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:


Shakespearean Insult.png

Last week, MarketWatch ran an OpEd on hedge funds that managed to insult nearly every participant in the financial marketplace. Hedge funds were described as “dethroned kings” ruling over an “empire of fools.” Hedge funds are a “cautionary tale” filled with insider trading, poor performance and investor backlash. Why, it is so bad that investors are no longer “dazzled” and hedge funds may be as bad as (gasp!) mutual funds.

I read that article with its virtually Shakespearean array of insults and actually wondered where the author keeps his money. Some folks have wagered it’s either under the bed or in Bitcoin, although I suppose there’s a slight chance it could be in a sock in the freezer. (Friendly note: that’s one of the first places that a thief will check.)

For those of you that are regular readers of my blog, you know that I’ve dealt with a number of the assertions in this article before. Let’s start with performance. There are few places where the phrase “Your Mileage May Vary” is as applicable as it is in the world of hedge funds. While there is no doubt that the average hedge fund return was anemic in comparison to the (insert sarcasm here) infallible S&P 500, an average provides merely that – the arithmetic mean of the top and bottom performers (and everything in between).

Assuming that all hedge funds generated lackluster returns because the average hedge fund did is just, well, silly. You can look at articles such as this CNBC piece or this ZeroHedge article to see hedge funds that didn’t just outperform their industry average, but kicked the pants off of the S&P 500 as well. There were funds that were up 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent 60 percent or more, to which I simply say “Thank you, sir, may I please have another?”  (And for those of you that are wondering, that's from Animal House, not Fifty Shades of Grey.)

For more information on The Truth About Hedge Fund Performance, check out my video blog from last quarter.

I’m also not going to get too deeply into the fee equation as I’ve touched on that a time or two as well. I think the last time was a mere two weeks ago in a blog post about duct tape.

But I have to say, what really buttered my toast this time around was the assertion that, in addition to being greedy underperformers, hedge funds have the corner on the insider trading market as well. The hedge fund inclination to insider trading came up twice in MarketWatch’s short post.

So before we start to tar hedge funds with that particular brush, let’s look at SEC data on enforcement actions, shall we?

The chart below shows all SEC enforcement actions across type and year. Note that insider trading is a relatively small category of enforcement actions. Year over year, insider trading accounts for an average of less than 8 percent of the actions of the SEC, with an average of about 50 insider trading enforcement actions per year.



Now, even if ALL of the insider trading was committed by hedge funds, it would still represent a very small proportion of the hedge fund world. Take the ever-present 10,000 fund estimate that the industry favors: If all 50 of those annual insider trading schemes occurred in a hedge fund, then 0.05 percent of hedge funds would in fact be knaves and rapscallions.

But we know that insider trading is not solely committed by hedge funds. How do we know? We can again check out and get a sense of who does commit this crime. Some of my particular favorites? Accounting firm partners, amateur golfers, vitamin company former board member, drug trial doctors, former BP employee, two husbands, Green Mountain Coffee employee, and the list goes on. And it’s true that some of these folks made millions in ill-gotten gains, although one guy got only $35,000 and a jet-ski dock. That dude must LOVE to jet ski.

Look, I’m not saying that some hedge fund managers haven’t done bad things. There certainly are hedge funds represented on the insider-trading list, and just today there was an article on a manager that faked his death to avoid paying back investors. But shenanigans aren’t limited to hedge funds and finance. For example, cell phone companies generate about 38,420 complaints per year, in comparison.

At the end of the day, I just wonder how good it is for the finance industry or for investors to totally defame the entire investment industry and slam hedge funds in particular. I am a fan of exploring all my investment options. Attempting to remove those options through “fund shaming” is ultimately bad for me and other investors. To the extent this kind of misinformation impacts inflows, encourages closures and causes qualified investors to dismiss hedge funds out of hand, it can only result in fewer investment options, lower returns and higher correlations and volatility.