What Are Hedge Funds and How Do They Work?

By Laurel Tincher · June 02, 2023 · 5 minute read

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What Are Hedge Funds and How Do They Work?

A hedge fund is an investment vehicle that invests in securities and other assets with money pooled from investors. They’re similar to mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, but hedge funds rely on high-risk strategies and come with much higher fees. Because of this, they’re subject to less stringent regulations, and only certain types of investors have access to these funds.

While most investors may not engage with a hedge fund, especially younger ones, it can be useful to know what they are and how they work.

What Is a Hedge Fund?

Hedge funds are set up by a registered investment advisor or money manager, often as a limited liability company (LLC) or a limited partnership (LP). They differ from mutual funds in that they have more investment freedom, so they’re able to make riskier investments.

By using aggressive investing tactics, such as short-selling, debt-based investing, and leveraging hedge funds can potentially deliver higher-than-market returns, but they also have higher risks than other types of investments. In addition to traditional asset classes, hedge funds can a diverse array of alternative assets, including art, real estate, and currencies.

Hedge funds tend to seek out short-term investments rather than long-term investments. Of course assets that have significant short-term growth potential can also have greater short term losses.

Historically, hedge funds have not performed as well as safer investments, such as stock market indices. However, the goal of hedge funds isn’t necessarily to outperform the stock market. Investors also use hedge funds to provide growth during all phases of market growth and decline, providing diversification to a portfolio that also contains stocks, cash, and other investments.

Generally speaking, only qualified investors and institutional investors are able to invest in hedge funds, due to their risks and the high fees that get paid to fund managers.

Types of Hedge Funds

Each hedge fund has a different investing philosophy and invests in different types of assets. Some different hedge fund strategies include:

•   Real estate investing

•   Junk bond investing

•   Specialized asset class investing such as art, music, or patents

•   Long-only equity investing (no short selling)

•   Private equity investing, in which the fund only invests in privately-held businesses. In some cases the hedge fund gets involved in the business operations and helps to take the company public.

What Is a Hedge Fund Manager?

Hedge funds are run by investment managers who make investment decisions and manage the risk level of the fund. If a hedge fund is profitable, the hedge fund manager can make a significant amount of money, often up to 20% of the profits.

Before selecting and investing in a hedge fund, it’s important to look into the fund manager’s history as well as their investing strategy and fees. This information can be found on the manager’s Form ADV, which you can find on the fund’s website as well as through the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) website.

Who Can Invest in a Hedge Fund?

Hedge funds are not open to the general public, and there are several requirements to be able to invest in them. In order for an individual to invest, they must be an accredited investor. This means that they either:

•   Have an individual annual income of $200,000 or more. If the married investors must have a combined income of $300,000 per year or more. They must have had this level of income for at least two consecutive years and expect to continue to earn this level of income.

•   Or, the investor must have an individual or combined net worth of $1 million or more, excluding their primary residence.

If the investor is an entity rather than an individual, they must:

•   Be a trust with a net worth of at least $5 million. The trust can’t have been formed solely for the purpose of investing, and must be run by a “sophisticated” investor, defined by the SEC as someone with sufficient knowledge and experience with investing and the potential risks involved.

•   Or, the entity can be a group of accredited investors.

How to Invest in a Hedge Fund

Investing in hedge funds is risky and involves a deep understanding of financial markets. Before investing, there are several things to consider:

The Fund’s Investing Strategy

Start by researching the hedge fund manager and their history in the industry. Look at the types of assets the fund invests in, read the fund’s prospectus and other materials to understand the opportunity cost and risk. Generally speaking, the higher the risk, the higher potential returns.

In addition, you need to understand how the fund evaluates potential investments. If the fund invests in alternative assets, these may be difficult to value and may also have lower liquidity.

Understand the Minimums

Investment requirements can range between $100,000 to $2 million or more. Hedge funds have less liquidity than stocks or bonds, and some require that money stays invested in the fund for a specific amount of time before it can be withdrawn. It’s also common for there to be lock-up periods for funds and for there to only be certain times of year when funds can be withdrawn.

Confirm You Can Make the Investment

Make sure that the fund you’re interested in is an open fund, meaning that it accepts new investors. Financial professionals can help with this research process. Each hedge fund will evaluate an individual’s accreditation status using their own methods. They may require personal information about income, debt, and assets.

Understand the Fees

Usually hedge funds charge an asset management fee of 1-2% of invested assets, as well as a performance fee of 20% of the hedge fund’s profits.

The Takeaway

Hedge funds offer investors — usually, wealthier investors — the chance to invest in funds that are usually high-risk, but offer high potential returns. There are many rules surrounding hedge funds, and many investors may not even consider them as a part of an investing strategy.

For accredited investors, investing in a hedge fund may be one part of a diversified portfolio, although it depends on the investor’s risk tolerance, time horizon, and investing goals. If you’re not an accredited investor, or you’re worried about the risks associated with hedge funds, it may make more sense for you to consider other types of investments or to stick with ETFs, mutual funds, or funds of funds that emulate hedge fund strategies.

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Photo credit: iStock/gece33

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