High Water Mark

What is High Water Mark?

A high watermark in hedging means the level of or peak of the value of an investment has achieved since its establishment which is useful for measuring incentives of the fund managers and as a protection for the investors, however, a too high watermark may discourage the employees which may be a hurdle in achieving specified objectives.

Hedge FundsHedge FundsA hedge fund is an aggressively invested portfolio made through pooling of various investors and institutional investor’s fund. It supports various assets providing high returns in exchange for higher risk through multiple risk management and hedging techniques.read more usually have a fee structure that includes Performance Fees, which is typically 20% of the profits generated by the fund. But the manager will get a share in profits only when the returns cross the High-Water Mark value.

High-Water Mark

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Examples of High Water Mark in Hedge Fund

Example #1

Let’s take a simple example:

Suppose a fund starts with $100 Million of capital. In the first year, the fund realizes a 25% return, and the value increases to $125 Million. Now, this peak value is the High Water Mark. In any year that the value of the fund is less than $125 Million, the manager does not get any performance fees.

If in the second year, the fund falls to $115 Million in value, the manager gets nothing. Even after that, the manager will get performance fees only after the value has crossed $125 Million and that too on the amount above this High Water Mark, which means if the fund increases to $130 Million in value, the manager gets performance fees only on the $5 Million that is above the HWM.

Example #2

Wealth creators LLC started a hedge fund with an initial capital of $500 Million. The fee structure of this fund is 2/20, which means it charges 2% Management Fees and 20% Performance Fees. The manager of the fund is Adam Borges.

In the first year of its operation, the fund performs phenomenally and increases to $650 Million in value. But in the second year, the fund decreases to $550 Million because of a few bad calls. In the third year, the fund increases to $625 Million, and in the fourth year, it goes up to $700 Million. Calculate the total fees charged by wealth creators for all four years.’

Here are the details of the fees earned by WealthCreators LLC for each of the four years:

YearEnding Fund ValueManagement FeesPerformance FeesTotal FeesHigh Water Mark
1$650 Mn$13 Mn$30 Mn$43 Mn$650 Mn
2$550 Mn$11 Mn0$11 Mn$650 Mn
3$625 Mn$12.5 Mn0$12.5 Mn$650 Mn
4$700 Mn$14 Mn$10 Mn$24 Mn$700 Mn

In the first year, the managers get the management fees plus the 20% performance fees on the $150 Mn profit generated. The HWM is now $650 Million.

In the second year, since the fund has decreased in value, the total fees are only 2% management fees.

In the third year, even though the fund generated profit relative to the previous year, it does not get any performance fees since it has not yet crossed the HWM of $650 Million.

In the fourth year, the managers get 2% management fees and the performance fees of 20%. But the performance fees will be based on the additional profit the fund generated beyond the High Water Mark of $650 Million. Since the fund value has surpassed the High Water Mark, the new fund value of $700 Million becomes the new High-Water Mark.

Advantages of High-Water Mark

  • #1 – Incentive for Manager – With the High Water Mark mechanism in place, the hedge fund manager gets the incentive to perform better and increase the fund value of the High Water Mark to earn the performance fees. This, in turn, benefits the investors because, ultimately, their investment is also growing in importance.
  • #2 – Protection of Investor – The investors are protected in two ways: Firstly, they don’t have to pay performance fees for poor performance. And secondly, they don’t have to pay the performance fees for the same amount of understanding they have paid for earlier.

Disadvantages of High Water Mark

  • #1 – Too High Water Marks May De-motivate Investors – High Water Marks that are too high because of a particular event in the market may de-motivate the manager if he/she feels that the target is not achievable. This may cause complacency in the performance of the manager.
  • #2 – Ambitious Calls May Harm Investors – Managers may take unnecessarily risky calls to break the High Water Mark and put the investors’ money at risk that is uncalled for. Investors may end up losing money because of the ambitious nature of the manager.


High Water Mark refers to the highest value that a fund has reached since its inception and is used as a threshold to measure the performance of a fund manager.

Every time the value of a fund crosses the maximum amount it has previously reached throughout its life, the high water mark changes to the new peak value. It is an essential concept and commonly seen in investments such as hedge funds, PE funds, etc.

A High Water Mark is an essential concept in the world of hedge funds. It protects the investors and motivates the manager to perform well. It is a more strict measure than the hurdle rate. But at the same time, it might cause the manager to take very risky bets and harm the investors.

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