The hedge fund industry realized its highest gains of the decade, with an average return of more than 9%. Figure 1 shows the distribution of our hedge fund strategies, of which more than half of the strategies exceed a return of 10%. As the strategies performed differently across strategies in Q4 2019, it is interesting to have a look at Figure 2, in which is shown, how the different strategies performed compared to their benchmarks. The redemption trend continues but the amount redeemed continuously declined. However, investments in the industry also declines. Overall more redemptions than investments were offset by an organic growth of around 9%, resulting more or less at the same AUM as at the end of 2018. For 2020, we assume, that these trends continue. Investors may expect lower returns than previously, as the industry was unable to meet expectations in most years of the decade. Now, as equity markets are at record highs, it is unlikely that it continues raising at similar pace. As a consequence, we assume that there is a shift in strategies within the industry. This is further supported by the increased interest of Investors in ESG, which is rarely incorporated in the industry. Pensions funds are likely being more interest in hedge funds, as interest rates remain at a very low level.
Along with the shift in strategies, the pressure on the industry is tense, as the standard 2-20 fees are lowered more and more. We do see a tendency in the market with the highest quality managers with constant outperformance to be able to charge higher fees than 2-20 and attracting most of the capital inflows into the industry. Furthermore, there are so many funds, whereas only few manage the main stake of the AUM of the industry, implicating a consolidation trend And focus on developed manager outperform the benchmarks. With the good results in private markets, it is likely that cash is moved towards the private equity and debt industry, as the profit expectations of the hedge fund industry is likely to decline.
Hedge funds started 2017 under pressure and the overall industry’s model was in question. Performance and fees were the main topic of debate among investors at the beginning of the year, but hedge funds managed to pull a strong year with no down month. Despite losses from some large managers, the industry overall generated strong returns according to HFR data attracting more capital. Per HFR, total hedge fund industry AuM increased by $59bn to $3.21tr, the sixth consecutive quarterly record for total industry AuM. The inflows suggest a sign of regained optimism, but the industry will need to sustain its performance long-term in order to regain its calibre. The oxymoron of the industry is the fact that equity hedge were the best performing strategies amongst hedge funds but suffered the biggest outflows. Macro, CTAs and multi-strategy attracted more capital this year, and given the outlook for more volatility and less central bank intervention, investors target further allocations in those sub-sectors.
Stone Mountain Capital Strategies
2017 was the year producing the strongest return for hedge funds since 2013 and second best since 2009. Stone Mountain Capital strategies outperformed in last year’s environment across all asset classes. Credit was the only strategy underperforming its peers, caused by yield compression in the direct lending space. One, out of only three negative strategies was in credit, while the other two, were CTAs that struggled amid the low volatility and trendless environment. Despite these two strategies, tactical trading was overall the best performing strategy with strong returns generated by discretionary global macro and cryptocurrency. Equities enjoyed a very profitable year and Stone Mountain Capital’s mandated equity hedge managers produced astonishing returns, beating their traditional and alternative peers. Finally, fund of hedge funds recovered from their 2016 losses, surviving while the industry’s model is evolving.
Figure 3. Stone Mountain Capital In-House Indices vs. Major Benchmark Indices Hedge Funds and Long Only in 2017, Stone Mountain Capital Research; SMC strategy indices are not investable products but are used as indication of our managers' performance and are calculated with the equally-weighted method.
STONE MOUNTAIN CAPITAL RESEARCH PERSPECTIVE VOL.69
The most popular and controversial topic this year within finance and tech circles is the rise of Bitcoin and crypto markets. Bitcoin jumped into mainstream and financial products like futures, options, funds, certificates, ETNs, ETFs are being designed to allow exposure to cryptocurrencies. The last one and a half month, we evidenced a huge growth of the crypto market, with its capitalisation surpassing $561bn from $182bn on the first day of November. The crypto market metamorphosed into a market bigger than CTAs, a $343bn well-established alternative investment market. Crypto market, according to CoinMarketCap, consists of 1360 cryptocurrencies, but Bitcoin and Ethereum account for around 67% of this market. Bitcoin market cap became almost three times bigger within two months, being a $318bn market now, with its price rising from $6,750 in the first day of November to $18,000. Ethereum was the fourth largest coin market in 2015 behind Bitcoin, Ripple and LiteCoin, but as we approach the end of 2017, the $66bn Ethereum market cap is nearly double of Ripple and Litecoin’s capitalisation combined.
STONE MOUNTAIN CAPITAL RESEARCH PERSPECTIVE VOL.47
Bitcoin is enjoying a plenty of attention lately due to the rally in its price driven by its usage as frictionless payment solution and the catalyst: the ambitious plans of the Winklevoss brothers to launch the first bitcoin ETF. Friday, 10th March though was the day that SEC rejected the brothers’ ETF application, which could have been a ‘revolution’ for the digital currency in the investment space, like the first Gold ETF, due to the anticipated inflow of new institutional capital. The same day, after the ETF disapproval, the price of Bitcoin plunged to levels around $1000, which constituted an almost 18.5% decrease intraday. Bitcoin price recovered immediately and currently trades around $1230, proving that the drivers of demand for the digital currency are strong regardless of the launch of an ETF. We are living in the age of the machines, where investors are looking for fintech, artificial intelligence and machine learning supported products to source uncorrelated alpha for their investment portfolios. This perspective will examine the Bitcoin and CTA market to analyze its effect on investors’ portfolios.
There are hundreds of different cryptocurrencies, but only two managed so far to distinguish themselves and establish a market. Bitcoin is the most capitalized with current market capitalization being around $20bn. Ethereum, its only relevant peer so far, has a market cap of around $2bn. Bitcoin is the main player in the cryptocurrency spectrum and its growth is significant over the last 3 years. Since 2014, $15bn of new capital has boosted the growth of bitcoin as a new asset class. CTA AuM has risen by $22bn since 2014 and is currently at an all-time high of $340bn, proving that machine related strategies are here to stay while attracting new capital allocations.