Is a Hedge Fund for You?

For years, hedge funds have been investment vehicles for the super rich -- out of the reach of common Fools. But that is no longer necessarily the case. Hybrid mutual funds are increasingly employing some of the strategies that hedge funds use to enhance returns. So, are any of them worth your time?

Meet hedge funds
Hedge funds are unregistered investment companies that don't face the same restrictions the SEC imposes on mutual funds when it comes to short-selling stocks or using leverage. As a result, the Feds limit the type of investors who can access them. To be "accredited" in the SEC's eyes, you need to earn $200,000 annually, be worth more than $1 million, or have $5 million worth of investment assets.

Why the restrictions? Hedge funds may take far more risks than their mutual fund cousins. As such, they can deliver crushing defeats to investors. The SEC prefers that only those who can afford huge losses take the gamble.

Of course, some hedge funds and private equity operators have delivered remarkable returns. Blum Capital, for example, claims its funds have outpaced both the S&P 500 and Russell 2000 since 1975. The promise of such outperformance may be why hedge funds had $1.13 trillion in assets at the end of 2005, up 13% from the year prior and nearly double the total from year-end 2002.

Meet hybrid funds
But if you're not an accredited investor, how can you put hedge fund-like strategies to work in your portfolio?

Enter hybrid funds, which, like hedge funds, employ multiple strategies in the quest for total returns. Unlike hedge funds, they're open to investors and are typically much, much cheaper.

One interesting candidate is Hussman Strategic Growth (FUND: HSGFX  ) , which is a "long-short" fund that may enhance returns by selling short positions when times are tough or valuations appear to be extended.

If that sounds more complicated than your average "Go long" fund, it is. But Hussman has proved its mettle since its inception in 2000, during which time manager John Hussman has produced 13.39% annualized returns. Current top holdings include a healthy plate of blue chips such as McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) , ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) , and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) . Hussman also charges a reasonable 1.24% expense ratio.

Another of my favorites is Greenspring (FUND: GRSPX  ) , which I've profiled before. Manager Chip Carlson enhances returns by purchasing what are called "busted convertibles," or bonds that may be converted into stock. A convertible is "busted" when the underlying stock price falls below its conversion value. Over the past five years, Greenspring has outdistanced the S&P 500 by more than six percentage points per year. It charges an annual expense ratio of 1.16%.

Invest with champions
As much as there is to like about Hussman and Greenspring, I feel compelled to offer a word of caution. No fund is perfect, and diversified returns are best achieved through a broad portfolio of stocks and funds that embrace a wide range of industries and strategies.

If you're looking for additional ideas, let me suggest our Motley Fool Champion Funds service. Advisor Shannon Zimmerman's portfolio of winning funds is up nearly 8% on the relevant benchmarks as of this writing. Moreover, he can help you build the perfect portfolio of funds for your timeline and risk tolerance. Learn more by taking a 30-day free trial. You'll get immediate access to every one of Shannon's buy reports, and there's no obligation to buy.

Fool contributorTim Beyersis still a stock jock, but he finds himself growing fonder of funds more and more every day. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies or funds mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. GlaxoSmithKline is an Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.


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