Most investors in hedge funds must be looking at them totally marginally. Certainly that is the way that hedge fund managers would suggest.
What that means is the ther investor should not look at the details of what the hedge fund is doing, it should only look at the returns. Those returns should be looked upon as a unit.
Certainly that is the only way to think of it that matches up with the compensation for hedge fund managers. They get paid their 2 and 20 based solely upon their performance.
But think for a moment about how an investor probably looks at the rest of their portfolio. They look at the portfolio as a whole, across all asset classes. The investor will often make their first investment decision regarding their asset allocation.
While hedge fund managers have argued for treating their funds as one or even several asset classes, they are almost always made up of investments, long and short, in other asset classes. So if you are an investor who already has positions in many asset classes, the hedge fund is merely a series of moves to modify the investors asset mix.
So for example, if the hedge fund is a simple leveraged stock fund, the hedge fund manager is lowering the investor’s bond holdings and increasing the stock holdings.
So if an investor with a 70% 30% Stock bond mix changes their portfolio to 65%, 25%, 10% giving 10% to a hedge fund manager who varies runs a leveraged stock fund that varies from all cash to 4/3 leveraged position in stocks, then they have totally turned their asset mix over to the hedge fund manager.
When the hedge fund is fully levered in stocks then their portfolio is 65% long Stocks, 25% long bonds, plus 40% long stocks and 30% short bonds. Their net position is 105% stocks with 5% short bonds. But that is not quite right. If you only get 80% of your performance, your position is 97% stocks and 1% bonds. That is right, it is less than 100%. Only it is really worse than that. That is the allocation when performance is good. When the stock market goes really poorly, you get the performance of the 105%/(5%) fund.
Other funds go long and short large and small stocks. The same sort of simple arithmetic applies there.
It is really hard to imagine that anyone who thinks that there is any merit whatsoever to asset allocation would participate in this game. Because they will no longer have any say in their asset allocation. What you have done is to switch to being a market timer. In the levered stock example, you now have a portfolio that is 65% long stocks and 35% market timing.
So in most cases, what is really happening is that by investing in a hedge fund, the investor is largely abandoning most basic investment principles and shifting a major part of their portfolio asset allocation to a market timer.
At a very large fee.