As in prior years, 2018 marked a challenging period for hedge funds. A variety of factors contributed to difficulties in the hedge fund space, from rising interest rates and exacerbated trade tensions between the U.S. and China to increasing investor interest in low-cost ETFs and index funds. All told, the industry declined by 4.1% on a fund-weighted basis, per a report by Hedge Fund Research quoted by Bloomberg. Although this average performance exceeds that of the S&P 500, which returned around -6.2% for the year, it is a far cry from the double-digit gains that used to set the hedge fund space apart from other modes of investment.
As funds have begun to report on their 2018 performance, it has become clear that there has in fact been an exceptionally wide range of returns across the industry. Interestingly, this does not seem to be linked to a particular strategy, nor is it dependent upon big name money managers. Some of the most talked about funds, such as David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital, generated dismal returns (in Greenlight's case, the fund returned -35% for the year). A handful of funds, such as Bill Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management, landed somewhere in the middle (Pershing returned -0.7% for the year, beating out the average hedge fund as well as the S&P benchmark).
There were also some funds which, through exceptional navigation of a highly turbulent market and perhaps a bit of luck, managed to generate impressive returns for the year. Below, we'll explore some of these funds, ranked according to overall performance for 2018. Notably, none of these top-performing hedge funds is among the funds most likely to make headlines because of a celebrity money manager at the helm.
1. Odey European
Performance in 2018: 53%
2. Northlander Commodity
Performance in 2018: 52.7%
3. Crescat Global Macro
Performance in 2018: 40%
4. QQQ Capital
Performance in 2018: 39.4%
Strategy: Long/Short Equity
5. Alta Park
Performance in 2018: 34.8%
Strategy: Long/Short Equity
The top performing hedge fund of 2018 was Odey Asset Management's European fund. Odey, launched by Crispin Odey in 1991, is a London-based firm which suffered significant losses in 2016 and 2017. Odey's team capitalized on volatility in financial markets, particularly European names sensitive to Brexit fears. In 2017, the fund lost about two-thirds of its value when it made major bets against the equities bull market. Those fortunes were reversed in 2018, when the fund came out on top of the pack, generating about 53% in returns. Nonetheless, Odey's fund remains about 58% behind its one-time peak, per a report by Financial News London. Odey has developed a reputation as a highly volatile fund: when it succeeds, it does so in a big way. However, on the other hand, Odey losses can prove to be devastating as well.
Northlander Advisors, another London-based management group, saw its energy-focused Commodity fund just barely fail to generate the best returns of 2018. The fund, which has about $250 million in assets and which launched in 2012, focuses on European gas and power as well as international coal. Northlander utilizes both directional and relative value trading, futures, swaps and options.
Crescat Global Macro
Denver-based Crescat Capital saw its flagship Global Macro fund gain 40% for 2018. This fund focuses on macro themes globally and across all major asset classes. The Crescat Long/Short fund also generated exceptional returns of 32.1% for the year. The fund won big with a bearish bet on stocks for the last part of the year after assessing September 20, 2018 as the top of the bull market. In a quarterly report at the end of 2018, the fund explained that it "capitalized extremely well throughout the year on international equity shorts" in China, Australia and elsewhere.
At a time when many hedge long-standing hedge funds are facing the prospect of shuttering their doors, it's unusual to hear positive news associated with a fund that has recently opened. Nonetheless, QQQ Capital, a Singapore-based fund which began trading in early April of 2018, managed to not only survive its first months of trading but to earn a spot on the top-performers list as well. The long-short fund focuses on education, technology and tourism stocks. Although the fund targeted an annual return of 15%, its performance of nearly 40% through the end of 2018 set the bar significantly higher.
Alta Park Capital of San Francisco is another relatively recently launched fund. Having launched in 2013, the fund remains relatively small by hedge fund standards. This fund focuses on equities in the technology, media and telecommunications areas.