"Event Driven" and Statistical Arbitrage Hedge Funds Faring Poorly

Two major types of hedge fund strategies, namely event-driven (Newspeak for risk arbitrage) and statistical arbitrage (typically, very high volume trading to capture and correct anomalies in prices relationships in various markets, such as among stocks bonds, or derivatives, or across markets) are having trouble.

It isn’t yet clear how far reaching these problems are. MarketWatch reported that event-driven funds as a whole lost roughly 1% to 2% in July (not surprising given the recent turmoil in the deal market. But it remains to be seen how the losses were distributed (ie, whether there are some funds that really got it wrong and will face investor redemptions) and whether, given the sea change in the credit markets, there is now too much capital committed to this style:

Merger arbitrage hedge funds, which bet on the outcome of mergers and acquisitions, lost money in July over concern that turmoil in the credit market could derail some deals.

Merger arbitrage managers tracked by Hedge Fund Research lost 2.04% in July on average. Another index of merger arbitrage funds compiled by Hennessee Group fell 0.71% last month. Hedgefund.net’s merger arbitrage index fell 0.86% in July, based on early reports from managers.

Merger arbitrage hedge funds buy shares of target companies and bet against the stock of acquiring firms. As a deal nears completion, the share prices of the two firms usually converge, generating returns for managers. That’s known as the spread.
A surge in leveraged buyouts and other debt-fueling acquisitions by companies in recent years helped generate big gains for these types of hedge funds. Managers make the most money when the value of acquisitions is raised higher than the original offer price. See story on merger arbitrage.

Merger arbitrage funds generated returns of 12.93% on average in 2006, the best result for at least four years, according to Hedgefund.net.

For the stat arbs, DealBreaker, in “Blood Bath for the Quants?” says readers are reporting that some funds are in distress:

“The worst day ever,” one reader tells DealBreaker. Another describes it as “a bloodbath.”….

A number of DealBreaker readers have written in to say that the StatArbs are in trouble.

“The trading volumes are going thru roof, to the point that the program trading desks servers are crashing,” one reader writes. “For what it’s worth, I think it’s part of the unwinding of leverage from June and July. A number of multi-strategy shops are looking at losses and can’t even get a bid on certain swaps, fixed income and derivatives. So, what’s a risk manager/CIO going to do? Sell the most liquid part of their book.”

Note that many (most? all?) statistical arbitrage players rely heavily on computers not simply to identify possible trades, but also to execute them automatically. Speed is of the essence, since the anomalies are often fleeting. Needless to say, just like program trading of the 1980s, a computer-driven trading process is impossible to override when markets behave in unanticipated ways. You either have to halt the trading entirely or let it run. There is no way to apply human judgement except via modifying the models.

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  1. Scurvon

    I spoke w/two different hedge fund managers who said the rumors are true. Names mentioned included Goldman’s Alpha, SAC, Ramius, and a DB fund. Apparently the declines in July sparked redemptions which has forced selling which is leading to losses. The fact that many of these funds are in the same long/short positions means that their sales (or short-covering) are killing each other. The viability of these funds is in question.

  2. Yves Smith

    Thanks for the comment. This is significant because those funds are large and sophisticated. If they are in trouble, it’s likely the whole sector is as well.

  3. Scurvon

    The people I’ve spoken with have said things like ‘I feel like I’m at Long Term Capital’. The word bloodbath has been used repeatedly.

    I read in the comments of the dealbreaker site that it is the GS quant fund rather than Alpha that is in trouble. This rings true given the nature of the problems.

  4. dis

    There have been rumors going around about Renaissance Tech. Although in the WSJ they denied and presented their July numbers which did not show trouble.

    More vaguely it also hinted they have had trouble in the first week of August

  5. dis

    It also quite worrisome that both qual and quant strategies are not faring well.

    Looks like the situation is both quite nasty and quite uncertain.

    Not good. Not good at all!

  6. "Cassandra"

    Yves, There is undoubtedly liquidation in progress. And the chaotic process the market displays is similar in Japan, as it is in the US market – selective shorts being unwound “without regard to market impact”. From this vantage point, a keen-eyed investor can likely observe where a stock (historically) was being impacted by short-sellers, and where levitation was being accomplished with weight-of-money flows, or where a fund – like LTCM before – (Goldman Alpha, Highbridge, whoever) may have simply grown too big in positions relative to the expected return and more importantly, the tail risk.

    The seeming chaos it spawns is unruly, difficult to predict with its cascades & feedback effects (which name & how much) in the short-term, but not inexplicable.

    Just how bad? There are listed funds where people can get proxies with daily NAVs for how bad the unleveraged impact has been upon systematic quant strategies (Bloomberg users see BMNIX Equity gp” or “EMNCX Equity GP”) by looking at a few different diversifed, market-neutral entities.

    See my post here for a little more discussion on the subject.

  7. Scurvon

    Just heard second hand that Goldman is shutting down its Alpha fund. This supposedly came from a Goldman broker…

  8. "Cassandra"

    Lots of finger-pointing in the direction of Highbridge as a sizable casualty and receiver of shoulder taps and redemptions in stat-arb strats. Since Dubin sold to JPM, the Bank has been successful at stuffing ever-more money into ostensibly limited-capacity strategies (whether the offending practitioners knew they were limited capacity or not).

    Undoubtedly, they are not the only one who’s been tortured by recent moves. Rumour has it that Tykhe Capital has been impaled upon a hot poker with a -20% August MTD, alledgedly on 4-to-1 leveraged. Oooooops!

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