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

As we commence another year of the great capital raising dance, I thought it would be fun to channel all of the back and forth, yes and no, hide and seek frustration into a little game. One that harkens back to a happier and simpler time, and one that anyone who has ever been under 12 or over 60 is familiar with.

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, this year we're gonna play a little Capital Raising BINGO. Simply print out the appropriate investor or fund manager card below and mark off (and date) each time you get a designated response.

The first investor who gets a BINGO can draft me as a single-use meat shield at an event.

The first fund manager who gets a BINGO will also get a prize, custom tailored to the fund in question. 

Happy capital hunting! And may the BINGO odds be ever in your favor!

 (c) 2017 MJ Alts

(c) 2017 MJ Alts

 (C) 2017 MJ Alts

(C) 2017 MJ Alts

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are turning pretty colors. Kids are back in school. There is a real possibility of leaving my air-conditioned Nashville home without my glasses fogging upon hitting the practically solid wall of outdoor heat and humidity. And like any good Libra lass, I’m celebrating a birthday.

That’s right, it’s time for my annual orgy of champagne, mid-life crisis, chocolate frosting and introspection. Oh, and it’s time to check the batteries on the smoke detectors – best to make sure those suckers are good and dead before I light this many candles.

One of the things I’ve noticed in particular about this year’s “I’m old AF-palooza” is how much time I spend thinking about sleep. On any given day (and night), I’m likely to be contemplating the following questions:

  1. Why can’t I fall asleep?
  2. Why the hell am I awake at this hour?
  3. How much longer can I sleep before my alarm goes off?
  4. Why did I resist all those naps as a kid?

I even bought a nifty little device to track and rate my sleep (oh, the joy’s of being quantitatively oriented!). Every night, this glowy orb tracks how long I sleep, when I wake, how long I spend in deep sleep, air quality in my bedroom, humidity levels (in the South – HA!), noise and movement. 

 To sleep, no chance to dream

To sleep, no chance to dream

Yes, I’ve learned a lot about my nocturnal habits from my sleep tracker – for example, I move around 17% less than the average user of the sleep tracking system, I’m guessing due to having two giant Siamese cats pinning me down - but the one thing I didn’t need it to tell me was that I SUCK at sleep.

I’m not sure when I went from “I can sleep 12 hours straight and easily snooze through lunch” to “If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I can still sleep 3 hours before my flight….RIGHT NOW and I can still get 2.75 hours…1.5 hours….” but it definitely happened.

I don’t drink caffeine. I exercise. I bought a new age aromatherapy diffuser and something helpfully called “Serenity Now” to put into it. I got an air purifier, a new mattress and great sheets.

But no matter what I try, I am a terrible sleeper.

I’ve concluded that it must have something to do with stress. I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about life, the universe and everything, so perhaps that’s my problem.

So in honor of my 46th year on the planet, I decided to compile a list of the top 46-investment related things I worry about at night. They do say admitting the problem is the first step in solving it, after all.

In no particular order:

