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:

Recent HF Performance (buried)

HF Replication:

Average HF Fees:

Political Agendas & Investing:

Asset Gathering vs. Investment Mgmt:

World's Largest PE Fund:  

Spurious Correlations:

Short-Term Thinking - 5 Months Does Not Track Record Make:


Managed Futures/Macro funds reported investor outflows throughout 2014, ending the year down $35.06 billion and $19.13 billion, respectively. So, clearly the performance of these funds must have been sucked big time, right?

Yeah, um, not so fast.

On January 8, HFR reported that Macro/CTA funds had posted their 8th gain in 9 months, ending the year beating all other hedge fund strategies. In fact, they were one of the top performing strategies in the first quarter of the 2015, too.

And just like that, the chase was on. eVestment reported that Managed Futures and Macro hedge funds gained $14.18 billion and $4.01 billion in AUM, respectively, during the first half of 2015.

Ah! We fickle investors! Pretty soon we’ll probably just have a Tinder app for hedge funds and skip due diligence and asset allocation all together. The app will display only past performance and allocate straight into the limited partnership from your bank account. I smell a unicorn.

Swipe right if you agree.

(c) MJ Alternative Investment Research

(c) MJ Alternative Investment Research

It seems to be human nature to chase performance. Whether it’s due to overconfidence, miscalibration, Dunning-Kruger, familiarity, the disposition effect or simple greed and fear, we appear to be hard wired to make decisions based on past performance. Even if we know that PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS - or, as I like to put it, you ain’t gonna get what they got, you’re gonna get what you get. Unfortunately, the SEC isn’t keen on my translation, yet.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I loves loves loves a CTA/Macro fund. I wrote a paper when I was at Barclays showcasing the reasons why diversifying strategies such as these deserve permanent placement in a portfolio (and 2014 plus the last three days kinda proved my point), so it’s not that I’m anti-quant, systematic, macro, trend followers or anything else. And frankly, given the way the market has behaved over the last several days, this may be one of the few times when return chasing may actually work for investors.

Regardless of my personal biases and whether we’re about to enter the next great Stockapalypse, I do think it’s a good time to remind everyone that performance chasing is generally not a great strategy for great returns.

First off, all investors, no matter how large a pool of capital they command, are resource constrained to some extent. The amount of staff they have available for investment due diligence, operational due diligence and ongoing monitoring tends to be fairly finite. When you chase returns, you generally have to transfer resources from what one would assume is a rational investment plan to what amounts to a fire drill. At the end of the day, this can make your long-term investments suffer in favor of short-term (potential) gains.

And perhaps more importantly, return chasing simply doesn’t work. Studies of both retail and institutional investors show that fired fund managers often go on to outperform their replacements. In one Vanguard study, the average outperformance of a buy and hold investor versus performance chasers was 2.8 percentage points. In another (S&P/Dow Jones) study of U.S. equity mutual funds, past performance was not a predictor of future results 96.22% of the time.

In the alternative investment space, if you look at HFR’s Winner’s and Losers chart (you know, that colorful quilt like chart they produce annually) from year to year, it is rare to find a strategy in favor for more than 24 months at a time. Last year, it was CTA/Macro, the prior two years it was the S&P 500. 2011 saw Barclays Gov’t Credit in the lead. In 2010 the S&P 500 emerged victorious again. 2009 saw relative value – convertible win the race. 2008 was another win for Barclays. In 2007, it was emerging markets funds. In fact, Macro/Futures funds were in the bottom two strategies in 2012 and 2013 before topping everything else in 2014.

Let’s face it, past performance is not your friend, it’s your frenemy.

There are a lot of ways to make investment decisions that don't rely solely, or even primarily, on past performance of a particular fund or strategy. The outlook for the strategy, the qualifications of the manager, your own risk-reward mandate and parameters as well as a holistic portfolio plan can all be great guideposts during the investment selection process. 

Hell, you might even take a (gasp!) contrarian approach. 

