BlackRock's $1.9 Billion Credit Hedge Fund Suffers Worst January

Updated on
  • Obsidian's 4% drop marks weakest start in its 19-year history
  • Corporate debt, global rate strategies hurt the performance

The BlackRock offices in New York.

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

BlackRock Inc.’s global credit hedge fund is off to its worst start in its 19-year history amid a selloff in bonds as oil prices fell and concerns over a recession rose.

The flagship $1.9 billion Obsidian fund fell 4 percent in January after failing to anticipate “the extent to which markets would trade in lockstep with commodities,” according to an investor update, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg. The fund lost money from corporate credit and global-rate strategies.

Obsidian, led by Stuart Spodek, entered this year betting that investment-grade company debt would benefit from growth in the U.S., a “shallow trajectory for Fed hikes” as well as the European Central Bank’s monetary policy. Instead, fears of a global recession and a further decline in oil prices weighed on markets. A Standard & Poor’s report last month showed the outlook for corporate borrowers globally was the worst since the financial crisis.

“While we believe these recessionary fears are inconsistent with current fundamentals and our expectations for forward fundamentals, we underestimated the sharp and broad risk aversion in response to declining oil and weakening data,” the firm told clients.

Ed Sweeney, a spokesman for BlackRock, declined to comment.

Hedge funds account for less than 1 percent of BlackRock’s $4.6 trillion in assets under management. The Obsidian fund, which started trading in July 1996, is the oldest of the company’s some 30 hedge-fund strategies.

Peer Performance

The BlackRock fund was outpaced by its hedge fund peers and a comparable benchmark last month. The HFRI Relative Value Index lost 1.7 percent and the Bloomberg Global Aggregate Hedge Fund Index fell 0.9 percent.

Obsidian, which declined 0.1 percent in 2015, has outperformed the HFRI benchmark in four of the past five years.

The fund made some money from bets against higher-quality energy issuers and regional banks with significant exposure to energy, according to the update.

Other credit funds have struggled amid turmoil in the corporate bond market. Third Avenue Management said in December it was closing and suspending redemptions from a mutual fund that held lower-quality debt, triggering a selloff in junk bonds. Stone Lion Capital also suspended redemptions in its high-yield hedge fund, while credit hedge funds Mudrick Capital Management and Knighthead Capital Management reported steep losses.

(Updates with hedge fund assets as a percentage of total in 6th paragraph.)
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