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:
- Why can’t I fall asleep?
- Why the hell am I awake at this hour?
- How much longer can I sleep before my alarm goes off?
- 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.
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:
- $2 trillion increase in index-tracking US based funds, which leads me to…
- All beta-driven portfolios
- Short-term investment memory loss (we DID just have a 10 year index loss and it only ended in 2009…)
- “Smart” beta
- Mo’ Robo – the proliferation (and the dispersion of results) of robo-advisors
- Standard deviation as a measure of risk
- Mandatory compliance training - don’t I know not to take money from Iran and North Korea by now?
- Spurious correlations and/or bad data
- Whether my mom’s pension will remain solvent or whether I have a new roommate in my future
- Politicizing investment decisions
- Did I really just Tweet, Blog or say that at a conference?
- Focusing on fees and not value
- Robo-advisors + self-driving cars equals Skynet?
- Going through compliance courses too quickly & having to do them over again
- Short-term investment focus
- Will I ever have to wait in line for the women’s bathroom at an investment event? Ever?
- Average performance as a proxy for actual performance versus an understanding of opportunity and dispersion of returns
- The slow starvation of emerging managers
- Is my industry really as evil/greedy/stupid as it’s portrayed
- Factor based investing – I’m reasonably smart – why don’t I get this?
- Dwindling supply of short-sellers
- Government regulatory requirements, institutional investment requirements and the barriers to new fund formation
- “Chex Offenders” – financial advisors and investment managers who rip off old people (and, weirdly, athletes)
- The vegetarian option at conference luncheons – WHAT IS THAT THING?
- Seriously, does anyone actually read a 57-page RFP?
- Boxes...check, style, due diligence...
- Tell me again about how hedge fund fees are 2 & 20…
- The markets on November 9th
- The oak-y aftertaste of conference cocktail party bad chardonnay
- Drawdowns – long ones mostly, but unexpected ones, too
- Dry powder and oversubscribed funds
- Getting everyone on the same page when it comes to ESG investing or, hell, even just the definition
- Forward looking private equity returns (see also: Will my mom’s pension remain solvent)
- Will my investment savvy and sarcasm one day be replaced by a robot (see also: Mo’ Robo)
- After the election, will my future investment jobs be determined by my membership in a post-apocalyptic faction chosen by my blood type?
- How many calories are in accountant-provided, conference giveaway tinned mints? (See also: conference chardonnay)
- Why are financial advisors who focus on asset gathering more successful than ones that focus on investment management? #Assbackward
- Dunning Krueger, the Endowment Effect and a whole host of ways we screw ourselves in investment decision making
- Why divestment is almost always a bad idea
- Active investment managers – bless their hearts – they probably aren’t sleeping any better than I am right now
- Clone, enhanced index and replication funds – why can’t we just K.I.S.S.
- The use of PowerPoint should be outlawed in investment presentations. Like seriously, against the actual law - a taser-able offense.
- Will emerging markets ever emerge?
- Investment industry diversity – why is it taking so looonnnnggg?
- 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….
- 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/
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/
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
Last week’s blog got me in a bit of hot water with some alternative investment folks I know. In fact, some thought it should have come with a lifetime supply of chocolate-covered Prozac to counteract the depressive, after-reading effects.
To answer the queries I seemed to receive en masse: No, I am not a defeatist. I am instead an optimistic pessimist – I’m often quite positive that the worst possible thing is bound to happen.
But just because I suggested last week that a few fund managers might have to (or want to) evaluate their long-term business viability in 2016 doesn’t mean I think this year is a total loss.
In fact, I’d say my best advice is, in the infamous words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t panic!” If you can do that and still somehow end 2016 knowing where your towel is, you’ve won.
But seriously, there are a number of positive developments for money managers that could play out this year. For example:
Market Volatility May Be Your Friend – If the stock market theme song post-financial crisis has been “Sweet Child of Mine”, 2016 has certainly changed its tune. Market volatility during the first two weeks of January brought me back to my high school-era living room, sitting in front of my (not flat-paneled) TV watching Axl Rose wiggle across stage belting out “In the jungle. Welcome to the jungle. Watch it bring you to your knnn, knnn, knnn, knnn, knees, knees. I want to watch you bleed!” That was one of my favorite videos back when, you know, MTV actually played music.
And while market volatility can be an exercise in white-knuckle, bile-producing, ‘how-will-I-ever-retire-now’ angst, it also offers investment managers an opportunity they haven’t really had since March 9, 2009: The chance to be a hero.
In a raging bull market, most performance looks like beta. No matter how well an active money manager does, the market can do it faster, cheaper and potentially better. A bull market is often a chump factory, no matter your talents.
And don’t get me wrong, I love a bull market because I am generally in better shape (shopping is, after all, my cardio), but a bull market doesn’t love active management. A down, sideways or otherwise volatile market creates what active money management really needs: Opportunity.
So play this one well, intrepid asset managers, and you could potentially see your breakthrough moment. And may the odds be ever in your favor.
The Fees Knees – Speaking of your knnn, knnn, knnn, knnn, knees, while the markets haven’t exactly been a jungle until recently, the fee debate certainly has. There has been a barrage of class action lawsuits against Fidelity, Vanguard and others about excessive 401(K) fees. And if you Google “hedge fund fees” two of the top three responses are “Hedge Fund Performance Fees Decline Sharply” (FT) and “The Incredibly Shrinking Hedge-Fund Fee” (Bloomberg View).
Due at least in part to the inability of active managers to shine (see above), fees have become a inevitable battle ground for investors. When the rising tide lifts all ships, it becomes easier to confuse price with value.
But market volatility may help successful managers overcome near militant fee resistance, and interestingly enough, a new lawsuit against Anthem Inc. about low fee funds may help traditional active managers as well.
“An overriding theme of lawsuits attacking 401(k) plan fees is that they generally view the cheapest investment as being the most prudent investment choice fiduciaries can make for plan participants, according to Brad Campbell, counsel at Drinker Biddle & Reath and former head of the Employee Benefits Security Administration. That, Mr. Campbell said, is inconsistent with a fiduciary's obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which indicates fees must be reasonable rather than the most inexpensive. According to the text of the new suit's complaint, “investment costs are of paramount importance to prudent investment selection,” which Mr. Campbell said is “an inaccurate statement of the law.” (http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20160112/FREE/160119984/401-k-suit-targeting-vanguard-fees-could-support-case-for-active)
After all, to misquote Brian Tracy, “The true measure of the value of any [money manager] is performance.”
Election Attention – And finally, in case y’all have slept through the proposed UK Trump ban, the Sanders-Clinton (oh, yeah, and O’Malley) poll mania, and impassioned pleas for walls around the country or just around Wall Street, you know we’re in an election year. Why is this a good thing? Well, for one, it’s wildly entertaining, although it does bring to mind PoliSci 401 “Those who seek power are not worthy of that power.” (Plato)
But really, it means the Eye of Sauron (read: regulatory and compliance entities) may be thinking about Wall Street, but it is unlikely that much will change this year, giving everyone a chance to continue working through compliance, operations, Form PF, AIFMD, and all of the other special gifts fund managers have gotten post 2008. Hell, someone may even come up with a way to streamline some of those processes during the short lull in activity and actually create some true economies of scale for struggling small funds. It’s MLK day (er, night) as I’m writing this so well, dammit, I have a dream.
In short, it ain’t all doom and gloom out there for the financial industry, but if this blog failed to convince you of that, I can only offer the following to answer any of your lingering doubts or questions.