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Reasons to invest in a market neutral fund

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Reasons to invest in a market neutral fund

Buy low.  Sell high.  That’s all there is to it, right?  Well, not quite.  You see there are alternative strategies that not enough investors are taking advantage of.  You could sell first and buy later at a lower price. As long as the selling is at a higher price than the buying, it doesn’t matter which comes first, you’ll still make a profit.

Selling at a high price first is called ‘short selling’ and recently it’s becoming a more prominent part of the portfolios of wealthy investors and their advisers.

Unsurprisingly, enquiries from financial planning groups for new long/short and market neutral funds, including ours, is increasing simply because the incumbent funds are fast filling up and closing their doors to new investors.

So why are these alternative strategies moving from the alternative investment background into the mainstream?  The answer is simply high asset prices.

Low and negative interest rates have resigned many investors to the reality of very low returns.  In a world of annual returns of just a couple of percent, unsophisticated investors’ fears of missing out is fuelling bubbles in everything from so-called ‘stable’ stocks to art, to low digit licence plates to property.  These people believe low interest rates are here to stay.

Mark Twain’s quote here is apt: “when you find yourself on the side of the majority, its time to pause and reflect”.

Another band of investors is seeing the merit of pursuing strategies that not only have the ability to generate returns that aren’t dependent on the direction of markets but also offer the added protection that comes from an ability to generate profits in declining markets.

When Enron fell to zero, Jim Chanos from Kynikos made billions.  David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital made billions for investors by ‘shorting’ Lehman Brothers. Andrew Left at Citron Research won plaudits when he correctly predicted Valeant Pharmaceuticals would fall, ultimately by more than 70% and Muddy Waters’ Carson Block made his investors a fortune when he unearthed and shorted a major business fraud at Sino-Forest.

Investors are wedded to the idea that there are signals and people that can correctly and repeatedly predict when the markets are about to crash.  By pursuing such holy grails investors hope to be able to jump in and out of the stock market at the right times.  But you don’t need to.

History shows that investors tend to do the exact opposite of what works in investing – they tend to sell at the lows and buy at the highs.

Instead of an ‘all-in’ or ‘all-out’ approach, it is far more sensible – and simpler – to build a portfolio that includes investments that eschew the requirement to make prescient entry and exit decisions.  By adding investments to your portfolio that profit from falling asset prices, you can ride through the inevitable storms and emerge protected as well as positioned to take advantage of the lower prices.

A ‘fat tail’ is an event or risk that is infrequent but will have a significant impact on returns.  By allocating a small proportion of one’s portfolio to strategies that emerge unscathed, or even more valuable, through such events, the investor protects their portfolio.

Most investors know little about these strategies because most managers that run these funds aren’t offering them through the most widely adopted platforms, wraps and approved product lists.  It tends to be the very high net worth investor that benefits.

Personally, I have adopted this approach.  I have invested in our global long/short fund and our market neutral fund.  I have also opened an account that allows me to hold short positions in global bonds, believing that if global long-bond rates rise, I will make a profit to at least partially offset the losses such an event will have on the market value of my portfolio.

A market neutral fund buys a portfolio of high quality companies the fund manager believes will outperform an equally-sized portfolio of short sold, poorer-quality stocks.

If we assume the market falls 10%, the bought portfolio falls 9% and the short sold portfolio of poorer quality stocks falls 11%, the investor would have lost 9% on the bought portfolio but they would have made a profit of 11% on the short-sold portfolio.  As a result, they made 2% even though the market fell 10%.

Of course, it could have gone the other way.  If the market fell 10%, the bought stocks fell 11% and the short sold portfolio fell 9%, the investor would have lost 2%.  But remember, even though a 2% loss is not ideal, the market fell 10%.

It doesn’t matter if the market rises, falls or trades sideways. As long as the fund manager’s choice of purchased stocks beats the portfolio of short stocks, the investor in a market neutral fund will profit.

In a world of high asset prices, low or negative returns are likely to follow.  Having some exposure to alternative funds makes a lot of sense.  Unfortunately unless you pressure your adviser to investigate, most investors will miss out.  And after 30 years of declining interest rates, now is the time to be thinking alternatively.

Roger is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Montgomery Investment Management. Roger brings more than two decades of investment and financial market experience, knowledge and relationships to bear in his role as Chief Investment Officer. Prior to establishing Montgomery, Roger held positions at Ord Minnett Jardine Fleming, BT (Australia) Limited and Merill Lynch.

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#alternatives, #interest rates, #market neutral

This post was contributed by a representative of Montgomery Investment Management Pty Limited (AFSL No. 354564) and may contain general financial advice that is prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial circumstances or needs. Because of this, before acting on any of the information provided, you should always consider its appropriateness in light of your personal objectives, financial circumstances and needs and should consider seeking advice from a financial advisor if necessary.

3 Comments

  1. PJ Keystone Financial
    :

    Investing may present some risks but its all in the matter of both analysis and intuition on what you think will be the investment.

  2. Has the model been tested against a rising market and over a 3-5 year period? I can see the benefits when markets are either in a falling or in a sideways consolidation pattern.
    Your thoughts would be very much appreciated

    • Hi Noel. We build the model using data over the most recent 10-15 years, and update it each year. This should ensure it takes account of a reasonably wide range of market conditions.

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