, in 2020, it was completely overshadowed by Covid-19 and the tremendous surge in equity markets among others. Inflation is a concern around the world, caused by the severe interventions undertaken by central banks. In particular in the US, where the FED intervened with money printing on such a scale that it cannot be compared to any other economy. This was largely required, as conventional monetary policy was not enough, for example, lowering the interest rates to the area around 0%. Even quantitative easing could not solve the problem, even though the FED’s balance sheet ballooned. Figure 1 shows the FED’s balance sheet over the last five years. At the beginning of the crisis, the federal reserve was at around $4.3tn. In 2020, this increased by 76% to $7.3tn and is still rising in 2021. Currently, it is at almost $7.7tn. In comparison to 2008, during which the federal reserve increased by 151%, the balance sheet increased by “only” $1.3tn in absolute terms. It is important to note that during the last two decades, the FED’s balance never declined by more than 1% on an annual basis with one exception being 2018 with a decrease of 8%. Interest rates in the US have recovered quite spectacularly over the last months. Figure 2 shows the development of interest rates in major economies over the last few months. The US interest rates are higher than any other interest rate from the UK, Europe or Japan, both short- and long-term. The short-term interest rates have remained very stable, while the long-term rates have increased a lot, for example, the 10-y US treasury note is soon back at 2%.
Alternative Markets Update February 2021
Hedge funds did not do that well in January 2021, as they could not continue their strong upward trend from the last quarter in 2020. Equity-related and fund of hedge funds strategies were down between 0% and 2%, whereas fixed income strategies ended the month slightly positive. Global macro strategies were in between the equity and credit strategies. Our most profitable strategies in January were crypto-related strategies, one of which is up almost 100% in one month only. This was driven largely by the growth in altcoins, in particular smaller ones. February 2021 is likely to affect equity strategies badly, as last week, stock markets dipped, due to profit taking in technology stocks and somewhat larger concerns about inflation. The inflation concerns are rising, as interest rates are increasing at the longer time horizon. In particular in the US and the UK a yield curve steepening is happening. This is further increased by the development in the central banks’ balance sheet, which have strongly grown. Figure 1 shows the central bank balance sheet over the last 15 years including a projection until the end 2022, which implied that the G4 central banks’ balance sheets will almost double since the start of 2020. Moreover, according to Figure 2, global debt has skyrocketed as well since 2020, as the global debt increased from around $220tn to $270tn at the end of 2020 and is expected to grow to close to $300tn at the end of 2022.