Hedge fund returns remain highly correlated to the S&P 500, as I have pointed out before and this is a negative development for the hedge fund industry longer term. The latest available figures to Jan 18th show that the S&P 500 was down 9.8% YTD, while the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index was down 3.0%
When the Tech Bubble burst in 2000 and equities went down in the ensuing bear market, hedge fund returns were uncorrelated to equity returns. Thus, they appeared attractive as an alternative investment because of their alpha and their low correlation to equities and other asset classes. Given this recent persistent high level of equity correlation, investors will no doubt begin to question the role of hedge funds in a diversified portfolio.
Even Equity Market Neutral Funds are correlated
The accompanying chart shows the returns of the HFRX Equity Market Neutral Index (-3.0% YTD) versus the S&P 500 (-9.8% YTD). Returns started becoming more correlated in late 2005 and early 2006 and have more or less continued to this day. For a group of funds that is supposed to be non-directional to the market their returns are exhibiting a very high market beta.
Addendum: Information Arbitrage has a similar view in his post Ratchet down your expectations for hedge funds and private equity funds.