The opportunity and role of active management

RBC Global Asset Management provides a strong case for the opportunity of active management and its role within a truly diversified portfolio.

As they note, there are considerable opportunities within markets for active managers to turn into reliable excess returns.

RBC’s analysis highlights that a large proportion of active share price movements, up to 75%, cannot be explained by market factors.

This is a large opportunity set for active managers. An opportunity set that is found to remain reasonably consistent over time.

The scale of the opportunity as demonstrated by RBC, if successfully captured, provides a potential source of excess returns and a true portfolio diversifier – which is a return outcome largely sourced from company/stock specific risks.

Nevertheless, active managers do need to evolve from historical practices and processes. From this perspective, the paper also provides great insights into the evaluation of a modern day active manager.

With regards to the success of active management, the Conventional Wisdom toward active management is changing. Specifically, the conventional wisdom is too negative on the value of active management.

The RBC article is well worth reading.

 

RBC emphasis “An active manager’s task is to capitalise on the fact that the market or index return is an average, and to use analysis and skill to identify those stocks that produce an above-average return and to avoid those that don’t.”

 

To capture the opportunity identified by RBC, they believe active managers need to find a way to turn share price movements into reliable excess returns.

To do this they believe that active managers must get two things right:

  1. Alpha generation: devise means of explaining and predicting the share price movements that are not explained by factors.
  2. Alpha capture: devise means of efficiently capturing alpha and turning it into reliable portfolio excess returns.

The RBC paper provides a lengthy discussion on what it likely takes to achieve this, including analysing the unique features associated with each business, including ESG factors, taking an active ownership role, and maintaining a long-term perspective.

Each company (security) has a unique performance history, which cannot all be explained by broad market factors.  Financial outcomes are partly dependent on management teams, brand, location, reputation, non-financial factors, and Culture. Analysis needs to be undertaken on the unique factors associated with each business.

Furthermore, accounting data is a poor measure of business value, there are extra financial factors, Governance, employee engagement, Health and Safety, ESG etc etc

 

RBC conclude “that the critical skill for stock pickers is understanding and evaluating extra-financial factors as well as assessing their impact on financial returns. Skill and expertise need to be developed to assess nuanced factors such as corporate culture, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, the business’s social licence to operate, maintenance and safety procedures, R&D effectiveness, brand and reputation, and these will vary from industry to industry and will also shift over time.”

See the article for fuller discussion on their perspective and type of analysis required by a modern day active manager.

 

Portfolio construction is also key, the size of portfolio positions matters.

Equity investments can be held in fractional holdings so it is possible to construct an almost infinite number of portfolios from a relatively modest number of securities.

Different combinations of securities will create portfolios with different factor exposures.   Which will cause variation in portfolio returns.

Therefore, Portfolio construction becomes the framework within which portfolio managers can assess the trade-off between “two often conflicting objectives: maximising exposure to their best investments vs. minimising exposure to unintended factor returns.“

 

My personal view is that many managers under estimate the value added from a solid portfolio construction approach, often it distracts value from a sound stock selection process.

 

One final point, the paper provides a good account of how active management has been disrupted by technology and the information revolution – computing power and access to company information. This has resulted in the rise of passive investing and factor-based investing. This has driven down fees.

The active management industry has changed dramatically, and active management has had to evolve. This is touched on within the Article.

Therefore, the Article provides insight from the perspective of manager selection and a potential lens with which to consider in evaluating modern day active managers.

 

The Role of Active management within a portfolio

From a Kiwi Investor Blog perspective, the active management described by RBC in the Paper “seeks to generate outperformance from stock-specific risk that lies outside the realms of factors. This is a different alpha source, hence it creates a return stream that is not correlated to factor returns.”, highlights the role active management can play within a truly diversified and robust portfolio.

Consistent with RBC, active managers can co-exist with passive and factor based strategies. Active management has a role to play within a Portfolio.

Why? Investors seek to access a wide range of investment risks and returns, seeking true portfolio diversification.

The source of risks and returns from active management that seeks to outperform from stock specific risks is a true portfolio diversifier, if done successfully.

This is consistent with many Posts on Kiwi Investor Blog around the disaggregation of investment returns.