I was speaking with an investor on Monday morning when the Dow was down about 1,000 points at open. While lamenting the loss, they also stated “well, at least it’s a good buying opportunity.” Those words made me want to do a little dance, make a little love, and get down on a Monday night (uh uh, uh uh). After all, our mantra is still buy low, sell high, not the other way around.

Oh, and PS - So proud I made it through that entire blog without an "I told you so" moment. Oops. Damn. 

Sources: HFR, S&P Dow Jones, Vanguard, eVestment

AuthorMeredith Jones

Every Thursday there is a crisis at my house. A big one. It involves Hollywood movie scale running, hiding and yelling. The best FX team has nothing on the Matrix-like special effects that go on Chez MJ. And I can always tell the crisis is starting when I see this:

Yes, my Thursday Crisis is the Invasion of the House Cleaners. It’s scary stuff because, you know, vacuums and rags and spray bottles (oh my!).

How my cats learned to anticipate the Thursday Crisis is beyond me. I suppose there are subtle clues. I get up a little earlier to pick up and unload the dishwasher. (No judgment! I bet if I did a scientific poll about people who clean before their maids arrive the results would show I’m in the majority). I make a least one trip to the laundry room to grab clean sheets and towels. Whatever it may be, Spike and Tyrone have learned to watch for Thursdays with the diligence of Jack Nicolson guarding us against Cuban communism in A Few Good Men (“You can’t handle the vacuum!”).

For the rest of us, watching for the next financial crisis is a bit more nuanced. Last week, for example, I read two articles that made me wonder if we even understand what a crisis is, or if we all believe financial panic is as predictable as my housecleaners’ arrival.

The first article looked at the state of venture capital in the U.S. New figures, released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association showed that venture capital investments in companies reached $17.5 during the second quarter of 2015, their highest totals since 2000. However, the article argued that, given that the total projected investment for 2015 (more than $49 billion) was less than the total amount invested in 2000 ($144 billion) and that the number of deals is lower as well, it couldn’t be another tech wreck-venture capital bubble in the making.

The second article looked at the risk precision of Form PF – a document introduced post-2008 to better understand and measure the risks created by hedge funds. The article cited two instances where hedge funds had proven their ability to destabilize economies: George Soros’ attack on the GBP in 1992 and Long Term Capital Management, the first "too big to fail", in 1998. Given that the hedge fund industry is now much larger than it was during those two “crisis”, it of course stands to reason that the risks created by hedge funds are now exponentially greater as well.

Or are they? 

Both articles were extremely interesting and presented compelling facts and figures, but they also were intriguing in that both seemed to assume that, at least in part, we experience the same crisis repeatedly. That perhaps we have a financial boogeyman waiting outside of the New York Stock Exchange every Thursday, much like my housecleaners.

But the reality is, a crisis is often a crisis precisely because we don’t see it coming. Each meltdown looks different, however subtly, from the one that went before. Which begs two questions:

  1. Are we always slamming the barn door after the horses are gone?
  2. And going forward, are we even worried about the right barn door?

Let’s look at a few financial meltdowns as examples.

1987 – Largely blamed on program trading by large institutions attempting to hedge portfolio risk.

1990s – Real estate crisis caused by market oversupply.

1998 – Asian markets (1997) plus Russia plus Long Term Capital Management– a hedge fund leveraged out the ying yang (technical term).

2000-2002 – The tech wreck. Could be blamed on “irrational exuberance”, changes to tax code that favored stocks with no dividends, or excessive investment in companies with no earnings (or products in some cases).

2008 – Credit meltdown created largely by overleveraged consumers and financial institutions.  Real estate crisis created by demand (not supply).

2011 – Sovereign credit issues, not a total meltdown obviously, but noticeable, particularly in many credit markets.

