Fantasy-Busting: Alts’ Uncorrelated Returns Diversify Portfolios

Shattered Windshield


Different investments accounted for $13 trillion in belongings beneath administration (AUM) in 2021, practically twice what it was 2015. By 2026, that determine is anticipated to achieve greater than $23 trillion, according to Preqin research. Increase instances are right here for enterprise capitalists, personal fairness (PE), and hedge fund managers.

Though 2022 hasn’t been variety to enterprise capital, amongst different options, some fund managers are faring higher than others. Why? As a result of they’ll finesse their investments’ valuations. PE funds haven’t any every day mark-to-market accounting, to allow them to easy losses out throughout a number of quarters.

The ingenuity of this observe is that though they’ve comparable danger publicity PE returns appear uncorrelated to equities. On paper, every thing seems to be nice.

Correlations are the hallmark of other investments. Producing uncorrelated returns in a yr when the standard 60/40 equity-bond portfolio has posted double digit losses is a fast option to seize investor curiosity and capital. Nonetheless, correlations are like icebergs floating within the sea, there’s a lot hiding beneath the floor.

So simply what are the pitfalls of utilizing correlations to decide on different methods?

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The Different Champions

To search out out, we chosen seven well-known methods from the hedge fund universe which have attracted billions from capital allocators. Our information is sourced from HFRX, which has every day returns going again to 2003. This practically 20-year interval covers a number of market cycles when different methods ought to have demonstrated their worth by offering diversification advantages.

We calculated these hedge fund methods’ correlations to conventional asset lessons. Three of those methods — fairness hedge, merger arbitrage, and event-driven — have S&P 500 correlations in extra of 0.5. It wouldn’t make a lot sense so as to add these to an fairness portfolio given their comparable danger profiles.

Nonetheless, three methods demonstrated low inventory market correlations with out excessive correlations to US investment-grade bonds. This implies they might provide some worth for traders.

Hedge Fund Methods: Correlations to Shares and Bonds, 2003 to 2022

Chart showing Hedge Fund Strategies: Correlations to Stocks and Bonds, 2003 to 2022
Supply: Finominal

Quantifying Diversification’s Advantages

When introduced with a spread of other methods, a capital allocator ought to choose these with the bottom correlations to shares and bonds since they show the very best diversification potential.

To check this speculation, we sorted the seven hedge fund methods by their common correlations to shares and bonds and ran simulations that added a 20% allocation to every technique to a 60/40 equity-bond portfolio after which rebalanced on a quarterly foundation.

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Opposite to expectations, including an alternate allocation didn’t enhance the Sharpe ratios for the 2003 to 2022 interval.

What’s much more uncommon is that there doesn’t appear to be any relationship among the many correlations. For instance, merger arbitrage had the next common correlation to shares and bonds than fairness market impartial. But including the latter to a standard portfolio didn’t result in a considerably greater Sharpe ratio.

60/40 Portfolio Plus 20% Different Allocation: Sharpe Ratios, 2003 to 2022

Chart showing 60/40 Portfolio Plus 20% Alternative Allocation: Sharpe Ratios, 2003 to 2022
Supply: Finominal

We subsequent calculated the utmost drawdowns for all of the portfolios. These all occurred in the course of the world monetary disaster (GFC) in 2009. Each shares and bonds fell, very similar to they’ve this yr.

Our equity-bond portfolio plunged 35%, whereas our diversified portfolios all declined between 31% and 39%. Such danger discount is just not notably spectacular.

However as with our earlier Sharpe ratio evaluation, the utmost drawdowns didn’t fall additional when extra diversifying different methods had been added.

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We’d anticipate a linear relationship between lowering correlations and drawdowns, a minimum of till correlations attain zero. In the event that they turn out to be too damaging, as with a tail risk strategy, then diversification advantages deteriorate once more. We’re anticipating an sad smile, however nobody is smiling.

So, are correlations failing traders of their efforts to determine helpful different methods?

60/40 Portfolio Plus 20% Different Allocation: Max Drawdowns, 2003 to 2022

Chart showing 60/40 Portfolio Plus 20% Alternative Allocation: Max Drawdowns, 2003 to 2022
Supply: Finominal

Truthful Climate Correlations

One partial clarification for our outcomes is that correlations are deceiving. Even when they’re near zero on common, there nonetheless could also be intervals of excessive correlation. Sadly, correlations usually spike precisely when traders require uncorrelated returns. 

Take merger arbitrage for instance. The technique is usually uncorrelated to equities, however when inventory markets crash, mergers crumble. A portfolio with lengthy positions in acquirable firms and brief positions in buying companies may be constructed beta-neutral. However that doesn’t negate financial cycle danger, which can also be inherent in shares. 

All our seven different methods misplaced cash in the course of the world monetary disaster between 2008 and 2009. Convertible arbitrage misplaced much more than equities. That’s fairly an accomplishment because the S&P 500 declined by 53%. 

Hedge Fund Technique Efficiency in the course of the International Monetary Disaster (GFC), 2008 and 2009

Chart showing Hedge Fund Strategy Performance during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), 2008 and 2009
Supply: Finominal

Why else have options failed to enhance Sharpe ratios and cut back drawdowns? As a result of, frankly, they’re horrible at being profitable. They could generate enticing returns earlier than charges, however their web returns for traders have been poor during the last 19 years.

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The S&P 500 produced a CAGR of 9.5% for the 2003 to 2022 interval, however that isn’t the suitable benchmark for hedge fund methods. Beating bonds is a extra cheap aim, and solely merger arbitrage achieved it. And that technique is simply too strongly correlated to equities to supply a lot in the best way of diversification.

Inflation was roughly 2% for this era, so CAGRs under that indicate damaging actual returns. Inflation is way greater in the present day, so the goalposts for these methods have moved a lot additional away.

Hedge Fund Technique Efficiency: CAGRS and Correlations, 2003 to 2022

Chart showing Hedge Fund Strategies' Performance: CAGRS and Correlations, 2003 to 2022
Supply: Finominal

Additional Ideas

Correlations alone usually are not sufficient to determine different methods. A extra nuanced strategy is required. Particularly, traders ought to measure correlations when shares are falling. This may weed out merger arbitrage and different methods which have inherent financial danger.

If calculated appropriately, this could reveal that almost all personal asset lessons — PE, VC, and actual property — present the identical danger. They therefore offer limited diversification benefits. We want higher instruments to measure the diversification potential of other methods.

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In fact, this doesn’t change the underlying difficulty: Many methods not generate optimistic returns. The typical fairness market impartial fund, for instance, misplaced 0.4% per yr since 2003.

The case for uncorrelated damaging returns is just not a robust one.

For extra insights from Nicolas Rabener and the Finominal group, join their research reports.

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All posts are the opinion of the creator. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially mirror the views of CFA Institute or the creator’s employer.

Picture credit score: ©Getty Pictures / maybefalse

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Nicolas Rabener

Nicolas Rabener is the managing director of Finominal, which supplies quantitative options for issue investing. Beforehand he based Jackdaw Capital, a quantitative funding supervisor centered on fairness market impartial methods. Beforehand, Rabener labored at GIC (Authorities of Singapore Funding Company) centered on actual property throughout asset lessons. He began his profession working for Citigroup in funding banking in London and New York. Rabener holds an MS in administration from HHL Leipzig Graduate Faculty of Administration, is a CAIA constitution holder, and enjoys endurance sports activities (100km Ultramarathon, Mont Blanc, Mount Kilimanjaro).