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Hedge fund machines cash in—again

Other styles to produce strong returns were “macro” funds, which also try to catch macroeconomic trends but are traditionally less quantitatively oriented. Macro players gained an average of 4.9 percent, according to Credit Suisse, second to only futures investors.

One standout was Ray Dalio’s $169 billion Bridgewater Associates. Its main hedge fund gained about 14.5 percent by correctly predicting two big trends: The continued decline of the euro and a delay in increasing U.S. interest rates.

Read More Bridgewater surges on bearish euro bet, low rates

The most common hedge fund strategy, stock picking and trading, produced more muted returns.

The average long/short equity fund gained 2.3 percent, according to Credit Suisse. That result was better than the SP 500 Index, which gained just 0.44 percent from January through March.

One outlier was Ratan Capital Management, the roughly $1.2 billion Tiger Management-backed hedge fund firm led by Nehal Chopra. Ratan’s main fund gained 22.4 percent in the first quarter, according to two people familiar with the performance (a firm representative declined to comment).

Based on publicly disclosed positions as of Dec. 31, key winners appear to have been Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Actavis and Charter

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