Yale fund chief reveals truth about hedge fund failures

By now you’ve begun to notice a pattern in the news about hedge funds: Nobody is making money anymore, so managers are returning millions to disappointed investors. The latest to close is Eton Park Capital. But the decision by that fund’s managers is hot on the heels of epic losses by previously high-flying funds. A few of the notables include Pershing Square Capital (run by activist investor Bill Ackman) and startling declines reported by John Paulson, the manager who famously bet against the housing market before it collapsed. There has been a lot of interesting analysis as to why this is happening. As my MarketWatch colleague Howard Gold concludes in a recent column, mostly it’s a problem of supply and demand. Essentially, the ability to consistently beat the stock market is a vanishingly rare talent. Investors who were early in the hedge fund game saw some distinct advantages, which only drew in more investors. The resulting flood of money, some $3 trillion in total, created demand for which there is no natural supply — managers who deliver repeatable, above-the-market returns after fees. For a number of years the big endowments at Yale and Harvard enjoyed a wide-open playing field. Their managers prospered, returned double-digit gains year after year. Now the hedge-fund lifeboat is flooded and investors are clamoring to get out. Who knows what they’ll pour money into next? Most likely something else that seems exclusive, costly and secretive — and promises to somehow bend the laws of finance in their favor.