By Peter Laurelli, CFA | eVestment Global Head of Research
If the picture in April was broadly positive, May was all that and a little more. The best parts of the data from May was that not only were there widespread inflows, but the prevalence of large net outflows all but dried up. Not completely, but it was drastically reduced. All in all, May data around net flows was very good.
Key Points from May Data:
The good news for hedge funds continued again into May.
The overall volume of asset movement (absolute value of product level net flow vs. prior month AUM) was as low as we’ve seen it since at least 2015. The significance of that is with May being a firmly positive month for industry net inflows, the flip-side which kept the relative volume of flows low was the dearth of net outflows. The proportion of products with net inflows in May equaled its highest level since 2016 of 62%, which was last seen this year in February. Unlike February, however, there were not the large outflows from large funds, rather there were just broad inflows which were not offset by any significant redemptions. May flow appears very positive so far.
Volume of Net Flows
Monthly Absolute Net In/Outflow as a % of Prior Period Reported Assets, Jan 2015 – May 2021
Multi-strategy continues to see the strongest demand.
This is becoming a bit of a broken record. Net flow for multi-strategy managers has now been positive in seven of the last eight months and the segment easily has seen more money come in on a net basis in 2021 than any other general strategy. Inflows in May were broad with nearly 75% of reporting managers’ data indicating net inflows and for the year about 55% of managers are seeing net inflows. There is absolutely consistency in where money has been going and where it has been removed within the space in 2021. Every product which had notable inflows in May also has had net inflows prior to May and the opposite is also true, those with net outflows in May also have seen net redemptions prior to May in 2021.
It hasn’t been as convincing, but Macro funds are also seeing strong demand.
Compared to multi-strategy funds, the data for macro managers just hadn’t looked as good, but from a net flow perspective it is becoming just as good as each month of 2021 passes. For multi-strategy managers, pretty solid performance throughout 2020 appeared to earn investors’ dollars. While not as stand-out as last year, good returns have mostly continued. Within the macro space, however, there were some large losses during 2020 and some more drawdowns at the beginning of 2021. Nevertheless, money began to come in toward the end of 2020 and except for a blip of outflows in March, the segment is seeing healthy allocations. They are not being felt as widespread as within the multi-strategy space as over 55% of reporting funds appear to have net outflows this year, but with over $11 billion allocated to macro funds since November 2020, investors appear to be concerned more about future relative returns than past performance. While that is absolutely appropriate, time will tell if 2020 returns in the face of difficult times were an aberration or if the specter of inflation in 2021 and beyond and its consequences will highlight macro funds’ capabilities.
Managed futures continue to see demand in 2021.
After a difficult performance year in 2020, managed futures funds are doing well this year and the largest managers in the segment are in some cases more than keeping up with the groups’ good aggregate returns. After two years of a mostly challenging net flow environment, managed futures funds are enjoying some better times this year. Quite frankly, the positive investor sentiment has come as a bit of a surprise given past returns and resulting flows, but similar to the interest in macro funds this year, new allocations rightfully may speak more to investor sentiment toward future market environments than to how many of these managers have performance in the recent past.
Just about every notable point so far is a repeating theme for the year, and the same is true for long/short equity.
The data continues to tell the same story month after month for long/short equity. With the exception of a handful of managers in 2021, the long/short equity space is having a decent year from a net flow perspective. Yes, it is not as good as multi-strategy, and yes macro and managed futures funds are seeing investor interest likely from the same factors which could make equity markets more dangerous on the long side, but there is absolutely demand for managers in this space right now and it is mostly being directed to those who have performed well not only this year, but with consistency over a coupe of years. That said, those who have been weighing down the net flow picture have begun to turn performance around in recent months which could brighten the aggregate flow picture.
Whether the good capital raising environment for hedge funds will hold or not is anybody’s guess. There are factors that appear to be positively influencing some segments which could hurt others, though that is the nature of a diverse industry which covers just about every major market segment across the world. If forced to make an educated guess, it would seem net flow in 2021 will end up reversing the theme of net outflows the industry has felt over the prior three years.