Some will find this excessively dogmatic, but I still subscribe to the view that there is no conclusive evidence yet of the need for hedge funds (meaning active absolute return strategies) in the institutional asset management business. To provide such evidence, it would be necessary to demonstrate that hedge funds' risk-adjusted performance after fees is located on the efficient frontier over an entire market cycle, and that would have to hold in the present constellation with relatively huge allocations to the segment.
In my view, hedge funds are perfectly appropriate for private wealth because of individual investors' known disproportionate avoidance of loss. In the case of institutional investors whose equity is subject to volatility of assets and liabilities, absolute return strategies may be net inefficient at best, or they may even create additional asset/liability mismatch and thus be entirely counter-productive if considered from a comprehensive balance sheet risk management perspective.
That being said, the traditional distinction between hedge funds as providers of absolute return strategies on the one hand or alpha engines on the other becomes increasingly blurred. It is therefore advisable to keep a close watch on the industry, especially given the recent competitive pressure on excessive and asymmetrical fees exerted by institutional investors (epn story).