Fitch: Hedge Funds Will Continue “Winning and Keeping” Public Pensions Assets

Fitch Ratings

Fitch Ratings predicts that, despite several high-profile exits by pension funds this year, hedge funds will continue to count public pension funds as major investors.

The ratings agency says exits by funds like CalPERS are “not representative of broader sector trends” and says it believes hedge funds still “deliver competitive returns net of fees, while providing a degree of downside protection and uncorrelated return during periods of stress”.

From Fitch:

Recent decisions by two large US public pension plans to pull back from hedge fund investments, and the likelihood of a sixth consecutive calendar year of return averages underperforming broad equity market returns, are not expected to curb investors’ overall allocations to hedge funds, according to Fitch Ratings.

Barring an unforeseen major market decline, hedge fund assets under management (AUM) should continue on a path toward $3.0 trillion, good growth relative to 2013’s year-end level of $2.6 trillion. The rise is attributable to market appreciation and inflows outpacing redemptions. The AUM flows show significant variation by strategy, with equity-oriented funds attracting more capital in recent periods, but global macro funds falling from favor.

While hedge fund growth has certainly slowed over the past several years, the high-profile pension plan withdrawals seen over the past six weeks are not representative of broader sector trends, in our view.

The Fitch report backs its conclusions with data from several studies conducted this year:

Fitch points to analysis recently compiled by Preqin as an indicator of the progress that hedge funds have made in winning and keeping US public pension assets more broadly. The data generally shows improvements in hedge fund investment allocations by public pensions since 2010. As of June 2014, 269 public pensions in the US made allocations to hedge funds, with an average of about 8.6% of their total AUM allocated to hedge funds.

[…]

Over the past decade and a half, hedge funds have delivered steadier performance relative to the overall market during bear markets, as was seen in 2000 to 2002 and in 2008. This downside protection, however, comes at the expense of limited upside during bull markets, a trend seen in 2003, 2009 and especially 2013.

According to Hedge Fund Research, hedge fund performance averages are set to be nearer to the broad equity market measures in 2014. However, trailing 36- and 48-month annual return levels generally range around low single-digit percentages, which paint the entire sector as under delivering relative to broader equity index benchmarks.

Read the full Fitch release here.

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