Will 2 and 20 Soon Be Gone?

by: Susan Mangiero, CFA

Wall Street Journal reporters describe a trend that some believe was once only urban legend, namely hedge fund managers cutting their fees. In "Hedge Funds' Capital Idea: Fee Cuts" (September 9, 2008), Jenny Strasburg and Craig Karmin describe a new balance of power in which investors are being courted to stay the course rather than pull out their money in search of greener pastures. Replete with examples, the article suggests that jittery institutions may get a big discount on fees if they agree to lock-up periods or give the fund managers ample time to recover losses or improve on sub-par performance.

This makes sense from the hedge fund managers' perspective, especially those who face unprecedented redemption requests. From the pension investors' vantage point, things are not so clear. Yes, it's great to be able to pay lower fees but if the price of doing so is the realization of a mediocre risk-adjusted return profile, plan sponsors may be better off rethinking their allocation to that fund. As with everything else, it's seldom so simple. Unwinding a position may be expensive in terms of transaction costs alone. Then there is the issue of what should replace the hedge fund, if jettisoned from the pension portfolio.

What will be interesting to watch is whether other hedge funds feel pressured to follow suit in terms of dropping fees.