By Nishant Kumar and Simon Jessop

LONDON (Reuters) - Former Taconic Capital Advisors portfolio manager Kelly Hampaul is preparing to launch his own hedge fund in the second half of the year, sources said, joining a string of other high profile European start-ups expected in coming months.

A combination of buoyant equity markets and divergent monetary policies has helped push first-quarter European hedge fund returns past 4 percent, giving them their best start for three years, data from industry tracker Eurekahedge showed.

London-based Hampaul, 37, invested in equity and credit markets for Taconic but left at the end of last year after more than a dozen years at the $8 billion New York-based hedge fund.

Taconic told clients in December that Hampaul was retiring. Sources have told Reuters the fund manager is now preparing to make a comeback and is setting up a new firm, Everett Capital Advisors, in London.

While the bulk of new funds launch with relatively small amounts of money and struggle to get above $100 million in assets, well-known managers with a strong track record can attract more.

Among other high profile start-ups expected this year are those of ex-Brevan Howard trader Chris Rokos and ex-global head of foreign exchange at Citigroup, Anil Prasad, both of which are expected to launch with hundreds of millions of dollars.

In London, ex-Lansdowne Partners' Stephen Kirk set up Campden Square Capital and Kintbury was launched by ex-Millennium trader Chris Dale.

Hampaul's new fund will follow a strategy similar to the one he managed at Taconic, sources said. They said it was too early in the process to get an exact launch size, but it would be one of the larger launches expected this year.

Hampaul will be joined by former Leucadia Investment Management executive Chris Beton, who had also previously worked at hedge funds Brevan Howard and Soros Funds Ltd.

Hampaul declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

2014 was a dismal year for European hedge funds, which gained just 0.7 percent on average, leading to a record number shutting up shop.

(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)