During an unbelievable number of meetings with investors and managers, I hear the same two refrains:

“We’re looking for the next Blackstone.”

Or

“We think we’re the next Blackstone.”

It’s enough to make you wonder if such success is commonplace or if we’re all overreaching just a teeny bit.

Well, I’ve shaken my Magic Eight Ball and the answer is this, at least for newer funds: “Outlook Not So Good.”

Recently, on a boring Sunday afternoon, I decided to go through Institutional Investor’s list of the 100 largest hedge funds and figure out when each fund company launched.

Yes, clearly I need more hobbies.

But the results (as well as my lack of social life) were pretty shocking. There are no funds within the top 100 that launched during the last 5 years. There are only 4 funds in the top 100 that launched within the last 10 years. In fact, nearly 70% of the top 100 hedge fund firms launched before the first iPod.

Obviously, this begs a question: Where are all the new Blackstones?

 (c) 2015 MJ Alts

(c) 2015 MJ Alts

Whatever complaints can be lobbed at hedge funds, I do find it hard to believe that the talent pool has deteriorated to such a degree that there just isn’t a supply of skilled fund managers available. On the other hand, I do have a few theories on what forces may be at work.

  1. Change In Investor Dynamics: For a long time, hedge funds were the investment hunting ground of high net worth individuals and family offices. In fact, pre-1998 saw little to no meaningful investment of institutional capital into hedge funds, and investment activity into hedge funds didn’t accelerate markedly until after the Tech Wreck. But by 2011, 61% of all capital in hedge funds was institutional capital. But why should this matter? Imagine you’re an institutional investor with $1 billion or more to invest into hedge funds. Imagine you have a board. Imagine you have headline risk. Imagine you are hit on by every fund marketer known to man if you go to a conference. Imagine you have policies that dictate the percent of assets under management that your allocation can represent. Now, try to put that capital to work in a reasonable number of high-performing hedge funds. It seems reasonable to assume that the investing constraints of being a large institutional investor would drive allocations towards larger funds with longer track records. Just like you never get fired for buying IBM, it’s unlikely you’ll be canned for investing with Blackstone, AQR, Credit Suisse or other big name fund complexes.
  2. Market Timing: According to HFR, assets in hedge funds grew from $490.6billion in 2000 to nearly $1.9 trillion in 2007, or more than 287%. One of the reasons for this surge in assets is, I believe, prevailing market conditions. Having just exited one of the greatest bull markets in history and entered two of only four 10-year losing streaks in the history of the S&P 500, hedge funds had an opportunity to well, hedge, and as a result, outperform the markets. Unlike the last 6-ish years (recent months notwithstanding), where hedge funds have been heavily criticized for “underperforming” during an almost unchecked market run-up, market conditions were more favorable to hedged strategies between 2000 and 2008. This allowed managers with already established track records and AUM to capitalize on market and investor demographic trends and secure their dominant status going forward.
  3. Evolving Fund Management Landscape: Let’s face it – the financial world was a kinder and gentler place before 2008. Ok, that’s total BS, but it was less regulated. Hedge funds were not required to register with the SEC, file Form PF, hire compliance officers, have compliance manuals, comply with AIFMD, FATCA and a host of other regulatory burdens. As a result, firms formed prior to 2005 did perhaps have an overhead advantage over their newer brethren. Funds today don’t break even until they raise between $250 and $350 million in AUM, and barriers to entry have certainly grown. Add to this that more than 90% of capital has gone to funds with $1billion+ under management post-2008 and a manager would practically have to have perfectly aligned stars, impeccable performance and perhaps have made some sort of live sacrifice to achieve basic hedge fund dominance, let alone titan status.

This is not to say that newer funds haven’t made it into the “Billion Dollar Club” or that rarified air of 500 or so hedge funds that manage the bulk of investor assets. It is, however, a stark look at how we define expectations and success on both the investor and manager side of the equation. If 40 is the new 30 and orange is the new black, is $500 million or $1 billion in AUM the new yardstick for hedge funds? Time will tell, but I’m wondering if the Magic 8-Ball isn’t on to something. 

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AuthorMeredith Jones