Understanding the disaggregation of investment returns can assist in building a truly diversified and robust portfolio.

It can also help determine the appropriateness of fees being paid and if a manager is adding value.

 

Many institutional investors understand that true portfolio diversification does not come from investing in many different asset classes but comes from investing in different risk and return sources.  See earlier post More Asset Classes Does not Equal More Diversification.

The objective is to implement a portfolio with exposures to a broad set of different return and risk outcomes.  For example, the increasing allocation to alternative investment strategies by institutional investors globally, such as hedge fund strategies, to complement more traditional investments is evidence of this.

Essentially, and from a very broad view, investment returns can be disaggregated in to the following three parts:

  1. Market beta. Think equity market exposure NZX50 or S&P 500 indices (New Zealand and America equity market exposures respectively).
  2. Factor and Alternative hedge fund beta exposures.  See the Disaggregation of Investment Returns Post for a fuller discussion.
  3. Alpha. Alpha is what is left after beta and factors. It is the manager skill to capture the stock specific risks as outlined in RBC paper. Alpha is a risk adjusted return source.

 

With regards to the success of active management, the Conventional Wisdom toward active management is changing, as highlighted in this Post. The linked article in this Post is the most read from Kiwi Investor Blog.

The article undertakes a review of the most recent academic literature on active equity management and concludes by challenging the conventional wisdom of active management, “taken as a whole, our review of current academic literature suggests that the conventional wisdom is too negative on the value of active management.

 

Finally, the disaggregation of investment returns busts opens the active vs passive debate, the debate has moved on. It is no longer an emotive black vs white debate, risk and return sources come in many different shades. A truly diversified portfolio has as many different risk and return exposure as possible. It is from poor portfolio construction that portfolios fail.  The value is in implementation of a truly diversified portfolio.

 

It is evident that New Zealand portfolios need to become more diversified and that Kiwi Saver Investors are missing out.

 

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Beginners guide to Portfolio Diversification. And why Portfolios Fail.

It is often asked if Modern Portfolio Theory failed during the Global Financial Crisis / Great Recession (GFC).

No, Modern Portfolio Theory did not fail during the GFC. Portfolio construction did.

During the GFC many investors did not have exposure to enough different asset classes and investment risks. This limited their protection from market loses.

Therefore, Investors should consider incorporating a wide range of different investment strategies as their core investment strategy. Investors should also clearly understand the sources of risk within their portfolio.

Furthermore, investors cannot necessarily rely on “what is traditionally thought of as diversification to meet their long-term goals.”

It is likely that many investors remain under-diversified today.

These are the views of a 2013 BlackRock Article, the new diversification: open your eyes to alternatives.

 

The discussion in 2012 with Dr Christopher Geczy is still very relevant today.

As we have seen previously, from what does portfolio diversification look like, many KiwiSaver Funds are under-diversified relative to Australian Superannuation Funds. Likewise, the Australian Future Fund is very well diversified relative to the New Zealand Super Fund.

 

Highlights of the BlackRock article are provided below.

They are presented to provide the rationale for seeking true portfolio diversification, as pursued by many of the largest investors worldwide, including Super Funds, Pension Funds, Foundations, Endowments, Family Officers, and Sovereign Wealth Funds. This group also includes the ultra-wealthy.

Albeit, the opportunity to have a truly diversified portfolio is open to all investors, the value is in implementation.

Currently, many New Zealand investors are missing out.

 

What happened during the GFC?

In short, as we all know, what happened during the GFC was a spike in financial market volatility, this led to all markets behaving in a similar fashion – technically market correlations moved to one. This reduces the benefits of diversification. As a result, many markets fell sharply in tandem.

Those markets that where already quite highly correlated became more correlated e.g. listed property with the broader share market.

As we also know, this often happens at time of market crisis, nevertheless, correlations can spike higher without a crisis.

The BlackRock article provides a comparison of market correlations prior to the GFC and correlations during the GFC.

 

For clarity, there are benefits from investing in different asset classes, regions, and so forth.

