An Alternative Future for Kiwisaver Funds

I have blog previously on the benefits of Alternative investments for a robust portfolio.

They would benefit Target Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds) and they have benefited Endowments and foundations for many years.

As the Funds Under Management (FUM) grows within Kiwisaver there will be an increasing allocation to Alternative investments. This will include the likes of unlisted assets (Private equity, direct property, and direct infrastructure), hedged funds, and liquid alternative strategies such as Alternative Risk Premia strategies.

 

A recent paper by Preqin, Preqin-Future-of-Alternatives-Report-October-2018, assesses the likely size, shape and make-up of the global alternative assets industry in 2023, the emphasis being on private capital and hedge funds.

Preqin are specialist global researchers of the Alternative investment universe and provide a reliable source of data and insights into alternative assets professionals around the world.

 

Needless to say, Alternatives are going to make up a large share of investment assets in the future.

Preqin’s estimates are staggering:

  • By 2023 Preqin estimate that global assets under management of the Alternatives industry will be $14tn (+59% vs. 2017);
  • There will be 34,000 fund management firms active globally (+21% vs. 2018).

 

This is an issue from the perspective of capacity and ability to deliver superior returns.  Therefore, manager selection will be critical.

 

Preqin outlined the drivers of future growth as the following:

  • Alternatives’ track record and enduring ability to deliver superior risk-adjusted returns to its investors, Investors need to access alternative sources of return, and risk, such as private capital.
  • They note the steady decline in the number of listed stocks, as private capital is increasingly able to fund businesses through more of their lifecycle;
  • A similar theme is playing out in the debt markets, there are increasing opportunities in private debt as traditional lenders have exited the market; and
  • The emerging markets are seen as a high growth area.

 

According to Preqin the following factors are also likely to drive growth:

  • Technology (especially blockchain) will facilitate private networks and help investors and fund managers transact and monitor their portfolios, and reduce costs vs public markets.
  • Control and ESG: investors increasingly want more control and influence over their investments, and the ability to add value; private capital provides this.
  • Emerging markets: the Chinese venture capital industry already matches that of the US in size; further emerging markets growth will be a ‘double whammy’ of GDP growth + higher penetration of alternative assets.
  • Private individuals: the ‘elephant in the room’, as the mass affluent around the world would like to increase their investment in private capital if only the structures and vehicles (and regulation) permitted; technology will help.

 

The Preqin report covers many other topics and interviews in relation to the Alternative sector.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

US Recession Warning Indicators

As you will know the US economy is into its second longest period of economic expansion which commenced in June 2009.

Should the US economy continue to perform until July 2019, which appears likely, the US will enter its longest period of economic expansion. The longest expansion was 10 years, occurring during the tech expansion of the 1990s, the current expansion is nine years.

Similarly, the US sharemarket is into its longest bull market run, having not experienced a drop-in value of greater than 20% (bear market) since March 2009.

As a rule, sharemarkets generally enter bear markets in the event of a recession.

 

Nevertheless, while a recession is necessary, it is not sufficient for a sharemarket to enter a bear market.

Since 1957, the S&P 500, a measure of the US sharemarket:

  • three bear markets where “not” associated with a recession; and
  • three recessions happened without a bear market.

 

Statistically:

  • The average Bull Market period has lasted 8.8 years with an average cumulated total return of 461%.
  • The average Bear Market period lasted 1.3 years with an average loss of -41
  • Historically, and on average, equity markets tend not to peak until six – twelve months before the start of a recession.

 

Therefore, let’s look at some of the Recession indicators.

In a recent article by Brandywine, they ran through some of the key indicators for a US recession.

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDP Nowcast.

This measure is forecasting annualised economic growth of 4.4% in the third quarter of 2018. This follows actual annualised growth of 4.2% in the second quarter of 2018.

Actual US economic data is strong currently. Based on the following list:

  • US unemployment is 3.7%, its lowest since 1969
  • Consumer Confidence is at an 18 year high
  • US wages are growing at around 3%, the savings rate is close to 6%, leaving plenty of room for consumers to increase spending
  • Small business confidence is at all-time highs
  • Manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys are at their best levels for some time (cycle highs)

 

Leading Indicators

The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Indicators, an index of 10 components that includes the likes of the ISM New Order Index, building permits, stock prices, and the Treasury yield curve.

The Conference Board’s Index is supportive of ongoing economic activity in the US.

