The annual results are starting to roll in from some of the world’s most prominent hedge funds, and a yawning gap is emerging between the winners and the losers. That’s exactly what should happen.

The average decline last year of 6.7 percent, according to Hedge Fund Research’s Global Hedge Fund Index, is an indictment of the asset class’s claim to be able to deliver stellar performance in return for outsized fees no matter what the market backdrop. But the aggregate figure masks a wide dispersion in results.

Crispin Odey’s flagship European fund posted a return of 53 percent last year, its first gain in four years. Alan Howard’s $2.7 billion Brevan Howard Master Fund was up 12.3 percent, its best performance since 2009. Ray Dalio’s Pure Alpha Strategy fund gained 14.6 percent. But David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital lost 34 percent in the fund’s worst performance in its 22-year history, and Daniel Loeb’s Third Point LLC lost 11 percent last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Those diffuse returns, though, are evidence of a healthy contrariness in strategies. If the gains and losses were concentrated around the average, the numbers would suggest everyone was backing the same crowded trades. While hedge-fund fees have declined in recent years, they remain sufficiently high compared with most other asset classes to be unjustifiable if the funds are investing like sheep rather than predators.

On Monday, Blackrock Inc. published the latest instalment of its annual survey of 230 institutional clients managing $7 trillion of assets globally. While 66 percent of those surveyed expect to keep their hedge-fund allocations unchanged in the coming year, the 18 percent that expect to decrease their investments pipped the 16 percent predicting an increase.

No investor consciously signs up to lose money. The claim of the best-known hedge-fund managers that they can generate bumper returns over the long term is necessarily accompanied by the risk of shorter-term losses. A single good year is no proof that investors will have the stomach to ride the hedge-fund roller coaster.

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Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering asset management. He previously was the London bureau chief for Bloomberg News. He is also the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”

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