While these are gross oversimplifications of each period, it does show a clear pattern that, well, there ain’t much of a clear pattern. Bubbles happen largely due to macro-economic investor psychology. Everyone jumps on the same bandwagon, and then decides to jump off at roughly the same point. Think of it as Groupthink on a fiscal level. It isn’t easy to break away from Groupthink and it’s often even harder to spot, given that we’re often part of the group when the bubble is building.

So what’s the point of this little rant? Do I think we’re at a new venture capital bubble? I don’t know. The market has changed dramatically since 2000 – crowdfunding, Unicorn Watch 2015, lower costs for startups, and shows like “Shark Tank” are all evidence of that, in my opinion. And are hedge funds creating systemic risk in the financial markets? I don’t know the answer to that question either, but ETFs have now eclipsed hedge funds in size and robo investors are gaining ground faster than you can say “Terminator,” and LTCM was nearly 20 years ago, so it seems unlikely that hedge funds are the sole weak spot in the markets.

I guess I said all that to say simply this: If we spend too much time trying to guard ourselves against the problems we’ve already experienced, we’re unlikely to even notice the new danger we may be facing. If my cats only worry about Thursdays, what happens if the plumber shows up on Tuesday? Panic. If you drive forward while looking behind you, what generally happens? Crash.

Last week, a headline in the International Business Times grabbed my attention. It was entitled “Utah Public Pension Fund Audit Calls for Reconsidering Hedge Fund Investments.” In case the headline wasn’t unambiguous enough for you, it was basically yet another article talking about how hedge funds have underperformed and, well, “off with their heads!” 

A recent independent audit of Utah’s $32 billion plan evidently revealed the following:

  1. Utah’s alternative investment portfolio has increased from 13% of fund assets in 2004 to 40% of fund assets in 2014.
  2. If Utah had maintained its (stock heavy) asset mix at 2004 levels, it would have gained an additional $1.35 billion over the past 10 years.
  3. Employees must now pay more out of pocket due to pension shortfalls. (Along with 90% of other state pension constitutents who did or did not invest similarly).

That’s it, Utah. We’re canceling Christmas.

Seriously, as we look back over the past 10 years, it is perhaps easy to be smug about the money one could have made. After all, it’s easy to predict the future now that you’ve already lived it. It may also be impossible to not think of the massive coulda shoulda woulda money left on the table by not going all in long the S&P 500 on March 9, 2009. After all, in the five years after the 2008 market debacle the S&P 500 has generated an eye-popping 17.94% annual return.

But after the latest bull market run, it’s important to remember that one can only make decisions based on the information available at the time. We don’t have a crystal ball, and the one in the rearview mirror doesn’t count. While one can generally state that the markets will make gains over time (the S&P 500 does generate 10-year gains over five percent 84% of the time, after all), it’s nearly impossible for anyone to say when those gains may come or how much one stands to profit.

Just for grins and giggles, let’s take a moment and enter the MJ WayBack Machine to travel back to 2004. I’ll even hum Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” to get you in the appropriate mood.

  • In 2000, the S&P 500 had dropped -9.1%.
  • In 2001, the S&P 500 had dropped another -11.89%.
  • In 2002, the S&P 500 had dropped yet another -22.10%.

That’s not a pretty picture. In fact, based only on our recent experience, it is probably pretty easy to forget that two of the S&P 500’s only four losing 10-year periods just ended in 2008 and 2009. That’s right, fellow MJ Waybackers, it ain’t been that long ago since we saw a decade end in losses. And that’s exactly what Utah was living through in 2004.

In light of that particular scenario, does it seem THAT unusual that Utah’s investment pension staff might have thought a shift away from equities into hedged vehicles could have been, in fact, a good idea?

And that gamble initially paid off. According to the audit, the pension’s hedge fund positions offered protection against 2008’s market losses. Had the 2004 stock-heavy allocation still been in place at that time, the Utah’s pension would have lost an additional $436 million.

In fact, I’m betting the 2009 memo read quite a bit differently than the most recent audit, but I doubt many would take the other side of that trade.

