February 15, 2024
The Merits of Hedge Fund Co-Investments
February 15, 2024
While co-investing has been a feature of the private equity industry for many years, it is a relatively new but growing trend in the hedge fund industry. We believe that hedge fund co-investments are an important tool to increase the total return of portfolios, while also delivering limited correlation to traditional asset classes and core hedge fund strategies. Co-investments can also be used to respond rapidly to dislocations in markets.
Why are we seeing growth in hedge fund co-investment opportunities?
Prior to the global financial crisis the hedge fund industry experienced strong inflows. Many hedge funds enjoyed relative freedom to pursue niche opportunities and put less liquid investments into side pockets. However, in recent years, industry inflows have been more limited and investors have been more restrictive on permissible investments, particularly less liquid situations (Display 1).
As a result, hedge funds have had less discretionary capital available to deploy. This, coupled with regulatory changes which decreased bank and insurance company willingness to invest in non-traditional asset classes, led to a greater opportunity for alternative forms of capital to step in and fill that void. The end result has been an increase in established hedge funds seeking co-investment capital for discrete opportunities that do not meet the liquidity, concentration or asset class guidelines of their flagship funds.
What are the benefits of introducing co-investments?
From the investor’s perspective, fees, transparency and correlation are key focal points when it comes to hedge fund allocations. In our view, co-investments have the potential to provide improvement on all three fronts. Furthermore, they can provide a way for investors to target specific exposures and risk/return profiles that meet their investment objectives and aren’t already present in their portfolios. The trade-off however is that co-investments may introduce an element of illiquidity.
We believe co-investments offer a clear and self-sustaining value proposition to hedge fund managers and investors. For hedge fund managers, co-investments represent a new source of capital that enables them to participate in high-conviction opportunities that, absent co-investment capital, they would not be able to pursue. For investors, co-investments offer a means of direct access to differentiated sources of return with potentially bespoke risk/return profiles in addition to attractive fees, transparency and control rights.
How do hedge fund co-investments differ from private equity co-investments?
The primary difference is the universe of managers from which co-investments are sourced. Co-investing is a mature concept for private equity firms. Indeed, many private equity managers have established and often contractual processes for how co-investments are allocated among existing clients. Co-investing is a newer concept for hedge funds. Most hedge fund managers do not have a long list of existing investors with whom they have traditionally partnered on such investment opportunities. At the same time, most hedge fund allocators are not equipped to make decisions about co-investments. As a result, these opportunities tend not to be as heavily trafficked as private equity co-investments and there tends to be greater potential for tailoring implementation strategies.
Another important difference is the breadth of investment strategies accessible through each of the two categories. Private equity co-investments typically involve control private equity positions that are subject to the same factors that influence valuation of public equities. Hedge fund co-investments represent a diverse array of asset classes, liquidity profiles and risk. They can be “risk-on” or “risk-off” and everything in between. They can range from publicly traded equity and debt to non-traded investments, such as litigation finance and reinsurance, which have no correlation to traditional assets classes. For this reason, we would generally expect that hedge fund co-investments would have lower correlation to global equities than private equity co-investments. Hedge fund co-investments also tend to have shorter holding periods than private equity co-investments.
How are hedge fund co-investments sourced?
Sourcing is entirely dependent upon having access to a robust network of idea-generators. The most obvious sourcing channel comes from hedge fund managers with whom an investor has existing primary fund investments. However, it is increasingly common for hedge fund managers to solicit co-investment capital directly from allocators with whom no primary fund relationship exists. This is happening because few hedge fund managers have existing investors with active co-investment programs and managers recognize co-investments as an opportunity to broaden their client base and support future business growth.
What are the key barriers to entry?
While we believe there are many potential benefits to making co-investments, we see four key barriers to entry:
How is alignment typically achieved with the hedge fund manager?
Generally, alignment is achieved in two ways. It can come from assurance that a manager has “skin in the game” by investing personal capital alongside that of external investors. It can also come through fee structures that are akin to “sweat equity.” There are a wide range of fee structures (including no fees), but structures are typically a skewed performance hurdle whereby a manager is only compensated if the investment achieves the investor’s objectives.
What is the role of co-investments in client portfolios? What are the trade-offs?
We believe the primary role of hedge fund co-investments can play in client portfolios is to potentially increase expected return. Secondary benefits may include improving transparency, reducing average fees, and introducing targeted exposures that are not correlated to existing allocations.
The trade-offs are that co-investments are resource-intensive and require quick response times. In addition, they can have higher risk and exhibit wider distributions of outcomes than traditional fund investments. Finally, co-investments may require more onerous liquidity.
In our view, hedge fund co-investments have a distinct role to play in well-balanced portfolios, offering important diversification benefits to traditional asset classes, hedge funds, and opportunistic investments.1 We believe that hedge fund co-investing will continue to present itself as a valid and growing investment opportunity set and reach the level of adoption currently found in private equity.