U.K. voters' surprise decision to leave the European Union roiled markets on Friday, but hedge funds appear to have avoided crippling losses, according to market data and people familiar with fund performance.
Money managers were positioned relatively defensively coming into the vote, meaning they had reduced the amount of capital exposed to market turbulence, and even used the resulting selloff as a buying opportunity, according to a report from Credit Suisse's prime brokerage division late on Friday. "I don’t want to say it’s a nonevent, but we’re not seeing panic,” said Eric Siegel, head of hedge fund investments at Citi Private Bank. "It’s just a bad day in the market."
Hedge funds that bet on or against European stocks were hit hardest Friday, with most losing between 2 and 4 percent, two investors familiar with the numbers said.
For some the pain was even worse. The London-based Adelphi Capital's $1.9 billion European fund was off 8 percent at one point on Friday, a person familiar with the fund's performance said. The fund was already down 9.5 percent for the year through late last week.
How the approximately 8,400-fund industry fared during the Brexit turmoil will not be clear until early July when clients get their monthly performance reports.
While funds were relatively well prepared for gains in U.S. Treasuries and a fall in the pound, they remained exposed to the steep declines that hit equity markets, according to weekly data sent by traders to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Yet many funds appeared to have fared relatively well.
Money managers that use macroeconomic theories and computer-guided "systematic" predictions to invest generally saw their funds remain steady or turn a small profit following news of the "Leave" vote, according to interviews with hedge funds and their clients.
Managers using such strategies can quickly adjust portfolios and react to data, unlike so-called fundamental managers who are often forced to stick with individual stocks and bonds.
For example, the main fund managed by Sweden-based $6.5 billion Lynx Asset Management gained 5 percent as of Friday afternoon on the British vote, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The fund's computers recently positioned it in a short against the British pound, a lucrative bet given the currency's record plunge following the vote.
Alcova Asset Management, a small London-based quantitative firm, benefited from its short stock bets, and its main fund gained about 1.5 percent following the referendum result, according to a person familiar with the situation.
A larger London-based peer Winton Capital, said its main systematic trading strategy produced a 3.1 percent gain early on Friday, driven in part by "long-standing" short bets on the pound and euro, according to a note to clients seen by Reuters.
Crispin Odey, a hedge fund manager who backed the "Leave" campaign, could turn out to be one of the biggest financial winners of the vote to quit the bloc.
The boss of Odey Asset Management had bet his $10.2 billion firm's assets on a fall in financial markets, including a series of "short" trading positions and a punt on gold.
Other winners, according to people familiar with the firms, included funds managed by Millburn Ridgefield Corporation, which gained 2.6 percent before fees as of Friday morning; Welton Global Directional Portfolio, which was up 2.3 percent on the day thanks to short selling the pound and euro and going long U.S., German and UK government bonds; and volatility-focused Argentière Capital, which had one of its funds rise 2 percent Friday.
"Given the volatility in the broader markets, hedge fund managers are holding up quite well," said Raymond Nolte, chief investment officer at SkyBridge Capital.
None of the hedge funds mentioned would speak publicly on the returns or did not respond to requests for comment.
To be sure, many hedge fund clients headed into the weekend frustrated.
"Did anyone predict this correctly? Anytime the equity market moves 7 percent in one day, the answer is no," said one investor in some of the world's biggest hedge funds.
An executive at a Europe-focused stock picker said its fund was down about 2 percent despite holding hedges against steep stock and currency declines.
Other hedge fund investors welcomed the Brexit-induced volatility.
Arvin Soh, portfolio manager at GAM Alternative Investments Solutions, said he was pleased that "something" finally happened in the market, giving hedge funds the chance to benefit from dislocation.
"This," he said, "will wind up being a good thing for managers."