 

Yield Curve

The shape of the yield curve, which is normally upward sloping, meaning longer term interest rates are higher than short term interest rates, has come in for close attention over the last six months. I wrote a about the prospect of a negative yield curve earlier in the year.

An inverted yield curve, where shorter term interest rates (e.g. 2 years) are higher than longer term interest rates (e.g. 10 years) has a pretty good record in predicting a recession, in 18 months’ time on average.

With the recent rise of longer dated interest rates the prospect of an inverted yield curve now looks less likely.

Albeit, with the US Federal Reserve is likely to raise short term interest rates again this year and another 3-4 times next year the shape of the yield curve requires on going monitoring.

Having said that, an inverted yield curve alone is not sufficient as a predictor of economic recession and needs to be considered in conjunction with a number of other factors.

 

Brandywine conclude, “what does a review of some well-known recession indicators tell us about the current—and future—state of the U.S. expansion? The information provided by the indicators is mixed, but favors the continuation of the current expansion. The leading indicators are telling us the economy should continue to expand well into next year—at least.”

In favour of ongoing economic expansion is low unemployment, rising wages, simulative financial conditions (e.g. low interest rates are supportive of ongoing growth, as are high equity prices), high savings rate of consumer and their low levels of debt. Lastly government spending and solid corporate profitability is supportive of economic activity over the medium term.

As a word of caution, ongoing US – China trade dispute could derail global growth. Other factors to consider are higher interest rates in combination with a higher oil price.

Noting, Equity markets generally don’t contract until interest rates have gone into restrictive territory. This also appears some time away but is a key factor to monitor.

Lastly, a combination of higher oil prices and higher interest rates is negative for economic growth.

 

I have used on average a lot in this Post, just remember: “A stream may have an average depth of five feet, but a traveler wading through it will not make it to the other side if its mid-point is 10 feet deep. Similarly, an overly volatile investing strategy may sink an investor before she gets to reap its anticipated rewards.”

 Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Trustees should be aware of the shocking cost of timing markets and what is the best solution

Cambridge Associates recently published a research report concluding it does not pay to be out of the market.

” Investors who take money out of the market too early stand to “risk substantial underperformance,”

Cambridge advised investors concerned about the length of the current bull market not to bail out of equity markets earlier than necessary in an attempt to avoid exposure to downturns.

This seems timely given current market volatility.

As the article notes, it is hard to time markets “because trying to time re-entry to get back into the markets at lower levels leads to substantially lower long-term returns, the researchers found. For example, the report showed that being out of the market for just the two best quarters since the turn of the last century cut cumulative real returns on U.K. equities by more than 50 percent.”

“That effect is even more profound in the United States, where sitting out the best two quarters cut cumulative real returns by more than two thirds, according to the report.”

“While no investor should be ignoring valuations, becoming too focused on timing an exit has substantial risks,” said Alex Koriath, head of Cambridge’s European pensions practice, in a statement accompanying the research. “The best periods for returns tend to be very concentrated, meaning that exiting at the wrong time could drag down cumulative returns significantly.”

 

This is a pertinent issue given the US sharemarket is into its longest bull market run in history. Also, of interest, historically on average, markets perform very strongly over the final stages of a bull market run. Lastly, bull markets tend to, more often than not, end six-twelve months prior to a recession. Noting, this is not always the case. Albeit, the consensus is not forecasting a recession in the US for some time. It appears, the probability of a US recession in the next couple of years is low.

The key forward looking indicators, such as shape of the yield curve, significant widening of high yield credit spreads, rising unemployment, and falling future manufacturing orders are not signalling a recession is on the horizon in the US. Please see my earlier posts History of Sharemarket corrections – An Anatomy of equity market corrections

 

What is the answer?

It is difficult to time markets. AQR came to a similar conclusion in a recent article. AQR argue the best form of defence is a truly diversified portfolio. I agree and this is a core focus of this Blog.

As we know equity markets have drawdowns, declines in value of over 20%. In the recent AQR article they estimate that there have been 11 episodes of 20% plus drawdowns since 1926, a little over once every 10 years! Bearing in mind the last major drawdown was in 2008 – 09.

The average peak to trough has been -33% and on average it has taken 27 months to get back to the pre-drawdown levels.

As AQR note, we cannot consistently forecast and avoid these severe down markets. In my mind, conceptually these drawdowns are the risk of investing in equities. With that risk, comes higher returns over the longer term relative to investing in other assets.

