Remembering Septembers

September 01, 2011   Michelle Celarier

This September marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a devastating event that ushered in a series of terrible U.S. policy decisions from which we’ve arguably not quite recovered. Without the more than $1.2 trillion spent to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and the deep political schism that they’ve wrought—would the U.S. debt have been downgraded last month? Would the Fed have kept printing money to keep the economy and Wall Street afloat until it burst some seven Septembers later? (And then there was more money to patch that up, of course.)

Those of us who live in New York recall how fragile our world seemed right after September 11, 2001. That perception was often reinforced during the ensuing decade—as well as this summer. But if ever there was a beneficiary of all the uncertainty, it was hedge funds. Institutional investors that saw their portfolios decimated between 2000 and 2003 began the desperate search for yield that led them into the arms of hedge funds, creating a $2 trillion industry.

Hedge funds proved a good choice: They survived the next calamitous September—that of 2008—better than most financial players. True, many didn’t survive, but overall, hedge fund returns didn’t fall as much as the major indices. The next September—2009—AR Magazine launched in the belief that the institutional march into hedge funds would continue and the industry would flourish.

Now comes September 2011. Hedge fund returns have been paltry so far this year; the AR Composite Index gained a mere 2.2% through July. Some major funds have had trouble coming to terms with the new political paradigm in our post-2008 world—and were either wrong about markets or overly cautious. But as we report in our “Armageddon Now!” in-depth analysis, the pessimism that kept hedge fund managers from benefiting earlier in the year may soon pay off.

Investors will be watching. Since 2008, they’ve been judging hedge funds in large part by how they behaved during the financial turmoil. Those who gated or side-pocketed continue to earn investors’ ire. But for the first time, those polled in our Hedge Fund Report Card (whose results are in this issue) say their main concern in rating hedge funds is performance. Really, it’s all about the money. Even the now-defeated, now-deceased Osama bin Laden knew that much.

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