In his fifth career—as an investment manager—Alfred Winslow Jones contributed $100,000 to create the first hedge fund for wealthy investors in 1949. It is speculated that the skills he picked up in his previous careers working on a steamship, and as a diplomat, sociologist, and journalist served him well as a hedge fund manager.
Today, the hedge fund concept is alive and well. Catering to “qualified” investors—those with $1 million or more to hand over—there are now some 2,700 such funds, according to the United States Hedge Fund List. And, as you might imagine, they are primarily headquartered in the well-heeled enclaves of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Greenwich, and Boston.
Hedge funds became very popular in the 1990s and grew rapidly, gathering assets of more than $1.93 trillion by the time the 2007-2009 recession hit. They suffered a setback during the hard times, as many of them began limiting investor withdrawals. However, all was forgiven, and hedge funds have since rebounded, and now hold an estimated $4 trillion.
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Like a mutual fund, hedge funds pool investor funds in order to make some pretty hefty investments—which in many cases gives them enough leverage to buy large ownership positions in companies, to get a seat on the board, or at the very least, change company policies and strategies.
And speaking of leverage, many hedge funds are highly leveraged, which they do to increase their returns, and that is a big risk for investors and can—and often does—lead to huge losses. The funds can also increase risk by investing in land, real estate, stocks, derivatives, and currencies, unlike mutual funds or ETFs, which are mostly limited to stocks and bonds. Additionally, hedge funds come with several other disadvantages:
Illiquidity: This arises from investing in illiquid securities that may have long lockup periods or a longer-than-usual notice for redemptions.
Limited access: As I mentioned above, if you don’t have deep pockets, you won’t be welcomed as a hedge fund investor.
High fees: Investing in a hedge fund is usually more expensive than investing in mutual funds or ETFs. These funds’ annual asset management fee can add up to 1-2%, and most include a performance fee of 20% of a hedge fund’s profit.
Taxes: Depending on the structure of the fund and where it is located, investors may find themselves paying income rather than capital gains taxes.
How Well Do Hedge Funds Really Do?
You see hedge fund managers like Bill Ackman, David Tepper, and Carl Icahn on CNBC all the time. The journalists spend lots of time trying to figure out what these wealthy managers are buying for their funds.
But when you look at their returns, you may want to ask yourself why anyone—other than their investors—care.
The average return of hedge funds over the past 19 years has greatly lagged a portfolio of 60% global stocks and 40% U.S. bonds.
The Top 5 Hedge Fund Managers
Nevertheless, there are some hedge fund managers who have done very well. According to TipRanks.com, here are the Top 5 Hedge Fund Managers (out of 200), who have made the most money for their investors over the past three years (data through the end of 2021):
|Manager||Fund||Portfolio Value ($)||Avg. 3-Yr. Return (%)|
|John Kim||Night Owl Capital Management||569.8 million||58.3|
|Nelson Peltz||Trian Fund Management||8 billion||45.6|
|Brad Gerstner||Altimeter Capital Management||12.2 billion||68.6|
|Chuck Akre||Akre Capital Management||19.3 billion||46.4|
|Andy Brown||Cedar Rock Capital Limited||4.2 billion||35.5|
What are Hedge Fund Managers Buying Today?
And while most hedge fund managers lag the market, investors still want to know what the “big money” is buying. The answer: mostly Technology (31.23% of investments), Services (18.55%), Financials (15.77%), Healthcare (13.77%), and Consumer Goods (7.92%).
WalletHub.com recently surveyed 400 of the largest hedge funds to see what they were buying, and here are their Top 10:
10 Most Popular Hedge Fund Stocks
|Rank||Name of the Company||Ticker||Change
from Last Quarter
|5.||American Express Company||AXP||↗|
|7.||Bank of America Corp.||BAC||↙|
|9.||The Coca-Cola Company||KO||—|
|10.||Charter Communications, Inc.||CHTR||—|
There you have it—this is where the big money is going. As you can see, the majority is in tech, although financial stocks like Bank of America and Visa have climbed as the economy has recovered as Covid-19 fades. My advice—it’s always good to see where money is flowing, as that helps boost stock prices, but it’s always wise to keep in mind the track record of hedge funds and take those picks with a grain of salt.
Do you follow any particular hedge fund managers? Tell us in the comments below.
Nancy Zambell has spent 30 years educating and helping individual investors navigate the minefields of the financial industry. As a lecturer and educator, Nancy has led seminars for individual investors at the National Association of Investors, Investment Expo and the Money Show. She has also taught finance, economics and banking at the college level, and has been quoted extensively in The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, and BusinessWeek. Now let her give you the tools and resources, including a monthly magazine, for gaining the peace-of-mind to live comfortably now and in retirement in her Cabot Money Club.Learn More >>
Note: This post has been updated from an original version, published in 2020.