BlackRock Inc plans to launch a portfolio that will let wealthy individual investors access hedge funds that have boosted pension funds' and endowments' returns, the company said in a regulatory filing on Thursday.

The fund, BlackRock Core Alternatives Portfolio, is expected to open in the first quarter of 2010 and will be managed by the industry giant's alternative asset division.

BlackRock, which already offers a similar fund to British investors, is moving quickly in the United States to meet investors' demands after their portfolios were battered during the financial crisis.

Although hedge funds lost 19 percent in 2008 -- the industry's biggest losses -- their declines were far smaller than the broader stock market index, which tumbled around 38 percent last year.

For months, institutional investors have piled new money into hedge funds, helping industry assets cross the $2 trillion level in November for the first time in a year.

Advisers to wealthy investors are saying their clients are searching for options and would consider putting money in these kinds of funds.

It is the first time BlackRock, the world's biggest asset manager with $3.2 trillion in assets, is offering this type of portfolio to U.S. retail clients.

Eligible investors, who are worth at least $1 million, can allocate $50,000 to the new fund and get a taste of hedge funds that traditionally require their clients to commit at least $1 million and often as much as $10 million.

Investors will be required to leave their money locked up for one year, the same period that many hedge funds require for direct investments.

BlackRock Alternative Advisors will provide the overall portfolio allocation, the company said, noting that they will give money to third party managers, as well as products managed by BlackRock, where appropriate.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Andre Grenon, Leslie Gevirtz)