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 Wealthmanagement.com, 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.

 

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Disclaimer
The performance data displayed herein is compiled from various sources, including BarclayHedge, and reports directly from the advisors. These performance figures should not be relied on independent of the individual advisor's disclosure document, which has important information regarding the method of calculation used, whether or not the performance includes proprietary results, and other important footnotes on the advisor's track record.

Benchmark index performance is for the constituents of that index only, and does not represent the entire universe of possible investments within that asset class. And further, that there can be limitations and biases to indices such as survivorship, self reporting, and instant history.

Managed futures accounts can subject to substantial charges for management and advisory fees. The numbers within this website include all such fees, but it may be necessary for those accounts that are subject to these charges to make substantial trading profits in the future to avoid depletion or exhaustion of their assets.

Investors interested in investing with a managed futures program (excepting those programs which are offered exclusively to qualified eligible persons as that term is defined by CFTC regulation 4.7) will be required to receive and sign off on a disclosure document in compliance with certain CFT rules The disclosure documents contains a complete description of the principal risk factors and each fee to be charged to your account by the CTA, as well as the composite performance of accounts under the CTA's management over at least the most recent five years. Investor interested in investing in any of the programs on this website are urged to carefully read these disclosure documents, including, but not limited to the performance information, before investing in any such programs.

Those investors who are qualified eligible persons as that term is defined by CFTC regulation 4.7 and interested in investing in a program exempt from having to provide a disclosure document and considered by the regulations to be sophisticated enough to understand the risks and be able to interpret the accuracy and completeness of any performance information on their own.

RCM receives a portion of the commodity brokerage commissions you pay in connection with your futures trading and/or a portion of the interest income (if any) earned on an account's assets. The listed manager may also pay RCM a portion of the fees they receive from accounts introduced to them by RCM.

See the full terms of use and risk disclaimer here.

Disclaimer
The performance data displayed herein is compiled from various sources, including BarclayHedge, and reports directly from the advisors. These performance figures should not be relied on independent of the individual advisor's disclosure document, which has important information regarding the method of calculation used, whether or not the performance includes proprietary results, and other important footnotes on the advisor's track record.

Benchmark index performance is for the constituents of that index only, and does not represent the entire universe of possible investments within that asset class. And further, that there can be limitations and biases to indices such as survivorship, self reporting, and instant history.

Managed futures accounts can subject to substantial charges for management and advisory fees. The numbers within this website include all such fees, but it may be necessary for those accounts that are subject to these charges to make substantial trading profits in the future to avoid depletion or exhaustion of their assets.

Investors interested in investing with a managed futures program (excepting those programs which are offered exclusively to qualified eligible persons as that term is defined by CFTC regulation 4.7) will be required to receive and sign off on a disclosure document in compliance with certain CFT rules The disclosure documents contains a complete description of the principal risk factors and each fee to be charged to your account by the CTA, as well as the composite performance of accounts under the CTA's management over at least the most recent five years. Investor interested in investing in any of the programs on this website are urged to carefully read these disclosure documents, including, but not limited to the performance information, before investing in any such programs.

Those investors who are qualified eligible persons as that term is defined by CFTC regulation 4.7 and interested in investing in a program exempt from having to provide a disclosure document and considered by the regulations to be sophisticated enough to understand the risks and be able to interpret the accuracy and completeness of any performance information on their own.

RCM receives a portion of the commodity brokerage commissions you pay in connection with your futures trading and/or a portion of the interest income (if any) earned on an account's assets. The listed manager may also pay RCM a portion of the fees they receive from accounts introduced to them by RCM.

See the full terms of use and risk disclaimer here.