The New Yorker has a nice piece on Harry Kat’s creation of FundCreator, a tool designed to replicate hedge fund returns with much lower fees. I don’t know how true it is, but I like Harry’s take on the top bracket, monster hedge funds:
It is notoriously difficult to distinguish between genuine investment skill and random variation. But firms like Renaissance Technologies, Citadel Investment Group, and D. E. Shaw appear to generate consistently high returns and low volatility. Shaw’s main equity fund has posted average annual returns, after fees, of twenty-one per cent since 1989; Renaissance has reportedly produced even higher returns. (Most of the top-performing hedge funds are closed to new investors.) Kat questioned whether such firms, which trade in huge volumes on a daily basis, ought to be categorized as hedge funds at all. “Basically, they are the largest market-making firms in the world, but they call themselves hedge funds because it sells better,” Kat said. “The average horizon on a trade for these guys is something like five seconds. They earn the spread. It’s very smart, but their skill is in technology. It’s in sucking up tick-by-tick data, processing all those data, and converting them into second-by-second positions in thousands of spreads worldwide. It’s just algorithmic market-making.”
And I love this hedge fund managers idea of replicating himself…it’s the ultimate arb trade:
Not so long ago, Kat recalled, one hedge-fund manager, a “global macro” investor who specializes in betting on currencies and stock markets around the world, approached him with an offer. “He said, ‘Harry, I want to buy your thing so I can replicate myself. Then I’ll be able to enjoy life a bit more and keep sending my clients bills for two plus twenty. It’ll take them years to figure it out, if they ever do.