  1. $2 trillion increase in index-tracking US based funds, which leads me to…
  2. All beta-driven portfolios
  3. Short-term investment memory loss (we DID just have a 10 year index loss and it only ended in 2009…)
  4. “Smart” beta
  5.  Mo’ Robo – the proliferation (and the dispersion of results) of robo-advisors
  6. Standard deviation as a measure of risk
  7. Mandatory compliance training - don’t I know not to take money from Iran and North Korea by now?
  8. Spurious correlations and/or bad data
  9. Whether my mom’s pension will remain solvent or whether I have a new roommate in my future
  10. Politicizing investment decisions
  11. Did I really just Tweet, Blog or say that at a conference?
  12. Focusing on fees and not value
  13. Robo-advisors + self-driving cars equals Skynet?
  14. Going through compliance courses too quickly & having to do them over again
  15. Short-term investment focus
  16. Will I ever have to wait in line for the women’s bathroom at an investment event? Ever?
  17. Average performance as a proxy for actual performance versus an understanding of opportunity and dispersion of returns
  18. The slow starvation of emerging managers
  19. Is my industry really as evil/greedy/stupid as it’s portrayed
  20. Factor based investing – I’m reasonably smart – why don’t I get this?
  21. Dwindling supply of short-sellers
  22. Government regulatory requirements, institutional investment requirements and the barriers to new fund formation
  23. “Chex Offenders” – financial advisors and investment managers who rip off old people (and, weirdly, athletes)
  24. The vegetarian option at conference luncheons – WHAT IS THAT THING?
  25. Seriously, does anyone actually read a 57-page RFP?
  26. Boxes...check, style, due diligence...
  27. Tell me again about how hedge fund fees are 2 & 20…
  28. The markets on November 9th
  29. The oak-y aftertaste of conference cocktail party bad chardonnay
  30. Drawdowns – long ones mostly, but unexpected ones, too
  31. Dry powder and oversubscribed funds
  32. Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to ESG investing or, hell, even just the definition
  33. Forward looking private equity returns (see also: Will my mom’s pension remain solvent)
  34. Will my investment savvy and sarcasm one day be replaced by a robot (see also: Mo’ Robo)
  35. After the election, will my future investment jobs be determined by my membership in a post-apocalyptic faction chosen by my blood type?
  36. How many calories are in accountant-provided, conference giveaway tinned mints? (See also: conference chardonnay)
  37. Why are financial advisors who focus on asset gathering more successful than ones that focus on investment management? #Assbackward
  38. Dunning Krueger, the Endowment Effect and a whole host of ways we screw ourselves in investment decision making
  39. Why divestment is almost always a bad idea
  40. Active investment managers – bless their hearts – they probably aren’t sleeping any better than I am right now
  41. Clone, enhanced index and replication funds – why can’t we just K.I.S.S.
  42. The use of PowerPoint should be outlawed in investment presentations. Like seriously, against the actual law - a taser-able offense.
  43. Will emerging markets ever emerge?
  44. Investment industry diversity – why is it taking so looonnnnggg?
  45. Real estate bubbles – e.g. - what happens to Nashville’s market when our hipness wears off? And is there a finite supply of skinny-jean wearing microbrew aficionados who want to open artisan mayonnaise stores that could slow demand? Note to self, ask someone in Brooklyn….
  46. Did anyone even notice that hedge funds have posted gains for seven straight months?

Yep, looking at this list it’s little wonder that sleep eludes me. If anyone can help alleviate my “invest-istential” angst, I’m all ears. In the meantime, feel free to suggest essential oils, soothing teas and other avenues for getting some shuteye.

 

Sources and Bonus Reading: 

Asset flows to ETFs: https://www.ft.com/content/de606d3e-897b-11e6-8cb7-e7ada1d123b1

Recent HF Performance (buried) http://www.valuewalk.com/2016/10/hedge-fund-assets-flows/

HF Replication: http://abovethelaw.com/2016/10/low-cost-hedge-fund-replication-may-threaten-securities-lawyers/

Average HF Fees: http://www.opalesque.com/661691/Global_hedge_funds_slicing_fees_to_draw_investors169.html

Political Agendas & Investing: http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/10/03/murphy-adds-plank-to-platform-no-hedge-funds-in-pension-and-benefits-system/

Asset Gathering vs. Investment Mgmt: http://wealthmanagement.com/blog/client-focused-fas-more-profitable-investment-managers

World's Largest PE Fund: http://fortune.com/2016/10/15/private-equity-worlds-largest-softbank/  

Spurious Correlations: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-14/hedge-fund-woes-after-u-s-crackdown-don-t-surprise-sec-s-chair

Short-Term Thinking - 5 Months Does Not Track Record Make: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/14/venture-capitalist-chamath-palihapitiyas-hedge-fund-is-outperforming-market.html

 

It's often quite amusing to me to chat with friends and associates outside of the investment industry about the investment industry. The vision that many folks have about the typical hedge funders' day-to-day existence is one part conspiracy theory, two parts lies and debauchery and a final part douchebaggery. So, to help clear up some of the most common misconceptions about working in alternative investments (specifically hedge funds), I thought it might be helpful to create a simple visual aid separating hedge fund fact from fiction. May this give you a giggle as you attempt to re-acclimate to work after the long weekend. 

