For most investors, the term hedge fund conjures images of insane 50% annual returns, but that image couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hedge funds are really just hedged investment funds and are designed to be absolute return elements by providing consistent gains in all sorts of market environments without the volatility associated with the stock market.
That consistent gain is why institutional investors and affluent individuals have always dabbled in hedge funds. The problem for regular Joes is that the world of hedge funds and their strategies is pretty much off limits thanks to high fees, long lock up periods and high investment minimums.
But like many corners of the market, the ETF boom has unlocked hedge funds and alternatives for the masses. Investors now have access to strategies such as long/short, event-driven and merger arbitrage, all within a single low-cost ETF. And given their low correlations with traditional asset classes, investors looking for more diversification and consistent returns may want to just dabble with a dose of liquid alternatives.
With more than 23 ETFs tagged as mini hedge funds here at ETFdb.com, there is certainly plenty of choice. Here are the top 10 hedge fund ETFs you should consider for your portfolio.
1. IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy Tracker ETF
The oldest hedge fund ETF is also the largest. The $1 billion IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy Tracker ETF (QAI ) could be an interesting starting point for investors looking to dabble in liquid alternatives. The fund is basically a hedge fund in one ticker. QAI hopes to replicate risk-adjusted returns of hedge funds using various hedge fund investment styles, including long/short equity, global macro, market neutral, event-driven, fixed-income arbitrage and emerging markets. It does this by using other liquid ETFs in order to match the performance of the IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy Index.
As far as expenses go, QAI might seem expensive at 0.75%, or $75 per $10,000 invested. But when compared to hedge funds number two and 20 on this list, that’s a downright bargain.
2. WisdomTree Managed Futures Strategy Fund
The biggest category of alternatives falls under the managed futures banner. These strategies take advantage of price trends across various futures contracts such as commodities, currencies and stock index derivatives to profit both long and short. The WisdomTree Managed Futures Strategy (WDTI ) is the largest of these ETFs. WDTI tracks the Diversified Trends Indicator Index, which is the benchmark managed futures index. The ETF will invest in a variety of futures contracts and swaps to create absolute return in a variety of market environments. WDTI charges 0.95% in expenses.
3. IQ Merger Arbitrage ETF
Betting on mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity is a time-honored hedge fund strategy. The IQ Merger Arbitrage ETF (MNA ) allows investors to tap into the strategy. MNA tracks the IQ Merger Arbitrage Index, which seeks to gain from the spread between the first announcement of an acquisition and the final purchase price. While that 10 to 50 cents per share may not seem like much, the accumulation of this strategy over and over again will get you a nice and steady profit. Expenses for MNA clock in at 0.75%.
4. AlphaClone Alternative Alpha ETF
Perhaps the best way for regular investors to own hedge funds is to own what they own. The AlphaClone Alternative Alpha ETF (ALFA ) attempts to do just that. The fund tracks the AlphaClone Hedge Fund Downside Hedged Index. The index tracks the performance of those U.S. stocks to which hedge funds and institutional investors have disclosed significant exposure. By combing through public filings (13Fs) and applying a proprietary “clone” screen that weeds out lesser managers, ALFA will own what the hedge funds own. That can include both long and short positions in stocks as market conditions and hedge fund holdings suggest. Expenses for ALFA run 0.95%.
To gain more insight about this ETF, read our Q&A with the CEO of AlphaClone.
5. SPDR Multi-Asset Real Return ETF
Inflation is considered the silent killer of portfolios. It ultimately crimps purchasing power and can wreck real returns. Finding a real return, or one that keeps pace with inflation, is key for investors. The SPDR Multi-Asset Real Return ETF (RLY ) seeks to achieve just that, a real return consisting of capital appreciation and current income.
The fund is actively managed and will invest in a variety of other index ETFs, ETNs, commodity pools and fixed-income instruments to achieve a high post-inflation return. The name of the game isn’t to knock it out of the park, but to clip a slightly higher return than inflation and protect purchasing power. RLY charges 0.70% in expenses.
6. ProShares Hedge Replication ETF
Like the previously mentioned QAI, the ProShares Hedge Replication ETF (HDG ) is a one-stop shop for broad hedge fund exposure, though it takes a different path to achieve its goals. HDG tracks the Merrill Lynch Factor Model — Exchange Series. The model first looks at Hedge Fund Research, Inc.’s (HFRI) index of 2,000 different hedge funds. By using a combination of futures and swaps on the S&P 500, Russell 2000, MSCI EAFA, MSCI Emerging Markets and T-Bills, the model seeks to find a perfect correlation to the index. This provides exposure to hedge funds and their returns, all while owning regular stocks and bonds. The ETF charges 0.95%.
7. Reality Shares DIVS ETF
Everyone knows that dividends have been one of the biggest pieces of the market’s total returns over the long haul. Hedge funds and the Reality Shares DIVS ETF (DIVY ) that dabble in “isolated dividend growth” strategies take that to the ninth degree.
DIVY seeks to bet on dividend growth (as in the actual growth of the dividend). DIVY will go long the put options and short call options for the same strike and expiry. That allows it to isolate the value of a company’s expected dividend payments from the trading price of its stock. It’ll then produce noncorrelated investment returns based on this value. It can be very confusing for novice investors, but DIVY is the only ETF to use an isolated dividend growth strategy. The fund charges 0.85%.
8. The IQ Hedge Market Neutral Tracker ETF
We often hear a lot about reducing volatility when it comes to investing in order to smooth out our rides. The preferred hedge fund way is through market-neutral strategies. Market-neutral managers typically invest in both long and short positions in asset classes in order to minimize exposure to systematic risk. Most of the time, a market-neutral fund will have equal amounts of long and short positions, creating a net exposure of zero.
The IQ Hedge Market Neutral Tracker ETF (QMN ) tracks the IQ Hedge Market Neutral Index and goes long and short various other ETFs to achieve its goal of being market neutral. Expenses run 0.90% for the fund.
9. IQ Hedge Macro Tracker ETF
When investors think of hedge funds, they are thinking of global macro funds. These funds can bet on anything: stocks, futures, options, currencies, you name it. These bets can be long or short. They tend to place large directional bets on the prices of various assets and they are usually highly leveraged.
The IQ Hedge Macro Tracker ETF (MCRO ) seeks to quantify these funds by tracking the IQ Hedge Macro Index. The fund screens data to come up with what the largest global macro funds are doing and then uses various ETFs to create a similar portfolio. MCRO charges 0.95% a year.
10. IQ Hedge Event-Driven Tracker ETF
Various events, both good and bad, can really effect a stock’s price in the short to medium term. And truthfully, investors and traders tend to overreact to those events. That’s where event-driven investors come in. They sit on the sidelines until something like a corporate reorganization, restructuring, acquisition, poorly received guidance report or other major event happens. They then swoop in and try to profit from the mispriced assets.
The IQ Hedge Event-Driven Tracker ETF (QED ) tracks the IQ Hedge Event-Driven Index, which seeks to match the returns of these types of hedge funds. The fund can’t actually quickly “swoop in”, so it uses a portfolio of ETFs and derivatives to mimic the return profiles of event-driven hedged funds. The expense ratio for the ETF is 1.00%.
The Bottom Line
The ETF boom opened up the world of liquid alternatives and hedge funds to the masses. However, getting started in the world of alternatives can be a very daunting task. The preceding ETFs are great ways to get started and add a dose of hedge funds to your portfolio.