One Year Anniversary

Kiwi Investor Blog is one year old.

My top three articles for the year would be:

Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

Endowments and Sovereign wealth Funds lead the way in building robust investment portfolios in meeting a wide range of challenging investment objectives.   This Post covers this and amongst other things, what true diversification is, it is not having more and more asset classes, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. A lot can be learnt from how Endowments construct portfolios, take a long term view, and seek to match their client’s liability profile. Although fees are important, an overriding focus on fees may be detrimental to building a robust portfolio and in meeting client investment objectives.

 

A Robust Framework for generating Retirement Income

This Post builds on the Post above and looks at an investment framework for individuals, developed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and their Partners. It is a Goal Based Investment framework with a focus on capital value but also delivering a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

The monkey paw of Target Date Funds (be careful what you wish for)

This Post emphasises the need to focus on generating a stable and secure level of replacement income in retirement as an investment goal and highlights the approach that is required to achieve this. Such an approach would greatly enhance the outcomes of Target Date Funds. This Post also references the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton around having a greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure of investment risk, as it is more aligned with investment objectives, unlike the volatility of capital or standard deviation of returns.

 

Kiwi Investor blog has covered many topics over the year, including the value of active management, the shocking state of the investment management industry globally, Responsible Investing, the high cost of index funds and being out of the market.

Of these, recent research into the failure of the 4% rule in almost all markets worldwide is well worth highlighting.

 

Kiwi Investor Blog has a primary focus on topics associated with building more robust portfolios and investment solutions.

The Blog has highlighted the research of EDHEC-Risk Institute throughout the year. EDHEC draw on the concept of Flexicurity. This is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching investment decisions. This is surely a desirable goal and the hallmark of a robust investment portfolio. The knowledge is available to achieve this and the framework and rationale is covered in the Posts above.

Flexicure is my word of 2018.

 

I don’t think the Uber moment has been reached in the investment management industry yet. Technology will be very important, but so too will be the underlying investment solution. The investment solution needs to be more tailored to an individual’s investment objectives.

As outlined in the Posts highlighted above, the framework for the investment solution has emerging and is developing.

It is a goal based investment solution, more closely tailored to an individual’s investment aspirations, so as to provide a more secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance useful again

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.  See EDHEC-Risk Institute.

 

Annuities, although providing security, can be costly, they represent an irreversible investment decision, and often cannot contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives. Also, Annuities do not provide any upside potential.

Likewise, modern day investment products, from which there are many to choose from, provide flexibility yet not the security of replacement income in retirement.  Often these Products focus solely on managing capital risk at the expense of the objective of generating replacement income in retirement.  In short, as outlined by EDHEC-Risk, modern day Target Date Funds “provide flexibility but no security because of their lack of focus on generating minimum levels of replacement income in retirement.”

 

Therefore, a flexicure retirement solution is one that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels of replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products do.

 

EDHEC offers a number enhancements to improve the outcomes of current investment products.

 

One such approach, and central to improving investment outcomes for the current generic Target Date Funds (TDF), is designing a more suitable investment solution in relation to the conservative allocation (e.g. cash and fixed income) within a TDF.  Such an enhancement would also eliminate the need for an annuity in the earlier years of retirement.

 

From this perspective, the conservative allocations within a TDF are risky when it comes to generating a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement. These risks are not widely understood nor managed appropriately.

The conservative allocations with a TDF can be improved by being employed to better matching future cashflow and income requirements. While also focusing on reducing the risk of inflation eroding the purchasing power of future income.

This requires moving away from current market based shorter term investment portfolios and implementing a more customised investment solution.

The investment approach to do this is readily available now and is based on the concept of Liability Driven Investing applied by Insurance Companies.  Called Goal Based Investing for investment retirement solutions. #Goalbasedinvesting

The techniques and approaches are available and should be more readily used in developing a second generation of TDF (which can be accessed in some jurisdictions already).

This is relevant to improving the likely outcome for many in retirement. With this knowledge it would help make finance more useful again, in providing very real welfare benefits to society. #MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

 

For a better understanding of current crisis of global pension industry and introduction to Flexicure see this short EDHEC video and their very accessible research paper introducing_flexicure_gbi_retirement_solutions_1.

 

This is my last Post of the year.

Flexicure, is my word of the year! Hopefully, we will hear this being used further in relation to more Robust Investment Portfolios, particularly those promoted as Retirement Solutions.

As you know, my blog this year has had a heavy focus on retirement solutions and has drawn upon the analysis and framework of EDHEC-Risk Institute.

In addition, the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton have been important, particularly around placing a greater emphasis on replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure for investment risk for those investing for retirement.

I have also noted the limitation of Target Date Funds and how these can be improved e.g. with the introduction of Alternatives.

Nevertheless, the greatest enhancement would come from implementing a more targeted cashflow and income matching portfolio within the conservative allocations as discussed above.

 

Wishing you all the best for the festive season and a prosperous New Year.

 

 

Happy investing.

 

#MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

#flexicure

#goalbasedinvesting

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

 

 

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

For those with a real focus on retirement income solutions

Great to see EDHEC pick up on my recent post on Target Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds).  Monkey Claw – be careful what you wish for.

I have considerable appreciation for EDHEC’s approach to applying goal-based investing principles to the retirement problem.  This makes a lot of sense given my insurance (liability backing) investing background.

Their focus on the need for more robust retirement solutions based on Goal Based Investing is so critical.

 

EDHEC’s and the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton, as outlined in my previous Posts of focusing on income and the volatility of income, are important concepts that will have an immediate and lasting contribution and impact on the ongoing shape of retirement solutions.

