The Morningstar 1000 Hedge Fund Index lost 3.12% in August, significantly underperforming U.S. and global equity and bond markets.
August, like July, was characterized by a large drop in emerging markets and commodities. "Even though commodity prices have started to descend, their lofty valuations slowed growth and demand, especially in emerging markets,” said Morningstar Hedge Fund Analyst Nadia Van Dalen. "It was only a matter of time before hedge funds riding these waves crashed."
The Morningstar Emerging Markets Hedge Fund Index lost 7.13% in August while the Global Trend Hedge Fund Index, which profited from a previous upward trend in commodities, lost 5.35%. Both of these indexes experienced similar losses in July. Through July however, these funds continued to receive the largest inflows of assets this year, approximately $10.9 billion.
Unlike emerging market hedge funds, U.S. equity hedge funds fared relatively well. The Morningstar US Equity Hedge Fund Index earned 0.47% in August. Even though these hedge funds performed better than those in other equity categories, they still underperformed the markets—the S&P 500 Index gained 1.45% in August. Similarly, the Morningstar US Small Cap Equity Hedge Fund Index lost 2.81% while the Russell 2000 Index gained 3.61%
The U.S. equity markets were propped up for most of the month by the rising dollar and weakening Euro. Morningstar calculates its hedge fund indexes by converting hedge fund returns into U.S. dollars using the spot rate at the end of the month. This methodology does not hedge U.S. dollar exposure, and reflects the negative impact of Euro-denominated funds.
Along with the Euro, European equity markets dropped in August, reacting to weak economic data. The Morningstar Europe Equity Hedge Fund Index dropped 3.33%. Year to date through July 31, funds in this index have seen the largest outflows, approximately $9.6 billion. Despite the appreciation of the Yen, developed Asian equity markets followed that of emerging markets in general. The Morningstar Developed Asia Equity Hedge Fund Index lost 3.10%. Currency traders on the right side of the dollar, Yen, and Euro trades helped to cushion the blow for the Global Non-trend Hedge Fund Index, which lost 1.63%.
Global bonds, as measured by the Lehman Global Aggregate index ended the month in the red, and the Morningstar Global Debt Hedge Fund Index and the Morningstar Debt Arbitrage Hedge Fund Index both experienced losses of 3.64% and 1.33%, respectively. During the month, credit spreads widened amid financial distress at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hurting funds in these indexes. Volatility in the credit markets also affected funds in the Morningstar Convertible Arbitrage Hedge Fund Index, which lost 1.08%.
Distressed securities funds and corporate event funds continued to wait for a market turn around. The Morningstar Distressed Securities Hedge Fund Index and Corporate Actions Hedge Fund Index dropped 1.28% and 2.34%, respectively. Multi-strategy funds outperformed hedge funds of funds. These indexes fell 2.40% and 3.99%, respectively.