At the very least we can try and reduce our exposure by strategically tilting portfolios, as AQR says, “if market timing is a sin, we have advocated to “sin a little””.

 

I agree with the Cambridge Associates article to never be out of the market completely and with AQR to strategically tilting the portfolio. These tilts should primarily be based on value, be subject to a disciplined research process, and focused more on risk reduction rather than chasing returns. This approach provides the opportunity to add value over the medium to longer term.

 

Nevertheless, by far a better solution is to truly diversify and build a robust portfolio. This is core to adding value, portfolio tilting is a complementary means of adding value over the medium to long term relative to truly diversifying the portfolio.

True diversification in this sense is to add investment strategies that are lowly correlated with equities, while at the same time are expected to make money over time. Specifically, they help to mitigate the drawdowns of equities. For example, adding listed property and listed infrastructure to an equity portfolio is not providing true portfolio diversification.

In this sense truly “alternative” investment strategies need to be considered e.g. Alternative Risk premia and hedge fund type strategies. Private equity and unlisted assets are also diversifiers.

Again conceptually, there is a cost to diversifying. However, it is the closest thing in finance to a free lunch from a risk/return perspective i.e. true portfolio diversification results a more efficient portfolio. Most of the diversifying investment strategies have lower returns to equities. There are costs to diversification whether using an options strategy, holding cash, or investing in alternative investment strategies as a means to reduce sharp drawdowns in portfolios.

Nevertheless, a more diversified portfolio is a more robust portfolio, and offers a better risk return outcome.

Also, very few investor’s objectives require to be 100% invested in equities. For most investors a 100% allocation to equities is too volatile for them, which raises the risk that investors act suboptimal during periods of market drawdowns and heightened levels of market volatility i.e. sell at the bottom of the market

 

A more robust and truly diversified portfolio reduces portfolio volatility increasing the likelihood of investors reaching their investment goals.

 

As AQR note, diversification is not the same thing as a hedge. Uncorrelated means returns are influenced by other risks. They have different return drivers.

From this perspective, it is also worth noting that adding diversifying strategies to any portfolio means adding new risks. The diversifiers will have their own periods of underperformance, hopefully this will be at a different times to when other assets in the portfolio are also underperforming. Albeit, just because they have periods of underperformance does not mean they are not portfolio diversifiers.

AQR perform a series of model portfolios which highlight the benefits of adding truly diversifying strategies to a traditional portfolio of equities and fixed interest.

No argument there as far as I am concerned.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Is All-Passive Really the Best Thing for Target-Date Funds?

A recent AB article highlights the limitation of some Target-Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds).

AB propose:

“With market returns expected to be lower going forward, target-date funds that invest in passively managed underlying components are at risk of underdelivering. We think diversifying beyond traditional asset classes and tapping alpha opportunities with a multi-manager structure can increase the chances of success. “

 

I would argue more broadly, despite the market outlook, any passive portfolio that only invests into the traditional markets of equities, bonds, and cash are not well diversified for a range of possible economic and market outcomes. They are further at risk if they take a set and forget approach to the overarching strategic asset class positioning of the fund i.e. these short-comings are not limited to passively managed Target-Date Funds.

 

In short, AB argue that the outlook for traditional markets (beta) is challenging. As a result, this environment pose:

“major headwinds to target-date funds as they work to provide the growth participants need. Target-date funds that invest only in traditional asset classes, such as large-cap equities and core bonds through indices, face limitations in their glide path designs. This can make it a struggle for target-date funds to meet participants’ needs in anything but a high-return, low-risk market environment. And in terms of environments, that ship has likely sailed for now.”

Further: “A lower-beta landscape challenges a popular line of thinking that says investing in funds with the lowest fees will ensure compliance with plan sponsors’ fiduciary responsibilities. Low fees aren’t the end all and be all. For one thing, focusing too much on fees could cause sponsors to overlook other factors in retirement investing that also have fiduciary implications.”

The bold is mine.

 

My Opinion and solution

Increase the diversification of the Target-Date Fund and more actively manage the glide path of the strategy.

There could well be a blend of active and passive strategies.

Quite obviously increasing true portfolio diversification is paramount to building robust portfolios and increasing the likelihood of achieving investment objectives.

The prospect of a low returning environment only reinforces this position.

