Growing importance of ESG within the Alternatives sector

The growing importance of ESG within the Alternatives sector is one of the key themes from the JP Morgan Alts Survey March 2019.  This survey provides some fascinating detail on the state of the Global Alternatives industry, including Private Equity, Real Estate, Infrastructure and Hedge Funds.

Some of the other highlights from the survey include:

  • Diversified benefits – correlation matrix
  • Strategy and manager selection is vitally important – dispersion of manager returns
  • Detailed analysis of the varying Alternative categories e.g. hedge funds and real estate, including drivers of returns

 

As noted in previous Posts, Kiwisaver Funds are underweight Alternatives relative to the rest of the world, an alternatives allocation would be beneficial for Target Date Funds, and US Endowment have provided superior long term returns after fees due their successful allocations to Alternatives.

 

The benefits of Alternatives have been well documented and they are set to continue to become a larger part of Client portfolios over time as outlined by the recently published Prequin Global Alternatives Report.

 

Therefore, not surprisingly, according to JP Morgan, “Institutional investors are flocking to hedge funds this year, even after a turbulent 2018 marked by poor performance and market volatility.”

The demand for hedged funds is driven by the search for market-beating returns and diversification.

They found that about a third of respondents plan to boost allocations, up from 15 percent in 2018. Just 13 percent expect a decrease while 55 percent said they plan to maintain current allocations.

As a recent Bloomberg article highlighted, the hedge fund industry took its biggest annual loss last year since 2011, declining 4.8 percent on a fund-weighted basis, according to Hedge Fund Research Inc. Managers were hurt by volatility that trampled markets, and hedge funds saw $33.5 billion in outflows.

JPMorgan polled 227 investors with about $706 billion in hedge fund assets for its annual Institutional Investor Survey.

 

For those new to Alternatives, a recent Investment News article provides some wonderful insights into the benefits of Alternatives and implementation challenges with clients.

With regards to the benefits of Alternatives, comments by Dick Pfister, founder and president of AlphaCore Capital, a firm that allocates between 15% and 30% of client assets to alternative investments, are worth highlighting.

“We look at some alternatives as diversifiers,” he said. “But we will also look at other alternatives as ways to capture chunks of up markets.”

The article notes the “message that investors, advisers and allocators like Mr. Pfister understand is that the big picture perspective rarely looks good for alternative investments, which is why those who dwell on broad category averages often get stopped at the gate.”

The article continues “Making the case for alternatives, which are generally designed to neutralize market beta and enhance alternative alpha, is never easy when market beta is robust in the form of a bullish stock market.”

“That is the reality of allocating to alternative investments. To benefit from the diversifying factors, investors and advisers must appreciate that losing less than the market can often mean gaining less than the market.”

“There’s always something to complain about when you have a diversified portfolio,” said Hans-Christian Winkler, a financial planner at Claraphi Advisory Network, where client portfolios have between 20% and 30% allocated to alternatives.

“A diversified portfolio will never outperform the market, but in times like the last quarter of 2018, when we saw the market down 20% from the high, our portfolios with alternatives were down 5%,” he added. “By using alternatives, you are spreading out your risk and making your investment portfolio a lot less bond-market- and stock-market-dependent.”

 

These are key points, they highlight the benefits but also the challenges when it comes to positioning Alternatives with clients and stakeholders e.g. Trustees, Investment Committees.

Alternatives “underperform” on a relative basis when equity and bond markets perform strongly.  This can have some challenges with Clients, the article is well worth reading from this perspective, as it provides insights into how a number of Advisors are positioning Alternatives with their Clients.

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

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