Archive for December, 2010

Opal Conference: Hedge Fund Heaven and Regulatory Rules

The recent Alternative Investment Summit held December 5-7 at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California provided a little bit of everything for attendees – including a slice of hedge fund heaven and a less appetizing dollop of regulatory rules. If you are going to work hard, why not do it in an unrivaled, picturesque setting along the sandy shores of Dana Point? The well-attended conference, which was hosted by Opal Financial Group, was designed to address the interests of a broad set of constituents in the alternative investment food-chain, including representatives of hedge funds, fund of funds, endowments, consulting firms, private equity firms, venture capital firms, commodity trading advisors (CTAs), law firms, family offices, pension funds, along with various other vendors and service providers.

Although the topics and panel experts covered diverse areas, I found some interesting common themes emanating from the conference:

1)      Waterboard Your Manager: In the wake of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and the recent sweeping insider trading investigations, institutional investors are having recurring nightmares. Consultants and other service-based intermediaries are feeling the heat in a fever-pitched litigation environment that is driving defensive behavior to avoid “headline risk” at any cost. As a result, institutional investors and fund of funds are demanding increased transparency and immediate liquidity in addition to conducting deeper, more thorough due diligence. One consultant jokingly said they will “waterboard” managers to obtain information, if necessary. In the hedge fund world, this risk averse stance is leading to a concentrated migration of funds to large established funds – even if those actions may potentially compromise return opportunities. In response to a question about insider trading investigations as they relate to client fund withdrawals, one nervous panel member advised clients to “shoot first, and ask questions later.”

2)      Lurking Mountain of Maturity: Default rates in the overall bond markets have been fairly tame in the 2.0 – 2.5% range, however a mountain of previously issued debt is expected to mature over the next few years, meaning many of those corporate issuers will need to refinance the existing debt and issues longer term debt. For the most part, capital markets have been accommodating a large percentage of issuers, due to investors’ yield-hungry appetite. If the capital markets seize up and the banks continue lending like the Grinch, then the default rate could certainly creep up.

3)      CLO Market Gaining Steam: The collateralized loan obligation market is still significantly below pre-crisis levels, however an estimated $3.5 billion 2010 new issue market is expected to gain even more momentum into 2011. New issuance levels are expected to register in at a more healthy $5.0 billion level next year.

4)      Less Fruit in Debt Markets: The general sense among fund managers was that previously attractive bond prices have risen and bond yield spreads have narrowed. The low hanging fruit has been picked and earning similarly attractive returns will become even more challenging in the coming year, despite benign default rates. Even though bonds face a tough challenge of potential future interest rate increases, many managers believe selective opportunities can still be found in more illiquid, distressed debt markets.

5)      Fund of Funds vs. Consultants: Playing in the sandbox is getting more crowded as some consultants are developing in-house investment solutions while fund of funds are advancing their own internal capabilities to target institutional investors directly. By doing so, the fund of funds are able to cut out the middle-man/woman consultant and keep more of the profit pie to themselves. From a plan sponsor perspective, institutional investors struggle with the trade-offs of investing in a diversified fund of funds vehicle versus aggregating the unique alpha generating capabilities of individual hedge fund managers.

6)      Emerging Frontier Markets: There was plenty of debate about the dour state of global macroeconomic trends, but a healthy dose of optimism was injected into the discussion about emerging markets and the frontier markets. One panel member referred to the frontier markets as the Rodney Dangerfield (see Doug Kass) of the world (i.e., “get no respect”). The frontier markets are like the immature little brothers of the major emerging markets in China, India, Brazil, and Russia. Examples of frontier markets provided include Vietnam, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Kenya. In general, these markets are heavily dependent on natural resources and will move in unison with supply-demand adjustments in larger markets like China. Of the approximately 80 frontier markets around the globe, 30 were described as uninvestable, with the remaining majority offering interesting prospects.

All in all the Opal Financial Group Alternative Investment Summit was a huge success. Besides becoming immersed in the many facets of alternative investments, I met leading thought leaders in the field, including an unexpected interaction with a world champion and living legend (read here for a hint). Many conferences are not worth the price of admission, but with global economic forces changing at breakneck speed and regulatory rules continually unfolding in response to the financial crisis, for those involved in the alternative investment field, this is one event you should not miss.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) is the General Partner of the Slome Sidoxia Fund, LP, a long-short hedge fund. SCM and some of its clients also own certain exchange traded funds (including emerging market ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 8, 2010 at 12:32 am 3 comments

Winning Coaches Telling Players to Quit

How would you feel if your coach told you not only are you going to lose, but you should quit and join the other team? Effectively, that is what Loomis Sayles bond legend Dan Fuss (read Fuss Making a Fuss), and fellow colleagues Margie Patel (Wells Fargo Advantage Funds), and Anthony Crescenzi (PIMCO) had to say about the chances of bonds winning at the recent Advisors’ Money Show.

