Hedgies cash in after a bumper start to the year

 
City A.M. Reporter
HEDGE funds are cashing in some of their chips after enjoying a bumper first quarter, wary that a sudden change in market sentiment could see them take the sort of losses suffered in last year’s volatile markets.

Hedge funds returned five per cent in the first two months of the year, the best start to a calendar year since 2000 according to Hedge Fund Research, as the European Central Bank’s €1 trillion cash injection boosted assets across the board.

Some star names recorded huge gains. Crispin Odey’s Odey European fund gained 21.1 per cent and Johnny de la Hey’s Tosca fund rose 13.7 per cent to mid-March, while Michael Hintze’s $1.4bn CQS Directional Opportunities fund was up 13.9 per cent to the end of February.

Many managers remain positive on markets, but in a number of cases have opted to trim their bets, influenced by sharp volatility last year during the Eurozone debt crisis that saw the average fund lose 5.3 per cent and some more bullish funds take much bigger losses.

“Over the last week or so we’ve actually seen [risk] come off a bit,” said Paul Harvey, European head of sales in prime finance at Citi.

“We all want this rally to continue but we are all relatively cautious about the broader macroeconomic environment and the political environment, and uncertainty certainly prevails,” he added.

Many managers came into this year with low levels of risk, missing out on the start of the rally after underestimating the impact on markets of the ECB’s so-called Long Term Refinancing Operations, designed to avoid another credit crunch.

As markets continued to rebound during the first quarter, however, a number of funds hiked their bets, in particular favouring the commodities and financials sectors, according to one fund of funds manager.