Please note: I don't think that the hedge fund industry is in imminent danger of going away, but I do think that, like in Westeros, there will likely be some carnage before we make it through this round of poor average performance and fee, tax and regulatory pressure. Oh, and I don't own any of the images above. And finally, you may have to be 40+ or a bone fide cinematic geek to understand some of the references (Hint: Trading Places, Dr. No, Hitch), but I think you'll get enough of the picture. That is, hedge funds: More PowerPoint than "power suit, power tie, power steering." 

My ex and I parted ways about a year ago. After taking some time to eat some ice cream, clean out my closets and get my personal feng shui back in order, I decided recently it was time to re-enter the dating scene.

Unfortunately, as someone who A) works from home and B) travels extensively, I realized that meeting men who weren’t delivering FedEx packages or patting me down in the airport was going to be a bit challenging. So I bit the bullet and did the online dating thing.

Color me PTSD’ed. 

My first day at the online ‘all-you-can-date’ buffet saw me literally innundated with emails. “Hey!” I thought. “I must still have it!.”

But then I started to actually open those emails and realized that nearly all of the men who had emailed me could be categorized into one of three buckets:

  1. Men holding things they had killed;
  2. Men my dad’s age and older; and
  3. Curiously, Civil War re-enactors (As an aside, do folks not realize the South actually lost the Civil War? I mean, isn’t that kind of like re-enacting the Titanic sinking over and over again? Big fanfare. Long denouement. Everyone dies. But I digress…)

Ho-lee-shit.

My mind started racing.

“Well, if this is the best that’s out there for me these days, I’m going to be single forever,” I thought.

“Do you suppose they have nunneries for spiritual, not religious, former Presbyterians-quarter Jews whose favorite form of cardio is shopping and who want to endow the cloister not only with their worldly ‘dowry’ but with vast amounts of high quality hair gel???” I wondered.

Seriously. My dating life was over. Kaput. I was hopeless. Driven to salted caramel ice cream, red velvet cake, NeimanMarcus.com and re-runs of the BBC's Pride and Predjudice in an instant.

And then I realized something.

I had fallen for literally one of the oldest tricks in the mind’s playbook. Instead of considering the known unknowns (i.e. – the thousands of men online and in the physical world from whom I hadn’t received disturbing, Santa Clause-esque pictures), I had taken the known knowns and concluded that I would eventually die alone and be eaten by my cats. And don’t even get me started on the unknown unkowns in this scenario. I mean, Bridget Jones-type endings don’t just happen in the movies, right?

Daniel Kahenman explained this information processing phenomenon in his book Thinking Fast And Slow as “what you see is all there is (WYSIATI),” and I was a classic victim.

But it was somewhat comforting to me to remember that I’m not the only one that falls for this little mind game. The investment industry does it all the darn time. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes me the kinda tired about the work I do.

Don’t believe me? Think about the following areas:

Hedge Fund Returns: A classic example of WYSIATI, we all know that hedge fund returns have been positively tragic for years, right? I mean, we see the HFRI Asset Weighted Index is down -0.21% through July and that obviously means that all funds have struggled to post any kind of decent returns. Well, hold on there a minute, Sparky. What if I told you that looking at that one number was giving you a bad case of the known knowns? What about all of the other funds in the HFR database? I guess they’re underperforming, too? Nope. Even if you look at other index categories you can see instances of strong outperformance: Credit Arb – up 5.17%, Distressed – up 6.20%, Equity Hedge Energy – up 10.73%, and those are all averages. Or what about the small funds I'm always pushing on y'all? They are up 4.1% for the year to date, according to industry watcher Preqin, compared with a somewhat anemic gain of 0.54% for the "billion dollar club." In fact, these numbers are the known unknowns – the numbers we could consider, but we don’t because there’s a nice, neat single little index number for us to rely on. And then you’ve got the unknown unknowns – the funds that DON’T report to HFR and aren’t accounted for in their index. I know of funds that are up 10%, 15% even 20%+ for the year. In a universe of 10,000 funds, drawing conclusions from one bit of known known data just doesn’t cut it.

