Hedge funds are supposed to make money whether markets go up or down, but many of them are being swept up in the turmoil in the financial world.

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Making millions — or even a few billion — by managing a hedge fund has been a running dream on Wall Street in recent years.

But, suddenly, even the masters of this $2 trillion universe are falling on hard times, at least by their own gilded standards.

Hedge funds, those secretive investment vehicles for the rich and, increasingly, the not-so-rich, are supposed to make money whether markets go up or down. But many of them are being swept up in the turmoil in the financial world.

The funds’ investment returns are sinking, and so are those big paydays for their managers, whose riches have helped redefine our notions of wealth and helped drive up the price of everything from Picassos to Manhattan penthouses.

A prolonged downturn might prompt some investors to rethink these investments or demand lower fees from managers, who typically collect annual management fees of 2 percent and then take a 20 percent cut of any profits.

Trouble at hedge funds also might draw government scrutiny, given the amount of pension money sitting within these unregulated firms.

“Everyone is looking for a panacea, everyone is looking for a quick way to make money fast and everyone is pinning their dreams on the backs of these hedge funds,” said Dan McAllister, treasurer and tax collector of San Diego County, whose pension fund lost money when a hedge fund called Amaranth collapsed two years ago. “But maybe it’s time to be a little cautious.” The current problems are more far-reaching than they have been in the past. Fund after fund is warning investors that the markets have become increasingly difficult to predict.

In recent weeks, several funds have closed, most notably a fund run by Ospraie Management. Rumors about troubled hedge funds like Atticus Capital have unsettled the broader markets.