A fine basic history and survey of hedge funds, including a disturbing concluding outlook. From Donald MacKenzie in the London Review of Books:
4 December 2008
An Address in Mayfair
Donald MacKenzie on Hedge Funds
You could walk around Mayfair all day and not notice them. Hedge funds don’t–can’t –advertise. The most you’ll see is a discreet nameplate or two. An address in Mayfair counts in the world of hedge funds. It shows you’re serious, and have the money and confidence to pay the world’s most expensive commercial rents. A nondescript office no larger than a small flat can cost 150,000 pounds a year. Something bigger and in the style that hedge funds like (glass walls, contemporary furniture) can set you back a lot more. It’s fortunate therefore that hedge funds don’t need a lot of space. Two rooms may be enough: one for meetings, for example with potential investors; one for trading and doing the associated bookkeeping. Some funds consist of only four or five people. Even a fairly large fund can operate with twenty or fewer.
These small organisations control substantial amounts of capital. If a hedge fund manages less than $100 million it isn’t seen as a big player; $1 billion is quite commonplace. The capital managed by the world’s ten thousand or so funds amounts to around $2000 billion. (Hedge funds don’t have to divulge the details of their finances and operations, so no one knows the exact numbers.) About a fifth of this money is managed by funds based in London, and two fifths by those based in the US, mostly in New York and its upmarket suburbs, especially Greenwich, Connecticut.