I can’t believe it’s not beta

Traditionally, hedge funds have sought to achieve outsized returns relative to the level of market risk in their portfolios while simultaneously maintaining a low correlation with the market at large. In other words, they seek high alpha and low beta. Proprietary investment strategies and relaxed reporting requirements have helped to make these goals possible, but also aiding the endeavor was a lack of appropriate investable benchmarks against which hedge funds might be measured. However, the emergence of hedge fund replication strategies (subscription required) might help institutional investors to more accurately assess the performance of hedge funds and correctly identify and quantify the components of their returns. Furthermore, hedge fund investors suspicious of the relative value of investing in single funds or funds-of-funds (“I can’t believe it’s not beta”) may now have a lower-cost avenue for accessing hedge fund beta.

Hedge fund replication is the general name for strategies attempting to replicate, or beat, the returns of hedge fund indices using assets that are potentially more liquid and transparent. For instance, a replication strategy might attempt to achieve returns similar to a particular hedge fund index while only investing in equities. Successful strategies would achieve returns very similar to their target indices, creating lower-cost, investable hedge fund beta.

Potential investors should consider carefully before allocating assets to hedge fund replication strategies as there are potential downfalls. First, the replication strategy may or may not perform as expected, meaning that an investor may or may not be able to access hedge fund beta. Second, although fees associated with replication strategies are generally lower than direct investment in hedge funds or hedge funds-of-funds, they are still rather high, typically comprising either a 1% to 2% management fee or a 15% performance fee, according to a recent Pension and Investments article. And finally, investors should consider their goals in making any asset allocation. Hedge funds, or hedge fund replication strategies, may provide diversification, but at a significant cost. Further, if risk management is the end goal, and diversification simply a means for achieving that goal, it is important to remember that diversification relies on correlation and, as correlations vary over time, diversification alone may not prove an effective risk management tool. Focused risk management strategies may be more effective in meeting those goals at a much lower overall cost.