The corner has been turned

May 01, 2011   Michelle Celarier

Hedge funds seem finally to have turned the corner after the disastrous 2008.

As we reported on our website in late March, global hedge fund assets have hit the $2 trillion mark. But that was then. That amount accounts for assets under management at year-end, and since then, the dollars have kept rolling in. Some of the big gainers we’re writing about this month include Third Point, which is now $6.7 billion; Davidson Kempner Advisers, which has gotten so large ($15.3 billion) that it closed its flagship fund to new money on April 1; and Millennium Management, which has added another $1.8 billion this year.

This issue is full of evidence that hedge funds have finally turned the corner after the disastrous year of 2008. One data point that indicates a big change for the industry is that some 70% of the thousands of funds which report their returns to the AR database hit their high-water marks last year. About half had been below that important measure since the crisis as of August 2010, but the yearend rally gave them a lift. With more funds able to collect performance fees, they gave bigger bonuses to junior staff as well as investor relations and marketing professionals last year than they did in 2009, our annual compensation survey shows.

New fund launches are also taking off this year. For example, the TPG-Axon Capital Management offshoot Soroban Capital Management, launched in November by former Goldman Sachs chief operating officer Eric Mandelblatt, surpassed the $1 billion mark in March.

But all is not rosy. Our annual prime brokerage survey indicates that most brokers are servicing more hedge fund assets this year than last because of the growth of the industry. However, those funds are not spreading their business around as much as they did in the immediate post-Lehman world, causing market shares to shrink. Moreover, interest rates are low, and stock lending (and shorting) is down, which is making it a tougher business all around.

So far the good news in hedge fund land (if not elsewhere) is far outweighing the bad this year. Fingers crossed that it continues.

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