Alternative Investors are Asking the Wrong Questions

As the registered investment advisor space continues to grow, and the use of Alternative Investments by those advisors continues to grow; we find ourselves talking with more and more ‘RIAs’, helping them truly understand what’s under the hood of the managed futures labeled mutual fund or private placement they’re considering.

Which brings us to, a popular spot for advisors to keep tabs on the industry and find commentary and research to help in their ongoing education, where our own Jeff Malec has been asked to post a few pieces on Alternative Investments:

Investing in alternatives has become all the rave the past few years, but there isn’t quite as much literature out there as in the traditional investment space (by a factor of about 1000 to 1), which leads to a lot of well intentioned due diligence and pre-investment questions to really miss the mark.

The essential question is: “how has it performed recently?” But that’s just the tip of the questionable question iceberg. Here’s a few more we hear from time to time, with suggestions for more insightful inquiries:

Question/Idea The Flaw(s) in the Question A Better Question
How much is it up this year?The performance day to day, month to month, and even year to year is virtually random – Remember: past performance does not indicate future results.Can you explain to me why the investment is up/down/sideways so far this year (or in xx year) for me to better understand your investment philosophy?
Every alternative investment will help diversify my portfolio with non-correlated assets.There are a lot of products out there that have ‘alternatives’ on the label – but when it comes to return drivers and true diversification – not so much. Many of these alternatives rely on freely moving credit markets, a rising economic environment, and strong corporate earnings.How is the investment likely to react in a concentrated sell off across asset classes? What are the main return drivers?
Is the Sharpe Ratio high enough?The Sharpe has numerous flaws, outlined here, but what you need to know is that there’s more to risk than volatility.How are the returns per unit of: downside volatility, the max drawdown, and average annual drawdown?
Am I getting commodity exposure?A yes answer here doesn’t help. How much? Long and short? One popular ‘trend following’ model doesn’t even go short energies… a tough pill to swallow as Crude went from $100 to $50What percent of historical returns have come from physical commodity markets? Does the investment go both long and ‘short’ commodity markets?
I need daily/weekly/monthly liquidity… does this investment allow me to get out quickly?Daily liquidity is like sleeping with a gun under your pillow for protection. You’re more likely to accidentally shoot yourself than protect anything. Needing instant liquidity for investments that can take 3-5 years to run a full cycle is a mismatch.What are the liquidity constraints so I can fit this into the appropriate liquidity bucket in my portfolio, and know whether or not I can count on it in a pinch.
This is a managed futures program… great! I’ve been looking to add that asset class to help protect my portfolio in a market correction.There are a lot of products that trade futures markets, but are anything but classic managed futures programs, trading stock index futures and such or doing counter-trend models.Will this provide the negative correlation/crisis period performance managed futures are known for?

Adding ‘alternatives’ to your portfolio has never been as easy as today with the plethora of so called ‘liquid alternatives’. And the marketers have never had such an easy time separating the uninformed from their money in their bids to raise money for these funds. For example, a prominent national firm we will leave unnamed put out a 5-page piece explaining how to utilize 15 different hedge fund strategies in portfolio construction. It has all you would ever need to know about these highly complex investments, dedicating four to six sentences to each one!

Four to six sentences. That’s all you need to know? So much for the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst designation or decades of experience with the asset class. Just grab the nifty cheat sheet here and start building portfolios – what could go wrong? What could go wrong indeed – how about mismatched performance with investor expectations, high fees, poor relative performance to benchmarks, a concentration in the largest managers counterparty risk, credit risk, and the propensity of the correlations and relationships listed all blowing up during a crisis.

Marketers, take note: keeping it simple is how you sell a complex idea to investors. Investors, take note: it’s a lot more complex than that—you have to ask the right questions.


Alternative Links: Winton’s Milestone


David Harding’s Winton Capital Passes $30 Billion for First Time – (Bloomberg)

Our Interview with David Harding – (Attains Alternatives Blog)

Managed Futures & Currencies:

The Almighty U.S. Dollar – (MorningStar)

Long the U.S. Dollar and Loving It – (Attains Alternatives Blog)

A Look a the Euro by the Numbers – (Attains Alternatives Blog)

Managed Futures Predictions:

5 Predictions for Managed Futures post 2014 – (CTA Intelligence)

Managed Futures 2014 Review & 2015 Outlook – (Attains Alternatives Blog)

Proprietary Trading:

Proprietary trading: truth and fiction – (Peter Muller)


Diversification Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry – (The Investor’s Paradox)

Diversification Sucks – (Attains Alternatives Blog)


Commodities – Time To Start Reloading – (ValueWalk)



Broken Values & Bottom Lines – (Medium)


Vanguard tiptoes into the liquid alternatives market – (Investment News)

Diversification Sucks

With US Stocks pushing up to new all time highs once again this week, we’re seeing more talk of going with simple over complex, just doing the basic 60/40 portfolio, and so forth. We’re seeing more of the feeling – “Diversification Sucks!  I would be waaaaaaaay better if was just 100% long US Stocks… or even better, 150% or 250% long.”

We had some clever things to say on this topic, but found the following post out there by James Osborne of Bason Asset Management (from a few months ago) which said it much better:

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Alternative Links: “We Basically Controlled the Oil World”

Crude Oil:

“We basically controlled the oil world,” said  Al Kaplan, former president of Phibro’s energy unit. Mr Kaplan. “It was quite amazing. We had very good people. There was no price dissemination, so we used to tell people what the price was.”

Rise and Fall of a Commodities Powerhouse – (FT)

3 reasons for oil’s crazy bounce – (MarketWatch)

7 Technical Indicators to tell when the Crude Sell Off is Done – (Attain Alternatives Blog)

Managed Futures:

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Pursuing Portfolio Perfection

It’s 5 years into the one of the biggest stock market bull runs of all time, and all looks fine for the aging bull even after this brief downturn in October.  For many, this has been a great run and they’ve been doing quite well during it. For many others, it’s been rather annoying, as their “smart” choice of diversification has under performed recently.

But here’s the deal – it’s not about beating the S&P 500. You’re on the quest to find a portfolio that best matches your needs before retirement. For some, that’s so far in the future, you’re not worrying about volatility. For some, it’s within reach, and you want to protect what you have before something bad happens. For some, you’re looking for something in between the two. So what’s your “Perfect Portfolio?” It’s not an easy question to answer, and many pros have tried (check out Meb Faber’s impressive list of asset allocation strategies and stats here). The basic portfolios to consider in our mind are the following:

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