Tag Archives: hedge fund closet indexing

Hedge Fund Closet Indexing: 2015 Update

A fund must take active risk to generate active returns in excess of fees. However, some managers charge active fees but manage their funds passively. Managers also tend to become less active as they accumulate assets. This problem of hedge fund closet indexing is widespread. Over a third of capital invested in U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios is too passive to warrant the common 1.5/15% fee structure, even if its managers are highly skilled. Investors can replace closet indexers with cheap passive vehicles or with truly active skilled managers and improve performance.

Hedge Fund Closet Indexing Background

This article updates our earlier pieces on mutual fund and hedge fund closet indexing with mid-2015 data. We examine current and historical long equity portfolios of approximately 500 U.S. hedge funds that are analyzable from regulatory filings and identify those that are unlikely to earn their fees in the future given their current active risk. We then quantify the cost of hedge fund closet indexing for a typical investor.

Recall from our earlier discussion that Active Share is a brittle metric of fund activity: If a fund buys a position in an index ETF, this passive position may increase Active Share while making the fund less active. If a fund with S&P 500 benchmark simply indexes Russell 2000, this passive fund will have 100% Active Share. These examples are consistent with recent findings that high Active Share funds appear to outperform merely due to miss-specified benchmarks. Our factor-based approach identifies the unique passive factor benchmark for each fund and is free from these deficiencies.

Information Ratio – the Measure of Active Risk Required to Earn a Fee

The Information Ratio (IR) is a measure of active return relative to active risk (tracking error). The best-performing 10% of U.S. hedge funds’ long portfolios achieve IRs above 0.59 relative to their passive factor benchmarks:

Chart of the historical information ratio for active returns of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios

U.S. Hedge Fund Long Equity Portfolios: Historical Information Ratio Distribution

 Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max.
-2.58   -0.34   -0.02   -0.04    0.28    2.17

If a fund’s long portfolio exceeds the performance of 90% of the peers and achieves a 0.59 IR, then it needs a tracking error above 1.00% / 0.59 = 1.69% to generate active return above 1%.

Let’s assume that hedge funds’ long equity portfolios are burdened with 1.5% management fee and 15% incentive allocation. Further assuming a 7% market return, the mean fee is 2.55%. If all funds were able to achieve IRs in the 90th percentile, they would need annual tracking error above 2.55% / 0.59 = 4.32% to earn the 2.55% estimated mean fee and a positive net active return. We show below that a significant fraction of the industry takes too little active risk to achieve this tracking error. In fact, much of the industry may not even be trying to earn its fees.

Historical Hedge Fund Closet Indexing

Tracking error comes from funds’ active exposures: systematic (factor) and idiosyncratic (stock-specific) bets. We applied the AlphaBetaWorks Statistical Equity Risk Model to funds’ historical holdings to estimate their unique factor benchmarks. These are passive factor portfolios that capture the representative systematic risks of each fund. We then estimated past and future tracking errors of each fund relative to these benchmarks.

Over 13% (67) of the funds have taken so little risk that, even if they had exceeded the performance of 90% of their peers each year, they would still have failed to earn a typical fee. In other words, these funds have not even appeared to try earning their fees:

Chart of the historical tracking error of active returns of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios

U.S. Hedge Fund Long Portfolios: Historical Tracking Error Distribution

Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max.
0.43    6.04   10.04   15.17   19.43  201.00

Estimated Future Hedge Fund Closet Indexing

Fund activity changes over time as managers accumulate assets. Many funds are more passive today than they have been historically. To control for this, we estimated current tracking errors.

Approximately a fifth (88) of the funds are currently taking so little risk that, even if they were to exceed the performance of 90% of their peers each year, they would still fail to merit a typical fee.  In other words, these funds are not even appearing to try earning their fees:

Chart of the predicted future tracking error of active returns of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios

U.S. Hedge Fund Long Portfolios: Predicted Future Tracking Error Distribution

Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max.
0.76    4.96    7.67   11.01   12.48  148.30

