Hedge Funds Investing in Crypto Doubles: Survey
Posted by Colin Lambert. Last updated: June 8, 2022
Even with the tremendous volatility in the sector, there are many more traditional hedge funds investing in crypto and more specialist crypto funds being created as the digital asset class gains acceptance, according to a new survey.
Of traditional hedge funds surveyed as part of PwC’s 4th Annual Global Crypto Hedge Fund Report, 38% are currently investing in digital assets, compared to 21% a year ago. Additionally, the number of specialist crypto hedge funds is estimated to now top 300 globally, with the pace of new funds being created accelerating in the past two years. Total assets under management (AuM) of crypto hedge funds surveyed was $4.1 billion in 2021, up 8% from the year prior.
The report was produced by PwC together with the Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA) and CoinShares (via acquisition of Elwood Asset Management, former ETF equity index arm of Elwood Technologies). It says that most traditional hedge funds getting into digital assets are still just dipping their toes – 57% have less than 1% of total AuM in digital assets, but it is notable that for 20% of these funds, digital assets represent between 5% and 50% of AuM. Further, two-thirds of funds (67%) currently investing in digital assets intend to deploy more capital into the asset class by the end of 2022.
Crypto Funds Growing
For specialist crypto hedge funds surveyed, the average AuM more than doubled to $58.6 million from $23.4 million in the previous year, while median AuM nearly tripled to $24.5 million from $8.5 million. From 2020 to 2021, the percentage of crypto hedge funds with AuM exceeding $20mn increased from 46% to 59%.
The survey was taken in Q1 of 2022 so while the market was indeed busy, it missed the collapse of stablecoin UST. Nonetheless, John Garvey, global financial services leader, PwC United States, observes, “The recent collapse of Terra vividly demonstrated the potential risks in digital assets. There will continue to be volatility, but the market is maturing and with that is coming not only many more crypto-focused hedge funds and higher AuM, but also more traditional funds entering the crypto space.”
According to the report, the median crypto fund returned +63.4% in 2021, though that was significantly off the +127.55% median return of 2020. Winning trading strategies (on a median return basis) were led by discretionary long/short (+199%) followed by discretionary long only (+176%), quantitative long only (+109%), quantitative long/short (+66%) and market neutral (+26%). Most crypto hedge funds traded Bitcoin ‘BTC’ (86%) followed by Ethereum ‘ETH’ (81%), Solana ‘SOL’ (56%), Polkadot ‘DOT’ (53%), Terra ‘LUNA’ (49%) and Avalanche ‘AVAX’ (47%).
“Increasing appetite and demand from investors has spurred interest in crypto as an asset class, spanning retail to institutional”
Although returns were undoubtedly healthy in 2021, the same cannot be said for 2022 if the BarclayHedge Cryptocurrency Traders Index is any indication. At the end of May, with a large number of funds still to report, the Index is down 25.99% year-to-date having suffered repeated monthly reversals since crypto markets started trending lower.
The survey also finds that crypto hedge funds are also involved in cryptocurrency staking (46%), lending (44%) and borrowing (49%). The proportion of crypto hedge funds trading derivatives has also increased considerably, to 69%, from 56%.
AIMA says it participated in this year’s research to provide insights into the rising interest in the digital assets industry from traditional hedge funds. It finds the number of traditional hedge fund managers not investing in digital assets is shrinking – down to 62% of respondents from 79% a year ago. Of those not currently investing, nearly a third, 29%, are in late-stage planning to invest or are looking to invest.
Still, AIMA says, a significant number of managers remain hesitant – 41% of those not currently investing say they are unlikely to invest for the next three years, while 31% say they are curious about digital assets but are waiting for further maturation of the market.
Regulatory uncertainty is a key issue for hedge funds, whether or not they are currently invested in digital assets. AIMA says the lack of regulatory and tax regime clarity was cited as a top challenge by 89% of hedge fund managers who currently invest in digital assets and for managers not currently investing in crypto, regulatory uncertainty ranked as a main obstacle by 83%.
Crypto-focused funds are attracting an increasing amount of investment talent, according to the report. In 2021, the average investment team size grew from 7.6 to 9.6 people and the firms say there is also an increasing focus on operations and governance. The percentage of crypto hedge funds using an independent custodian increased in 2021 from 76% to 82%. The vast majority, 91%, of funds surveyed have hired an independent auditor, and the number of funds with independent board directors also saw a marked increase to 51% in 2021, compared to 38% in 2020.
From the findings in this year’s report there is clear evidence of increasing uptake and usage of digital assets within traditional hedge fund strategies
In the traditional hedge fund space, managers point to a number of market infrastructure areas in need of improvements for digital asset adoption, led by audit and accounting, identified by 94%, and also including risk management and compliance (93%), ability to use digital assets as collateral (93%) and fund administration (89%).
“Increasing appetite and demand from investors has spurred interest in crypto as an asset class, spanning retail to institutional,” says Olwyn Alexander, global asset and wealth management leader, PwC Ireland. “In addition to the numerous hedge funds investing in crypto, many larger ‘traditional’ asset managers have been exploring the crypto space, working on pilots, and are now starting to launch product. This will help to accelerate the institutionalisation of the crypto markets and, as they mature, regulation and infrastructure will continue to improve. Given recent market developments, we are hearing greater demand for transparency and trust from investors.”
Jack Inglis, CEO of AIMA, adds, “From the findings in this year’s report there is clear evidence of increasing uptake and usage of digital assets within traditional hedge fund strategies. Diversification and market neutral alpha opportunities are cited as key drivers for investing in digital assets. Even though the results of this survey were completed before the most recent volatility in digital asset prices, it is interesting to compare with last year’s report which shows that the growth trajectory looks to be assured.”