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Why hedge funds may be good for Indian markets

The Draft Report of the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms headed by Professor Raghuram Rajan was issued for comment in April 2008. Among the proposals that the high-level committee made was the introduction of domestic hedge funds. The committee feels that, “The presence of hedge funds would induce greater competitive pressure for other regulated fund management channels such as mutual funds.”

This week’s article discusses the benefits of introducing hedge funds in the Indian market. It shows how hedge funds could improve asset price efficiency. Besides, such funds, by virtue of their diverse investment styles, could provide investors an opportunity to enhance their risk-adjusted portfolio returns.

Of different genre

Suppose a long-only (mutual fund) manager and a hedge fund manager both have a negative view on SBI, a positive view on HDFC Bank and a neutral view on ITC.

Long-only active managers will buy ITC in the same weight as their benchmark index, may overweight HDFC Bank and may not take any exposure in SBI. There is a reason for such a strategy. Active managers strive to beat their benchmark index. But they do not take too many active bets, lest their bets go wrong. Often, active funds tail the benchmark index with few active bets. Importantly, such managers cannot short-sell to take advantage of their negative view on a stock.

Hedge fund managers’ do not suffer from such constraint. In the above example, the hedge fund manager may overweight HDFC Bank, short-sell SBI and not take any exposure in ITC.

Better still, to neutralise any market risk, the hedge fund manager may buy HDFC Bank and short-sell SBI in such a way that the market risk in HDFC Bank is offset by short-selling SBI. Often, neutralising market risk on a portfolio would mean short-selling Nifty futures.

Exploiting price inefficiency

Hedge funds identify mispriced assets and exploit any price inefficiency. One way to do this is to employ statistical arbitrage.

Suppose a hedge fund manager finds that combination of one share of HDFC Bank and two short shares of SBI (1HDFC – 2SBI) has a stable statistical distribution. If the “spread” wanders far away from its mean, a hedge fund manager would set-up this strategy with a view that the “spread” will tighten. Such relative-value strategies can help arbitrate away asset price inefficiencies in a “normal” market.

Besides, hedge funds employ strategies to arbitrage price differentials between the derivatives and the spot market. Suppose a stock is trading at Rs 1,480 in the spot market. Assume that the hedge fund manager, based on her proprietary model, believes that the futures price should be only Rs 1,470 against its current market price of Rs 1,510.

The fund manager will short the futures contract and simultaneously buy the stock in the spot market. The trade will be profitable as long as difference between the spot price and the futures price is less than Rs 40.

As more hedge funds exploit such price differentials, disconnect between the spot and derivative markets could gradually reduce. And that could attract long-term hedgers to the market.

Higher risk-adjusted returns

Hedge funds create value for investors through their diverse investment styles. Here are some examples.

Relative-value strategies such as fixed-income arbitrage and market-neutral style strive to back-out beta exposure and provide alpha returns. Such strategies typically carry lower volatility than government bonds but generate higher returns. They, hence, act as returns-enhancers when combined with a bond portfolio.

The long-short investment style (such as 130 per cent long position and 30 per cent short position in equity) is a high-risk high-return strategy. The volatility of this strategy is lower than that of the traditional equity strategy. This strategy, hence, acts as return-enhancers when combined with equity portfolios.

The managed-futures investment style primarily takes exposure in commodity futures. This style acts as a risk-diversifier for an equity portfolio.

Of course, there are risks with such investments. Hedge funds typically employ high leverage. This causes a systemic risk in the event a fund folds because of high drawdowns. Besides, monitoring such managers is important because many of them may charge alpha fees for beta exposure.

It is not surprising that the committee has recommended that hedge fund investments be offered only to those who can invest Rs 1 and above. A similar such rule exists in the US.

Conclusion

It is important to understand that arbitraging price inefficiencies does not mean that hedge funds will prevent formation of market crashes or asset price bubbles. Hedge fund managers can be as irrational as the professional long-only managers and investors.

Yet, the introduction of hedge funds will be a welcome move to the Indian markets for two reasons — such funds can provide higher risk-adjusted returns for investors and can facilitate better asset price efficiency.

Source: Sify

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