Bit by bit

The suspiciously simple strategy behind the “best performing hedge fund in history”

November 29, 2013
November 29, 2013

With the poor performance of hedge funds—which so far have lagged behind benchmark equity indices in each quarter of 2013—it’s no wonder a fund would be breathless in promoting its money-making results. In a press release titled “The best performing fund in history” Malta-based brokerage Exante touts one of its funds as as “the best performing hedge fund year to date (2013) with a return of 4847%.”

What was the strategy that the fund used to turn a hypothetical €10,000 investment into €494,700 in less than 11 months? Bitcoin—and only bitcoin.

What Exante calls a “hedge fund” is really more like an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that isn’t publicly traded (but still regulated). Exante’s Bitcoin Fund doesn’t have a unique investment approach—it buys bitcoins with money invested into the fund and sells bitcoins when money is withdrawn. A fund unit equals the price of one bitcoin, always. Despite requiring no discretionary management, the fund charges a 1.75% per year management fee and 0.5% transaction fee. It’s not open to all investors; only those with a certain level of experience or wealth can apply.

hedge fund typically charges a 2% management fee and 20% of profit. But hedge funds justify these fees as the cost of active management, or the cost to access a proprietary strategy. Exante’s bitcoin fund appears to involve neither of those. Compared to ETFs, where the average “expense ratio” is well below 1% and few are above 1.5%, its fees are expensive. And unlike, say, a gold ETF, which lets you invest in gold without the headache of buying, storing and securing the stuff, an ETF-style bitcoin fund merely replicates something you can do yourself—buy and sell bitcoin—with a computer and a modicum of work. So why not just invest in bitcoin directly and save the fees?

Exante told Quartz, “underlying physical coins are kept safe for you by an expert team: georedundancy, state of art crypto, no single point of failure.” On the webpage promoting the fund it says its solution is also more convenient and “You can’t accidentally delete Bitcoins in your fund.”

All of which may be true—but it still seems a high fee for something that basically runs itself, and is significantly less laborious than hauling bars of gold. Then again, if you’re enough of a risk-taker enough to invest in a currency that’s nearly sextupled in value in the last month and could drop again just as fast, you probably don’t care too much about someone shaving off a couple of extra percentage points off your winnings—or losses.

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