What are alternatives? Why invest in alternatives?

The traditional investment classes are equities, bonds and cash. Alternative investments are anything that falls outside of these categories, from real estate and fine art to venture capital and absolute return funds.

Alternatives offer different return profiles to the traditional asset classes. Since the inception of the MSCI World Index at the end of 1969 until the end of 2018, equities have delivered an annualised return of 9.3% with a maximum drawdown of 57.46%. The returns on bonds and cash are currently at all-time lows. Alternatives can offer return profiles with higher returns and/or lower drawdowns, which may be more suited the needs of particular investors.

In addition, alternatives can have no or low correlation to traditional asset classes, so they can reduce an investors overall systematic risk.

What is systematic investing? Why invest systematically?

There are many tasks in which computers are capable of outperforming humans. For instance, the autopilot on a commercial aircraft provides a safer, smoother flight than a human pilot – even during take-off and landing and in extreme weather conditions.

Systematic investing means following algorithms – rule-based approaches which mean that investment decisions are made deterministically. Systematic investing is thus readily replicable and testable.

Computer systems are reliable, immune from emotion, fatigue and behavioural biases.

What are absolute returns?

Absolute returns are returns which are defined without reference to a benchmark. Absolute return funds do not seek to outperform say, an equity benchmark, but rather to achieve positive returns over a given timeframe.

What are our investment objectives?

To deliver absolute returns with low correlation to traditional asset classes over rolling three-year periods.

What is the recommended investment timeframe?

Our products are best suited for a long-term investment of five years or more.

What is the difference between low correlation, no correlation and negative correlation?

Correlation is a measure of how much two things move in sync with each other. Strongly positive-correlated variables will tend to move in tandem – they move up together and down together. Strongly negative-correlated variables will tend to have the opposite behaviour, when one moves up the other moves down, and vice versa. Variables with no correlation will have no relationship, if one moves up the other could move in either direction.

When categorising correlations as low, moderate or strong, the interpretation we use is given below.

An important consideration when thinking about correlation is the timeframe over which it is being measured. Variables which are uncorrelated or with low correlation in the long term can frequently to be strongly negatively or positively correlated in the short term.

For more about correlation, see Is your liquid alternate investment correlation, negatively correlated or uncorrelated?

Why invest in value?

Value investing was pioneered by Benjamin Graham (Warren Buffett’s mentor) and David Dodd in their 1934 book Security Analysis which was published shortly after the boom and subsequent bust of the stock market that led to the Great Depression. This in part was their reaction to how to invest to protect oneself. Value investors use various metrics to identify stocks which they perceive to be trading at a discount.

Are we worried about concentration risk?

Our process of filtering and ranking stocks can, and often does, create portfolios with uneven distributions across countries and sectors. We would be worried if our portfolio didn’t do this, as we think it’s pretty unlikely that every country and every sector will have exactly the same opportunities for value. Because of our filtering and ranking, we are confident with our stock selection. If we are overweight a particular country or sector, it’s because it’s where there is the most opportunity.

Why don’t we invest in an index tracker/ETF?

Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are an example of systematic investing, where equities are weighted by market cap (or the relevant index methodology). As such, they can be thought of as a one factor model. This is a pretty simplistic systematic model, and we have a long-term track record of doing better.

Absolute Return Fund

How does the Absolute Return Fund invest?

Money invested in the Absolute Return Fund is invested in a long only value equity portfolio, which is used as collateral to trade equity index futures through our proprietary systematic managed futures strategy, in the Asia Pacific region.

How do we invest in equities?

We are a systematic value investor. Our models filter and rank stocks listed in countries in the Asia-Pacific region to select those with the characteristics most likely to generate strong performance. We invest long only (we don’t short sell) and we have a long holding period. We hold 25 to 50 equities at any given time.

How do we invest in futures?

The premise behind our Absolute Returns futures algorithm is that the behaviour of the APAC markets is influenced by the behaviour of the US markets overnight, as well as by the previous day’s behaviour of the APAC markets.

At the start of the day we input the trading signals into our proprietary model, which outputs long or short signals for each of the Asia-Pacific markets that we trade. As the markets open, we use futures contracts to gain long or short exposure to the equity indices. At the end of the day, we close out all futures positions.

When is it hard for the futures to make money?

As the futures positions are put on at the start of the day and unwound at the end of the day, we only have opportunities to make money where the markets close either higher or lower than where they opened. Thus, in periods of low intraday volatility, it’s hard for the futures strategy to make money.