BOSTON (Reuters) - The average hedge fund climbed 2.4 percent during the first quarter, handily beating the broader stock market, according to industry data released on Wednesday and giving the exclusive industry a dose of good news after months of lackluster returns.

Hedge Fund Research, an industry tracking firm, reported that the HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index gained 0.5 percent in March, leaving it up 2.4 percent for the first three months of the year. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose only 0.4 percent during the quarter.

For some time now hedge funds have faced criticism for charging high fees but delivering only lackluster returns like last year's 3.3 percent gain when the S&P 500 rose 12 percent.

This year only short-sellers, hedge funds that bet exclusive that stock prices will fall, posted losses, the research firm said.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by David Gregorio)