×

Hedge funds having worst year since 2011

For hedge funds, 2015 has been a year of good news and bad news.

First the good: Amid all the market volatility, the $3 trillion hedge fund industry has outperformed the lackluster 3 percent drop the S&P 500 has turned in.

Now the bad: Despite the outperformance, the group is headed for its worst full-year returns in four years, according to organizations that track the industry. Hedge funds collectively lost more than 8 percent in 2011, but haven't had a negative year since.

A miserable September saw hedge funds lose 1.44 percent, thanks to a 2.2 percent decline in equity-based strategies and a 2.5 percent drop in North America strategy, according to numbers Preqin released Thursday. That brings the full-year return of the Preqin All-Strategies Hedge Fund Benchmark barely above even, with a 0.18 percent gain.

Read MoreHedge funds' best idea: Buy Russia?!?!

Pretty much the only thing that worked during the month was relative value, a strategy that looks to exploit price differences between related assets. That part of the hedge world eked out a 0.26 percent return for the month.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on July 27, 2015 in New York City.
Getty Images
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on July 27, 2015 in New York City.

More broadly, though, the news wasn't good.

September marked the fourth losing month in a row, something that hasn't happened since 2008, according to HFR, which last week said its composite index has hedge funds losing 2.21 percent year to date.

Read MoreIs hedge fund pain your gain?

HFR said event-driven strategies caused the most damage, thank in large part to the collapse in mining giant Glencore's shares, which tumbled as much as 54 percent on commodity weakness, and Valeant, which lost a third of its value at one point due to fears in the biopharma sector.

Within event-driven, activists performed the worst, with the HFR Activist Index plunging 5.2 percent, bringing the year-to-date loss to 4.7 percent.

Investors are not fleeing the industry, however.

Read MoreFortress Investment Group closing macro fund

Total assets under management actually have risen 4.3 percent this year, according to HFR, while the liquidation of 417 funds this year is the lowest since 2011.