Hedge funds eked out tiny gains during the first half of the year but lagged far behind the broader stock market, data released on Friday show.

According to performance and flows tracker Hedge Fund Research, the average hedge fund inched up 0.76 percent since January, having given back earlier gains during May and June, when the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index fell 1.14 percent and 1.22 percent respectively. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 6 percent in the first half of the year.

Struggling with the fallout from Japan's earthquake and nuclear disaster, the U.S. economy's uneven recovery and Europe's ongoing debt crisis, many of the world's biggest hedge funds found themselves in the red this year.

The main problem with our performance was a lack of winners in the quarter, David Einhorn said in a letter to his Greenlight Capital investors after losing 5 percent this year.

Nearly all strategies lost money in June, Hedge Fund Research said, noting that only so-called short sellers and funds pursuing yield alternatives made money during June.

For the year, the biggest losers were funds pursuing commodity strategies, which lost 3.80 percent, and so-called global macro funds, which traditionally bet on currencies and interest rates and dropped 2.16 percent this year.

But for some investors things may be looking up in the early days of the second half.

John Paulson, one of the first to make billions by betting against the overheated mortgage market and one of this year's biggest losers, reported to investors that his flagship Advantage fund scored during the first days of July. The fund gained 3.38 pct, helping trim the year's losses to 12.44 percent.

Since hedge funds, unlike mutual funds, are not required to disclose their performance, industry trackers like Hedge Funds Research collect data from managers anonymously. The numbers are closely watched for trends in the industry.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)