11+ Little-Known Strategies Hedge Funds Use to Juice Returns

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Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

In hedge funds, various lesser-known strategies are employed to amplify returns and mitigate risks.

We look through them below.


Key Takeaways – Little-Known Strategies Hedge Funds Use to Juice Returns

Some examples of little-known strategies hedge funds use to juice their returns:

  • Offshore Fund Structure
  • Transfer Pricing
  • Debt Financing
  • Reinsurance Business
  • Variable Annuities
  • Risk Arbitrage
  • Tax Harvesting
  • Securities Lending
  • Quantitative Strategies
  • Investing in Illiquid Assets
  • Activist Investing


Offshore Fund Structure

Hedge funds often establish entities in offshore jurisdictions to take advantage of favorable tax treatments and regulatory environments.

These jurisdictions, such as the Cayman Islands or Bermuda, often have lower tax rates and more flexible regulatory frameworks compared to other countries.


  • Tax Efficiency: Offshore jurisdictions usually offer tax neutrality. This means that the funds are not subject to local taxes. This allows investors to only be taxed in their home country.
  • Regulatory Flexibility: Offshore jurisdictions may have less stringent regulatory requirements. This allows for more flexible investment strategies and structures.
  • Attracting Foreign Investors: By setting up in an offshore jurisdiction, hedge funds can attract foreign investors who might be deterred by the tax implications of investing in a fund based in their home country (or a certain higher-tax country).

Transfer Pricing

Transfer pricing involves setting the price for goods and services sold between controlled or related legal entities within an enterprise.

In the context of hedge funds, this can be used to strategically allocate income and expenses between different entities to minimize tax liabilities.


  • Income Shifting: By manipulating transfer prices, hedge funds can shift income from high-tax jurisdictions to low-tax jurisdictions, reducing their overall tax burden.
  • Creating Tax Deductions: Hedge funds can create tax deductions in high-tax jurisdictions by setting transfer prices that result in higher costs in those jurisdictions.

Debt Financing

Debt financing can be a tool for optimizing tax liabilities across different jurisdictions.

Here’s how it works:

A hedge fund entity situated in a higher-tax jurisdiction (e.g., the US or Europe) can borrow funds from an affiliated entity in a lower-tax jurisdiction (e.g., offshore subsidiary).

This maneuver allows the higher-tax entity to generate interest deductions, effectively reducing its taxable income.

Simultaneously, the lower-tax entity, which lends the funds, records this transaction as an investment, generating income that is taxed at a considerably lower rate.

Through this strategy, the hedge fund can shift income to the lower-tax jurisdiction where it incurs less tax liability, and shift expenses (interest expenses in this case) to the higher-tax jurisdiction, where they can be used to offset higher rates of tax on other income, creating a more favorable overall tax position.

Using debt financing, hedge funds can amplify their investment capital, enabling them to pursue more lucrative opportunities.

This potentially leads to higher profits, and of course the risk has to be managed.


Reinsurance Business

Hedge funds sometimes go into the reinsurance business as a way to access a new source of capital and diversify their investment portfolios.

Reinsurance involves insuring the risks of other insurance companies.


  • Stable Premium Income: By entering the reinsurance business, hedge funds can receive stable premium income, which can be invested to generate returns.
  • Tax Advantages: Reinsurance businesses often enjoy tax advantages, such as the ability to deduct reserves for future claims from their taxable income.


Variable Annuities

Variable annuities are insurance products that provide periodic payments to the holder and include an investment component where the value can fluctuate based on the performance of underlying investments.

Hedge funds sometimes invest in variable annuities as a part of their diversified investment strategies.

Benefits and Considerations

  • Tax Deferral: Investments within a variable annuity grow tax-deferred until withdrawals are made, potentially allowing for greater compound growth.
  • Mortality and Expense Charges: Investors should be aware of the mortality and expense charges associated with variable annuities, which can impact the net return on investment.


Risk Arbitrage

Risk arbitrage, aka merger arbitrage, involves investing in companies that are the targets of mergers or acquisitions.

The strategy tries to profit from the price discrepancies that occur before the completion of the transaction.


  • Long/Short Strategy: Hedge funds may use a long/short strategy, buying shares of the target company while shorting the shares of the acquiring company to hedge against potential market fluctuations.
  • Event-Driven Investments: Risk arbitrage is considered an event-driven investment strategy, where hedge funds capitalize on price movements driven by specific corporate events.


Tax Harvesting

Tax harvesting involves strategically selling investments at a loss to offset gains in other investments, thereby reducing the overall tax liability.

Implementation in Hedge Funds

  • Loss Harvesting: Hedge funds may engage in loss harvesting, where they sell securities that have declined in value to realize losses that can offset gains elsewhere in the portfolio.
  • Year-End Strategies: Hedge funds often implement tax harvesting strategies towards the end of the year to minimize their tax liability for that year.


