I know I'm a little late. Perhaps you're still nursing a love hangover from last week, but just in case you still feel like spreading a little tenderness and affection throughout the fund management industry, I've created some handy dandy cut out cards to help you express your feelings. Because nothing says "show me the money" like some old school, cut out cards with your name scribbled on the back, right? So share the love y'all!

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Many of the fund managers I speak to remain conflicted about how best to position their diverse asset management firm. While I don’t have all the answers, perhaps I can help shed a little light on the topic for folks. Read this while you’re thinking about your capital raising battle plans for 2019. And may it help you separate who’s been naughty and nice, whose chimney you should visit and whose you should skip in the New Year.

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This past Saturday was not unlike most of my recent Saturdays. I woke up around 7:30, fed my  seemingly perpetually starving Siamese cats, and contemplated the end of what was yet another *fabulous* infrastructure week here in the good ole U.S. of A, all before heading out to stress shop. 

I’ve always said that shopping is my main form of cardio, but you may not know it’s also one of my favorite methods of stress management, too.  There’s something about a perfectly climate-controlled dressing room, a commission-based sales rep at my beck and call, and an impeccable frock (or purse, pair of shoes or new iPhone for that matter) that makes everything bad in one’s life feel more like a distant land war in Asia, rather than like a bar fight in your living room.

This weekend, as I was trying on my potential retail spoils, I happened to overhear a conversation in the dressing room adjacent to mine. A mom and a daughter were discussing a sweater, and whether it could be purchased for less money at another store. The objectionable price of said sweater? $30. 

Yep you heard me (read me?) – thirty whole American dollars.

My first thought was “You can buy a sweater for 30 bucks?!?”

I mean, I was at the Nordstrom Rack (I may be seriously into retail therapy, but most of the time I see no reason to pay full price for it), but I can’t recall the last time my hands have alighted on a $30 anything, much less knitted goods.

My second thought was “Would you really want to wear a sweater that could be purchased new for $30? What would said sweater be made of? What would this sweater look like? Would this sweater hold up to normal use without starting to resemble Rachel McAdams’s shirts in “Mean Girls?”  

(C) Morguefile.com

(C) Morguefile.com

I was really struck by two things in the aftermath of the sweater discussion: First, what a privilege it is not to have to worry about spending $30 on a sweater. But second, and more important, how a lot of us have pretty much started to expect everything to be cheap. 

Especially when it comes to the investment world.

It’s true that there has been a colossal amount of fee pressure and compression in the investing world over, say, the last 10 to 20 years. For example, active equity mutual funds charged an average of 1.08 percent in 1996, but a mere 0.82 percent by 2016, and equity index funds saw fees plunge from 0.27 percent to 0.09 percent over the same period.[1]And of course, Fidelity upped the low-cost ante even further this year when they announced two no-fee index funds (Tickers: FZROX and FZILX), attracting more than $1 billion in their first month.[2]

One of the investing groups to get the biggest full-court (fullest court?) fee press is hedge funds. In fact, a mid-September Institutional Investor article touted that hedge fund fees had fallen to record levels, with management fees near 1.43% and incentive fees hovering around 17%.(3) Of course, this massive “decline” assumes that hedge fund fees peaked, as often advertised, at 2% and 20%, which I have loudly and repeatedly asserted for years that they didn’t, based in no small part to research that I did in 2010. 

This research showed that, at the height of hedge funds’ popularity, and based on a sample of more than 8,000 funds, management fees for funds that launched in 2009 averaged 1.65%, up from 1.35% for 2000 vintage year funds. Likewise, incentive fees during the period were largely stable. They clocked in at 18.7% for vintage year 2000 funds and dropped to 18.5% for hedge funds launched in 2009. So, while there has been a decline in average headline fees (the fees charged per Offering Documents, not negotiated for large investors, longer-lockups or founders’ shares), it hasn’t been a dramatic as one may think. 

But the bigger question that many have asked is “how low can fees go?” And that, much like my $30 sweater conundrum, is an excellent question.

The rise of index tracking, low-cost ETFs, and the decade of stellar performance of the same, has led some investors to believe all returns should come cheap. But even leaving aside market cyclicality and the active/passive debate, there’s a pretty big difference between mammoth firms like Fidelity or Vanguard offering funds for three basis points and a $100 million hedge fund, private equity / venture fund or even most long-only active managers offering the same. 

Why? 