Diversity: In April 2015, Marc Andreessen famously said in an interview that “he has tried to hire an unnamed woman general partner to Andreessen Horowitz five times. Each time, she’s turned him down.” See? Even a luminary in the venture capital world can get sucked into WYSIATI. Because the “unnamed woman” was likely one of the few females Andreessen associates with in the industry, she constitutes his entire universe. She is his known known. And if you think there aren’t great women and minority candidates, funds or investment opportunities out there, the problem is likely with you. Cultivating different networks, rewriting job descriptions to attract different applicants, working with recruiters who specialize in diversity, hell, even just being more intentional about hiring and investing can reveal a wealth of candidates that can help bring cognitive and behavioral alpha to your firm.

Fund Fees: Hedge fund fees are 2 and 20. 2 and 20. 2 and 20. I hear (and read) this so much I want to vomit. Do some funds charge 2 and 20? Sure. Do some funds (read: most funds) charge less, if not in headline fees, in actual fees? Hell yes! The average fees for a hedge fund these days is about 1.55% and 18% and declining. For new fund launches, fees were remarkably stable for years, never approaching the 2 and 20 milestone on average. And what’s more, roughly 68% of funds in a Seward & Kissel study offered reduced fees for longer lock ups, while 82% of equity funds and 29% of non-equity funds offered reduced-fee founders share classes. And what about hurdle rates? An investor recently swore to me that “no hedge funds have hurdle rates.” Well, that’s just bupkis. A show of other investor hands in the room immediately dispelled that myth, proving that, while not the majority of funds, some funds do have benchmarks to beat before they take their incentive allocation. What that one investor saw was not all there was.

Indices: Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Obviously, the entire investment industry is trending towards passive investments. You can’t swing a dead pouty fish without hitting an article touting the death or underperformance of active investment management. And for people who have only been investing over the last 10 years or so, it probably looks like the S&P 500 is a sure bet. Always goes up, right? Well, wrong. While it’s certainly true that the S&P does tend to go up over time, you can never be sure what the time frame will be, and whether you’ll have time to recover from any unexpected downturn. But the bull market we’ve seen since March 9, 2009 isn’t all there is. Actually, if you recall, at that point in time, the S&P 500 had just experienced a 10-year losing streak. Ouch. Don't believe me? Ask any Gen X'er like me how much Reality Bites when the first 10 years of your 401k saving is wiped out by a tech wreck. Sorry, Millennials, but you haven't cornered the market on false financial starts quite yet. 

Investment Opportunities/Herding: Private equity and venture capital dry powder with nowhere to go. Hedge funds all own the same stocks. Crowded trades. High valuations. What investor could possibly make money in this environment? Once again, 13-Fs, Uber and Apple aren’t all there is. Even though we tend to fixate on the visible data, there are a number of niche-y, networked, regional, club-deal and other funds out there getting it done. Even big firms with the right resouces can pound the pavement, do the research or build the quantitative system that generates returns. Don’t believe me? Read the article (link below) on Apollo, who did more deals in the first part of this year than their three largest competitiors put to work in the same period. Just because the managers you’ve seen thus far haven’t done it, doesn’t mean it isn’t being done.

So before you freak out about one of the topics above and eat an entire red velvet cake while standing at your kitchen counter (no judgement).

Before you decide that you should do away wholesale with your hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital allocation, financial planner, mutual funds or your dating life.

Take a step back.

Breathe.

Sign off of Match.com because, honestly, any site that thinks the best reason for going on a date with someone is that neither of you smokes needs help with their dating algorithm.

And understand that you’re likely looking only at what you know, which may not help you as much as you’d like.

