Hedge funds delivered a resounding heavy metal riff in February, as managed futures funds rode a rise in copper prices , driving the average monthly hedge fund return to 1.4%, fractionally above the benchmark S&P 500 equity index. According to the Credit Suisse First Boston/Tremont Hedge Fund Index, the average commodity trading hedge fund had a return of 6.89%, driven by trading in copper and other metals, as well as currencies and energy. Commodity trading hedge funds are now up 8.05% for the year, though the trends that fueled recent rapid gains may be abating. "Copper had an unbelievable month," said Robert Calabretta, president of Waypoint Capital Management, a hedge fund in Huntington, N.Y. . "It was because of buying in China. Economic production there is going through the roof." He said currency traders who were short the U.S. dollar and long major foreign currencies likely notched big gains in February, and that foreign fixed income trading also provided a boost. Other top performers in February, a month where no hedge fund strategy posted an average net loss, were long-short equity funds -- the most commonly employed strategy of these lightly regulated private investment partnerships -- as well as emerging market funds and global macro funds. The average long-short equity fund was up 1.75% for the month, above the S&P February return of 1.39%. Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford, N.Y., said that while there are a wide range of variations on the basic long-short equity strategy, the recent bull market may be asserting its influence. "I do think the rally we've gone through in stocks definitely makes a lot of long-short managers rethink their strategy to a more flexible directional bias," he said. "It gives them the ability not to run a strictly market-neutral portfolio, but to be long-biased."
Those funds are now up an average of 3.78% for the year to date, surpassing the S&P's two-month return of 3.25%. The average emerging market fund was up 1.39% in February, and global macro funds, which invest in a range of instruments across worldwide markets, were up an average of 1.19% during the month. Even dedicated short-bias funds, which lost an average of 32.59% last year, had an average February return of 0.39%. As for March, expect "a flattish month for most people," said Calabretta of Waypoint Capital Management. The CSFB/Tass Tremont Index tracks about 400 major hedge funds from a database to which about 3,000 funds report. There are an estimated 6,500 hedge funds worldwide managing about $750 billion.