What Is the Difference Between Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds?

Julien Fissette
Published on
April 25, 2024
Last edited on
min read
min read

What Is the Difference Between Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds?

Julien Fissette
Published on
April 25, 2024
Last edited on
min read
min read
image of dictionary

Private equity funds and hedge funds are two prominent types of investment funds, each offering unique opportunities and challenges for investors.

While both aim to generate high returns for their clients, they differ significantly in their approaches, investment strategies and risk profiles. 

In this guide, we’ll explore these differences in detail, comparing their structures, regulatory frameworks and performance metrics. The goal? To provide you with a comprehensive understanding of private equity funds and hedge funds, allowing you to figure out which one is right for you.

What Is a Hedge Fund? 

A hedge fund is a private investment partnership that pools capital from accredited investors to employ a diverse range of strategies aimed at generating returns. These strategies may include leveraging, short-selling and trading non-traditional assets.

In simpler terms, a hedge fund gathers funds from investors to invest in various assets with the goal of achieving positive returns, regardless of market conditions.

The hedge fund industry has seen remarkable growth in recent years. With more than $4 trillion under management, there are now around 30,000 hedge funds worldwide. 1 To put that into perspective, that's almost the same number of hedge funds as McDonald’s restaurants. 

What Is the Purpose of a Hedge Fund? 

The concept of a hedge fund originated from the investment strategy of “hedging” — protecting against market fluctuations by taking both long (buy) and short (sell) positions. The goal is to secure profits irrespective of market direction.

In practice, hedge funds are less regulated than mutual funds, granting them the freedom to explore a wider array of investments and strategies. This flexibility, however, comes with heightened risk.

Thus, hedge funds are considered an "alternative investment class," seeking active returns for their investors by capitalizing on various market opportunities. They appeal to high-net-worth individuals ready to embrace significant risks for potentially higher rewards.

Different Types of Hedge Fund Investment Strategies

Hedge funds employ various strategies to achieve their investment objectives. They can be broken down into: 

  • Global Macro: Focuses on global economic trends and events to make investment decisions.
  • Event Driven: Capitalizes on specific events, such as mergers or bankruptcies, to generate returns.
  • Relative Value: Seeks to exploit price discrepancies between related financial instruments.
  • Credit Funds: Invests in fixed-income securities, often focusing on distressed or high-yield assets.
  • Long/Short Equity Funds: Takes long positions in undervalued stocks and short positions in overvalued stocks.
  • Quantitative Funds: Uses mathematical models and algorithms to identify investment opportunities.
  • Managed Futures: Trades in futures contracts across various asset classes, including commodities and currencies.
  • Multi-Strategy Funds: Combines several strategies within one fund to diversify risks and returns (extremely common). 

How Are Hedge Funds Regulated? 

Hedge funds are subject to varying degrees of regulation depending on their location.

In the US, where up to 65% of hedge fund managers operate, funds with assets greater than $100 million must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). [8] However, even these registered funds are subject to fewer regulatory controls compared to traditional investment vehicles like mutual funds and ETFs. Funds with assets under $100 million face even less regulation.

In other key markets, regulatory frameworks differ: the UK's hedge funds are governed by the AIFMD, Germany's by the BaFIN, and France's by the AMF.

Hedge Funds: Risks and Performance 

Evaluating the risk and performance of hedge funds requires an individualized approach due to their diverse strategies and asset classes.

Key risks include investment risks, such as style drift (managers deviating from the fund's stated strategy), market risk (vulnerability to market crashes), and leverage (which can amplify both gains and losses).

Fraud risk is also more prevalent in hedge funds due to lighter regulation, with numerous instances of managers misappropriating funds. Lastly, operational risks can include factors like lack of managerial experience, non-compliance and other human errors.

What Is a Private Equity Firm? 

As a recap, private equity (PE) refers to capital investments made in companies that are not publicly traded. In other words, private equity is about directly investing in private companies or engaging in buyouts of public companies to take them private.

When you invest in a private equity fund, you're investing in a fund managed by a private equity firm, which acts as the adviser. Similar to mutual or hedge funds, a private equity fund is a pooled investment vehicle. 

However, private equity firms typically focus on long-term investment opportunities in assets that require time to sell, with an investment horizon often exceeding 5 years.

What Is the Purpose of a Private Equity Firm? 

Private equity firms differ from stock traders, who make quick decisions on public shares.

Instead, private equity funds use their own capital or investor funds to acquire stakes in companies, aiming to control and restructure them for a short period before selling them at a profit.

Once a private equity firm acquires a company, its primary focus is on growing the company's EBIT to sell it for a profit. This process is similar to flipping houses: invest, enhance, and sell for a gain.

Different Types of Private Equity Investment Strategies

Private equity firms employ three key investment strategies:

  1. Venture Capital: While traditionally focusing on mid-stage or mature companies, some private equity firms are increasingly investing in early-stage startups, seeking the next big success story.
  1. Growth Equity: This strategy involves capital investment in established, growing companies that need additional funds or expertise to expand. Growth equity investors can assess the company's financial history, client feedback and product quality before making an investment decision.
  1. Buyout: In a buyout, a private equity firm acquires a controlling interest (usually over 50%) in a company, often taking it private. The firm then works to restructure the company with the aim of selling it at a profit.

How Are Private Equity Firms Regulated? 