Capital-Weighted Hedge Fund Closet Indexing

Larger hedge funds are more likely to engage in closet indexing. While approximately 20% of hedge funds surveyed have estimated future tracking errors below 4.30%, they represent a third of the assets ($240 billion out of the $720 billion total in our sample). Therefore, a third of hedge fund long equity capital is unlikely to exceed 4.32% tracking error and earn a typical fee, even when its managers are highly skilled:

Chart of the capital-weighted predicted future tracking error of active returns of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios

U.S. Hedge Fund Long Portfolios: Capital-Weighted Predicted Future Tracking Error Distribution

Min. 1st Qu.  Mean 3rd Qu.    Max.
0.76    3.70  5.49   8.21   116.47

The assumption that all funds will generate higher IRs than 90% of their peers have historically is unrealistic. Hence, a portfolio of large funds built without a robust analysis of hedge fund closet indexing may be doomed to generate negative net active returns, irrespective of the managers’ skills. The 2.55% fee cited here is the estimated mean. Plenty of closet indexers charge more on their long equity portfolios, and plenty of investors who remain with them stand to lose even more.

While there is less closet indexing among hedge funds than among mutual funds, the fees that hedge funds charge and the expectations they set are significantly higher.  When practiced by hedge funds, closet indexing is all the more egregious.

A Map of Hedge Fund Closet Indexing

The evolution of managers’ utility curves may explain their reluctance to take risk. As a manager accumulates assets, fee harvesting becomes increasingly attractive. The following map of U.S. hedge fund active management skill and current activity illustrates that large skilled funds are generally less active (large purple circles on the right cluster towards the bottom):

Map of U.S. hedge fund closet indexing for long equity portfolios, charting historical active management skill as represented by the consistency of active returns and predicted future tracking error of active returns of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios

U.S. Hedge Fund Long Portfolios: Historical Active Management Skill and Predicted Future Activity

Yet, there are notable exceptions – several large, skilled, and active managers remain.

Conclusions

  • A fifth of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity portfolios are currently so passive that, even if they exceed the information ratios of 90% of their peers, they will still fail to merit a typical fee.
  • A third of U.S. hedge funds’ long equity capital will fail to merit a typical fee, even when its managers are highly skilled.
  • As skilled managers accumulate assets, they are more likely to closet index.
  • A typical hedge fund investor can replace a third of long hedge fund capital with cheap passive vehicles or truly active skilled managers and improve performance.
The information herein is not represented or warranted to be accurate, correct, complete or timely.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Copyright © 2012-2015, 
AlphaBetaWorks, a division of Alpha Beta Analytics, LLC. All rights reserved.
Content may not be republished without express written consent.
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Hedge Fund Closet Indexing

Fee Harvesting is a Problem for All Asset Classes

To generate active returns in excess of its fees, an active fund must take some active risk. However, some managers passively manage their funds but charge active fees. Others become less active as they accumulate assets. This problem of closet indexing is not confined to mutual funds. Over a third of the long capital of U.S. hedge funds is invested too passively to warrant a typical 1.5/15% fee structure, even if the funds’ managers are highly skilled. Investors could replace closet indexers with passive vehicles or truly active skilled managers and improve performance.

Closet Indexing Background

Two of our earlier articles explored past and current mutual fund closet indexing:

One article analyzed historical risk and performance of U.S. mutual funds.  It discovered that over a quarter (26%) of the funds have been so passive that, even after exceeding the information ratios of 90% of their peers, they would still not be worth the 1% mean management fee.

The other article addressed current risk and predicted volatility of U.S. mutual funds. It found that over two thirds (70%) of their capital is currently taking so little active risk that it will fail to merit the 1% mean management fee, even if the funds’ managers are highly skilled.

This article surveys long portfolios of hedge funds. We analyze current and historical long positions of approximately 300 concentrated medium and lower turnover U.S. hedge funds, identifying those that are unlikely to earn their fees in the future given their current active risk. We then quantify the problem of closet indexing for a typical hedge fund investor.

How Much Active Risk is Needed to Earn a Fee?

The Information Ratio (IR) is a measure of active return relative to active risk (tracking error). The best-performing 10% of U.S. hedge funds’ long portfolios achieve IR’s of 0.54 and higher; 90% achieve IR’s below 0.54:

Chart of the Distribution of Information Ratios of Long Portfolios of U.S. Hedge Funds

U.S. Hedge Fund Information Ratio Distribution – Long Positions

If a fund’s long portfolio exceeds the performance of 90% of its peers and achieves an IR of 0.54, then it needs tracking error above 1.85% to generate active return above 1%.