Securities Lending

Securities lending involves lending securities (such as stocks or bonds) to other parties, usually in exchange for collateral and a fee.

This strategy can be used by hedge funds to generate additional income from their investment portfolios.


  • Additional Income: Hedge funds can earn additional income from the fees charged for lending securities.
  • Collateral Investment: Hedge funds can potentially invest the collateral received in other opportunities to generate further returns.


Niche, Lesser-Known Strategies

Quantitative Strategies

Some hedge funds employ quantitative strategies, using mathematical models and algorithms to identify trading opportunities.

These strategies can be complex and require sophisticated technology and expertise.

Investing in Illiquid Assets

Hedge funds may also invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity or real estate, as a way to achieve potentially higher returns compared to more traditional investments.

These strategies often involve longer investment horizons and higher risk.

Activist Investing

Activist investing involves taking significant positions in companies and then attempting to influence management to make changes that will increase the value of the company.

Concentrated investment is important in these cases in order to get the right to make influential decisions.

For example, for a company with a 9-person board, a hedge fund might have to buy 10-20% of the company to get 1-2 board seats.

The board seats can then be used to make various types of changes.

This strategy can be contentious and requires a deep understanding of the companies being targeted.


FAQs – Hedge Fund Strategies to Juice Returns

What are the primary benefits of establishing an offshore fund structure?

Establishing an offshore fund structure primarily offers tax advantages and regulatory flexibility.

It attracts global investors by providing a tax-neutral environment.

This allows for more diverse and flexible investment strategies.

How does transfer pricing work, and how can it be used to minimize tax liabilities?

Transfer pricing involves setting prices for transactions between related entities within a corporation.

Hedge funds use this to allocate income and expenses strategically across different jurisdictions.

This helps in minimizing overall tax liabilities by shifting profits to lower-tax jurisdictions and expenses to higher-tax areas.

How is debt financing used to enhance returns in hedge funds?

First, there’s the most well-known reason:

  • Hedge funds use this strategy to amplify their investment capital, seeking to earn a return higher than the borrowing cost.
  • This helps maximize their portfolio’s overall performance, albeit with increased risk.

Then the lesser-known reason:

  • Debt financing allows hedge funds to optimize tax liabilities across jurisdictions.
  • A hedge fund in a high-tax area borrows from a low-tax area affiliate, creating interest deductions and reducing taxable income.
  • The low-tax entity records this as an investment, taxed at a lower rate.
  • This strategy shifts income to low-tax areas and expenses to high-tax areas.
  • This enhances overall returns by reducing tax liability and amplifying investment capital for more lucrative opportunities, while managing associated risks.

So, it’s a multi-purpose strategy.

How do hedge funds benefit from going into the reinsurance business?

Going into the reinsurance business allows hedge funds to diversify their investment portfolio and access stable premium income.

It also offers tax advantages, including deductions for reserves set aside for future claims, enhancing the fund’s overall financial health.

What are variable annuities, and why might they be an attractive investment option for hedge funds?

Variable annuities combine insurance with investment.

They offer periodic payments and an investment component with fluctuating value based on underlying assets’ performance.

Hedge funds find them attractive for their tax-deferral benefits on investment gains, potentially offering greater compound growth.

How does risk arbitrage work, and what are the potential rewards and risks associated with this strategy?

Risk arbitrage, or merger arbitrage, involves capitalizing on price discrepancies during mergers or acquisitions.

Risks include deal failures or market fluctuations, which can impact the expected returns negatively.

What is tax harvesting and how it can be used to reduce tax liabilities?

Tax harvesting is a strategy where investments are sold at a loss to offset gains in other investments, reducing the overall tax liability.

It’s a tactical approach to manage and minimize the tax implications of investment activities, optimizing the portfolio’s after-tax returns.

What is securities lending, and how can it generate additional income for hedge funds?

Securities lending involves lending out securities like stocks or bonds to other parties in exchange for a fee, generating additional income.

What are some examples of niche, lesser-known strategies that hedge funds might employ to enhance returns?

Weather Derivatives Trading

Some hedge funds engage in trading weather derivatives, which are financial instruments that derive their value from weather events and patterns.

By leveraging meteorological data and predictive analytics, these funds attempt to forecast weather impacts on various industries.

Patent and Intellectual Property Arbitrage

Hedge funds may engage in patent and intellectual property arbitrage, where they invest in companies holding undervalued intellectual properties or even acquire patents themselves to leverage in negotiations or lawsuits, aiming to profit from the eventual appreciation or settlements.

This strategy involves a deep understanding of legal frameworks and the potential value of intellectual assets.

Music Royalties

Investing in music royalties involves purchasing a share of a song’s future earnings.

As the song generates revenue from sales, streaming, or licensing, the investor receives a proportionate payout based on their ownership percentage.