As mentioned in my last post, Reports of the death of Diversification are greatly exaggerated, also see my post Invest more like an Endowment, which also touches on the fee debate, investors should seek true portfolio diversification. The portfolio should be constructed to meet an investor’s objectives “through a range of potential outcomes”. There would appear to be a diverse range of likely economic and market outcomes currently.

Robust portfolios are positioned for a range of outcomes and are “forecast-free as possible”.

We all know a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns.   Increasingly institutional investors are accepting that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth.

 

Limitations of Target Date Funds

The AB article touches on the limitations of most Target-Date Funds, weather the underlying asset classes are actively or Index (passively) managed.

Essentially, most Target-Date Funds have two main short comings:

  • They are not customised to an individual’s consumption liability, human capital or risk preference e.g. they do not take into consideration by way of example future income requirements or likely endowments, level of income earned to retirement, or investor’s risk profile.

They are prescribed asset allocations which are the same for all investors who have the same number of years to retirement, this is the trade-off for scale over customisation.

  • The glide path does not take into account current market conditions.

Therefore, linear glide paths, most target date funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:

      • Delays in pace of transitioning from risky assets to safer assets
      • May require step off the glide path given extreme risk environments

Most Target-Date funds don’t make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions. This is inconsistent with academic prescriptions, and also common sense, which both suggest that the optimal strategy should also display an element of dependence on the current state of the economy.

 

Therefore, there is the risk that some Target-Date Funds will fall short of providing satisfactory outcomes and meeting the key requirement in retirement of sufficient income. See A more Robust Retirement Income Solution is needed.

Target-Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds) focus on the investment horizon without protecting investors’ retirement needs, they focus on one risk, market risk.   The focus is not on producing retirement income or hedging risks in relation to investment risk, inflation risk, interest rate risk, and longevity risk. A better solution is required.

 

The optimal Target-Date fund asset allocation should be goal based and multi-period:

  • It requires customisation by goals, of human capital, and risk preferences
  • Some mechanism to exploit the possibility of mean reversion within market

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Limitations of Passive Index Investing

The short comings of investing into market index benchmarks are not widely discussed, nor understood.

Market indices suffer from two key short comings:

  1. They have exposures to unrewarded risks, they are therefore suboptimal e.g. think concentration risk, the best example of which is the Finnish Market Index which at one point Nokia made up over 50% of the Index. In New Zealand Telecom once made up over 30% of the Market Index.
  1. Poor Diversification of rewarding risk exposures e.g. they are not efficient. See discussion below.

 

The first short coming is well understood and often highlighted.  This is an issue with the current US market with the growing dominance of the Technology stocks which now make up 25% of the market.  Apple currently makes up around 4% of the S&P 500, this compares to IBM’s 7% weighting in the late 1970s.  Transport stocks dominated the S&P 500 for over 60 years in the mid-1880s to early 1900s.  Therefore unrewarded risks, such as concentration risks, have been a common feature of market indices and benchmarks.

 

The second short coming is less well understood.  In effect, market indices are poorly allocated to known risk premia from which excess returns can be generated from.

For example, and to the point, given their construction market indices are underweight the value and size premia.  These are known systematics risks for which investors are rewarded e.g. the value and size premia

 

Of course we are talking about the rise of Factor Investing, which I covered in an earlier post.

 

We are also not talking about a “factor zoo”, there are a number of limited rewarding risk premia, which are likely to include the likes of value and size (small cap), momentum, and low volatility.  Profitability, quality, and carry are potentially others to consider as well.  Implementation of Factor strategies is key.

 

Fama and French, the fathers of Finance, developed the 3 Factor model in the 1990s.  The 3 factor model includes market risk, value, and size.  It has now become a 5 factor model.  Their pioneering work forms the basis of a very successful global Funds Management business.

This stuff is not new, yet large amounts of money flow into the inefficient and sub-optimal market index funds.  Bond indices are more suboptimal than equity market indices.

 

Therefore, factor exposures provide a more efficient exposure for investors.

The go to analogy on understanding Factors comes from Professor Andrew Ang, factors in markets are like nutrients in food:

“Factors are to assets what nutrients are to food. Just like ‘eating right’ requires you to look through food labels to understand the nutrient content, ‘investing right’ means looking through asset class labels for the underlying factor risks. It’s the nutrients in the food that matter. And similarly, the factors matter, not the asset labels.”

 

Factor investing is part of a strong movement by institutional investors away from investing into “asset classes” but thinking more about looking through asset class labels and investing into the underlying factors.

 

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 factors.

