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Where the World’s Smart Money Made and Lost It in 2018

(Bloomberg) -- The worst year for hedge funds since 2011 is drawing to a close. Returns evaporated, some of the biggest names shut up shop and investors pulled their money. But there were some bright spots.

Here are a few who beat the odds -- and who bombed -- in 2018. (Note: most returns are through Nov. 30.)

U.S. Winners

A few marquee managers trading macroeconomic themes were able to sidestep the market turmoil and post double-digit gains.

Jeffrey Talpins’s Element Capital Management soared 26 percent through November and Autonomy Capital, Robert Gibbins’s more than $4.5 billion firm, is up almost 16 percent in its global macro fund, according to people familiar with the matter. The funds were both almost flat last month, with Element down 0.4 percent and Autonomy up 0.6 percent.

In recent months, New York-based Element has benefited from a bet on rising U.S. interest rates. And earlier this year, when political turmoil in Italy roiled markets, Element profited from hedges in rates and currencies designed to protect against growing stress and volatility in the euro area.

Autonomy’s returns were driven largely by wagers in developing and emerging markets: Currency and rate bets in Brazil, China and Mexico helped, as did a rally in Puerto Rican debt, one of the people said.

Element and Autonomy stood out among their macro peers, who saw the largest declines last month among the main hedge fund strategies tracked by Hedge Fund Research. Macro funds on average gained 0.3 percent on an asset-weighted basis this year.

“Unlike many of the other hedge-fund strategies that focus on a specific market, global macro managers have much greater flexibility on where they invest,” said Don Steinbrugge, managing partner of consulting firm Agecroft Partners. “This causes much greater dispersion of returns.”

Where the World’s Smart Money Made and Lost It in 2018

Another top performer has been Gresham Investment Management, the $7 billion New York-based asset manager focused on commodities.

Gresham Quant ACAR jumped just over 28 percent in the first 11 months, including a 2.8 percent return in November, according to an investor update. The gains were largely driven by the $105 million fund’s exposure to European energy markets.

Gresham’s fund is among a subset of trend-followers trading esoteric markets, like cheese or even obscure chemicals. The niche strategy, which seeks uncorrelated returns, has been gaining investor attention as traditional CTAs (commodity trading advisers) falter amid price swings.

U.S. Losers

Where the World’s Smart Money Made and Lost It in 2018

On the flip side, some equity and quantitative funds have struggled against the more volatile backdrop. At least two such U.S.-based funds are headed toward their worst annual declines on record: David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital, and Quantitative Investment Management’s tactical hedge fund.

Greenlight’s decline has been well-documented, tumbling 3.5 percent last month, extending losses to almost 28 percent.

Where the World’s Smart Money Made and Lost It in 2018

Einhorn’s value-investing strategy has underperformed the U.S. stock market, with the S&P 500 Index gaining 5.1 percent through Nov. 30, including reinvested dividends. The New York-based firm has been trying to rebound since 2015, and Einhorn has continued to affirm his commitment to value. “We have been accused of being stubborn, but one person’s stubbornness is another person’s discipline,” he wrote in a July 31 letter.

QIM’s Quantitative Tactical Aggressive Fund, which uses algorithms to trade stocks and exchange-traded vehicles, is on track for only its second annual loss in 10 years. The fund -- one of several strategies run by Jaffray Woodriff’s Charlottesville, Virginia-based firm -- has plummeted almost 41 percent this year after surging 60.5 percent in 2017, according to an investor document seen by Bloomberg News.

Where the World’s Smart Money Made and Lost It in 2018

Europe Winners

The return of volatility has beset scores of hedge funds, but for two of the best-known managers in Europe, it’s brought a much-needed opportunity to repair past damages.

Billionaire Alan Howard, who has suffered an investors exodus, cut fees and started several funds to revive his investment firm, and Crispin Odey, whose main fund lost 65 percent in the three years through 2017, are making a strong comeback.

Brevan Howard’s Master Fund gained about 12 percent through November, reversing its worst-ever annual performance since starting in 2003. The macro hedge fund, which has seen assets plunge to about $2.8 billion from $28 billion in 2013, is looking at its best year since at least 2011, when it gained 12.2 percent.

Where the World’s Smart Money Made and Lost It in 2018

Odey, who for years warned of market chaos and lost money betting on it, returned an impressive 48 percent through November via his flagship money pool. A vocal critic of central bank policies, Odey has also made money on his long bets this year. His fund surged 10 percent in September alone, boosted by a surge in shares of Sky Plc after Comcast Corp. won the auction for the U.K. broadcaster, and gains in Randgold Resources Ltd. after Canada’s Barrick Gold Corp. agreed to buy the miner.

Europe Losers

By contrast, some of 2017’s winners have been crushed as their long-biased portfolios suffered a setback amid sharp selloffs. The Horseman European Select Fund, started in 2005, was down 29 percent through Dec. 12, according to a client newsletter. The $104 million hedge fund, run by Stephen Roberts, gained almost 40 percent last year and was 141 percent net long equity exposure at the end of October, according to another update.

One of GAM Holding AG’s quant hedge funds meanwhile plunged 29 percent this year through November, wiping out all of last year’s gains. The Cantab Capital Partners unit, acquired in 2016 as interest in algorithm-driven funds boomed, struggled with market volatility in February and again in recent months.

Asia Winners

Vanhau Asset Management’s macro hedge fund has gained almost 15 percent this year through November, according to a client newsletter. The more than $160 million fund generated all of this year’s profits from Asia currencies, rates and equities, according to Vishweshwar Anantharam, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong-based firm.

One source of returns was China. Vanhau made money by being bullish on both the country’s currency and equities until February. It turned bearish on the yuan and stocks from April as trade tensions escalated, Anantharam said. The firm had forecast for China’s current account to deteriorate with rising labor costs and excess capacities, even before the trade spat intensified.

Another standout in Asia was True Partner Capital’s True Partner Fund, which returned 24 percent through November, according to Govert Heijboer, the Hong Kong-based co-chief investment officer. The $255 million fund profited from the return of stock market swings after one of the most subdued periods for volatility last year, making 21 percent in February alone and rising another 4.8 percent in October.

Among the multi-strategy hedge funds, the $693 million KS Asia Absolute Return Fund returned an estimated 20 percent as of November, Chief Investment Officer Kyle Shin said. A large portion of the gains came from a bet that the U.S. Federal Reserve would raise rates more than the market had priced in.

WT Asset Management Ltd.’s $350 million Greater China stock fund rose 27 percent this year through November, and, near the very top of the ladder, is Dantai Capital Ltd., whose China and U.S.-focused stock hedge fund surged 47 percent. It produced those gains by keeping the value of bullish bets close to that of bearish ones.

Asia Losers

The stock market sell-off has led to double-digit declines at some venerable China-focused hedge funds. Greenwoods Asset Management Ltd.’s $1.8 billion Golden China Fund swung to a 20 percent loss in the first 11 months after 2017’s stellar 52 percent gain, an update to investors shows, while the $213 million Zeal China Fund shed almost 22 percent, having made 32 percent last year.

The $1.5 billion Quantedge Global Fund sunk 24.5 percent through November, headed for the worst annual return since its 2006 inception, a newsletter sent to investors shows. The document doesn’t shed any light on why the performance was so bad. Of some comfort to investors, the fund has at least returned an annualized 20 percent since inception.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.