Sources: HFR, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/11/andreesen-women_n_7046740.html, Seward and Kissel, http://fortune.com/2016/08/04/hpe-private-equity-apollo-global-management/

 

In the fantastic, utterly un-politically correct movie Blazing Saddles, Madeline Kahn plays a lisping, Teutonic, burlesque dancer (and at least part time lady of the evening) by the name of Lily von Shtupp. Enlisted to help rid Rockridge of its new sherrif, we get to see Lily in action as she performs one of the movie’s highly underated muscial numbers “I’m Tired.”  Kahn croons:

“I’m Tired…
Tired of playing the game…
Ain’t it a cwying shame….
I’m SO tired.”

I felt a bit the same this week as I contemplated the latest hedge fund headlines and had a head-on rendezvous with some déjà vus. A quick Googling let me know I wasn’t imagining things…we actually are stuck in a sort of hedge fund Groundhog’s Day. Minus the cheeky rodent.

Yes, it seems we get to start the year in January, where we lament that the average hedge fund performed averagely. Then in April and May we get the Hedge Fund 100 that showcases most successful (from an AUM perspective) funds, followed closely by the Hedge Fund “Rich List”, which tells us all how much we didn’t make the year before.

Around mid-summer we get treated to a rare showcase of female hedge fund talent, before switching gears to talk about mid-year performance, closures and anticipated end of the year launches. Short articles follow that focus on the Hedge Funds Care and 100 Women in Hedge Fund Galas, before we end the year discussing, again, how the average fund fared.

And in between bursts of schadenfreude, finger pointing and headshots of hedge fund bigwigs, we get a (time-lagged) look into hedge fund portfolios. Not that we care, because the average hedge fund is still average, but let’s just take a little peek.

So to thoroughly prepare us all for the year ahead, I thought I’d create a little cartoon calendar to keep the continuous coverage in perspective. 

 (C) MJ Alts

(C) MJ Alts

And if you need something a bit more granular to mark the days just remember this happy mantra – negative hedge fund coverage? Must be a day that ends in “Y.”

 

 

Image Credits: BrainCheese and 123RF: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_photoman'>photoman / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Posted
AuthorMeredith Jones

I’m a crazy cat lady. Those that know me well in the industry are already clued into that fact. Those that don’t know me well probably at least suspected it. After all, no one can be this sarcastic and inappropriate without spending an inordinate amount of time by herself.

What folks may not know is I am, in fact, a total bleeding heart when it comes to any animal. I have stopped my car to rescue skunks, turtles, dogs, and cats. I have nursed injured geese and mice. In fact, just before Christmas I found homes and no-kill shelter placements for 48 cats that a even crazier cat lady was hoarding in her BFE, Tennessee trailer.

So imagine my outrage when the story broke about a baby dolphin that died after a bunch of total effing morons passed it around on the beach for selfies.

Come. On.

I was so pissed I stomped around the house blathering on (to myself and to my three cats) about how stupid the entire human race has become and how this is all a sign of the total end of civilization, which I am sure some idiot will capture on a freaking GoPro.

And then I started to calm down. I did what those of us who work with causes have to do so often when confronted by things too horrible to imagine. I breathed and I began to think about all of the people that I know who do good things for the world. How private equity veteran Jeremy Coller is a vegetarian and a champion for farm animal welfare. How 100 Women in Hedge Funds raised more than GBP550k for children’s art therapy. How one of my favorite seeders and one of my favorite family office guys both do volunteer work with wildlife and schools in Africa every year.

As a level of sanity returned, I remembered a quote from the existential masterpiece Men In Black: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

 http://memeguy.com/photo/42477/men-in-black-quote-seems-more-relevant-by-the-day

http://memeguy.com/photo/42477/men-in-black-quote-seems-more-relevant-by-the-day

I needed to re-focus on persons. Not people.

All too often, however, we tar a person with our people brush. Sometimes it’s well deserved (not to mention a time saver), but most of the time we find that there are exceptions to every rule.  And while it’s hard for most of the public to imagine them as individuals, this is also the case in the world of alternative investments.