The objective is to implement a portfolio with exposures to a broad set of different return and risk outcomes.

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and momentum.

 

This is part of a wider shift within the global Wealth and Funds Management industry.  The industrial revolution that EDHEC Risk discusses.  There are better ways of doing things, such as Goal Based Investing.

 

Remember, Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) is over 65 years old, it is hardly modern anymore.  Although the fundamentals of the benefits of diversification remain, greater insights have been gained over the years and more efficient approaches to building robust portfolios have been developed.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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


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Unintended Portfolio Risks – Fixed Interest example

A lot of investment professionals understand the issue outlined in this post.

Not so the investment public, for example KiwiSaver Investors.  Are they aware that their “Conservative” Kiwisaver Default Funds have become more risky over recent years?

And how are Investment Committees addressing the limitations of market indices?  Particularly those who blindly follow them.

It worries me with the high concentration of international fixed interest in the KiwiSaver Default Funds.  There is a lot of room for disappointment.

 

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 factors.  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

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth.

 

An example of the benefits of this approach is very evident in fixed interest.

As we know, duration is a key risk factor that drives fixed interest securities. (Duration is a measure of a fixed interest securities price/value sensitivity to changes in interest rates.  The longer the duration e.g. 10 years, the great the securities price sensitivity and change in value from movements in interest rates i.e. a 90 day cash security has very little duration risk and value sensitivity to changes in interest rates.  Lastly, as interest rates increase the price/value of a fixed interest security falls.  Conversely if interest rates fall the price rises.)

 

Fixed interest indices have become more risky over the last 10 years.  Not because interest rates have reached historical lows.  Many have predicted we witnessed the end of a 35 year bull market in fixed interest markets last year.

The duration of most international fixed interest indices has increased over the last 10 years.  Duration being the measure of risk.

Therefore, fixed interest indices have become more risky from an interest rate perspective given an increase in duration.

 

By way of example, the duration of most international fixed interest indices have increased by 1.5 – 2 years over the last 8-10 years.

In a recent piece by Blackstone they noted the duration of the Bloomberg Barclays Agg Bond Index moved from 4.4 years in 2016 to 6.3 years (as of 5/2018).

Blackstone also noted that the biggest risk to investors is not recognizing that the data changed. History proves bond yields do move higher.

 

What does this mean for a number of the Kiwisaver Default Funds that have around 30% of their portfolio invested in international fixed interest?

In 2008, a 30% allocation to international fixed interest meant a duration contribution to a multi-asset portfolio of 1.65 years, assuming an index duration of 5.5 years.

In 2018, the 30% allocation to international fixed interest means a duration contribution to a multi-asset portfolio of 2.1 years, assuming an index duration of 7.0 years.

Therefore, the duration risk of the portfolio has increased by around half a year, an increase of almost a third.

As a result the multi-asset portfolio has become more volatile to movements in interest rates.

 

So what can be done?

  1. A new index with a lower duration could be used. It would need to be 5.5 years to bring the multi-asset portfolio’s risk back to levels displayed in 2008, all else equal.
  1. The portfolio allocation to global fixed interest could be reduced. The multi-asset portfolio weighting would need to be reduced to 24% from 30%, a reduction of 6%, to bring the portfolio’s duration risk back to the levels displayed in 2008, all else equal.
  1. A combination of the above.

 

However, on all occasions, Portfolio risk has been brought back to levels of 10 years ago.  Further action would be required if one had a negative view on the outlook for interest rates and wanted to de-risk the portfolio further.  Noting we are probably at the end of 35 year bull market in fixed interest.

 

This issue is often exasperated further by increasing the multi-assets portfolio’s allocation to Listed Property and Infrastructure as a means to increase yield, given a reduction in interest rates.  Listed property and infrastructure are interest rate sensitive sectors of the equity markets.

Therefore, increasing allocations to these sectors often only increases portfolio duration risk and equity risk at the same time.  Not great if interest rates increase sharply, as they have over the last year internationally.

Portfolio risk has not been reduced if a factor focused approach is taken.  A new asset class does not necessarily reduce portfolio risk, despite what a portfolio optimisation model may say!

 

In conclusion, and the key point, it is not how much international and NZ Fixed Interest to allocate to within a portfolio that is important.  What is importnat is how much duration risk should the portfolio have in meeting its investment objectives.

Investment committees should not be debating the level of allocation to international or NZ fixed interest without first considering what is the most appropriate level of portfolio duration risk to target.  This is a different conversation and focus.