However, in the wake of 2008’s losses, we’ve seen the S&P 500 generate almost historic gains. In fact, only 3 five-year periods eclipse the recent post-crisis 5-year annual returns: the five years following 1981 when the S&P 500 gained 19.87% (annualized); the period following 1953’s loss, the S&P 500 generated 5-year annualized gains of 22.30%; and after the Great Depression’s 1931 loss of -43.34%, the S&P 500 went on to gain 22.47% over the next five years.

So, yes, we’ve seen this "incredible gains after losses" movie three times before. But we’ve been to the theatre expecting to see this movie a whopping 24 times. And yes, the market gains have been almost unbeatable lately, but they also aren’t necessarily the norm.

And also consider this. The S&P 500 is an asset-weighted index. Apple (APL) makes up 4% of the index, and it was up roughly 63% over the last 12 months.  That one stock is one of the only things that prevented a 1Q2015 S&P 500 loss. Eight of its other top 10 holdings were in the red. My point? This bull market could turn on a dime.

But I digress.

What I think we’re seeing with Utah (and a host of other investors, individual and institutional) is a classic case of budding FOMO. And the Fear of Missing Out is not generally a good investment strategy.

At the end of the day, did Utah (and any other investor who finds themselves in a similar position) make reasonable decisions based on the information they had at the time? Sure. Are others who jumped all in to the market rally now having a more rewarding experience than they are? You bet. Could the resultant FOMO potentially set investors up to become less sensitive to risk in their haste to “keep up”? Yup. Could that strategy eventually bite them in the ass? Uh yeah. And I’ll bet that will make for an interesting memo, too.

Sources:, International Business Times,

AuthorMeredith Jones

Generally speaking, I try to stay away from any public commentary about politics. However, recent activity by the “Hedge Clippers” is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, especially now that they have started showing up at personal residences (Paul Tudor Jones) and hedge fund conferences. Just yesterday, the Hedge Clippers burst into a 400-person investment conference (the 13D Monitor’s Active-Passive Investor Summit) to protest fast food workers wages. In fact, it will be interesting to see if the Clippers get, well, SALT-y next month, donchathink?

Now, before I continue, let me just say this: I get it. As the daughter of a single mother who worked in secondary and higher education all her working life, I extremely well equipped to see both sides of the socio-economic coin. Our society isn’t perfect and people are pissed. Post-2008 this ire has often and increasingly been directed at Wall Street. In recent months, however, anger seems to have coalesced around a single boogeyman: the hedge fund manager. And I just have to wonder: Is all that ire deserved or are hedgies just the easiest targets?

One of the biggest complaints of the Hedge Clippers is that hedge fund managers are “buying” politicians through heavy donations to political candidates. We do know that many in the financial industry take an interest in politics, but I thought it would be interesting to actually look at the top 100 political donors for 2014 and see what the numbers actually looked like. While there were certainly hedge funds that made the list, it may surprise the Hedge Clippers and others to know the facts behinds hedge funds and politics.

Out of the top 100 federal political donors in 2014, a mere 14 (that’s 14% for those of you playing along at home) were hedge fund managers. Perhaps more interestingly, of those 14 politically-minded hedge funds, a full 50% of them gave 100 percent of their donations to Democrat or Liberal candidates, while the other 50% primarily donated to Republican or Conservative candidates. That’s probably a lot more balanced than most folks would have expected.

In fact, if you want to get angry at folks just because they give large sums of money to political candidates, you should probably boycott films like The Help, Lincoln, Shrek and Cast Away because Dreamworks made the list of top 100 political donors. And don’t move, store or mail anything either: Uline was in the top 10 political donors for 2014. Maybe the Hedge Clippers should find new groups to help spread their message. I recommend these groups be called the Dream Killers and the Box Cutters, respectively.

However, yesterday’s protest beef centered primarily around minimum wage requirements for fast food workers. With chants of “Show us $15!” the Hedge Clippers are angry that “A group of activist investors are behind the big expansions in franchising at fast-food restaurants that have netted hundreds of millions in profits for hedge funds.”

