Hedge funds didn't cause financial crisis, RAND says

Rest easy, hedge fund investors. Assuage your guilt. Hedge funds did not cause the financial crisis in 2008.

They just made certain aspects much worse.

That's the conclusion of a new monograph — “Hedge Funds and Systemic Risk”— from RAND Corp., a non-profit research and policy organization.

The report's authors analyzed the extent to which hedge funds create or contribute to systemic risk. In the the context of the 2008 global market crash, their conclusion was that hedge funds did not play as significant a role in the crisis as credit-rating agencies, mortgage lenders and credit default swaps issuers.

“We found little evidence that hedge funds contributed to the housing bubble” or that their short selling of financial stocks was “a major contributing factor,” said Lloyd Dixon, lead author of the study and a RAND senior economist, in a news release about the report.

Financial markets were destabilized, however, by the withdrawal of “tens of billions” of dollars from prime brokers because hedge fund managers feared their assets would be frozen if major banks declared bankruptcy, the report said, comparing hedge fund managers' actions to those of individual depositors who pulled their money out of banks during the Great Depression.

The full RAND Corp. report is available online at www.rand.org/ content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2012/RAND_MG1236.pdf.

— CHRISTINE WILLIAMSON

This article originally appeared in the October 1, 2012 print issue as, "Hedge funds didn't cause financial crisis, RAND says".