Make the Grade With Portfolio Returns: A 3-Step Guide for Advisors to Rise to the Top of Class
Written by: Mark V. Petersen
It’s that time of year again. Kids of all ages—from kindergarten to college—are heading off to yet another first day of school. With new backpacks and fresh notebooks, most of them are all smiles…at least until the teacher assigns homework. And dreaded though it may be, every parent and teacher knows that homework and good study habits are the keys to success – it’s the preparation for coming tests. The student who knows how to carefully hone in on the details that matter most will rise to the top of the class.
The investment world has its own term exams and every advisor, broker-dealer, and due diligence officer knows the pressure of mid terms. Quarterly reports are your own “report card,” and today’s continued low-interest rate environment makes delivering coveted returns quite the challenge. Advisors must create client confidence to set themselves apart from “the competition down the street” and the roboadvisor of the day (no advisor can afford to be a commodity!). Broker-dealers need to provide their advisors with strong options that support that differentiation. And due diligence officers need to identify innovative, suitable alternatives to make it all happen.
So here’s the question of the day: Are you making the grade with your portfolio returns?
If you are, fantastic. It means you’ve found a way to balance risk, probably by embedding a good chunk of alternative investments into your portfolio to lower correlations and effectively hedge the general market trends and reduce risk, regardless of general market volatility. More importantly, it means you’ve found a way to achieve some very real differentiation.
But if your grades could use a boost, here’s a simple, 3-step guide to help you hone in on the most important details, choose the most suitable alternatives for your portfolio and, ultimately, rise to the top of the class:
1. Know what sophisticated investment platforms are looking at today.
One thing is for certain: they’re not following the trends. Instead, they’re looking at stable, non-correlated investments that offer unique growth opportunities and hedge market movement. In most cases, these forward-thinkers are seeking alternative funds that offer unique characteristics that have the potential to lower portfolio correlations and provide additional Alpha.
2. Look for investments that are capital constrained.
Years ago, I was on an American Airlines flight when the flight attendants handed everyone a brochure on mutual funds. I knew then and there it was time to get out of mutual funds! It was a sure sign that too much money was flowing into an investment strategy. While everyone’s ultimate goal is to “buy low and sell high,” even experienced investors fail to abide by the rules to make that happen. The surest route to failure: follow the trends. Instead, seek asset classes that are capital constrained simply because they haven’t yet become the next-best-thing. Opportunities for growth will be in your hand when the trend emerges—and the values increase—down the road.
3. Move beyond your checklist to consider non-traditional characteristics.
Strong financials, established processes and infrastructure, positive momentum, a consistent track record, and a great management team are important, but there are so many other factors that drive value, especially when looking at an investment opportunity. How a fund manager treats his or her employees can be a strong indicator of how they treat investors. What’s the company culture? Is there continuity as a team, or has the firm seen habitual turnover? Do the firm principals have “skin in the game”? Do they have enough confidence in the fund to invest their own assets? What is the investment’s Sharpe Ratio—not just its returns compared to the S&P 500? How have they weathered the past cycles? Use your own due diligence to pick the investments that can help you break away from the norm.
Like any homework, having some fun with it can make it seem less like work and more like play. Consider asset classes you’ve never thought about before. Aircraft leasing, royalty financing, and peer-to-peer lending have been making headlines lately, so they’re interesting to look at, but you may already be too late to the game when it comes to capital constraints. The most important thing you can do is to do your homework. Find the alternatives that are most suitable for your own portfolio and add them to the mix. It’s the best—and perhaps the only—way to truly rise to the head of the class.
Mark Petersen has over 25 years of experience leading distribution and sales efforts in the financial services industry. His background includes managing retail and institutional securities sales as well as national accounts, and he has forged strong relationships with broker/dealers and financial advisors throughout his career. Currently Executive Vice President at GWG Holdings, Inc., Mr. Petersen is also a registered representative of Emerson Equity. His previous roles include co-president of Behringer Securities LP and executive sales and marketing positions with CNL Fund Management, Franklin Square Capital Partners, and Madison Harbor Capital. He holds an MBA in finance from Baylor University and a B.S. in business administration from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Alternative Beta Strategies: Alpha/Beta Separation Comes to Hedge Funds
Written by: Yazann Romahi, Chief Investment Officer of Quantitative Beta Strategies, J.P. Morgan Asset Management
A quiet revolution is taking place in the alternatives world. The idea of alpha/beta separation has finally made its way from traditional to alternative investing. This development brings with it a more transparent, liquid and cost-effective approach to accessing the “alternative beta” component of hedge fund return and a new means for benchmarking hedge fund managers.
