HEDGE FUNDS: History in Brief



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The investment profession has come a long way since the door-to-door stock salesmen of the 1920s sold a willing public on worthless stock certificates. The stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression of the 1930s forever changed the way investment operations are run. A bewildering array of laws and regulations sprung up, all geared to protecting the individual investor from fraud. These laws also set out specific guidelines on what types of investment can be marketed to the general public – and allowed for the creation of a set of investment products specifically not marketed to the general public. These early-mid 20th century lawmakers specifically exempted from the definition of “general public,” for all practical purposes, those investors that meet certain minimum net worth guidelines.

The lawmakers decided that wealth brings the sophistication required to evaluate, either independently or together with wise counsel, investment options that fall outside the mainstream. Not surprisingly, an investment industry catering to such wealthy individuals, such as doctors and healthcare professionals, and qualifying institutions has sprung up.


The original hedge fund was an investment partnership started by A.W. Jones in 1949. A financial writer prior to starting his investment management career, Mr. Jones is widely credited as being the prototypical hedge fund manager. His style of investment in fact gave the hedge fund its name – although Mr. Jones himself called his fund a “hedged fund.” Mr. Jones attempted to “hedge,” or protect, his investment partnership against market swings by selling short overvalued securities while at the same time buying undervalued securities. Leverage was an integral part of the strategy. Other managers followed in Mr. Jones’ footsteps, and the hedge fund industry was born.

In those early days, the hedge fund industry was defined by the types of investment operations undertaken – selling short securities, making liberal use of leverage, engaging in arbitrage and otherwise attempting to limit one’s exposure to market swings. Today, the hedge fund industry is defined more by the structure of the investment fund and the type of manager compensation employed.

The changing definition is largely a sign of the times. In 1949, the United States was in a unique state. With the memory of Great Depression still massively influencing common wisdom on stocks, the post-war euphoria sparked an interest in the securities markets not seen in several decades. Perhaps it is not so surprising that at such a time a particularly reflective financial writer such as A.W. Jones would start an investment operation featuring most prominently the protection against market swings rather than participation in them. 

Citation: https://www.r2library.com/Resource/Title/0826102549

Apart from a few significant hiccups – 1972-73, 1987 and 2006-07 being most prominent – the U.S. stock markets have been on quite a roll for quite a long time now. So today, hedge funds come in all flavors – many not hedged at all. Instead, the concept of a private investment fund structured as a partnership, with performance incentive compensation for the manager, has come to dominate the mindscape when hedge funds are discussed. Hence, we now have a term in “hedge fund” that is not always accurate in its description of the underlying activity. In fact, several recent events have contributed to an even more distorted general understanding of hedge funds.

During 1998, the high profile Long Term Capital Management crisis and the spectacular currency losses experienced by the George Soros organization both contributed to a drastic reversal of fortune in the court of public opinion for hedge funds. Most hedge fund managers, who spend much of their time attempting to limit risk in one way or another, were appalled at the manner with which the press used the highest profile cases to vilify the industry as dangerous risk-takers. At one point during late 1998, hedge funds were even blamed in the lay press for the currency collapses of several developing nations; whether this was even possible got short thrift in the press.

Needless to say, more than a few managers have decided they did not much appreciate being painted with the same “hedge fund” brush. Alternative investment fund, private investment fund, and several other terms have been promoted but inadequately adopted. As the memory of 1998 and 2007 fades, “hedge fund” may once again become a term embraced by all private investment managers.

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ASSESSMENT: Physicians, and all investors, should be aware, however, that several different terms defining the same basic structure might be used. Investors should therefore become familiar with the structure of such funds, independent of the label. The Securities Exchange Commission calls such funds “privately offered investment companies” and the Internal Revenue Service calls them “securities partnerships.”

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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