And it’s that phrasing that kind of butters my toast. While a hedge fund is a profit-driven enterprise, they generally take a relatively small percentage (20%) of those profits. The rest of the returns go to end investors for whom the hedge funds act as fiduciaries.

Fiduciary responsibility means, at least in part, that the fund manager has a responsibility to act in the best interest of his or her investors, including, but not limited to doing things like behaving in an ethical way and making decisions to protect (and in the case of an asset manager) grow the assets of the firm. Perhaps the case Bristol and West Building Society v Mothew summed it up best when it concluded: “A fiduciary is someone who has undertaken to act for and on behalf of another in a particular matter in circumstances which give rise to a relationship of trust and confidence.”

And that’s interesting to note, since many pension plans, including teachers' pensions who have been early supporters of the Clippers, are investors in hedge funds. They are among the very beneficiaries of hedge funds who “extract maximum profits” through the use of activism and other hedge fund strategies. Neat, huh? In fact, not making “maximum profits” is often enough to trigger a redemption request.

Perhaps if the Hedge Clippers really want to enact change, they shouldn’t start with the people who have a fiduciary responsibility to generate profits for their end investors. Maybe they should start lobbying and educating end-investors about things like Socially Responsible or ESG Investing. In this particular fiduciary relationship, the bond of trust is not only to achieve returns, but to have an environmental, social or governance or other positive impact at the same time.

And the sustainable and responsible investment movement is definitely on the rise, growing 76% between 2012 and 2014. Unfortunately, interest in this space still has a ways to go. In a survey of the mass affluent conducted by Spectrem, social responsibility ranked dead last in importance in the investment selection process.  For those 64 and up (who perhaps not surprisingly have the highest mean wealth), when ranking on a scale between 0 and 100, scored socially responsible investing at a mere 30.7.

But looking ahead, the Hedge Clippers have something to be happy about. The mass affluent under 49 years old rated their interest in socially responsible investing at nearly 50, so the times they will be a-changing, and millennials are even more interested in impact investing. Over time, that interest in ESG will have more of an impact on investment options and strategies.  Until there is more of a wealth transfer, however, perhaps it’s better for groups like the Hedge Clippers to put pressure on the folks that really call the shots in our industry: Investors. 

Sources: CNBC, Policyshop, Millionaire Corner, Inc. Magazine,,

AuthorMeredith Jones

Throughout my childhood I owned and rode a bike. In the 70s and 80s, no one gave two figs whether I did so wearing a helmet or not. Seriously, we drank out of the garden hose and trick or treated at houses where we didn’t know people, too. Those were wild and crazy years.

In the 1990’s, however, someone decreed that biking was entirely too dangerous to be attempted without a helmet. I promptly stopped biking. For those of you that have met me, or who have even seen my picture, you probably recall one critical fact about my appearance: I have Big Hair Syndrome.’ And it ain’t fitting under a bike helmet.

Flash forward 20 years and we’re discovering some interesting facts about the bicycle helmet craze. In places where bicycle helmets were required by law, bike trips decreased by 30-40% across all demographic groups and by 80% across secondary school aged girls.

Unfortunately, when people gave up their bikes, they also gave up the health benefits of riding. One study by the Brits suggested that the health benefits (in terms of increased longevity) of riding outweighed the risk of injury by 20:1. A study done in Barcelona put this figure at 77:1. In Australia, they found 16,000 premature deaths caused by lack of physical activity dwarfed the roughly 40 cycling fatalities that occurred each year.

And that’s the curious thing about risk. You can focus on a single risk (in the case of biking, that a head-on collision will occur at 12.5 mph) to the exclusion of all else and actually increase your risk of other types of injury.

