As Congress and the Obama administration work to push through legislation that would require hedge funds to disclose more information to regulators, an industry research group reported on Monday that a majority of them already do.
According to Hedge Fund Research, about 55% of U.S. hedge-fund firms are voluntarily registered with the
Securities and Exchange Commission
. Those that are registered manage almost 71% of all U.S.-based hedge-fund capital. Globally, firms registered with the SEC manage 60% of the $1.4 trillion in hedge-fund assets.
President Obama, as well as top members of his cabinet like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro, have all called for tighter scrutiny of the hedge-fund industry, which has been largely unregulated thus far. On Thursday, two senators proposed the Hedge Fund Transparency Act, which would force hedge funds to register with the SEC, file annual disclosure forms, and comply with other regulations as well.
Hedge funds have been targeted by elected leaders who hold them responsible for some of the carnage in the financial markets last year, whether by shorting stocks of troubled companies or liquidating massive holdings to satisfy investors' redemption requests. It is unclear how much of the downturn they are actually responsible for, however, since there are no requirements that they disclose positions, assets or financial results.
The main argument against strict oversight of hedge funds is that their investors are more wealthy and more experienced than the average retail client, and therefore do not need as much government protection. But their massive liquidation of assets has shaken the markets at large, and scandals like Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme seems to have shifted the consensus view.
The industry is in such dire straits that some of the most prominent
managers testified before Congress in November, agreeing that more transparency is needed.
Hedge Fund Research reports that the industry faced an outflow of $154 billion in capital last year, as funds faced record
requests from clients who were disappointed with weak performance or simply needed cash. Prominent hedge-fund companies like
Fortress Investment Group
have placed restrictions on redemptions. Others, including
Och-Ziff Capital Management
are facing tougher times, as well.
"The problem is that hedge funds have gotten so big and are so entrenched in U.S. financial markets, that their actions can now significantly impact market prices, damage other market participants, and can even endanger the U.S. financial system and economy as a whole," said Sen. Carl Levin, (D-Mich.), who is co-sponsoring the new transparency bill with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).