Let’s consider some of my fave hedge fund “you people” themes:

Hedge Funds Keep Getting Crushed – Sure, most index providers show hedge funds started the year down more than 2% on average, but that means some funds did worse and…gasp….some funds did significantly better. Hopefully you saw some of the latter in your own portfolio, but if not, Business Insider proves this point with this handy article.

Hedge Funds Charge 2 & 20 – In their study “All That Glitters” Elizabeth Parisian and Saqib Bhatti conclude that pensions pay roughly $81 million in hedge fund years per year, amounting to roughly 57 cents on every dollar of profit. In December 2015, Eurekahedge reported that average hedge fund performance fees last touched 20%  in 2007, while Citibank reported that management fees were, on average 1.59%, with an operating margin of 67 basis points. I’ve seen several funds launch of late with either no management fee or zero performance allocation. And what we’re talking about? They are just the headline fees. Most managers, roughly 97% the last time I polled them in 2013, were willing to drop fees for large investments. That’s a whole lot of persons charging less than “those people.”

Hedge Fund Billionaires – Google “hedge fund billionaire” and, if you’re like me, you’ll get 131,000 results in about 0.57 seconds. Of course, what’s interesting about that fact is it is probably roughly 130,500 hits higher than the actual number of hedge fund billionaires. If one assumes that all hedge fund managers with AUM over $1 billion are, in fact, billionaires (a stretch if I’ve ever heard one), then that leaves roughly 9,500 hedge fund managers who are not billionaires, unless they secretly won the family inheritance or actual lotteries. That’s a pretty unbalanced barbell on which to base any kind of income assumption. And of course, that doesn’t take into account that a hedge fund manager, even a Big Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager, can lose money for the year if they don’t achieve profitability for their clients.

At the end of the day, as my former boss, George Van, used to say, “hedge funds are as varied as animals in the jungle,” and boy, is he right. And whether we want to believe it or not, hedge fund managers are individuals first, and “those people” second.

The moral of the story? Generalizations are generally not your friend. They make you mad. They make you sad. They may make you ignore investment options based on public opinion rather than facts. Instead, take a moment to slow down and individualize. Unless I find out you took a selfie with that dophin, in which case, I suggest you speed up and use your head start. 

One of my favorite comedic routines of all time comes from fellow Alabama native Roy Wood Jr. Now a regular on The Daily Show, Wood originally did stand-up at various and sundry venues, and made his television debut on Letterman in 2008.

Known for prank calls and “you ain’t going to Mars”, Wood’s best work (in my humble opinion) was a bit he did about career day.

Unlike many of us invited to talk at Career Day, Wood eschewed the normal “if you work hard and study, dream big and believe in yourself, you can achieve anything” mantra. No, Mr. Wood instead chose the path of honesty.

“Remember career day, when a bunch of people would come lie to you?” said Wood. “I went to career day and told them the truth. Look, two or three of y’all aren’t going to make it. That’s the truth. Everybody’s not going to be rich and famous. Somebody has to make the Whoppers, and that’s what people need to understand at an early age. We need failures – they provide chicken nuggets and lap dances, and I like both of them. They are important services...But apparently that’s the wrong thing to thing to say to a room full of first graders.”

 

As I received news of yet another rash of hedge fund closures, Mr. Wood’s words came to mind. Not because I expect these former fund managers to start making “parts is parts” processed chicken or working in a Magic Mike tribute show, but because, at least the way the industry is evolving right now, “two or three of y’all aren’t going to make it.” 

I’ve seen managers that have struggled for years with low AUMs or extended (or even endless) pre-launch woes and many of the folks I talk to are wondering, “When is enough, enough?”

It’s hard to know when to throw in the towel in this industry. We’re always one trade, one IPO, one deal away from fame and fortune. One Thai Baht, one housing crisis, or one Facebook could make or break a professional investor. It’s a giddy proposition, and one that anyone with a Google machine knows can and does happen. 

But unfortunately, waiting for the lightning to strike, and figuring out how to capitalize on it if you’re not already a household name, can be excruciating. 

