U.S. Markets open in 1 hr 13 mins

Hedge funds post worst start to year since 2008 -HFR

(Adds details on fund performance, quote)

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Lawrence Delevingne

BOSTON/NEW YORK, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Global hedge funds lost so much money in January that the month marked the industry's worst start to the year since the 2008 financial crisis, Hedge Fund Research (HFR) data released on Friday showed.

But the declines were smaller than the bigger losses in the stock market, giving the secretive $3 trillion industry something to cheer after posting several years of lackluster returns.

The broad-based HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index posted a decline of 1.7 percent for January, HFR said. In 2008 the index dropped 2.69 percent.

HFR said that most strategies ranging from activist investing to healthcare and technology investing were in the red last month. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 5 percent.

Fears about slower global growth and pressures on commodity prices have sent stock markets tumbling in early 2016, leaving even some hedge funds that made money in 2015 with losses.

Tiger Global lost 14 percent in January after a 6.8 percent gain last year while Viking Global slipped 2.4 percent after an 8 percent gain in 2015. M. Kingdon Offshore, which gained 3.4 percent in 2015, tumbled 7.2 percent in January, documents seen by Reuters showed.

Some funds that posted small losses in 2015 were off a little more in January, including Daniel Loeb's Third Point which dipped 3.4 percent following a 1.2 percent dip in 2015.

But even as hedge funds lament some deep losses, they note that in many instances hedge funds performed relatively better than other investments.

"Hedge funds which have demonstrated their ability to preserve capital and generate uncorrelated gains through this environment will serve to reduce overall portfolio volatility and will continue to attract investor capital into early 2016," HFR President Ken Heinz said.

HFR's activist index fell 6.11 percent, illustrating how tough it has become for these types of investors who often take a big stake in big-name stock and agitate for change. Prominent activist investor William Ackman's Pershing Square Holdings portfolio fell 11.2 percent in January after tumbling 20 percent in 2015. It had gained 40 percent in 2014.

Nevertheless, there were also winners.

John Burbank's Passport Special Opportunities Strategy surged 16 percent while the more aggressive version of his Global Strategy fund rose 3.5 percent after gaining 21 percent in 2015.

The Tudor Momentum Portfolio gained 3.9 percent, the SECOR Alpha fund rose 2.7 percent and David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital rose 1.4 percent.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Grant McCool)