Hedge Fund Strategies Employed by Mutual Funds
Since the financial crisis of 2008, a growing number of retail investors have sought access to more sophisticated investment strategies to protect against downside risk. Most retail investors are not eligible to invest directly in hedge funds so they have turned to mutual funds that employ alternative investment strategies to achieve greater diversification. This increasing demand for alternative mutual funds is also fueled by hedge fund investors seeking greater transparency and liquidity, as well as more conservative investment strategies that are typically utilized by mutual funds. Additionally, the Dodd-Frank Act restricts certain individuals and institutions from investing in hedge funds, which will likely force these investors to seek out “hedge-like” investment vehicles in which to invest the money formerly invested in hedge funds. To accommodate these new investors and the converging demands of retail and hedge fund investors, investment managers have developed mutual funds designed to mimic hedge fund investment strategies to the extent permitted under federal securities laws.
What is an Alternative Mutual Fund?
An alternative mutual fund is a professionally managed, pooled investment vehicle, designed to provide individual investors with access to investment strategies that offer non-correlated returns and diversification benefits. Generally, the goal of alternative mutual funds is to minimize portfolio volatility and preserve return objectives. Strategies utilized by alternative mutual funds include traditional hedge fund investment strategies such as long-short, market neutral, arbitrage and merger/arbitrage strategies.
Starting an Alternative Mutual Fund – Legal Considerations
Some of the operational and legal steps for launching a mutual fund are similar to starting a hedge fund, but there are some important differences. The high-level legal steps to launch an alternative mutual fund include:
- Register the fund manager as an investment adviser with the SEC.
- Form a corporation or a business trust (or leveraging an existing business trust) – a mutual fund will typically be established as a Delaware statutory trust or Massachusetts business trust.
- Prepare and file Form N-1A with the SEC to simultaneously register the fund as an investment company under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (’40 Act) and register fund shares under the Securities Act of 1933. This filing includes the fund’s prospectus, which discloses the fund’s investment objective, investment strategies and principal investment risks, as well as other material information regarding the fund manager and the fund.
- Seed the fund (or fund family) with at least $100,000 as required by the ’40 Act.
- Choose a board of directors (or trustees). While board sizes vary, the ’40 Act requires that at least 40% of the directors on a board be independent. Typically, independent directors hold a majority (75%) of board seats in nearly 90% of fund complexes.
- Negotiate agreements with fund service providers, including a custodian, prime broker (for fund derivative transactions), transfer agent, fund accountant, independent auditor, administrator, financial printer, and distributor. [Note: some hedge fund service providers also provide services to mutual funds, but in general the service providers are likely to be different.]
- Draft fund compliance policies and procedures reasonably designed to detect, prevent, and resolve violations of federal securities laws.
- Make requisite blue sky filings (or notice filings) in states where fund shares will be sold.
The ‘40 Act also imposes leverage and other investment restrictions on mutual funds. While some of these restrictions can be addressed by investing in ETFs and other investments, it is imperative that investment managers consult a ’40 Act attorney prior to launching an alternative mutual fund to fully understand the implications of regulatory restrictions on portfolio management.
Investor preference and regulatory developments are driving the convergence of mutual funds and hedge funds and resulting in a rapidly growing demand for mutual funds that employ hedge fund strategies. This demand is being met by the emergence of alternative mutual funds. The process of launching an alternative mutual fund varies depending on the complexity of the fund, however, these steps along with others can typically be completed in six months with the assistance of a seasoned ’40 Act attorney and other fund service providers. For more information on registering a mutual fund and the regulations governing mutual funds, please see the SEC’s Investment Company Registration and Regulation Package or contact us.
Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP is a boutique investment management law firm with an alternative mutual funds law practice. Aisha Hunt, a Partner and the head of the ’40 Act practice at Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP, can be reached directly at 415-762-2854.