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. If you’re a hedge fund manager with $100 million under management and a 1-and-20 fee structure who made 10% for investors last year, your firm generated a whopping $560,000 after expenses last year. If you gave any of your investors a fee break for founders’ shares, or if a fair amount of that capital is personal or friends and family, and fees dip closer to 1-and-15, you made 60 grand.

That’s right, I said 60-freakin’-grand. 

And that’s for making roughly 10 times what the S&P 500 generated. 

And since 50% of the industry manages less than $100 million, those firms did even worse, even if they, too, outperformed, which may make those chicken nuggets look a bit more attractive. 

So what’s an intrepid, alternative investment professional to do in a world where 90% of capital is directed to the billion-dollar club and expenses are at an all-time high? Maybe it’s time for a little soul searching.

What’s your overall financial situation? Assume perhaps 10%-20% in AUM growth going forward, along with realistic return expectations. What does the overall firm income look like? Many fund managers launch funds with healthy war chests created at other firms or from other roles, but that is seldom an endless pool of capital. What is the realistic proposition for wealth creation and preservation assuming costs continue to increase and asset growth is sluggish at best? It can be difficult to part with one’s magnum opus, and as humans we do tend to ascribe more value to things in which we have sunk costs. But take a step back and attempt to look rationally and unemotionally at your current situation and the likely scenarios for the next three years. Enlist an impartial third party to validate your assumptions and try to determine if you’re still on the right path.

Can you reinvent your business in any way to improve your AUM base or reduce expenses? There are a growing number of private equity firms dedicated to purchasing strategic stakes in asset managers, have you considered selling a part of the business? Have you investigated all of your service provider relationships to ensure you have all your bases covered, and covered most effectively? Are you being penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to bringing on additional resources, like marketing or operational assistance? Can you team up with a group of other managers to create a cost-sharing consortium for certain functions? Have you shopped your strategy to larger shops that may be looking to diversify their offerings? It is always critical to remember that it running an investment firm ain’t all about (managing) the money, money, money – running an investment shop requires business acumen, strategic planning and smart investments in the firm. Maybe you don’t end up being stud duck of your own Blackstone-esque entity, but you do get to keep doing what you love. 

Can you see yourself doing anything else? I know several investors who say that if you don’t want to manage money at $100 million, you don’t deserve to manage money at $1 billion, and there’s something to be said for that - at least in a perfect world. If you can think of other career avenues you might enjoy, however, it may be time to explore those options. Money managers have done that throughout the last several years, leaving to spend time with family, get involved in charity, and at least three even leaving to start food trucks (The Dark Side of the Moo, and the PIMCO croque-monsieur truck) and The Real Good Juice Company. Hell, even I contemplate buying a farm and raising organic eggs at least once a month. But at the end of the day, I still love what I do. Most days. If you get up every day excited to face the markets, win or lose. If you think your strategy still has the “it” factor. If you think doing any other job would be like enduring the “long dark tea time of the soul”, stick with it. You may never be Dan Loeb, but you’ll always be engaged and happy. 

Here’s to better luck in 2016 for everyone. Let’s hope that the industry changes in ways that make it easier for emerging managers to keep their heads above water and that my little soul searching exercise turns out to be a worst case scenario and not the status quo. If not, you can always think of a break from the investment industry like a stop loss. It's a fail safe to give you time to re-evaluate, re-adjust and come back stronger. Just look at the PIMCO food truck guy - after three years of sandwiches, he's back in the game. And he brought snacks. 

Links to sources: 

Roy Wood Jr. Career Day - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mApfABF-c8

Hedge Fund Fees - The Truth and Math - http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/6/29/hedge-fund-truth-series-hedge-fund-fees

Hedge Fund Food Truck - http://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/10/from-finance-to-food-trucks-lessons-learned.html

PIMCO Food Truck - http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2014/10/29/the-pimco-food-truck-lives-on/

Hedge Fund Juicer - http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/06/investing/quit-wall-street-open-food-business/

“long dark tea time of the soul” is from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Posted
AuthorMeredith Jones

As y’all recover from the excesses of fried turkeys, stuffed stockings, too much ‘nog and an overdose of family time, it seems like a good time to catch up on some light reading. So, in case you missed them, here are my 2015 blogs arranged by topic so you can sneak in some snark before you ring in the New Year.

