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Hedge fund clone

Hedge fund clones have already lost credibility. There will be human cloning long before successful hedge fund clones. Which hedge funds were the "clones" intending to track? Perhaps some arbitrary, incomplete database of "hedge fund beta" to data mine? It's a mathematical certainty that a statistical fit will be found to PAST data. But I and my clients are ONLY interested in the future. Clones are about beta and good hedge funds have NOTHING to do with beta.

Hedge fund alpha is what investors need. The clones' factor lag dependence and implied data snooping of actual hedge fund positions doesn't reassure either. While the rest of us are measuring trade execution latency now in microseconds instead of glacial milliseconds, clones think they can get away with a MONTH'S delay! The strength of actual hedge funds is their dynamic adaption to market movements and risks. A month late nullifies the chance "cheap" hedge fund replicators have of performing, alpha wise. Being 2,500,000,000 milliseconds behind the times is a recipe for failure.

Goldman Sachs' Global Alpha lost 11.6% YTD. Hopefully no-one is looking to replicate that toxic waste. It does not build confidence to see Global Negative Alpha lost money in equities, bonds, currencies and commodities. Losing on all four is difficult to do but somehow the GSAM academic "superstars" managed it. Considering there have been vast alpha generating opportunities within all those asset classes you have to wonder. Was the earlier track record global skill or global luck? Never let economists like Mark Carhart make investment decisions. Stash them in the ivory tower. And don't let them "manage" a cent of client capital. Ever.

Aggregation of recent hedge fund holdings to try to feed these clones. Where is this position transparency to "competitors" coming from? Outdated, incomplete, long only SEC filings? Monthly reports to clients? Prime brokers? Could it be that some prime brokers are not as rigorous as they could be at ring-fencing client positions from proprietary and delta one traders and now the hedge fund replication desk? Perhaps the clones will copy weaker hedge funds that provide too much information. The more disclosure the less likely a strategy will continue to perform. After the PlusFunds database controversy, one would think competent hedge funds will be even more careful about protecting current AND historical position data from copycats.

One methodology used by the better fundamental equity analysts is comparing a company's value to what it would cost to replicate that business. For example, if you had a spare $150 billion could you replicate Google's brand, people, technology and market share? I doubt it. Bill Gates and Microsoft tried pretty hard. This has a parallel to hedge fund valuation and fees. What would it cost to clone a GOOD alpha generating hedge fund? Simple, somewhere around 2% of AUM and 20% of new profits which gets us back to where we started.

The demand and supply price-setting mechanism works for investment products. Pseudo hedge fund strategies have been available "cheaper" in a mutual fund format for some years at much lower fees AND, of course, much lower performance. As with clones, you get what you pay for. No-one could replicate Renaissance Technologies' Medallion Fund but if you were to try, the fees you would need to charge would be somewhere in the region of 5% of AUM and 44% incentive fee, and even then you wouldn't succeed.

As a way of measuring alternative beta and benchmarking to a naive strategy replication, the hedge fund clones are potentially a valuable industry development. It will also clearly demonstrate just how difficult it is, the hard work and the human and artificial intelligence required to generate consistent absolute returns at low risk. The attack of the clones has weakened before it has even begun and two have already fallen at the first hurdle. The hedge fund replicators' alleged cheapness may prove expensive.

Maybe the attack of the hedge fund clones will prove as mythical as human clones? Geneticists say for every successful cloning you have hundreds of failures. The initial hedge fund clones are starting to look more like the usual marketing spin than a breakthrough financial product. Some say it is dangerous to eat cloned food; maybe investing in these early hedge fund clones will be equally risky, unproven and damaging to the health of portfolios.

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