While most of the world’s institutional investors watched from the sidelines as cryptocurrencies surged last year, a small group of hedge fund managers piled in.
Call them visionaries or just plain lucky, but boy did they hit the jackpot.
The nine cryptocurrency hedge funds tracked by Eurekahedge Pte soared 1,167 percent as a group in 2017, according to preliminary figures from the data provider, which doesn’t disclose details such as assets under management or individual returns.
While that trailed the 1,403 percent gain in bitcoin, it comfortably trounced the 8 percent return by hedge funds globally.
The numbers provide an early look at how professional traders are faring in the world’s wildest investment boom. Even as luminaries from Warren Buffett to Ray Dalio warn of a bubble and cryptocurrencies start 2018 with losses, a growing number of wealthy individuals, family offices and institutions are looking for ways to gain exposure.
Hedge funds offer investors more than just a wager on rising cryptocurrency prices; their strategies also include market making, early-stage equity investing and bitcoin lending. While those bets proved a drag on returns in 2017, they should help cushion funds against losses during market downturns.
Still, the products aren’t for everyone. Managers of the Altana Digital Currency Fund, which surged 1,496 percent last year after fees, warned clients in a November presentation that they should only invest a fraction of their net worth -- an amount they can afford to lose. European Securities and Markets Authority Chairman Steven Maijoor said in a Bloomberg Television interview Tuesday that bitcoin investors “should be prepared to lose all their money.”
Bitcoin slumped by the most since September on Tuesday, falling 12 percent at 9 a.m. in London, while rival cryptocurrencies also tumbled.
Here’s a closer look at the Altana fund and four of its peers that benefited from last year’s boom:
Altana Digital Currency Fund
Investment universe: Started in 2014, the fund buys cryptocurrencies in proportion to their global market value and adjusts holdings regularly based on sentiment and market opportunities, according to a presentation seen by Bloomberg News. It also earns 3 percent to 21 percent annualized interest from lending bitcoin to short sellers.
2017 performance: The majority of its 1,496 percent return was from bitcoin’s gain. The fund outpaced the digital currency because of automated arbitrage, momentum trading and short-term, securitized bitcoin loans.
Key people: Lee Robinson, who co-founded London-based hedge fund Trafalgar Asset Managers, and previously worked at Tudor Investment Corp., is chief investment officer of the firm. Alistair Milne is co-founder and CIO of the fund.
Market Neutral Liquidity SP-Institutional
Investment universe: Five cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, ethereum, bitcoin cash, ripple and litecoin. A market-making fund, it seeks to profit from price differentials across different exchanges and markets, said Cedric Jeanson of BitSpread Group, investment adviser to the portfolio, which oversees more than $100 million. BitSpread makes money from its market-making activities, and doesn’t rely on directional bets. It trades about $1 billion of digital currencies a month, with more than 5,000 transactions a day.
2017 performance: The portfolio made nearly 54 percent since it started on May 9, or about 92 percent annualized, Jeanson said. Most of the 2017 returns came from trading bitcoin, ethereum and bitcoin cash. BitSpread had previously traded with only internal capital, using the same strategy.
Key people: Jeanson, who founded BitSpread in 2014, spent the earlier part of his career trading equity and credit derivatives at banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. His last job was London-based chief operating officer at Nomura Holdings Inc.’s equity derivatives business in Europe.
Silver 8 Partners
Investment universe: Marketed as a hedge fund focused on fintech, blockchain and machine learning, Silver 8 allocates money to digital assets and infrastructure. It also makes venture-capital investments in early-stage companies. It can take bullish and bearish bets on publicly-traded securities. The firm has been investing in digital assets since July 2015 and currently manages more than $300 million, said Jose Suarez, co-founder of Florida-based Silver 8 Capital.
2017 performance: The fund’s gain was estimated at more than 750 percent in 2017, mostly due to bullish bets on digital assets. It has kept all venture-capital investments at book value. Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, bitcoin cash and ethereum, as well as infrastructure-type investments, now account for the majority of its holdings.
Key people: Manuel Anguita was a macro hedge fund manager at Proxima Alfa Investments and more recently was a founding partner of Aguila Capital, which focused on opportunities arising from the European debt crises. Suarez, the son of a former Latin American central banker, had earlier been president of Walker Digital, the innovation lab of Priceline.com founder Jay Walker.
Crypto Asset Fund
Investment universe: The fund has six share classes, four of them currently active. Among them, one allows all types of investments in the crypto space, including currencies, tokens, tethers, and other related instruments. A second share class mirrors a crypto index, a third lends fiat and cryptocurrencies on exchanges and the fourth engages in environmental, social and governance-related investments in the crypto space.
2017 performance: Estimated gain of 805 percent from inception on July 1 through December.
Key people: Tim Enneking is the San Diego, California-based managing director of Crypto Asset Management. He formerly founded and managed Tera Capital Fund, a fund of funds focused on eastern Europe, according to Crypto Asset’s website.
Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund Plc
Investment universe: Bitcoin. Global Advisors (Jersey) Ltd. was originally a commodities hedge fund manager. In September 2014, it started what it describes as the world’s first regulated bitcoin fund. The fund can have a zero to 125 percent exposure. It trades bitcoin and products related to bitcoin, such as the exchange-traded bitcoin products offered by XBT Provider. It also lends and borrows bitcoin.
2017 performance: Estimated return of about 300 percent. In late 2017, it had a limited net exposure to bitcoin, switching to a more market-neutral arbitrage approach. It missed out on some of the gains late in the year, said Daniel Masters, co-founder of Global Advisors.
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