Six months: thatÆs how long the global hedge-fund community spent losing money. The downward spiral began in June, when a weighted index of hedge fund performance compiled by Hedge Fund Research (HFR) lost 1.33% for the month. It had already recorded other losing months earlier in 2007 and 2008, but June saw the onslaught of relentless bad news.

For the next six months, the industry went on a losing spree. And indeed, the 2008 totals are pretty awful: down 18.3%, the worst ever. Funds of hedge funds lost 20% in aggregate û and thatÆs before Bernie Madoff became a household name.

But the industry did go out on a modestly positive note. December saw its first positive gains in half a year, with HFRÆs index recording a 0.42% performance gain. As silver linings go, this oneÆs thin, but in this environment, any good news is welcome.

An even better picture emerges from Credit Suisse, which compiles an alternative investment replication index. Its ôAir Lo/sho Indexö gained 2.98% in December, although it too ended the year in negative territory, at -16.6%.

The official CS line: ôThe Air Lo/sho reflects the return of a dynamic basket of liquid, investable market factors selected and weighted in accordance with an algorithm that aims to approximate the aggregate returns of the universe of long/short equity hedge-fund managers,ö assuming management fees of 1.5%.

The story isnÆt so heart-warming if you look at a straight benchmark number, though: HFRÆs equity hedge index shows a modest loss of 0.08% for December.

Most of the best performance last year in HFRÆs universe came from dedicated short strategies (up 28% in 2008) and diversified macro funds (up 18%). Asset-backed bond strategies also showed very modest gains.

Although strategies such as those dedicated to energy and basic materials had an awful year, down 37% in total, they posted slight gains in December û in this case, up 1.7%.

Overall in 2008, however, quant, event-driven, distressed, convertible arbitrage and credit strategies all posted losses of 20% or more. For many managers, the jinx ainÆt broken yet.