Skin Or Skim? Inside Investment And Hedge Fund Performance?

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In “Skin or Skim? Inside Investment and Hedge Fund Performance,” by NYU Stern Finance Professor Arpit Gupta and co-author Kunal Sachdeva of Columbia Business School, the researchers documented the role that inside investment plays in managerial compensation and fund performance and found:

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  • Hedge funds with greater investments by insiders outperformed those with external funding
  • Inside investment remains an important predictor of excess returns, even when comparing different funds within firms.
  • The recent rise in inequality among the top 1%, who are disproportionately financial managers of capital, can be attributed to inside investment opportunities

Arpit Gupta

NYU Stern School of Business

Kunal Sachdeva

Columbia Business School


Using a comprehensive and survivor-bias free dataset of U.S. hedge funds, we document the role that inside investment plays in managerial compensation and fund performance. We find that funds with greater investment by insiders outperform funds with less “skin in the game” on a factor-adjusted basis; exhibit greater return persistence; and feature lower fund flow-performance sensitivities. These results suggest that managers earn outsize rents by operating trading strategies further from their capacity constraints when managing their own money. Our findings have implications for optimal portfolio allocations of institutional investors and models of delegated asset management.


Delegated asset managers are commonly seen as being compensated through fees imposed on outside investors. However, access to profitable, but limited, internal investment opportunities can also be a form of compensation for managers. Consider the hedge fund industry, which manages over $3 trillion in assets under management, of which $400 billion can be attributed to investments from insiders and related parties.1 This large allocation of insider capital suggests that an important, and previously overlooked, component of hedge fund compensation is the channel of returns on personally invested capital. This paper examines the decision of insiders to allocate private capital to funds under their control, and the impact of this “skin in the game” on returns received by outside investors.

The role of managerial discretion over internal capital allocation across funds can be seen through the case of Renaissance Technologies.2 The company’s Medallion Fund is one of the most successful funds in history and is predominately a fund for insider investment (as we confirm in Figure I). News accounts of Renaissance Technologies emphasize how the company prioritizes strategies with greater excess returns and lower scalability in the Medallion Fund, while shifting strategies with lower return profiles (for reasons of scalability or staleness in execution) to other funds in the family characterized by greater outside investor participation and lower fees. Discretion over private capital investment can be seen in many fund families (as we show in Figure II), and has been the subject of considerable investor and regulatory interest.3

This paper first proceeds by extending the Berk and Green (2004) framework to include several key features which better capture institutional features of compensation structures in hedge funds. In our model, managers face capacity constraints in determining the optimal level of invested capital, can choose to endogenously create new funds with different strategies, and can allocate internal capital across funds. When managing personal capital, managers internalize the fact that raising additional capital is dilutive to existing investors in the sense that it causes the strategy to operate closer to its capacity constraint, lowering the returns for all existing investors.

This basic framework yields several key predictions on the relationship between inside investment and fund performance. We predict that when firms face a menu of investment strategies with different excess return and scalability: 1) Inside investment will be concentrated in particular funds within a family; 2) Funds with a greater percentage of inside investment are smaller, as they are further from their capacity constraint; and 3) Because they are operated further from their capacity constraint, funds with greater inside capital outperform on a risk-adjusted basis. Taken together, our model predicts that greater inside investment better aligns incentives between managers and investors and induces managers to limit the size of their fund, resulting in higher alphas even in equilibrium.

We study these predictions on the relationship between inside investment and fund returns through a novel usage of a comprehensive and survivor-bias free dataset, Form ADV, provided by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This regulatory form requires all hedge funds with assets over $100m to disclose the fraction of fund assets held by insiders yearly at the fund level. We merge Form ADV data with numerous commercially available datasets on hedge fund returns to understand the connection between “skin in the game” and fund returns.4

Investment And Hedge Fund Performance

We first examine the importance and implications of investments by insiders through an implementable long-only trading strategy. We generate sorted portfolios based on observable information on inside investment, rebalancing yearly, and track the performance of investors who systematically invest in hedge funds with high levels of internal ownership. We find this strategy results in sizable risk-adjusted excess returns over time relative to a portfolio invested in low ownership funds.

Second, to further isolate the role of ownership on fund returns, we consider a panel regression. Using both the Fama and French (1992) and Carhart (1997) factors, as well as the Fung and Hsieh (2004) seven factors, we control for factor exposure of returns at the fund level. We find that inside investment—as measured either by percentage or gross investment—remains an important predictor of excess returns even when comparing different funds within firms. An investor who changes allocation from a fund with zero percent inside investment to one at the same firm with 100 percent inside investment would see a rise in excess returns of 36 basis points a month, or 4.3% annualized. This significant and economically large magnitude indicates that inside investment is an important, and previously neglected, cross-sectional predictor of hedge fund returns.

Third, having established the superior performance of insider investment funds, we investigate the main drivers of this result by examining standard return predictability and fund flow-performance specifications. We find that funds with little inside capital operate according to standard Berk and Green (2004) logic: good returns are followed by large fund inflows, so there is little predictability in excess returns. However, we find that funds with greater inside investment do not follow this pattern. For this subset of funds, high returns do not lead to excess inflows; instead excess returns are persistent. The joint behavior between fund flows, performance, and inside investment suggests that capacity constraints are an important driver of hedge fund performance; and that managers of hedge funds choose to deploy less capital (and so gain greater alpha) when their own personal capital is involved.

Next, we examine the heterogeneity across funds. Consistent with the role of managerial discretion over capacity constraints, our results are driven by funds engaged in specialist roles, arbitrage strategies, and equity funds which might be expected to deploy trading strategies subject to diminishing returns to scale. We also investigate alternate explanations for our result, such as superior information on the part of fund managers, agency conflicts, front-running, and lower susceptibility to redemption risk. Our tests suggest that these alternate factors are unlikely to fully explain our result. While we cannot fully rule out the relationship between inside investment and other fund attributes, understanding inside investment through the lens of fund capacity constraints appears to best explain our results.

Read the full article here by SSRN

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