When I was a young lass in Nineteen Never Mind, I used to spend Christmas Day with my mom and the week after Christmas with my dad. He would come for my sister and me in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and drive us all the way to Ft. Worth, Texas for another week of holiday overeating and unwrapping.

It was about a 12-hour drive, door to door, but we tried to make the best of it. My sister, stepbrother and I would clamber into the “way back” with a cooler full of Cokes,bags brimming with healthy snacks like Pop Rocks, potato chips and Slim Jim’s, nestled securely next to my Dad’s Coors that he snuck over state lines, Smokey & the Bandit-style. There, we’ll loll about (with no seatbelts), stuffing our faces (not dying from the Pop Rock/Coke combo) and alternate singing, sleeping and snarking at one another for the entirety of the 12-hour trip.

At some point, we would inevitably get on my Dad’s nerves. There would be over-the-seat, disjointed swats, strong language and finally a threat to “TURN THIS DAMN CAR AROUND AND TAKE EVERYONE HOME.”

We kids thought that was super funny. 

What wasn’t hilarious, however, was 2016 - an epically craptastic annum bad in so many ways that it even made Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve performance look apropos.

So, while 2017 is still barely warm, I thought I’d give it a little, tiny warning.

If y’all pull the same stunts this year that you did last year, I’ll turn this year around and take us all home. At the very least, I’ll figure out how to off everyone using nothing but Pop Rocks and warm Coors. You get me?

What am I talking about specifically? Well, here are some of my key investment industry pet peeves from 2016:

Looking in the same tired places for returns, and then pretending shock when they don’t measure up – Investors from Kentucky to New York and a few states in-between reduced or redeemed their hedge fund portfolios in 2016, based in large part on lackluster “average” returns. While many point to “average returns” in the neighborhood of just under 5% though November, perhaps it’s best to look at how the best (and worst) performers are faring. Articles have shown top performing hedge funds gained 20% or more through November 2016. And over the four quarters ending 3Q2016, top HFRI decile funds gained 29.54%. The bottom decile funds lost 15.57%. So there are funds that have performed strongly over the last 12 months IF an investor was willing to look for them and perhaps take risks on lesser known, newer, nicher or funds otherwise “off the beaten path.” It kind of reminds me of the old joke “Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this…” How ‘bout in 2017, we stop doing that, lest it continue to hurt.

Using “averages” to talk about investment funds, particularly alternative investment funds – Speaking of, with the kind of return dispersion above, why don’t we stop talking about “average returns” full stop. Even when it comes to white-bread mutual funds, getting fixated on “average” returns doesn’t really help. How do I know? One of the top, non-indexed US mutual funds returned 30% in 2016. Yeah, I said 30-freakin’-percent, more than twice the return of the S&P 500. But by fixating on “average return,” no matter what the asset class, investors may in danger of writing off entire investment strategies based on normalized returns that don’t accurately represent reality. In 2017, let’s focus more on the opportunities unveiled by return dispersion and less on pesky averages, shall we? Oh, and the same thing goes for fees discussions, too.

Saying you want to hire diverse talent, but complaining that you “just can’t find any” – So I’ve heard (or read about) more than one asset management firm complain about how they’d “love to hire women and minorities” but they “just can’t find qualified applicants”, and they’re not willing to lower their standards. Come. On.

Women comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population according to the Census Bureau. Minorities make up nearly 23% of the U.S. population. Do some simple math on the number of women and minorities in a population of 323,127,513 and it boggles the mind that there are ZERO qualified diverse applicants.

Indeed, when I read or hear this, one of a few questions generally comes to mind:

  1. How homogenized is this person’s personal network and how might that impact other investment research and decisions?
  2. How much effort does this person put into finding diverse candidates? Do they contact recruiters who specialize in the area? Do they go to conferences put on by 100 Women in Hedge Funds, NASP, the NAIC, and others?
  3. If there is a pipeline problem in this person’s line of work and they genuinely want to fix it, what are THEY doing to fix this issue in the long-term? Do they bring in diverse interns? Diverse entry-level positions? Do they promote these individuals?

Inappropriate benchmarks – Why, oh why, do we benchmark every damn thing to the S&P 500? It’s become so pervasive that I just caught myself doing it above (the top performing mutual fund invests in small caps, not S&P-level stocks) and I know better. Just because it’s well known, and just because it’s been crammed down our throats by everyone from consultants to financial advisors, doesn’t mean it always fits. Small cap fund? Ixnay on the S&P-ay. Hedge funds? Can’t be expected to outperform in bull markets because they are HEDGED. Private equity & venture capital – comparing illiquid investments to a liquid benchmark seems a bit silly, no? So in 2017, let’s either agree to benchmark appropriately so we can make a sober decision about whether an investment has performed well (or not) OR let’s just decide to sell everything and invest only in the S&P 500, since it’s where it’s at, obviously.

Communicating inappropriately – This may be just a “me” thing, but in 2016 I noted an increasing number of asset managers who text investors. What. The. Actual. Hell. Texting is informal. Texting is immediate and insinuates you deserve an instant response. Texting invites typos. Texting doesn’t allow for compliance review or disclaimers. Unless you are meeting someone that day and need to say you’ll be late, early, or identifiable by the rose in your lapel, or unless that investor has given you express permission to text, don’t. The investors I know who put their mobile numbers on their cards are coming to regret it. And if you lose that, you’ll only spend more time waiting on callbacks.

So cheers, all, to a happy, healthy, prosperous, properly benchmarked 2017. May we lose fewer of my 80s idols and more of our investing bad habits.







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