Happy reading and best wishes for a joyous, profitable, and humorous 2016.

 Happy Holidays from MJ Alts!

Happy Holidays from MJ Alts!

HEDGE FUND TRUTH ANIMATED SERIES

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/6/29/hedge-fund-truth-series-hedge-fund-fees

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/6/1/the-most-hated-profession-on-earth

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/3/2/the-hedge-fund-truth-launching-and-running-a-small-fund

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/1/19/savetheemergingmanager

WOMEN AND INVESTING

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/12/13/dear-santa

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/11/16/not-so-fast-times-at-hedge-fund-high

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/9/25/doing-well-doing-good-improving-investment-diversity

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/7/26/the-evolution-of-a-female-fund-manager

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/6/10/advice-to-the-future-women-of-finance

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/4/27/diversification-and-alpha-by-the-book

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/4/20/excusa-paloosa-the-sad-excuses-we-give-to-avoid-small-funds-gender-diversity

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/3/8/whats-in-a-name-what-manager-names-tell-us-about-diversity

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/1/26/dont-listen-to-greg-weinstein

EVERYONE HATES ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS (ESPECIALLY HEDGE FUNDS)

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/12/7/keen-delight-in-the-misfortune-of-hedge-fundsand-me

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/2/2/mfp1glk0exk0vlnqtpx6lby2ba9z8n

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/11/23/babelfish-for-hedge-funds-1

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/11/8/hedge-funds-bad-reputation

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/10/5/dear-hedgie

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/9/9/investment-professional-fact-fiction-the-business-trip

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/5/17/hedge-funding-kindergarten-teachers

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/4/14/are-hedge-clippers-trimming-up-the-wrong-tree

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/3/28/hedge-fund-high-entertainment-an-open-letter-to-showtime-about-billions

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/3/13/venn-dication-what-simple-relationships-do-dont-tell-us-about-alternative-investments

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/2/16/rampallions-scullions-hedge-funds-oh-my

FUND RAISING & INVESTOR RELATIONS

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/6/22/swingers-and-the-art-of-investor-communication

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/4/5/7-secrets-to-a-successful-fund-elevator-pitch

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/2/9/what-how-i-met-your-mother-can-teach-us-about-hiring-fund-raising-staff

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/10/26/founding-funders

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/8/28/crisis-communication-for-investment-managers

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/7/20/trust-me-im-a-portfolio-manager

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/5/4/the-declaration-of-fin-dependence

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/1/11/new-years-resolutions-for-investors-and-managers-part-deux

EMERGING MANAGERS

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/8/17/people-call-me-a-skeptic-but-i-dont-believe-them

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/10/19/are-you-the-next-blackstone-dont-count-on-it

DUE DILIGENCE

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/11/1/the-evolution-of-due-diligence

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/8/6/a-little-perspective-on-the-due-diligence-process

GENERAL INVESTING INSIGHTS

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/9/19/misusing-these-popular-alternative-investment-terms-inconceivable

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/10/11/investment-wisdom-increases-with-age-dance-skills-dont

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/8/24/the-love-of-the-returns-chase

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/8/2/slamming-the-wrong-barn-door

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/6/8/the-confidence-hubris-conundrum

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/5/10/the-crystal-ball-in-the-rearview-mirror

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/3/19/fun-with-dots-visualizing-bifucation-in-the-hedge-fund-industry

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/2/23/pattern-recognition-may-make-you-poorer

http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2015/1/5/new-years-resolutions-for-investors-managers-part-one

What do you want to read about in 2016? List topics you enjoy or would like to see more of in the comments section below.

In the meantime, gird your loins for the blog that always parties like it’s 1999, even when it’s 2016.

And please follow me on Twitter (@MJ_Meredith_J) for daily doses of research, salt and snark.