This is what Fuss said regarding “statistically cheap” equities:

“I’ve never seen it this good in half a century.”

 

Patel went on to add:

“By any measure you want to look at, free cash flow, dividend yield, P/E ratio – stocks look relatively cheap for the level of interest rates.” Stock offer a  “once-in-a-decade opportunity to buy and make some real capital appreciation.”

 

Crescenzi included the following comments about stocks:

“Valuations are not risky…P/E ratios have been fine for a decade, in part because of the two shocks that drove investors away from equities and compressed P/E ratios.”

 

Bonds Dynasty Coming to End

The bond team has been winning for three decades (see Bubblicious Bonds), but its players are getting tired and old. Crescenzi concedes the “30-year journey on rates is near its ending point” and that “we are at the end of the duration tailwind.” Even though it is fairly apparent to some that the golden bond era is coming to a close, there are ways for the bond team to draft new players to manage duration (interest rate/price sensitivity) and protect oneself against inflation (read Drowning TIPS).

Equities on the other hand have had a massive losing streak relative to bonds, especially over the last decade. The equity team had over-priced player positions that exceeded their salary cap and the old market leaders became tired and old. Nothing energizes a new team better than new blood and new talent at a much more attractive price, which leaves room in the salary cap to get the quality players to win. There is always a possibility that bonds will outperform in the short-run despite sky-high prices, and the introduction of any material, detrimental exogenous variable (large country bailout, terrorist attack, etc.) could extend bonds’ outperformance. Regardless, investors will find it difficult to dispute the relative attractiveness of equities relative to prices a decade ago (read Marathon Investing: Genesis of Cheap Stocks). 

As I have repeated in the past, bonds and cash are essential in any portfolio, but excessively gorging on a buffet of bonds for breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be hazardous for your long-term financial health. Maximizing the bang for your investment buck means not neglecting volatile equity opportunities due to disproportionate conservatism and scary economic media headlines.

There are bond coaches and teams that believe the winning streak will continue despite the 30-year duration of victories. Fear, especially in this environment, is often used as a tactic to sell bonds. Conflicts of interest may cloud the advice of these bond coaches, but the successful experienced coaches like Dan Fuss, Margie Patel, Anthony Crescenzi are the ones to listen to – even if they tell you to quit their team and join a different one.

Read Full Advisor Perspectives Article

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including TIP), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm 1 comment

Females in Finance – Coming Out of Hibernation

I’m not sure if you are like me, but the annual media ritual of myopically breaking down the sale of every shoe, belt, cell phone, television, and pair of underwear during the November/December holiday season can become very grating. What makes it a little easier for me to swallow is the stable of attractive female retail analysts who are finally unleashed from their long hibernation slumbers to review their mall traffic and parking satellite findings. I’m a happily married man, but I still cannot complain about seeing these multi-threat beauties dissect sales trends and fashion fads. However, in this day and age, I’m not so sure that females feel the same way about their under-representation in the finance field?

If there are 155.8 million females in the United States and 151.8 million males (Census Bureau: October 2009), then how come only 6% of hedge fund managers (BusinessWeek), 8% of venture capitalists, and 15% of investment bankers are female (Harvard Magazine)? Is the finance field just an ol’ boys network of chauvinist pig-headed males who only hire their own? Or do the severe time-demands of the field force females to opt-out of the industry due to family priorities?

Although I’m sure family choices and quality of life are factors that play into the decision of entering the demanding finance industry, from my experience I would argue women are notoriously underrepresented even at younger ages (well before family considerations would weigh into career decisions). Maybe cultural factors such as upbringing and education are other factors that make math-related jobs more appealing to men?

If underrepresentation in the finance field is not caused by female choice, then perhaps the male dominated industry is merely a function of more men opting into the field (i.e., men are better suited for the industry). More specifically, perhaps male brains are just wired differently? Some make the argument that all the testosterone permeating through male bodies leads them to positions involving more risk.  If you look at other risk related fields like gambling, women too are dramatic minorities, making up about 1/3 of total compulsive gamblers.

Women Better than Men?

The funny part about the underrepresentation of females in finance is that one study actually shows female hedge fund managers outperforming their male counterparts. Here’s what a BusinessWeek article had to say about female hedge fund managers:

A new study by Hedge Fund Research found that, from January 2000 through May 31, 2009, hedge funds run by women delivered nearly double the investment performance of those managed by men. Female managers produced average annual returns of 9%, versus 5.82% for men and, in 2008, when financial markets were cratering, funds run by women were down 9.6%, compared with a 19% decline for men.

 

The article goes onto to theorize that women may not be afraid of risk, but actually are better able to manage risk. A UC Davis study found that male managers traded 45% more than female managers, thereby reducing returns by -2.65% (about 1% more than females).

