Hedge Funds Find No Joy in Macro as Returns Lag Trump Rally

  • Macro funds rose a meager 0.3% in the first two months of 2017
  • Optimistic investors plan to add money to such strategies

Hedge Funds Brace for Hard Times

In 2017, macro hedge funds were expected to shine. So far? Not so much.

It’s been a far from impressive first two months for funds that trade around macroeconomic events. Discretionary funds rose just 0.3 percent through February, according to Hedge Fund Research Inc., while the average hedge fund rose 2.2 percent and the MSCI World Index gained 5 percent. Some did far worse than global stocks, as the chart below shows.

“The perception was that once Trump got elected, there would be a more hawkish tone to the Fed,” Darren Wolf, head of hedge funds for the Americas at Aberdeen Asset Management, said in an interview. “That divergence in global policy between what the U.S. is doing and what the rest of the world is doing is normally a favorable macro backdrop.”

It hasn’t turned out that way, hedge fund managers say, in part because this change has been slight thus far. Markets have been driven higher by policy proposals rather than hard-won reforms on issues including taxes and trade. At the same time, managers have been trying to capture the U.S. stock market’s post-election exuberance while exercising caution.

Japanese Reflation

Some macro funds have been drubbed by bets against U.S. bonds, which started rising in late February. What’s more, foreign exchange "hasn’t been kind to macro," said Robert Savage, head of research for Track.com, which publishes a daily newsletter for money managers, and the former chief strategist of hedge fund FX Concepts. "Most are still long the U.S. dollar but don’t have much to show for it."

Macro funds took losses with the Japanese reflation trade -- long Japanese stocks and short the yen. “It’s the exact same idea -- they made a lot of money on this trade in the fourth quarter and gave it back in early 2017,” Wolf said.

And, managers have been adding to defensive positions, turning net short U.S. equity markets on an aggregate basis, according to a March report from Credit Suisse’s prime services division.

Yet many managers have confidence that an inflection point is coming that will buoy macro performance.

"We appear to be entering a time when governments are pitting themselves against each other and their own central banks," Crispin Odey’s Odey Asset Management said in an investor letter to clients recapping January performance. "Oddly, this makes life easier."

Macro Faith

Clients are buying Odey’s logic. According to a Deutsche Bank AG survey published Wednesday, 27 percent of allocators said they intended to add money to macro strategies. Global macro funds managed by humans topped a ranking of strategies demanded by investors polled by Credit Suisse last month.

Still, not all macro funds are having to play catch-up with markets. Autonomy Capital, the $4 billion hedge fund firm led by Robert Gibbins, has gained almost 9 percent through March 3, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

“Equities are at highs, interest rates are still at cyclical lows, and there aren’t really too many strategies that will do okay if equities sell off, interest rates rise and currencies shift,” said Wolf.

Here’s a rundown of big players.

FundYear-to-date performance through February
Rubicon Global Fund-9.0%
Caxton Global Investment*-0.8%
Tudor BVI Global Fund-2%
Brevan Howard Master Fund+0.5%
Bridgewater Pure Alpha II+1.2%
Autonomy**+9%

*returns through March 9
**returns through March 3

Spokespeople for the firms either declined to comment or didn’t immediately return calls or emails.

— With assistance by Katherine Burton, Hema Parmar, and Nishant Kumar

(Adds return for average hedge fund in second paragraph.)
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