The primary issue is economies of scale – Vanguard managed $5.1 trillion (with a “T”) as of January 2018. Blackrock managed $6.317 trillion (again, with a “T”) as of March 2018. Fidelity managed $2.45 capital T trillion as of the end of 2017. If Fidelity charges an average of three bps on its assets under management, it still generates a helluva lot (with an “H”) in fee income. 

If Jo Schmoe Fund does the same while managing $100 million, they spit out a paltry $300,000 in revenue. Even if Jo earns a hefty return on investment, triggering the payment of an incentive allocation, that still may not be big enough dollars to run an institutional quality business. 

Even if JS Capital Management manages to grow assets to ONE BIIILLEON DOLLARS, they might be able to buy a metric crapton of $30 sweaters charging 3 bps, but running a legit asset management business? I wouldn’t always count on it. Sure, they’d rake in $20 million on a 10% performance year (assuming a 20% incentive allocation), but not every year turns out that way. 

There are some years, thought we may not remember them well, where it would be considered outstanding performance to be flat. There are some years when a strategy just isn’t in favor. There are some years when stuff just doesn’t go your way. Do you want to incentivize a manager to use excess leverage, to under hire, to spend all their time trying to raise additional assets so they make a decent buck, or to take undue risks with your capital?

I’m not sure I do. Which is why I didn’t pop my head out of the dressing room to snatch up the mysteriously alluring, though inexpensive $30 sweater on Saturday. The risks of contact dermatitis, catastrophic sweater failure and potential public ridicule were just too great. 

 

 

[1]https://www.ici.org/pdf/per23-03.pdf

[2]https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/04/fidelity-offers-first-ever-free-index-funds-and-1-billion-follows.html

https://www.institutionalinvestor.com/article/b1b0wqn4k95f20/After-Years-of-Cutting-Fees-Hedge-Funds-Say-Enough-is-Enough

Posted
AuthorMeredith Jones

Last night, I flew home from San Fran on the redeye after attending not one, but two, conferences in San Fran. Normally, I’m a champion sleeper on planes (as any of you who have ever seen me pre-pushback, comatose, mouth agape, and a tiny glistening pearl of drool perched majestically upon my lips) are well aware, at least based on the post flight mocking I get.

But on this particular flight, I was awake. I couldn’t get comfortable in my (there is a Jesus!) upgraded seat. I moved to the back of the plane and claimed a whole row to myself, but was likewise unable to sleep there after my left hip lost all feeling due to the firmness (I met floors in college with more give) of the seats.

After limping my way Sanford and Son style back to my original seat, I finally accepted my insomniac fate and settled with my ancient iPhone to listen to some tunes. Ironically, the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was one of the first songs to play. I did not, however, appreciate said irony at the time.

Once I was able to grab a little disco nap this morning, it put things into a slightly better perspective. Sure, I couldn’t get what I wanted (a nice, long, mouth-breathing sleep in a tube of recirculated air), but maybe I needed those moments of introspection. I mean, otherwise, I wouldn’t have today’s blog post, right?

Likewise, I meet a ton of managers that are frustrated that they can’t always get what they want, usually $1 BIIILLLION Dollars from institutional investors in six months or less, but maybe, if they noodle on it in the dark of night under a (probably) ebola-encrusted airplane blanket, they may figure out how to get what they need.

To help investment managers on this journey, I put together a handy dandy decision tree to help determine whether now is the right time to market to endowments, foundations and pensions, or whether they should take other steps to get the AUM they require.

Should You Be Marketing To Institutional Investors?

(c) 2018 MJ Alternative Investment Research

(c) 2018 MJ Alternative Investment Research

But investment managers, take heart, preferably before you start creating a voodoo doll with my face on it. There are plenty of things you can do to still get your Mick Jagger on and try spending some time to get what you need.

  • Try a different demographic - some of the items above are more specific to institutional investor clients and may not apply to high net worth individuals, family offices and even friends and family.

  • Talk to institutional investors when you DON’T have a fund to raise - I know you’re probably saying, in the words of Dorothy Parker, “What fresh hell is this?”, but investors can often be more accommodating of meeting requests (and provide some darn fine feedback) when you’re NOT looking for an immediate wire transfer. Asking for a half hour of time with an up-front caveat that you’re not “selling” anything can be a beautiful way to start a client relationship.

  • Get your ducks in a row - Figure out the nature of your game now so that when you do talk to institutions, you’re bulletproof. That takes time and effort as you perfect your elevator pitch, refine your deck, get the right service providers on board, train up IR staff, etc. Get it right on the front end and it will pay off on the back end.

I know it can be hard to wait to jump into the AUM chase, but if you follow at least some of this advice, I swear you’re likely to get a little more Satisfaction.