Regardless of the theories or studies used to explain gender risk appetite, the relative underrepresentation of females in finance is a fact. I’ll let everyone else weigh in why that is the case, but in the meantime I will enjoy watching the female analysts explain the minute by minute account of UGG and iPad sales through the holiday shopping season.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

Related Articles:

Harvard Magazine article 

BusinessWeek article on female fund managers 

Bashful Path to Female Bankruptcies

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in DECK or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 2, 2010 at 11:26 pm 4 comments

Another Year, Another Decade

Article from Sidoxia Monthly Newsletter (Subscribe on right-side of page)
As we approach the 2010 finish line, investors are reevaluating their nest eggs and investment positioning for the New Year and the new decade. After experiencing two “100 year floods” over the last decade in the form of the technology and credit bubbles bursting, a wave of conservatism has swung everyone over to one side of the boat, in the form of cash, CDs, Treasury Bonds, and other fixed income instruments.
 
These conservative tools should absolutely be a part of everybody’s portfolio (especially for those in or near retirement), but an overly conservative portfolio can end up drowning more people than saving them. Bonds run the risk of collapsing in value if interest rates spike or potential inflation rears its ugly head. Under both scenarios, purchasing power and retirement lifestyle can be significantly compromised. Diversification and duration shortening (less sensitivity to interest rate changes) strategies should be explored to better manage these risks.
 
Ignore the Good, Highlight the Bad
 
With the financial crisis so close in our rearview mirror, putting those fiscal fears to rest can be difficult, even if the equity markets have rebounded between +80% (S&P 500) and +100% (NASDAQ) over the last 18 months. These fresh worries have diminished the attention placed on some of the positive undercurrents occurring in the economy:
 ·         GDP Growth: You wouldn’t know it, but we have experienced five consecutive quarters of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth with a recently upwardly revised Q3-2010 growth figure to +2.5% (from previous +2.0% estimate).
·       Job Growth: Although the unemployment rate has stubbornly remained in the 9.6% range, the country has created more than 1million jobs over the last year, thanks to ten consecutive months of private job creation. We’ll find out more about hiring trends this Friday.
·         Record Profits:  S&P 500 profits are on track to exceed the $88 peak profit earned by the index in 2006 (Thomson).  Corporations may not be hiring in droves, but the cash is piling up for increased investment and pent-up hiring. Unprofitable companies generally do not hire.
·         Changing of the Guard: Regardless of political leanings, with Presidential re-elections only two years away and Republicans gaining control of the House, some common ground between the Right and the Left could be found. Specifically, gridlock is the default, but there is genuine potential for compromise on taxes, fiscal restraint, tax relief, and investment incentives with the aim of sparking job creation.
·         Holiday Cheer: Holiday sales got off to a good start judging by “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving) and “Cyber Monday” – the day after Thanksgiving weekend. Sales on Cyber Monday rose +19.4% versus last year, according to Coremetrics. Traffic to retail stores and websites over Black Friday weekend increased by +9%, reportedthe National Retail Federation.
 
Keeping a lid on the enthusiasm are the following:
·         Un-Luck of the Irish: With the recently announced $112 billion bailout of Ireland, focus has returned to the other side of the pond. Too much debt at Irish banks and excessive spending by the government has forced a large bailout, which has created contagion worries across some of the weaker Eurozone countries.
·          Korean Skirmish: Apparently sinking a South Korean warship earlier this year was not enough belligerent activity for North Korea in a year, so they decided to bomb and kill innocent civilians recently. Will China help deflate the tension, or will our military just get stretched thinner in support of our southern ally?
·         QE2/Inflation: Yesterday the fear was deflation, today the fear is inflation, but don’t hold your breath, a new “flation” phobia will likely be reintroduced tomorrow. Although the U.S. dollar has bounced of late on European concerns, longer term investors worry about the debasement of the currency because of funny money printing.
·         China Taking a Brake? Inflation is on the upswing (+4.4% in October) and concerns over Chinese government officials pressing the brakes on speculative real estate growth (reserve rate increased by +0.5%) may hamper overall expansion.
·         Insider Trading: Consensus thinking has it that Wall Street is rigged. The SEC is hoping to rebuild credibility after receiving a black eye for its poor handling of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal. The FBI raided three hedge funds, which may be the beginning of a widespread investigation.
 
As you can see, some items fall on both sides of the positive/negative ledger. Although many of the green shoots of 2009 have sprouted, critics complain the recovery process has progresses too slowly. Regardless of the worries, we have had 11 recessions and recoveries since World War II, and the average expansion has lasted five years. While we approach the next decade, do your portfolio a favor and focus on optimizing a proper diversified portfolio taking advantage of current multi-year opportunities, rather than succumbing to the endless fountain of daily pessimism.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 1, 2010 at 12:37 am Leave a comment

Newer Posts


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,818 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives