Tag Archives: hedge funds

Leveraged ETF, ETP and Risk-Parity Schemes: Caveat Emptor

In the wake of recent weeks’ volatility and pricing dislocations across the exchanged-traded product space, news media and Mutual Fund marketers are having a field day putting the feet to the fire–and those toes being torched are connected to the universe of juiced-up and levered ETF and ETN products, as well as hedge funds that specialise in so-called “risk-parity funds” that employ lots of leverage. Is it fair to bash these ‘alternative’ strategies, or should the SEC require that the prospectuses (or is it “prospecti”?) for these protein-enhanced products have a coverage page that displays Caveat Emptor in caps? For those not fluent in Latin, the phrase means: Buyer Beware.

NYT Dealbook columnist Landon Thomas Jr. poses that issue in his a.m. piece: “Investment Strategies Meant as Buffers to Volatility May Have Deepened It”–and before pointing MarketsMuse readers to that article, MarketsMuse editors remind our readers that ETF red flags are nothing new. Levered products, often in the form of ETNs (exchange-traded notes) that seek to either mitigate risk or enhance returns via the use of futures products are notorious for being fit for trading market professionals only; not retail investors and not even for so-called sophisticated institutional investment managers.

Corporate bond ETFs have also been put on ‘watch lists’ in recent months, even though they are all the rage for many of the right reasons, including offering exposure and ‘greater liquidity’ for those needing to allocate investment  funds to corporate debt issues across various industry sectors and ratings categories. That said, Apocalypse Watchers warn that when interest rates spike, corporate bond investors will all run for the exits together (to avoid mark-downs in their holdings) and the market-makers who specialize in ETF products connected to this asset class will be overwhelmed with nowhere to go–and no [reasonable] bid to offer to those sellers–simply because the glass-is-half-empty crowd contends those market-makers will be unable to find buyers for the underlying constituents as a means to hedge their purchase of the cash ETF product. That particular thesis has not yet been fully tested, but it does offer an agenda for spirited debate.

The Dealbook column does put context into the discussion with the following:

Defenders of risk-parity investing say that these investment styles are not set in stone and that portfolios can be recalibrated on fairly short notice to make them less vulnerable.

As for E.T.F.s, practitioners say that the funds to date have held their own despite some concerns over how portfolios were being valued during the very sharp market sell-off late last month.

Some of the more exotic E.T.F.s that rely on leverage to juice investment returns could in some instances be the “tail that wags the dog,” said Steven Schoenfeld, an early pioneer in E.T.F. investing and founder of BlueStar Global Investors.

“But the fundamental advantage of E.T.F.s — transparency, liquidity and variety — that remains,” he said.

What remains unclear, however, is how an investing community that has become accustomed to churning out safe and steady returns in a low interest rate, low volatility environment adapts to the new reality of wild market swings.

Such sharp ups and downs in the market are expected to become more frequent as the time approaches for the Federal Reserve to push interest rates higher.

People might as well get used to them, says Nicolas Just, a portfolio manager at Natixis Asset Management, a French fund company that oversees $904 billion in assets.

“These types of sudden market swings will become more and more frequent,” he said. “So you have to be prepared for them at any time.”

For the full story from the NY Times, click here


Global Macro: Long/Short Hedge Funds Have Done Something Stupid

Now that InteractiveBrokers is turning up the heat and joining the “unbundling movement” by offering independent research via its world-class trading platform, MarketsMuse editors spotlighted the following comments courtesy of global macro sage Neil Azous, Founder/Managing Member of Rareview Macro LLC from today’s IB feed..If you’re a hedge fund-type, you will either smile, smirk or throw a rock at your computer..

Neil Azous, Rareview Macro
Neil Azous, Rareview Macro

A few of our hedge fund buddies have asked us to bring back “the old-school Neil” and tell you what I think will happen in the next 48-hours. We aim to please, at least sometimes, so therefore today’s note has a lot of “hedge fund speak” and is very short-term in nature. Here we go.

If you ban selling, threaten to arrest short sellers and suspend over half the market, then at some point Chinese equities will inevitably close positive. Add in some good old fashioned government buying of what actually remains open and it is no great surprise that equity markets closed positive in China.

Of the 2,754 shares traded in Shanghai, 1,700 were suspended but the ones that were opened had virtually a 100% up-day. All 194 of the 484 shares that are still open for trade on the ChiNext Board – the poster child for speculation – rose limit up 10%. The three main index futures – CSI 300 and CES China 120 – closed limit up 10% and FTSE China A50 futures closed up +17%. The 5.8% gain in the Shanghai Composite was the largest since 2009.

While the invisible hand of China’s government has set a positive bid-tone for the rest of global risk assets today, it also increased the probability of further PnL duress for long/short hedge funds here in the old US of A.

Sadly, the desire by the long/short hedge fund strategy to reduce overall gross exposure over the last week has been very low.

The fact is that the majority believe that the earnings bar going into this reporting season is so low that you can crawl over it on your knees, and that the dispersion of opportunities remains high due to M&A activity or event-driven catalysts. The last thing this investor base wants to do is lose core positions on account of Greece or China. In Greece, the opportunity cost has been high over the years, and in China’s case, since none of them have really any meaningful direct exposure, the mindset is that the spillover effect to US equities is marginal at best.

As a result, long/short hedge funds remain long on single stocks, and to at least show some appearance to their investors that they are being prudent given the top-down concerns globally they have OVER-purchased a lot of market-related protection, or have used blunt instruments to get really short of the market outright. Put another way, their gross exposure is roughly the same as where it was last month, before the very recent global margin call kicked in, but there is large contingency now running TOO NET SHORT.

To continue to dazzle you with words like “code-red”, it does not take a genius in this business to look at all the usual short-term hedge fund indicators and recognize that many of them are at extremes – that is, put/call option ratios are at 18-month highs, prime brokerage position reports show the net short position at multiple standard deviations above the average over the past year, etc.

So what does the fact that long/short hedge funds are extremely long single stocks and over-hedged actually mean? Continue reading

State Street Loses Lead in ETFs; Moves On to Hedge Funds

MarketsMuse updates that State Street Corp., which lost its lead in exchange-traded funds after being a pioneer in the business more than two decades ago, is now betting on hedge funds.

The firm is expanding hedge funds and alternative investment strategies that can be offered to individual investors, Ronald O’Hanley, who in April replaced Scott Powers as head of the $2.45 trillion State Street Global Advisors, said in an interview from Boston. The money-management unit this month named Michael Ho to a newly-created role of chief investment officer for alternatives.

Ho, who heads active emerging market stock investing for State Street Corp.’s asset-management arm, will lead the unit’s expansion into these alternatives.

Last month, State Street Global Advisors named Ho to the newly created position of chief investment officer for alternatives, confirmed Brendan Paul, a spokesman for the Boston-based bank.

State Street is seeking to expand its asset management business as its active strategies — which command higher fees — have shrunk, and passive strategies such as ETFs have lost ground to BlackRock Inc. and Vanguard Group.

Risk OFF! And, What Top Hedge Funds Say (or Won’t Say) About ETFs

This morning’s precipitous decline in major equity indexes comes as no surprise to anyone, even if its the first Triple-Digit Decline in the Dow in 3 months.

Synonymous with big market moves, we think about what hedge funds are doing right now, and whether or not they’re exploiting ETFs as part of their hedging strategies. How prescient on the part of Pensions & Investments to issue a report yesterday “Hedge Funds mum about ETF use” in their effort to peel back the onion layers on hedge fund managers’ use of ETF products.

P&I reporter Christine Williamson delivers some good insight when writing:

Hedge fund managers are the 3rd biggest institutional users of exchange-traded funds and exchange-traded products; but they’re reluctant to talk about it.

Why? “Investors in hedge funds are paying big fees for active management equity selection. If a long/short manager goes long individual equities and only shorts ETFs and (indexes), it is a terrible deal for investors (because) fees should be a lot lower,” Jim Vos, CEO, head of research and principal at hedge fund consultant Aksia LLC, New York, said in an e-mail.

That said, In aggregate, about 17% of hedge fund short positions and 4% of long positions were made through ETFs, estimated Goldman Sachs researchers from the company’s global economics, commodities and strategy research unit. The data is from the company’s Feb. 21 edition of “Hedge Fund Trend Monitor” report.

Aside from warming up to the two UBS ETRACS, hedge-fund tailored ETNs launched late last year by Mark Fisher and Dennis Gartman (OFF) and (ONN), what are the most common uses of ETFs by hedge fund managers? Read the full story: