Merrill: Hedge Fund Replication the “Solution” for Hedge Fund Newbies

Hedge fund replication has been touted as a way to avoid paying “excessive” hedge fund fees, get better liquidity, and even to achieve higher returns than actual hedge funds.  But a new report by Merrill Lynch makes an argument that hits close to home for many pensions and endowments.  The report says that hedge fund replication is a way to avoid headline risk (see HedgeWorld premium story reprinted here with permission).

Funds of funds managers, this is targeted squarely at one of the key planks in your platform: career survival.  While it’s not a huge leap from other elements of the hedge fund replication value proposion (e.g. “better liquidity” or “transparency”), it suggests that replicators may be making a more direct assault on funds of funds.

But before hedge fund replicators and funds of funds pick up and move to separate gated communities and join separate country clubs, we thought we should have a look at the report.  (Apologies to all of our readers for referencing a pay-per-view report – which is not something we like to do – but Merrill put the kibosh on freebie research back in March.)

The report was produced by Merrill’s Pensions & Endowments Group and makes liberal use of data from Pensions & Investments and Casey, Quirk (so regular readers will be quite familiar with it).  It covers three strategies: swaps (apparently in relation to portable alpha strategies), commodities and hedge fund replication.

The report cites Casey Quirk’s finding that headline risk is one of the key “impediments” to investing in hedge funds (chart from original Casey Quirk report – left).

The “solution”, says Merrill is replication (namely, factor replication).  Says the report:

“For investors wishing to dip a toe in the hedge fund waters for the first time, the replication strategies may serve as an effective transition tool to gain broad hedge fund exposure. As plan sponsors get more comfortable with hiring hedge fund managers (ie, governance procedures in place) these strategies can also be used as a benchmark to measure the success of the new hedge fund manager.”

But as the report acknowledges, replication comes with its own set of risks.  In fact, naysayers suggest that hedge fund replication offerings are themselves just quant hedge funds.

And while headline risk, transparency and fees are key reasons why some institutions have not yet invested in hedge funds, the issues faced by current hedge fund investors are quite different.  The aforementioned Casey Quirk report also said that the source of returns and performance records were the leading decision criteria (chart left).  Notably, transparency and fees came last.

So it seems that while the amelioration of headline risk via replication may pave the way for new institutions to move into this space, funds of funds may still have the upper hand when it comes to new assets from existing investors.

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  1. Terrence Devitt
    August 22, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for another great piece of info on the alternative beta vs alpha debate.

    I am experimenting with ways to deliver a nice “Greek Alphabet Soup” of Beta, Alpha and just a sprinkle of delta, theta and a wham!… of gamma.

    I am with the B/D arm of hedge fund of funds firm.
    Theorectically if one took T_bills and successfully collected equity & index option premium (gamma rent) in a NASD SIPC Reg T margin account, wouldn’t that appear to be pure absolute return,the elusive alpha isotope?

    Served with total online trading and account balance transparency (glass vs black box) CPA clean opinion, reasonable leverage, no headline risk, decent fees , ease of fund access. Your opinion?

    Thanks for great site.

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