This is especially true in investments, where there is no single definition of risk. There are a multitude of risks against which to guard, and most of them have corresponding risks they introduce. For example, if you maximize the risk of illiquidity (the risk that you can’t get to your money when you need it) you may compromise returns. Private equity has been the best performing strategy over the last 10 years, but locks up capital for 5-10 years depending on the fund. Likewise, venture capital, which has been on fire for the last few years, has a 10 plus year lock up.  Requiring high liquidity restricts the types of investments you can make, which can impede diversification. More liquid investment structures can have lower returns than less liquid investments because they allow for people to trade at exactly the wrong times. Don’t you know someone who sold his or her mutual funds or index funds at the exact bottom of the market? In addition, there can also be a lower premium on more liquid instruments.

Or consider headline risk. Remember the Chicago Art Institute and Integral Capital? When Integral blew up and the Art Institute was a large, and the only, institutional investor in the fund, the headlines abounded. Since that time, there’s been an acknowledged risk of being in the headlines for losing money. For this reason, many investors stick to the same small group of funds so that they’re not alone should the ‘fit hit the shan.’ Unfortunately, this leaves a lot of smaller, less-well-known managers in the cold, and can compromise returns as well.  It also increases concentration in a small number of managers, funds and strategies.

And what about fee risks? Being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ can block access to some of the most successful (read: non-negotiable) managers and funds. It can also cause investors to eschew entire asset classes (private equity, hedge funds) increasing correlations and concentrations and reducing diversification. Or what about the risk of not beating a benchmark like the S&P 500? Chasing returns is not very productive in the long run, and it can cause investors to take unnecessary risks in order to beat a rising benchmark. It’s also difficult to outperform on both the up- and down-side, so targeting outsize bull market returns can lead to bear market catastrophes.

In short, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Protect yourself single-mindedly from one risk, and you just increase your odds of obtaining a different type of injury.



AuthorMeredith Jones

One night last weekend, I was in bed reading when I was distracted by a noise coming from the bookcase in my master bedroom. I heard a thump and then scratching. Convinced it was one of my pets messing with my suitcase, which was out and packed for a trip the next day, I ignored the sounds. Thump, scratch. Thump, scratch. Thump, scratch. Finally I sat up in bed to admonish my cat for being a pest, however I quickly noted that said cat was on the other side of the room. And he was staring intently at the bookcase.

Thump, scratch.

Thump, scratch.

When I got up to look more closely at the bookcase, the door actually opened a little bit. The thump of it shutting was followed immediately by scratching noises. I stared at the door. Thump, scratch. I wondered if I should open it and see what was in there. Thump, scratch. I was pretty convinced it was an animal. Thump, scratch. A squirrel perhaps. Thump, scratch. Maybe even a honey badger.

Thump, scratch.

Whatever it was, I was sure it had rabies.

Thump, scratch.

I called the wildlife removal company and asked if they could come in the morning. They assured me that they would be at my house at 8:00 am, and I went to bed downstairs – after taping the doors shut and barricading the rabid honey badger in the cabinet with an ottoman.


The wildlife people came to my house after I left for the airport, but called me to report on their findings before my flight took off.

“Ma’am, we’ve contained the situation,” they said.

“Was it a honey badger?” I asked.

“No, ma’am. Your DVD player turned on and was trying to open, which bumped the door. Then it spun and scratched the door, before shutting and trying to open again.”

Yes, the wild animal in my house was a vicious DVD player.

Why am I telling you this pretty humorous but somewhat embarrassing story? Because every person to whom I’ve told the story in person asked me the same question: “Why didn’t you open the cabinet door and look?” My answer? At the end of the day, I knew I had two long-term solutions to the problem. Either the wildlife folks would show up in 24 hours and remove the critter, or it would die and I could safely remove it myself with gloves and a shovel. I didn’t need to act right away, and doing so could actually have caused more damage.

The same thing is going on in the markets right now. The thumps and bumps of market volatility have a lot of folks spooked. But some people are checkers – they look at what the market is doing daily and try to develop a short-term solution. They are convinced if they act now, they can save themselves from whatever may be lurking in the dark. Other people are waiters. These folks develop a long-term solution and trust that their plan will work out for them in a defined period of time.  I’ll let you guess who sleeps more soundly through the thumps and scratches.

