Hedge funds out-performed equities and bonds on a risk-adjusted basis in 2016, producing net gains for their investors worth around $120 billion, according to the Alternative Investment Management Association (AIMA), the global representative of alternative investment managers, and data provider Preqin.
Hedge funds’ risk-adjusted return, as measured by the Sharpe ratio, was 1.45 for the year, ahead of the S&P 500 (1.1), MSCI World (0.68) and Barclays Global Aggregate (0.20) indices, according to AIMA and Preqin. 
The analysis, based on a database of more than 3,000 funds, found that hedge funds also outperformed stocks and bonds on a risk-adjusted basis over three years and five years. Risk-adjusted outperformance is highly valued by institutional investors such as pension funds since it reflects volatility as well as net returns.
On an absolute basis, hedge funds returned 7.4% last year, according to the Preqin All-Strategies Hedge Fund index. 
At the same time, AIMA and Preqin estimated that the net gain in the value of hedge fund assets in 2016 represented $120 billion. That would be the value of investment profits net of all fees, were investors to withdraw their investments and crystallise those gains.
The research also addressed the performance of hedge funds that are open to outside investors and those that are closed to investors. On a five-year annualised basis, closed funds returned 6.42% per annum on average, while open funds earned 6.75% per annum on average.
AIMA Chief Executive Jack Inglis said: “We already know from the various indices such as Preqin that have reported their flash numbers this month that 2016 was one of the better years for hedge funds since the financial crisis. Even though the headline numbers may not have met all investors’ expectations, our analysis highlights the importance of explaining various strategies and timeframes for yielding returns to clients. Significantly, on average hedge funds outperform on the key metric of risk-adjusted returns over one year, three years and five years.”
Jack Inglis added: “All told, the value of hedge fund portfolios managed by pension funds and other investors grew by some $120bn last year – further evidence of the benefits that hedge funds can bring to investor portfolios.”
Amy Bensted, Head of Hedge Fund Products, Preqin, added: “2016 could be characterised as a year of a series of unpredicted events. As markets responded to the unexpected events of 2016 hedge funds were able to show their worth and generate their best returns for three years. Investors, however, are looking for hedge funds to produce more than high returns; as this study shows hedge funds have delivered solid risk-adjusted returns over the short and longer terms, a facet of hedge funds that is highly prized among the institutional investors that Preqin works with.”
Preqin is the leading source of information for the alternative assets industry, providing data and analysis via online databases, publications and bespoke data requests. Preqin has built a reputation in the alternative assets industry for providing the most comprehensive and extensive information possible. Leading alternative assets professionals from around the world rely on Preqin’s services daily, and its data and statistics are regularly quoted by the financial press. For more information, please visit: www.preqin.com.