The good news for investors is that the separation of hedge fund return into its components—rules-based alternative beta and active manager alpha—has the potential to shift investing as we know it. These advancements could democratize hedge funds and, at long last, make what are essentially hedge fund strategies available to all investors—even those who aren’t willing to hand over the hefty fees often associated with hedge fund investing.
A benchmark for alternatives
With respect to traditional equity investing, we have long accepted the idea that there is a market return, or beta—but this hasn’t always been the case. Investors used to assume that to make money in the stock markets, one needed to buy the right stocks and avoid the wrong ones. The idea of a market return independent of skilled stock selection seemed ridiculous to most market participants. Yet today, we would never invest in an active manager’s strategy without benchmarking it against its respective beta.
Interestingly, hedge fund managers have been held to a different standard. Investors have been much more willing to accept the notion that hedge fund strategy returns are pure alpha, and that their investment returns are based entirely on the skill of the fund manager. That notion explains why investors have been willing to accept a “two and twenty” fee structure just to access what has been perceived as one of the most sophisticated and powerful investment vehicles available.
In thinking about the concept of beta, consider its precise definition—the return achievable by taking on a systematic exposure to an economically compensated risk. In traditional long only equity investing, the traditional market beta has been further refined as a number of other risks have been identified that are commonly referred to as “strategic beta.” These include factors such as value, momentum, quality and size. But no one ever said that these risk factors must be long-only.
Over the past decade, as more hedge fund data became available, academics began to disaggregate hedge fund return into two components: compensation for a systematic exposure to a long/short type of risk (alternative beta), and an unexplained “manager alpha.” What they found is that a significant portion of hedge fund return can be attributed to alternative beta. That fact has turned the tables on how we look at hedge fund return. With the introduction of the alternative beta concept, hedge fund managers will have to state their results, not just in terms of total return, but also as excess return over an alternative beta benchmark.
Merger arbitrage—an alternative beta example
The merger arbitrage hedge fund style can be used to illustrate the alternative beta concept. In the case of merger arbitrage, the beta strategy would be the systematic process of going long every target company, while shorting its acquirer. There is an inherent return to this strategy because the target stock price typically does not immediately rise to the offer price upon the deal’s announcement. This creates an opportunity to purchase the stock at a discount prior to the deal’s completion. The premium that remains is compensation to the investor for bearing the risk that the deal may fail.
Active merger arbitrage managers can add value by choosing to invest in some deals while avoiding others. Therefore, their benchmark should be the “enter every deal” strategy, not cash. In fact, the beta strategy explains the majority of the return to the average merger arbitrage hedge fund. And it doesn’t stop there. Other hedge fund styles that can be explained using alternative beta include equity long/short, global macro, and event driven. Note that the beta strategy invests in the same securities, using the same long/short techniques as the hedge fund strategy. The difference is that the beta strategy is a rules-based version that can become the benchmark for the hedge fund strategy. After all, if a hedge fund strategy cannot beat its respective rules-based benchmark (net of fees), an investor may be wiser to stick to the beta strategy.
Implications for investors
What does all this mean for the end investor? Hedge funds have traditionally been the domain of sophisticated investors willing to pay high fees and sacrifice liquidity. Alpha/beta separation in the hedge fund world means that investors can finally choose whether to buy the active version of the hedge fund strategy or opt for the passive (beta) version. Hedge fund strategies can be effective portfolio diversifiers. Now, through alternative beta, virtually all investors can access what are essentially hedge fund strategies in a low cost, liquid, and fully transparent form. For investors who haven’t had prior access to hedge funds, this could be welcome news. Not only can investors look at an active hedge fund manager’s strategy and determine how it has done compared to the systematic beta equivalent, they can also invest in ETFs that encapsulate these systematic strategies.
When looking at one’s traditional balanced portfolio today, there are plenty of questions around whether the fixed income portion will achieve the same level of diversification it has provided in the past. After all, with yields still low, there is little income return. Additionally, the capital gains that came from interest rate declines are likely to reverse. With fixed income unlikely to adequately fulfill its traditional role in portfolios, there is a need to find an alternative source of diversification. This is where alternative strategies may help. For investors seeking to access diversifying strategies in liquid and low-cost vehicles, alternative beta strategies in ETF form are one option.
Looking for an alternative to enhance diversification in your portfolio?
For investors looking to further diversify their overall portfolio, JPMorgan Diversified Alternatives ETF (JPHF) seeks to increase diversification and reduce overall portfolio volatility through direct, diversified exposure to hedge fund strategies using a bottom-up, rules-based approach.
Learn more about JPHF and J.P. Morgan’s suite of ETFs here.
Call 1-844-4JPM-ETF or visit www.jpmorganetfs.com to obtain a prospectus. Carefully consider the investment objectives and risks as well as charges and expenses of the ETF before investing. The summary and full prospectuses contain this and other information about the ETF. Read them carefully before investing.
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