The key to surviving volatility, hysterical commentators, and even market corrections (which will happen), is to have a long-term plan. To be able to disengage enough from the noises in the night to ask the following questions:

“Would I buy this stock/invest in this manager/choose this strategy today?”

“Has anything fundamentally changed with this stock/manager/strategy or is this purely market movement?”

“Do I need liquidity from this investment now or in the immediate future?”

“What conditions would need to be in place for these undesirable changes to become the new status quo? Are those conditions likely to occur?”

By logically thinking through what might be causing the noise, it is possible to develop and stick to a plan that reduces reactivity and focuses on long-term goals and objectives. After all, in the words of Warren Buffett, “In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.”

 Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of active investing and I’m not saying, “let it ride no matter what!” I am not, however, a fan of re-active thinking. I believe successful investments require discipline. And while you might jump when you hear noises in the market, you need a plan and conviction to avoid letting the rampaging honey badger into your portfolio.

AuthorMeredith Jones

In Nashville, we have a weekly paper called “The Contributor” that is sold exclusively by badged homeless individuals on various street corners around town. The paper costs $2, and I make it a point to stop and buy one once a week or so. Now before the bleeding heart liberal accusations start flying, let me explain. “The Contributor” contains some of the world’s best advice couched in its “Hoboscope,” written by one Mr. Mysterio. It’s worth the price of admission every time.

In a recent Hoboscope, Mr. Mysterio provided the following nugget: “Assuming the worst will happen might make you cautious, but it never really makes you safe.” In investing, at least, truer words may never have been spoken.

We all know investors are motivated by fear and greed. I would postulate that our fear wins every time. Maybe it’s the fear of losing money. Perhaps it’s the fear of not keeping up with investing peers. It could be the fear of headline risk, or of paying “too much” for an investment. But our fears feed our investment decision-making, creating cautious investors who somehow remain far from safe.

Take me, for example. For the last several months I have been sniffing disaster on the markets like a dog with his nose out the car window. Having lived through LTCM, the tech wreck and 2008 as a professional investor, my thoughts often fly to all the bad things that can happen to my little nest egg. At the moment, and for much of recent history, I’m primarily in cash. In the meantime, however, I’ve missed significant market gains, which compromises both my current and future earnings. I’m certainly cautious, and I’ve avoided my worst-case scenario, but I haven’t made my financial situation significantly safer due to that particular trade.

Look at the institutional investor community. One of their greatest fears is that of headline risk a la the Art Institute of Chicago and Integral Investments. As a result, many choose to pile their assets into a very small number of large and established managers (the 500 or so that contain 90% plus of the hedge fund AUM).  Studies, including my own from 2006-2011, Preqin and eVestment, have shown that smaller funds tend to outperform their largest counterparts cumulatively and across more time periods, and that new funds have outperformed cumulatively and across all time periods.  However, just like no one ever got fired for buying IBM, it’s unlikely you’ll be fired for investing in Bridgewater or Paulson. But does sub-optimizing returns in a world of growing liabilities truly protect us, or does it just spare us the humiliation and/or hard work of investing in or potentially being wrong about a smaller or newer fund?

And finally, think about the investors that remain all too focused on fees. Overpaying for an investment is a capital crime for a host of investors. They hope to simultaneously optimize returns by saving a few basis points and avoid the headline describing how much they paid their portfolio managers last year. Unfortunately, their fear can result in negative selection bias (only investing with lower cost funds or funds who will cut fees), going direct in an investment arena where they may not have sufficient expertise, or eschewing certain investments altogether. The illusion of safety is created, where their caution may in fact be creating its own set of risks.

Regrettably, I can’t tell you how to solve this conundrum. Let’s face it: I’m no Mr. Mysterio. I can only advise that when we think through our worst case investment scenario, we focus on all of the factors that need to be in place to make us truly “safe.” Not just on the one or two problems that keep us up at night.