Implementation of the duration target can then be made in relation to the international and NZ fixed interest allocation split.  An issue in this consideration is that NZ investors have NZ liabilities e.g. NZ inflation risk

This is a subtle but an important shift in thinking to build more robust portfolios.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The Market Fox interviews a Wise Owl of the Australian Investment Industry

This is worth sharing, a Podcast interview by Daniel Griolio with Jack Gray, an Australian investment industry veteran.

This is a great interview for those new and old to the industry.

 

Although Jack is wise, he is not silent like an owl.  Jack is well known to many within the industry for his forthright views, okay strong opinions.  Which is great, we need more of this to challenge the status quo and to have intellectually honest debates.  Not to make things more complicated but to challenge some of the industry practices.  Jack touches on the downside of holding strong beliefs and being willing to share them in the Podcast, it comes with a cost.  It is who he is, he calls out if he believes things are wrong.

Jack joined the investment industry later in life after a career in Academia, he talks about how he had to learn things from scratch, there are some great insights here e.g. what advice would you give to a young Jack Gray starting out?

The interview is wide ranging and Daniel does a great job keeping it flowing, with lots of good discussion, stories, and introspection.

Topics include:

  • thinking about probabilities;
  • heuristics;
  • you don’t need a lot of maths to be comfortable investing;
  • IQ vs temperament in investing successfully;
  • the short term focus of the industry;
  • industry agency issues;
  • investment firms learning to play to their strengths and being different;
  • IA; and
  • Robo Advice.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Future’s Hedge Funds

A really interesting article by the Chief Investment Officer: A New Generation of Hedge Funds Can Provide Stability, Australia’s sovereign wealth fund CIO is betting hedge funds can help reduce risk.

The article covered a number of themes from my earlier Blog Post Perspective of the Hedge Fund Industry

The hedge fund industry, and the “hedge fund”, have changed dramatically over the last few years.  This is captured in the recently published AIMA paper (Alternative Investment Management Association), Perspectives, Industry leaders on the future of the Hedge Fund Industry.  The AIMA paper is covered in the Post above.

The following Quotations from the Chief Investment Office article by Raphael Arndt, CIO of Australia’s A$166 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, are consistent with the AIMA Paper:

  • “Hedge funds have an important portfolio role to play in generating returns that are uncorrelated to equity markets,” Arndt said last week in a speech before the Insurance Investment Forum in Torquay, Australia.
  • “For the Future Fund, hedge funds have a very specific purpose in our portfolio.  This is to reduce risk—and in particular to provide returns during market environments involving prolonged periods of losses in equity markets.”

 

From Kiwi Investor’s perspective a well designed and implemented Hedge Fund solution is particularly attractive for an insurance company.

 

Arndt, continues:

  • “I recognize that hedge funds have historically had a public relations problem, being associated with high fees, a lack of transparency, and perceptions of poor ethics and customer focus,” said Arndt.
  • But Arndt said this perception of hedge funds is a dated stereotype that he refers to as “hedge funds 1.0,” which has given way to what he calls “hedge funds 2.0”—a newly evolved generation of hedge funds.

 

This sentiment very much comes out in the AIMA paper As Arndt emphasised, many hedge funds run institutional-quality investment process.  If they don’t, they don’t receive institutional money.  This not only relates to the investment management process, it includes issues such as management of counter party risk, operational risk management, regulatory risk management, and transparency of portfolio risk exposures.

Lastly, after outlining the type of hedge fund solution the Future Fund runs, Arndt comments:

  • “I encourage industry participants to consider such a program in their portfolio to protect against the risks associated with a repeat of a GFC type event in equity markets,” said Arndt. “The fees paid, while unquestionably high, are worth paying for skilled managers who collectively can add significant value to the portfolio overall.
  • “It’s time to re-examine what hedge funds offer,” he added. “The industry has evolved and improved, and features a new breed of managers that are different from their predecessors.”

 

These comments are also consistent with points made in my earlier post on Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2 and Disaggregation of Investment Returns.

 

In effect, the Future Fund uses Hedge Funds to provide return diversification, they use Hedge Funds so they can invest into riskier assets like equities and illiquid asset such as infrastructure, property, and private equity.

We all know a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns.

Combined the Future Fund has a more robust portfolio.

 

It has worked well for them, the article states: “As of the end of March, the Future Fund reported a return of 8.5% per year over the last 10 years, compared to a target benchmark return of 6.7% per year during that same time period.”

