A hedge fund is a pooled investment fund that trades in relatively liquid assets and is able to make extensive use of more complex trading, portfolio-construction, and risk management techniques in an attempt to improve performance, such as short selling, leverage, and derivatives. Financial regulators generally restrict hedge fund marketing to institutional investors, high net worth individuals, and others who are considered sufficiently sophisticated.
Hedge funds are considered alternative investments. Their ability to use leverage and more complex investment techniques distinguishes them from regulated investment funds available to the retail market, commonly known as mutual funds and ETFs. They are also considered distinct from private equity funds and other similar closed-end funds as hedge funds generally invest in relatively liquid assets and are usually open-ended. This means they typically allow investors to invest and withdraw capital periodically based on the fund’s net asset value, whereas private-equity funds generally invest in illiquid assets and only return capital after a number of years. However, other than a fund’s regulatory status, there are no formal or fixed definitions of fund types, and so there are different views of what can constitute a “hedge fund.”
Although hedge funds are not subject to the many restrictions applicable to regulated funds, regulations were passed in the United States and Europe following the financial crisis of 2007–2008 with the intention of increasing government oversight of hedge funds and eliminating certain regulatory gaps.
Although most modern hedge funds are able to employ a wide variety of financial instruments and risk management techniques, they can be very different from each other with respect to their strategies, risks, volatility and expected return profile. It is common for hedge fund investment strategies to aim to achieve a positive return on investment regardless of whether markets are rising or falling (“absolute return“). Although hedge funds can be considered risky investments, the expected returns of some hedge fund strategies are less volatile than those of retail funds with high exposure to stock markets because of the use of hedging techniques.
A hedge fund usually pays its investment manager a management fee (typically, 2% per annum) of the net asset value of the fund) and a performance fee (typically, 20% of the increase in the fund’s net asset value during a year).
Hedge funds have existed for many decades and have become increasingly popular. They have now grown to be a substantial portion of the asset management industry with assets totaling around $3.8 trillion as of 2021. Hedge fund managers can have several billion dollars of assets under management (AUM).