Much like hedge funds, private equity firms are subject to regulations, albeit to a greater extent. In the US, the SEC proposed rules that would require private equity firms to provide quarterly reports to limited partners detailing fees, expenses and performance. 4

In the EU, the AIFMD also imposes additional regulations, such as the anti-asset stripping provision, which restricts funds from making certain financial distributions or reducing capital in a non-listed company for 24 months following acquisition. 9

These examples illustrate the additional regulations that private equity firms are subjected to, ensuring greater transparency and protection for investors.

Private Equity: Risks and Performance

Private equity investments are subject to strategic, operational and external risks that can negatively impact returns:

  • Operational Risk: This refers to the risk of loss resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes, systems or policies within the organization.
  • Funding Risk: The risk that investors may not be able to fulfill their capital commitments, otherwise known as the “default risk”. 
  • Liquidity Risk: PE investments are illiquid, with investors typically “locked-in” for periods of five to ten years, or more. This means you can't just cash out when you feel like it.
  • Capital Risk: There's a theoretical risk that all portfolio companies could experience a decline in their current value, dropping to zero in the worst-case scenario.

Hedge Funds vs. Private Equity Funds

Now that you have an understanding of both hedge funds and private equity funds, let's compare some key aspects side by side.

Structure and Liquidity

Hedge Funds: Typically structured as limited partnerships, hedge funds allow investors to share income, expenses, gains and losses according to their share of the partnership. Taxation is based on individual shares. Liquidity can vary, but withdrawal of invested funds may not be easy or immediate.

Private Equity Funds: Managed by a private equity firm acting as the General Partner, these funds structure investors as Limited Partners in a Limited Partnership. Liquidity is generally more restricted due to the long-term focus of private equity investments, making withdrawals more challenging.

Investment Strategies and Objectives

Hedge Funds: Accessible only to accredited investors, hedge funds often employ aggressive strategies, including leveraging and high-risk asset investments. The primary objective has historically been to maximize returns while hedging losses (hence the name).

Private Equity Funds: Private equity funds aim to increase the value of their portfolio of private companies, thereby enhancing returns for limited partners. This involves providing funding for growth initiatives, such as expanding the workforce, product development and market penetration.

Risk Profile and Potential Returns

Hedge Funds: Hedge funds aim to achieve positive returns regardless of market trends, employing sophisticated tools such as financial derivatives to manage risk. However, these strategies are not foolproof, and investors have to accept that some risk is unavoidable.

Private Equity Funds: While private equity investments typically carry a higher risk profile compared to other asset classes, they also offer the potential for substantial returns. It's worth noting that historical data suggests private equity has consistently outperformed public equity by a considerable margin.

Access and Investment Amounts

Hedge Funds: Hedge funds are exclusive to accredited investors — typically high-net-worth individuals or organizations — who are presumed to understand the unique risks involved. Minimum investment amounts can vary widely, ranging from $25,000 to $1 million, depending on the fund. 10

Private Equity Funds: Similarly, private equity funds are generally open only to accredited investors and qualified clients. The minimum investment is often very high, typically starting at several millions of dollars, though some funds may accept investments as low as $100,000. 11

Bottom Line: What’s the Difference? 

When thinking about the differences between hedge funds and private equity funds, remember these key takeaways:

Key Distinctions and Considerations

  • Investment Focus: Hedge funds typically invest in publicly traded assets using various strategies to achieve returns, while private equity funds invest in private companies or buyouts with a focus on long-term value creation.
  • Risk and Return: Hedge funds aim for high returns using aggressive strategies and financial instruments, carrying significant risk. Private equity funds, while also high-risk, seek returns through equity growth in private enterprises.
  • Liquidity: Hedge fund investments offer more liquidity, allowing investors to withdraw funds with relative ease. Private equity investments are illiquid, requiring investors to commit their capital for extended periods.
  • Regulatory Environment: Both are subject to regulations, but private equity firms face more stringent rules, especially in areas like transparency and investor protection.

Hedge Funds vs. Private Equity Funds: Final Thoughts

We've explored the nuances of hedge funds and private equity funds, highlighting their distinct characteristics and considerations.

Aspiring finance professionals should carefully consider the pros and cons, assessing their available capital, risk tolerance and investment time horizon.

Obviously, we can never predict the future, but being well-informed and prepared can help safeguard your investments whichever route you take. 

Ready to invest? Get started with Roundtable.


[1] https://www.ft.com/content/7ea73b61-d793-4569-9dc2-6132afe5af1c 

[2] https://www.mfaalts.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06.09.16-HF-Strategies.pdf 

[3] https://www.forbes.com/advisor/investing/top-hedge-funds

[4] https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2023-155 

[5] https://www.moonfare.com/pe-masterclass/why-invest-in-pe 

[6] https://money.usnews.com/investing/investing-101/articles/how-to-invest-in-hedge-funds 

[7] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/mutualfund/07/private_equity.asp 

[8] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/101415/are-hedge-funds-registered-securities-and-exchange-commission-sec.asp 

[9] https://www.linklaters.com/en/insights/publications/aifm/asset-stripping 

[10] https://fastercapital.com/questions/what-is-the-minimum-investment-required-to-invest-in-a-hedge-fund.html 

[11] https://time.com/personal-finance/article/what-is-private-equity-investing/