Nevertheless, although a traditional “Balanced Portfolio”, 60% shares / 40% Fixed Income, provides a smoother ride than an undiversified portfolio, the risks of the Balanced Portfolio are dominated by its sharemarket exposures.

It is well understood that for the Balanced Portfolio almost all the risk comes from the sharemarket exposures. On some estimates over 90% of the risk of a Balanced Portfolio comes from sharemarkets.

Therefore, investors should not only clearly understand the sources of risk, but also the magnitude of these risks within their portfolio.

 

What is the difference between Portfolio Diversification and Portfolio Construction?

Diversification is not as obvious as many think e.g. as outlined above in relation to listed property, a portfolio exposed to different asset classes may not be that well diversified.

As a result, and a key learning from the GFC, investors need to think in terms of risk exposures – risk diversification.

Investors should not think in terms of asset class diversification.

More asset classes does not equal more Portfolio Diversification.

This is because returns from of a range of asset classes are driven by many of the same factors. These can include: economic growth; valuation; inflation; liquidity; credit; political risk; momentum; manager skill; option premium; and demographic shifts.

So while investors have added a range of asset classes to their portfolio (such as property, infrastructure, distressed debt, and commodities) their portfolio risk remains similar at the expense of adding greater complexity and management cost.

Therefore, increasingly institutional investors accept that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits.

 

From a portfolio construction, and technical, perspective, this means thinking in terms of risk exposures and “getting exposure to as many different and non-correlated types of risk that they can.”

Portfolio construction = “building a portfolio based on risk exposures and not just so-called “asset classes” or “sub-classes.””

 

What does this look like?

Investors should seek exposure to a variety of risk exposures in proportion to their risk tolerances and individual circumstances.

The point being everyone should have a broadly diversified portfolio to the greatest extent they can. Investors should hold as many different assets and risk exposes as they possibly can.

Therefore, portfolios should likely include real assets, international investments, and long/ short investments. Alternative and Alternative investment strategies.

The real value is in implementing the portfolio construction, accessing the appropriate risk exposures efficiently.

As BlackRock emphases, Investors need to work with their financial professionals to choose and blend the risk exposures that make sense for their unique circumstances.

 

Low Correlated investments

If the objective is to seek a truly diversified portfolio, the exposure to low correlated assets, both in general and particularly in times of stress, is necessarily.

These exposures are largely gained via Alternative investments or Alternative Investment strategies.

“Alternatives” are a broad category, as defined by BlackRock, offering “sources of potential return and investments that provide risk exposures that, by their very nature, have a low correlation to something else in an investor’s portfolio.”

The concept of alternative investing is about going beyond what a traditional Balanced Portfolio might look like, by introducing new sources of diversification.

 

BlackRock provides a very good discussion on Alternatives, types of assets that would be considered alternatives and a discussion around implementation – highlighting the portfolio benefits of adding alternatives to a portfolio (improving the risk/reward profile). Also noting Alternative investments feared better during the GFC.

 

It is important to emphasis, as does BlackRock, that the inclusion of alternatives into the traditional portfolio is not a radical departure from the notion of managing risk and constructing portfolios. It helps in understanding what risks are being taken and broadens portfolio diversification.

The inclusion of alternative investments is common place in many institutionally managed portfolios. For further discussion, see my previous Post on adding alternatives to a portfolio, it is an Evolution not a Revolution.

 

BlackRock makes a final and important point, the world presents countless risks, and not all those risks can be accounted for in a traditional Balanced Portfolio. Investors need to be diversified in general, but they also need to be diversified for the extreme. If not, they may be setting themselves up for failure.

Do not become too dependent on one source of investment returns.

 

Summary

Investors need to clearly understand the sources of risk in their portfolios and should consider incorporating a wide range of different investment strategies and assets as their core investment strategy.

Furthermore, investors cannot necessarily rely on what is traditionally thought of as diversification to meet their long-term goals.

It was not Portfolio Theory that failed during the GFC but Portfolio Construction.

And this is where the real value lies, the ability and knowledge to implement a truly diversified portfolio.

Many investors very likely remain under-diversified today. Their portfolios do not fully reflect the key learnings from history as outlined in this Post.

 

In my mind, many New Zealand Investors are missing out.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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