Hedge funds are delivering financial crisis performance -- but there is no financial crisis

Hedge funds as a group have posted dismal returns so far this year.

According to hedge fund research firm Preqin, September marked the fourth consecutive month of negative returns, making this the longest negative period since June to November 2008.

In other words, it’s the longest period of negative returns since the height of the financial crisis, yet there’s no crisis at the moment.

To date, the average hedge fund is up only 0.18%, putting hedge funds on track for the lowest returns since 2011, Preqin said.

The strategies getting hit the hardest are equity and event-driven. Relative value funds have been the only bright spot, with the average fund posting gains of 4.11% so far this year.

The titans getting bruised

A number of big names have been getting bruised, especially after the volatility in August.

Here’s a scorecard based on performance data from HSBC, investor updates, and media reports:

  • Third Point Offshore (Dan Loeb): -4.4% (through Sept. 30)
  • Pershing Square Holdings (Bill Ackman): -9.6% (performance through Oct. 13)
  • Marcato International (Mick McGuire): -11.6% (through Sept. 30)
  • Paulson Advantage (John Paulson): -12% (through Sept. 30)
  • Omega Overseas Partners (Leon Cooperman): -12.02% (through Sept. 30)
  • Glenview Capital (Larry Robbins): -13.5% (through Sept. 30)
  • Greenlight Capital Offshore (David Einhorn): -16.88% (through Sept. 30)
  • Fortress Macro Fund (Mike Novogratz): -17.49% (fund closing)

Of course, these names aren’t necessarily indicative of the entire industry, which is comprised of nearly 10,000 hedge funds.

Hedge funds on average are still outperforming the S&P 500, which is down about 3.14% this year.

What about the fees?

Still, the less-than-stellar returns have renewed questions about hedge fund compensation. Generally speaking, hedge funds aim to control risk and generate profits, no matter what the market is doing. For some, that performance just isn’t there.

Hedge fund managers are usually paid through a compensation structure commonly known as the “2 and 20,” which stands for a 2% management fee and a 20% performance fee. That means a hedge fund manager would charge investors 2% of total assets under management and 20% of any profits.

Warren Buffett, who spoke Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, slammed hedge funds and their fee structure. Buffett’s argument is that some funds don’t really have to deliver on their promise for performance when they can collect a 2% fee just for managing massive amounts of capital. He used the example of a $US20 billion fund taking home $US400 million just from the management fees.

Bond guru Bill Gross of Janus Capital has also weighed in this week. On Tuesday, Gross took to Twitter to bash hedge fund fees.

“Gross: Story of The Day – Deep out of the money hedge funds shut down if 20% of profits out of reach. Start over later with clean slate!,” Janus Tweeted on his behalf.

Gross’ Tweet came just minutes after Fortress Investment Group said that it’s closing its macro hedge fund after a challenging two years and that the fund’s CIO Mike Novogratz will also retire with a $US255 million payout based on his equity in the company.

Some are killing it

Not everyone is getting hammered.

One stand out has been $US4.1 billion macro fund manager Passport Capital, led by John Burbank.

Passport’s Special Opportunities Fund is up 37.78% and Passport’s Global Strategy Fund is up 17.77%, according to data from HSBC.

Burbank, who killed it betting against subprime in 2007, has been calling for another another crisis. This time, it will be a liquidity crisis where if the market sells off again there simply won’t be enough participants to take the other side of the trade.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s “going in the path of inevitability,” he said.

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