A particularly volatile streak in the technology sector and setbacks in other growth stocks are creating the least hospitable market conditions for equity-focused hedge funds in at least a year and a half, say market participants, creating sizable losses in a matter of days.
Since the beginning of April, large hedge funds such as Viking Global Investors, Maverick Capital and Lone Pine Capital have stumbled likely in part due to losses on their tech positions, people familiar with the matter said. Overall, the average stock-focused fund fell 1.23 percent in the first week of April, according to report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"The past two weeks for hedge funds have been diabolical," said one stock-fund manager who has been struck by the sharp intraday swings in both the Nasdaq Composite Index and the iShares Russell 2000 small-stock index, which have fallen by a respective 2.6 percent and 3.2 percent in April so far. Monday, April 7, on which the Nasdaq's gyrations were especially pointed, he added, "was one of the worst days for hedge funds since 2008."
Read MoreMarch tech lossesburn hedge funds
A second trader at a different equity-trading fund said colleagues had been joking that it would take them all year to make back the money they've lost so far this month—that is, if they are able to at all. Still, this trader added, people aren't yet giving up hope that the broader equities-market rally will continue.
In recent weeks, tech stocks have taken a drubbing, with high flying names like Twitter, Yahoo!, and Netflix, which are part of the Nasdaq index and had been in vogue in the professional money-management community, hit especially hard. But other growth-stock sectors, including biotech and consumer discretionary stocks, have also declined, contributing to a downswing in the Russell, which is a popular vehicle for hedge funds that are betting on stock-market growth.
Viking, which manages $28 billion, is down nearly 4 percent through April 11 in its flagship fund, according to someone familiar with the returns.
One of its largest positions as of a Dec. 31 regulatory filing was Facebook, which fell nearly 3 percent over the period (it has since rebounded slightly). Maverick, which manages about $9 billion in assets, lost 3 percent in its flagship in the first few days of April, another person familiar with its returns said. The fund's largest position as of Dec. 31 was eBay,which fell more than 4 percent in the first week of April.
Lone Pine, the $27 billion fund, has also faltered this month, said yet another person familiar with its returns. The fund's largest long position is Cognizant Technology Solutions, according to a recent report in Absolute Return, and it also has fallen.
Other tech-heavy hedge fund losers in April include JAT Capital (down 4.4 percent through April 11) and Cadian Capital (down 1.8 percent through April 15), according to a person familiar with the returns. Both firms manage between $2 billion and $3 billion.
The pain at many of the same funds was already apparent in the first quarter, when a slew of prominent hedge funds took losses--mostly as the market turned south in March. Viking, Lone Pine, Blue Ridge, Jericho Capital Partners and JAT all sustained losses (all ended March at a loss with the exception of Viking, which finished up 0.6 percent).
Amid the tumult, Coatue Management, the approximately $9 billion fund company that lost 9 percent in its flagship during the month after betting wrong on both long and short stock holdings, revealed plans to return $2 billion to investors at midyear.