What is High Water Mark?
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 value it has previously reached over the course of its life, the high water mark changes to the new peak value. It is a very important concept and commonly seen in investments such as hedge funds, PE funds, etc.
Hedge Funds 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.
Examples of High Water Mark in Hedge Fund
Below are the examples of the high-water mark in Hedge Fund (HWM).
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 thereafter, 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.
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- From an investor point of view, this protects them from paying performance fees multiple times to the manager for the return that has already been realized in the past. It also keeps the manager motivated to outperform his past self and earn his/her performance fees.
- Investors may measure the fund value at any time intervals and change the High Water Mark value based on the fund performance. This is called the Crystallization Frequency.
- High Water Mark is sometimes confused with a Hurdle Rate. Hurdle Rate is a minimum rate of return of that the manager must generate on the investor’s money in order to get the performance fees. Both measures are tied to the performance of the manager and are meant for the benefit of the investors.
- A manager might not cross the High Water Mark in a particular year but still might cross the Hurdle Rate, thereby receiving the performance fees if the High-Water Mark is not applicable. Therefore, we can say that the High Water Mark is a relatively more strict measure.
Let’s take another example
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:
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 as well as 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
Following are the advantages of the HWM.
- #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 value.
- #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 performance that they have paid for earlier.
Disadvantages of High Water Mark
Following are the disadvantages of the HWM.
- #1 – Too High Water Marks May De-motivate Investors – High Water Marks that are too high because of a certain 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 is a very important 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.
This has been a guide to what is High Water Mark? Here we discuss examples of high water mark (HWM) in Hedge fund along with its advantages and disadvantages. You can learn more about asset management from the following articles –