This is a very good result, successfully managing into their stated investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

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Risk of Economic Recession and an Inverted Yield Curve

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the prospect of an inverted US yield curve.  (An inverted yield curve is when longer-term interest rates (e.g. 10 years) are lower than shorter-term interest rates (e.g. 2 years or 3 months).  A normal yield curve is when longer-term-interest rates are higher than shorter-term-interest rates.

Historically an inverted yield curve is a powerful recession sign.  John Williams, who will take over the helm of the New York Federal Reserve Bank of New York in June, said earlier in the year a truly inverted yield curve “is a powerful signal of recessions” that has historically occurred (italics is mine).

The US yield curve spread (difference in yield) between the 2 year and 10 year US Treasury interest rates has recently reached its narrowest in over a decade.  Thus the heightened discussion.

As can be seen in the graph below the US Treasury yield curve inverted before the recessions of 2008, 2000, 1991, and 1981.

It should be noted that the US yield curve has not yet inverted and there is a lag between inversion and recession, on average of 1 to 2 years.  See graph below.  I am not sure I’d call the Yield Curve still “Bullish” all the same.

At the same time, the risk of recession does not currently appear to be a clear and present danger.

Much of the flattening of the current yield curve (i.e. shorter-term interest rates are close to longer-term interest rates) reflects that the US Federal Reserve has increased shorter-term interest rates by over 150 bpts over the last 2 years and longer-term interest rates remain depressed largely due to technical factors.  Albeit, the US 10 year Treasury bond recently trade above 3%, the first time since the start of 2014.  Therefore, the current shape of the US yield curve does make some sense.

Inverted yield curve.png

 

The picking of recession is obviously critical in determining the likely future performance of the sharemarket.

As a rule, sharemarkets generally enter bear markets, falls of greater than 20%, in the event of a recession.

Nevertheless, while a recession is necessary, it is not sufficient for a sharemarket to enter a bear market.

See the graph below, as it notes, since 1957, the S&P 500, a measure of the US sharemarket:

  • three bear markets where “not” associated with a recession; and
  • three recessions happened without a bear market.

bear market recessions.jpg

 

Statistically:

  1. The average Bull Market period has lasted 8.8 years with an average cumulated total return of 461%.
  2. The average Bear Market period lasted 1.3 years with an average loss of -41%
  3. Historically, and on average, equity markets tend not to peak until six months before the start of a recession.

The current US sharemarket bull market passed its 9 year anniversary in March 2018.  The accumulated return is over 300%.

 

Mind you, we have to be careful with averages, I like this quote:

“A stream may have an average depth of five feet, but a traveler wading through it will not make it to the other side if its mid-point is 10 feet deep. Similarly, an overly volatile investing strategy may sink an investor before she gets to reap its anticipated rewards.”

 

Assessing Recession Risk

Importantly, investors should not use the shape of the yield curve as a sole guide as to the likelihood of a recession.

The key forward looking indicators to monitor include an inverted yield curve, but also a significant widening of high yield credit spreads, rising unemployment, and falling future manufacturing orders.

Tightening of financial conditions is also a key indicator, particularly central banks raising interest rates (or reducing the size of their balance sheet as in the current environment) e.g. US Federal Reserve, but also tightening of lending conditions by the large lenders such as the commercial banks to consumers and more particularly businesses.

Lastly, equity market valuation is important.

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Goal Based Investing – Retirement Solutions

Goal based investing

 

EDHEC-Risk Institute, along with the Princeton Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department, are in the process of developing new indices to address the key problems in retirement:

  1. Level of replacement income in retirement
  2. Performance of investment strategy invested in a goal-hedging portfolio and performance seeking portfolio

These indices are based on the application of goal-based investing principles to help solve the key retirement problems.

 

EDHEC has undertaken this initiative because they argue “existing retirement products do not fit with an individual’s actual retirement needs and could be improved by applying Goal-Based Investing principles.”

I agree.  There is much work and improvement to be undertaken in this area.

This EDHEC work goes to the heart of my first post around Advancements in Portfolio Management, Mass Customisation Versus Mass Production – How an industrial revolution is about to take place in money management and why it involves a shift from investment products to investment solutions, and Liability Driven Investing.

 

It is well worth keeping an eye on the EDHEC develops in this area and I hope to make this a continued focus of future blogs.

 

Happy Investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement