Retail Hedge-Fund Mkt Perking Up
HEDGE FUNDS are creeping into the investment mainstream in Asia as retail investors —— weary of several years of stock-market losses —— are increasingly attracted by the prospect of ending the year with more money than they started out with. Mutual funds may beat their benchmarks, but what fun is that when it means losing less than the index?
Mutual funds have never really caught on in this part of the world, but retail hedge funds just might —— given their possibility for world-beating returns, and despite that they offer a whole new category of major risk for the investor.
And if hedge-fund companies are salivating to get going in Asia, it isn't hard to see why. Globally, hedge-fund assets have skyrocketed to US$600 billion in 2001 from US$45 billion in 1990, according to industry estimates. But Asian investors account for only around US$30 billion of those assets.
'We're seeing more interest in hedge funds because of the poor returns in the equity markets. Investors are tired of their fund outperforming a benchmark but still posting a loss,' says Ophelia Tong, investment director at HT Capital Management Ltd., a boutique hedge-fund firm that manages a US$25 million portfolio.
The newest market for retail hedge-fund investors is Hong Kong, where regulators are scheduled to announce later this week how many funds have been authorized to sell to noninstitutional investors.
Singapore is set to release before the year's end revised guidelines for retail hedge funds, which include a S$20,000 (US$11,300) minimum for funds of hedge funds and S$100,000 minimum for single-strategy funds. (Wealthy investors across the Asian-Pacific region, especially in Japan and Australia, have had access to hedge funds for years either through their banks or directly through managers.)
Are well-to-do but not wealthy Asians ready to evaluate hedge funds properly? Unlike managers of traditional funds that make long-term investment decisions and stick by them, hedge-fund managers have the flexibility to adjust their portfolio to take advantage of new opportunities or discrepancies among markets or assets. It is precisely that flexibility that makes the fund manager the single biggest risk in investing in hedge funds.
It also makes investing in hedge funds as risky at times as investing in a single stock, which may make a hedge fund a poor substitute for the risk-averse investment in a mutual fund.
'Being able to analyze the quality of a single hedge fund is a highly complex and time-consuming process that a novice investor is not equipped to perform,' says Nicholas Chalmers, associate director of the Alternative Investment Group at Schroder Investment Management. Schroder has pending applications in Hong Kong for retail funds of hedge funds and single-strategy funds.
When it comes to choosing products, most advisers recommend funds of hedge funds over single-strategy funds. Funds of hedge funds usually invest in between 30 to 50 hedge funds and exposure to the underlying portfolios is usually equally weighted. 'Investing in funds of hedge funds offers diversification, which reduces the risk of losing your money,' says Malik Sarwar, Singapore-based regional director for investment at CitiGold, the consumer banking arm of Citibank NA.
For investors brave enough to go with a single fund, one adviser recommends sticking with 'long/short equity' strategy. According to Stewart Aldcroft, managing director at Investec Asset Management Asia, long-short is the most popular among investors because it is the easiest to understand: the fund either buys stocks, or else sells them short. In a short sale, an investor borrows securities and hopes to make a profit by buying an equal number of shares later at a lower price to replace the borrowed securities.
"由于股市回报率非常糟糕﹐我们看到（投资者）对对冲基金的兴趣越来越大。投资者再也不想看到基金表现虽然强于大盘﹐但依然亏损的情况﹐"HT Capital Management Ltd.的投资主管Ophelia Tong说。HT是一家小型对冲基金公司﹐管理着2,500万美元的投资组合。
"分析单一对冲基金的质量是一个非常复杂和耗时的过程﹐绝非新投资者所能胜任﹐"宝源投资管理公司(Schroder Investment Management)旗下另类投资部门的副主管尼古拉斯．查尔墨斯(Nicholas Chalmers)说。在香港﹐宝源投资管理公司正在申请对冲基金的零售基金以及单一策略基金。
谈及投资选择﹐大部分顾问认为﹐对冲基金的基金优于单一策略基金。对冲基金的基金通常投资于30至50只对冲基金﹐相关投资组合的风险通常比较均衡。"投资对冲基金的基金可提供多元化选择﹐降低损失风险﹐"CitiGold驻新加坡的地区投资主管马利克．萨沃尔(Malik Sarwar)说。CitiGold是花旗银行(Citibank NA)的消费者银行部门。
对有足够胆量投资于单一基金的投资者来说﹐一位顾问建议﹐坚持"多头/空头股票"策略。据Investec Asset Management Asia的董事总经理史蒂沃特．阿尔德克罗夫特(Stewart Aldcroft)说﹐多头/空头策略是最受投资者欢迎的策略﹐因为它最易于理解﹕基金或是买进股票﹐或是卖空股票。在卖空交易中﹐投资者借入证券﹐并期望将来以较低的价格买入同等数量的股票﹐藉此归还原先所借的证券并获得投资收益。