The hedge fund industry has grown tremendously over the last two decades. While this growth is due to a number of factors, one explanation is that its performance-based compensation system creates incentives for managers to generate alpha. This incentive system, however, could also motivate some managers to manipulate net asset values or commit outright fraud. Due to the light regulatory environment hedge funds operate in and their secretive nature, monitoring managers is generally difficult for investors and regulators.
In response, recent research has attempted to infer malfeasance directly from the distribution of hedge fund returns. In particular, the finding of a pervasive discontinuity in the distribution of net returns around zero has been interpreted as evidence that hedge fund managers systematically manipulate the reporting of NAVs to minimize the frequency of losses. This literature, however, has not recognized that performance fees distort the pattern of net returns.
In our paper, Are Hedge Fund Managers Systematically Misreporting? Or Not?, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we show that inferring misreporting based on a kink at zero can be misleading when ignoring incentive fees. Because these fees are applied asymmetrically to positive and negative returns, the distribution of net returns should display a natural discontinuity around zero. In other words, there is a mechanical explanation for the observed kink in the distribution of net returns. We demonstrate this effect by showing that funds without incentive fees have no discontinuity at zero until we add hypothetical incentive fees to their returns.
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