As EDHEC outlines, we need investment solutions that provide the certainty of Annuities but with more flexibility.  This is the industry challenge.  

 

EDHEC’s and Merton’s work, analysis, and insights have an important and fundamental contribution to the building of more robust retirement solutions that should be considered by anyone working in this area.

 

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

Andrew Ang on Factor Investing

Great interview with Andrew Ang on Factor investing.

 

Two key take outs from my perspective in relation to Factor Investing.

 

How to determine what factors to invest in?

  1. Ensure the factor generates a return as a reward for bearing a specific set of risks. The risk return profile results from market structures, an economic value, or investors’ behavioural bias.
  2. The excess return from the factor needs to be persistent and will be there over time.
  3. The factor is a unique and a differentiated source of return, different to the risk return profile of the market (beta), and lowly correlated with other factors.
  4. The factor is scalable, the factor can be delivered relatively cheaply and with scale.

 

As you know, there are lots of reported factors (the factor zoo). I tend to agree that there are a limited number, value, momentum, quality, size, and minimum volatility appear to have the greatest foundation of work in supporting their existence, economic rationale, and persistence over time.

 

How should factors be used?

  1. To complement an existing portfolio of active managers, preferable active managers with genuine idiosyncratic risk exposures e.g. non-factors more company specific risks.
  2.  Replace a traditional index exposure to get a more efficient market exposure, this could enhance your returns and/or reduce risk, see previous post on short comings of passive indexing.
  3.  Express a view within a portfolio e.g. over or under weight certain factors that are attractive or unattractive at certain points in the business cycle.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

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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Asness on Hedge Fund Returns and Buffet Bet Revisited

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about the Buffett Bet.

To recap, “The Bet” was with Protégé Partners, who picked five “funds of funds” hedge funds they expected would outperform the S&P 500 over the 10 year period ending December 2017.

The bet was made in December 2007, when the market was reasonably expensive and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was just around the corner.

Needless to say, Buffet won.  The S&P 500 easily outperformed the Hedge Fund selection over the 10 year period.

I made three points earlier in the year:

  1. I’d never bet against Buffet!
  1. I would also not expect a Funds of Funds hedge Fund to consistently outperform the S&P 500, let alone a combination of five Funds of Fund.

This is not to say Hedged Funds should not form part of a “truly” diversified investment portfolio.  They should.  Nevertheless, I am unconvinced their role is to provide equity plus returns.

  1. Most, if not all, investor’s investment objective(s) is not to beat the S&P 500. Investment Objectives are personal and targeted e.g. Goal Based Investing to meet future retirement income or endowments

Finally, someone from the Hedge Fund Industry has come out a said it: Hedge Funds should not be compared to the performance of investing in equities.

Cliff Asness from AQR has, and not for the first time, recently written an article about why Hedge Fund returns should not be compared to equity market returns such as the S&P 500 Index, see The Hedgie in Winter.

The key point Asness makes is that Hedge Funds are not 100% invested in equities.  He estimates that they are in effect 50% invested in equities.  If we use beta terms, where a beta of 1.0 =  100% equities, Hedge Funds have a beta of 0.5.  (For those who are wondering what Beta is, Beta is a measure of how sensitivity an investment is to a market index e.g. S&P 500.  Put another way, how much of the returns from the market index can explain the returns of the investment.  Therefore, with a beta of 0.5 we would expect hedge funds to be less volatile than equities and equity markets performance would only explain some of the returns from hedge funds.)

Asness expresses it more succinctly:

“Comparing hedge funds to 100% equities is flat-out silly. Hedge funds have historically, rather consistently, delivered equity exposure (beta to my fellow geeks) just under 50%. In fact much of their point is, supposedly, to be different from equities. I mean that they are at least partly hedged investments. Put more bluntly, it is in the freaking name!”

That’s right, Hedge Funds look to reduce their equity market exposure, hedge it out.  Therefore they will not capture all of an equities market upside.  Similarly, when equity markets fall significantly, they are not capturing all of this downside as well! i.e. Hedge Funds tend to outperform equity markets in equity bear markets.

Certainly, hedge funds are not going to outperform equities in a strong bull market, as we have recently experienced, as they are not 100% invested in equities.  They are not equities.

Well, you probably would expect a hedge fund manager to say this.  Yip, but I would say he is right on the money.

Furthermore, it is not as if Asness lets Hedge Funds off the hook.  From further analysis in the paper Asness notes that Hedge Fund performance has been “petering out” since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).  This means they have not added or subtracted much value since the GFC.

I take this to mean they have struggled to meet their investment objectives and historical rate of returns, albeit they may well have delivered mildly positive returns.  Which is not as disastrous as often reported.

The “petering out” of Hedge Fund performance is highlighted by Asness as an area of concern.  The data he presents provides no proofs as to why.  He concludes that Hedge Funds may be less special than before.

That is certainly something to dwell upon.  Hedge Funds can play an important role in a robust portfolio and achieving true portfolio diversification.  The observation by Asness should be considered in the selection of Hedge Fund managers and strategies.

Lastly, there is change occurring across the Hedge Funds industry.  This expected change is captured in the recently published AIMA paper (Alternative Investment Management Association), Perspectives, Industry leaders on the future of the Hedge Fund IndustryAIMA paper (Alternative Investment Management Association), Perspectives, Industry leaders on the future of the Hedge Fund Industry. This includes more transparency and lower fee structures.

From the report: “Most people today look to hedge funds for diversification, i.e., an alternate return stream, with low beta and correlation to traditional investments. In the past, the driver of hedge fund interest was high expected returns and growth of capital.”

This is consistent with Hedge Funds playing a valuable role in a truly diversified portfolio.

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.

 

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