What active return will cover a typical fee? We make conservative assumptions that funds’ long equity portfolios are burdened with 1.5% management fee and 15% incentive allocation. Assuming 7% expected market return, the mean fee is 2.55%.

If all funds were able to achieve the 90th percentile of IR, they will need annual tracking error above 4.7% to earn this estimated mean fee and generate a positive net active return.

Hedge Fund Active Risk

Tracking error is due to active risks a fund takes: security selection risk due to stock picking and market timing risk due to variation in factors bets. We applied the AlphaBetaWorks Statistical Equity Risk Model to funds’ historical and latest holdings and estimated their historical and future tracking errors. Tracking errors were calculated relative to fund-specific benchmarks that represent each fund’s unique passive risk profile.

Over a tenth (33) of the funds have such low historical tracking errors that, even if they exceeded the performance of 90% of their peers, they would have failed to merit the 2.55% estimated mean fee:

Chart of the Distribution of Historical Tracking Errors of Long Portfolios of U.S. Hedge Funds

U.S. Hedge Fund Historical Tracking Error Distribution – Long Positions

Over a fifth (61) of the funds have such low estimated future tracking errors that, even if they exceed the performance of 90% of their peers, they will fail to merit the 2.55% estimated mean fee:

Chart of the Distribution of Estimated Future Tracking Errors of Long Portfolios of U.S. Hedge Funds

U.S. Hedge Fund Estimated Future Tracking Error Distribution – Long Positions

While there is less closet indexing among hedge funds than among mutual funds, the fees that hedge funds charge are significantly higher — to say nothing of the higher expectations that these higher fees warrant.  When practiced by hedge funds, closet indexing is all the more egregious.

Capital-Weighted Hedge Fund Closet Indexing

Larger hedge funds are more likely to engage in closet indexing. While approximately 20% of hedge funds surveyed have estimated future tracking errors below 4.7%, they represent nearly 40% of assets ($207 billion out of the $391 billion total in our sample). Therefore, more than a third of hedge fund long capital will not earn the 2.55% estimated mean fee, even when the managers are skilled.

Chart of the Distribution of Capital Estimated Future Capital-Weighted Tracking Error of Long U.S. Hedge Fund Capital

U.S. Hedge Fund Capital Estimated Future Tracking Error Distribution – Long Positions

The assumption of all funds exceeding historical IR’s of 90% of their peers is unrealistic. In practice, a portfolio of large hedge funds, built without attention to closet indexing, may be doomed to generate negative active returns, regardless of the managers’ skills. The 2.55% fee cited here is the estimated mean. Plenty of closet indexers charge more on their long equity portfolios and plenty of investors who remain with them stand to lose more.

A Map of Hedge Fund Skill and Activity

Our previous article discussed the evolution of skilled managers’ utility curves as an explanation for their reluctance to take risk. As a manager accumulates assets, fee harvesting becomes increasingly attractive. The map of U.S. hedge fund active management skill and activity below illustrates that large skilled funds tend to be relatively less active:

Chart Showing the Distribution of U.S. Hedge Fund Active Management Skill and Activity for Long Positions.

U.S. Hedge Fund Active Management Skill and Activity – Long Positions

Conclusions

  • 20% of long U.S. hedge fund portfolios surveyed are currently so passive that, even after exceeding the information ratios of 90% of their peers, they will still fail to merit a typical fee.
  • 39% of long U.S. hedge fund capital surveyed will fail to merit a typical fee, even if its managers are highly skilled.
  • Investors must monitor the evolution of their hedge fund managers towards closet indexing and mitigate fee harvesting.
  • A typical investor may be able to replace over a third of long hedge fund capital with passive vehicles or active skilled managers, improving performance.
The information herein is not represented or warranted to be accurate, correct, complete or timely.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Copyright © 2012-2014, 
AlphaBetaWorks, a division of Alpha Beta Analytics, LLC. All rights reserved.
Content may not be republished without express written consent.
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