We wanted to write a quick note to highlight a number of recent media stories about capacity declines in the hedge fund industry. No surprise, negative absolute performance has led to the closing of funds due to an inability to pay employees and an increase in investor withdrawals that have led to a cost structure that is no longer manageable for many general partners.
Specifically, the Options Group estimates that “hedge funds may cut 20,000 workers worldwide this year.” This is on top of the estimated 10,000 job losses in 2008. The primary driver of this is hedge fund closures, which hit roughly 920 funds last year, or almost 12% of the industry.
An article on Bloomberg by Kathy Burton yesterday discusses the implications of the industry decline when it comes to hiring. She quoted our good friend, Hank Higdon from Higdon Partners, the preeminent investment management search firm in the world, who said: “Hiring activity is much reduced and it’s going to get worse.” For anyone in the industry, this isn’t totally surprising. We are hearing stories of people working for free for periods of a quarter or more as a trial employment period. This idea of actually having to prove yourself was unheard of less than a year ago.
The upshot of these capacity declines is that hedge funds will once again become the bastions of entrepreneurism they once were. Some of the best and largest money managers in the world, started as very small shops with limited assets under managements, sometimes in the single digit millions, firms like SAC, Third Point, Atticus, Bridger, Harbinger, Citadel and others come to mind. These firms are now some of the most prominent and durable in the industry, and manage assets in the billions, but have shown the wherewithal to grow and thrive at a much lower asset base.
The benefit of building your business from such a small base, and by the sweat of your own labor, is that you fully understand all parts of the business and investment process, and you can very easily adjust to changes in the market. While 2008 was an incredibly challenging year for hedge funds, undoubtedly 2009 will be a year in which Darwinian rules take hold. Those funds that have been able to prosper through the cycles will continue their dominance. The upstarts will no longer be blessed with multi hundred million, or in some cases billion, dollar launches, but will have to make due with $25 - $50MM at launch. Ultimately, overtime, this will make them stronger managers and the hedge fund class of 2009 will likely be a strong one indeed.
Daryl G. Jones