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Why 2015 was actually a good year for Asian hedge funds & the Mystery of Chinese Sunshine Funds: HK Roundtable

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Expert investors can generate higher returns in Asia than in more mature economies

While it was a volatile year in Asia, 2015 was actually pretty good for hedge fund investors. The biggest source of alpha returns has been China. Asia-based multi managers like SAIL find they get about two to three times the alpha generation with Asia long/short equity managers versus US long/short equity managers. Even some of the highest returns of both start-up funds and larger US and European quant funds are generated in their Asian strategies and Asian allocations.

We all know that an equity bubble was forming earlier in 2015, and it popped in July. Hedge fund managers generally had a very heavy long bias from end of 2014 into 2015. So we knew that they would have strong performance if the equity markets would do well, but the question was, how will they perform when the equity markets pull back? The summer of 2015 was not a classical pull back, but rather a collapse within the Chinese equity market in particular. Still, those European and US investors who knew China well have not significantly pulled capital due to the recent market volatility.

What 2015 in particular has demonstrated once more is that being in Asia is very important, it gives you an edge if you invest in the region. There are a number of funds that are based out of London or the US that are investing from a distant perspective, and they perhaps don’t invest in the same style or the same types of stocks that more local managers are investing with. Those foreign managers in general have had more difficulties in the sense that many were from July through September or October giving up all gains for the year.

On the other hand, the more locally based managers tended to actually manage the volatility quite well. Of course, most of them probably had one difficult month, whether it was August or September, that depends upon the manager. But since then, especially in October, we have seen a very large rebound in some of these managers, and for 2015 it looks like they will have quite a good year.

Overseas investors see that there is quality in Hong Kong particularly. We are also seeing that more capital stays in Asia, while in the past a lot just left the region to be managed from the West. Asian investors are now becoming increasingly aware of and diversify into less correlated / less beta type investments with strong downside protection. Many larger macro funds were able to attract assets, but unfortunately, it has not been a great year for macro strategies. It does remain a challenge for many investors to identify what types of strategies and which geographies are worth investing in.

The Asian hedge fund industry now is about $180 billion of the $3 trillion global hedge fund business, with dedicated China L/S equity funds at about $40 billion. After 2008 Asian hedge funds suffered massive losses and redemptions, and shrank to about $100 billion at its lowest point. Outflows continued all the way through 2011, and then probably 2012 was the turning point. Seeing the industry nearly doubling from that point is a positive sign for the future.

The Mystery of the Chinese “Sunshine Funds”

In contrast to offshore hedge funds that are licensed and regulated by experienced and recognized agencies like Hong Kong, Cayman and based in a major financial center, the Chinese “sunshine funds”, which are considered as local onshore hedge funds in China, are very lightly regulated. Only in 2014 did the Chinese government form an agency to start looking at the regulation of these funds. In December 2015, the Asset Management Association of China said 24,625 of such hedge funds are registered, up from nearly 17,000 in January of the same year.

Those funds invest exclusively onshore within China and are not doing any shorting of single stocks, because it’s very difficult to source borrow of single stocks there. They may have been able to apply more futures hedging because until the government crackdown, China had a very liquid futures market.

Apart from the weak regulatory standards, investors are also cautious about the potential for illegal activity. But, as with everything in China, also in financial regulations there’s a real rush to get from Point A to Point B in a quarter of the time that it took that same process to happen in the West. Because it is a controlled economy and environment, it can actually all happen in that short period of time: the whole process may not run through its entire course, and there are good and bad aspects of that. While you might think, objectively and reasonably, that it should take, say, five years for the regulatory regime to fully develop, chances are that things will be a lot faster in China. In a way, Asia seems determined to show the West that they can do it too and succeed on their own terms.

The Opalesque 2015 Hong Kong Roundtable, sponsored by Harneys and Eurex, took place end of 2015 in Hong Kong with:

  1. Ally Chow, Managing Director, Chenavari Investment Managers HK
  2. Angelyn Lim, Partner, and Head of Asian Financial Services Practice, Dechert
  3. Chanel Fu, Executive Director, Nomura Securities
  4. Eric Wong, Director, Celera Group, Vauban Group, TCG Capital
  5. Harold Yoon, CIO, SAIL Advisors
  6. Jonathan Culshaw, Asia Managing Partner and Global Head of Investment Funds, Harneys
  7. Markus Georgi, Co-Head of Asia and Middle East Business Development Team, Eurex
  8. Steve Bernstein, CEO, Sinopac Solutions and Services
The group also discussed:
  • Why have most of the quantitative market neutral strategies in China actually done very well during the downturn?
  • How is AMAC, the Chinese regulator in charge of sunshine funds (whose number jumped from 5000 one year ago to now 20,000) going about regulating them?
  • Why is the sunshine funds’ model to get finance broken?
  • Why are a lot of China onshore managers who never bothered coming offshore looking at operating from offshore now?
  • What’s happening in the Shanghai and HongKou Hedge Fund Parks?
  • (When) will Shanghai be the financial center of Asia?
  • What is the investor’s challenge when trying to make money in Japan?
  • Which two unprecedented technical factors are still creating massive opportunities in Europe?
  • Are Asian managers interested in launching UCITS or just Cayman funds?
  • New platform solutions now available for smaller and start-up managers in Asia
  • What is CEINEX, China’s first JV with a Western exchange?
  • Money, Money! What will the Chinese do with RMB 22trn savings in Chinese banks and 2trn offshore RMB deposits?
  • What will the Chinese do against the looming threat of pension deficits?
  • Will the demise of investment banks exacerbate future crises?
  • How is the boom in Asian family offices troubling private banks?

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