U.S. dollar bills seen
U.S. dollar bills seen REUTERS

Withdrawals from hedge funds in September fell to their lowest level since before the credit crisis, as investors nervous over traditional 'safe havens' such as the Swiss franc and gold plumped for portfolios expected to make money in all seasons.

Gross outflows, as measured by the GlobeOp Capital Movement Index, which tracks monthly net subscriptions and redemptions of around $170 billion (107 billion pounds) of hedge fund assets under administration, were 0.57 percent, the lowest since GlobeOp first started to keep records in January 2006.

In these quite uncertain and challenging times for markets, when you look at redemptions, hedge fund investors seem to be quite comfortable staying put, GlobeOp President and Chief Operating Officer Vernon Barback told Reuters.

It is possible that as people look for safe havens, a well diversified hedge fund portfolio ... might be the next place for the flight to quality.

As fears grow over the health of the global economy, investors' options for what they perceive to be safe havens are looking more limited, with gold and U.S. Treasuries at or near record prices.

And this week the Swiss National Bank surprised markets with an exchange rate cap on the franc -- another asset that investors often run to in times of crisis -- saying it would no longer tolerate a rate below 1.20 per euro.

Of 17 clients who had net inflows exceeding $50 million, 15 are large, well-established brand names with many years of success. The managers have proven themselves able to do well in good times and batten down the hatches in bad times, said Barback.

Overall, GlobeOp's index shows net hedge fund inflows were 2.27 percent in the month to September 1, which is the second highest level since last summer.

Investors' trust in hedge funds comes despite a rocky patch for some parts of the $2 trillion industry.

The average fund lost 2.3 percent in August, putting it down 1.2 percent for the year to end-August, according to Hedge Fund Research's HFRI index, still above a 3.1 percent decline in the S&P 500 index.

However, equity-focused hedge funds are faring much worse, with average losses of 4.1 percent last month and bigger falls from some high-profile names.

This takes year-to-date losses to 3.4 percent and makes it harder for funds to finish the year in positive territory.