Even if the songs tell us it's the most wonderful time of the year, when bells will be ringing and children are singing, for many emerging fund managers, the holidays may simply be the end of another difficult year of fundraising. To help you navigate any holiday season depression and just maybe put things in perspective a bit, I've put together a guide to managing the 5 Stages of Emerging Manager Grief. I hope it (combined with a lovely hot buttered rum) eases you through the holiday season.
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
Every time I turn around, I find a manager looking for seed capital. Many are frustrated with what I like to call "second dollar syndrome" - the fact that everyone seems happy to be the second dollar in your fund, but few want to commit the first dollar - and dream of a seed investment as a way out of the fund raising drudgery.
If you're on the early-stage capital trail, it can be helpful to understand the nuance of seeding and acceleration capital so you know better when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, know who's 'bout to walk away and who's there to fund. So here are a few pointers that apply to seed and accelerator capital (even if it just says seed in some spots for brevity's sake) that I hope lead you to your own vat of miracle grow.
This week, I decided to spare everyone my usual delivery of salty commentary on the investment arena and instead, use two pictures to say my 1,000 words.
So here's this week's blog in cartoon format. Of course, as badly as I draw and with the economic outlook uncertain, these may actually only be worth 500 (or even 5) words. But hopefully you'll get my general drift that:
- Asset managers can limit themselves by pursuing the biggest, splashiest and easiest to find investors, and
- Investors can limit themselves by not casting a wide enough net when looking for investments.
Oh, and apologies to Raiders of the Lost Ark...although maybe this attempt at spoofing humor will inspire you to watch it again.
How many times have you sat through a panel presentation at an investment conference only to be bored out of your damn mind by one session or another?
The topic of the session doesn’t matter. It can be a session on anything from the tax treatment of investments to investors writing actual checks to fund managers on stage - investment porn if you will.
Indeed, there is only one thing that can kill a panel discussion faster than Raid kills roaches: overwhelming consensus.
“I agree with the prior panelists that (restate what you’ve just heard).”
“I agree with the prior three panelists that (restate again what you’ve just heard two times already).”
“Bob, do you have anything to add here?” “Well, I actually agree with Pat and Mary and that gentleman in the audience…”
C’mon, you know you’ve been there. And whether you’re in the audience or actually on the conference stage, a part of you wants to pick up a chair, throw it, and start chanting “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!”
Ok, maybe that’s just me.
Now don’t get me wrong, generally I’m a fan of consensus. Consensus over where to eat dinner, what bottle of wine to order, whether or not a particular outfit makes my butt look big - these are good things on which to have input and universal agreement.
But when it comes to investing, I look for a few renegades, rogues and innovators and prioritize utility over unanimity, potential benefit over style and strategy boxes, because that's where excess value lives.
Last week, Palgrave, the publisher of my 2015 tome Women of the Street: Why Female Money Managers Generate Higher Returns (And How You Can Too), and I launched a Twitter poll. Roughly 130 Tweeters (Twitterers?) responded to the question: “Why do you think gender diversity is important in investing is important?”
This multiple-choice poll offered the following options for answers: Underrepresentation, Higher Returns, Diverse Behavior/Views, and Not Important.
The winning answer (39%) in the poll was “Diverse Behavior/Views”, which was great because that’s essentially my book in a nutshell, and I love the smell of validation in the morning.
I was, however, somewhat stunned that the second most popular answer (30%) was “Not Important.”
Uh, what? How can diverse views and behavior NOT be important in this industry? After all, the investment industry is overwhelmingly Caucasian, male and 35+, and the fund landscape (no matter what the asset class) is dominated by a few large investment firms …and if that ain’t a prime breeding ground for painful consensus, I don’t know what is.
Look, it’s undeniable that some level of consensus is necessary in investing (otherwise you will own a stock, company, bond or other instrument that never increases in value 'cos no one agrees with you about the value), but when we drift towards overwhelming consensus, I believe our ability to make money is diminished. And nothing pisses me off like missing out on returns.
Let’s take venture capital, for example.
- Data from the Martin Prosperity Institute shows that 25.3% of venture capital is invested in San Francisco/San Jose.
- Data from Forbes/Statista shows that 36.2% of venture capital is directed towards software companies, with another 17.3% going into biotechnology.
- And data from PitchBook shows that 45% of venture capitalists with MBAs matriculated from Harvard, Wharton or Stanford.
That's a whole heapin' helpin' of consensus.
To oversimplify a bit, that means you end up with a Venn Diagram of geography, network and industry that looks a lot like the one below, where anything that is overlapping spells some level of competition (higher valuations, similar concepts, etc.).
But start to change even one thing around and you could end up with increased opportunity. What if you look at the same industries and you went to Harvard, but you focus on, I don’t know, the Southeast, for example? Would it make sense that you might find some highly interesting investments that others might not, or are all the good ideas on the coasts? Or maybe you change your network. With so little capital directed to women and minority entrepreneurs, what if you cultivated a different network (or hired people with differentiated networks) to find out-of-the-box opportunities? Could that open up a new avenue for excess returns? The capitalist in me says, “Yes!” Differences can be good.
The same types of things happen in other parts of the investment spectrum, too. I’ve discussed in prior blogs research showing that long-only “benchmark huggers” have less chance of outperformance, (http://www.aboutmjones.com/mjblog/2016/5/3/kicking-the-buckets) and if you think about it, the same should generally be true for hedge funds.
For example, equity hedge funds make up roughly 30% of the overall hedge fund universe by number, and roughly 40% by assets under management. Many of these funds focus on US investment markets, and the vast majority are also managed by white males. This creates a universe of funds that potentially has a similar universe of investment opportunities, similar information available and similar behavior patterns, which can limit outperformance. By modifying one aspect, behavior for example, could we open ourselves up to a differentiated or even higher return? What if we looked at *truly* different strategies? What if…?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-anything that generates (or exceeds) my expected return, and the reason that assets tend to concentrate the way they do is that those firms, industries, strategies, etc. often have a history of success.
But as an industry watcher, I can’t help but wonder what kinds of returns would be possible if investors and asset management firms changed their perspective just a bit and took a road less traveled every once in a while. If we wondered less about how much an investment or new hire or strategy looks like past success and instead asked how it is differentiated and could contribute to our overall success. I’m guessing we’d end up with increased diversification, higher returns and a myriad of other tangential benefits, not the least of which is fewer torturous panels.
Sources:http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/global-startup-cities-venture-capital/429255/ , http://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/06/27/which-industries-attract-the-most-venture-capital-infographic/#4b07db986778, https://pitchbook.com/news/articles/harvard-4-other-schools-make-up-most-mbas-at-pe-vc-firms
Please note the MJ Alts blog is now posted on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.
A few years ago, I went to Vienna to give a pre-conference workshop at a hedge fund conference. Because I had more than one connection, I checked my luggage, which I almost never do. When I arrived at the Vienna airport and retrieved my luggage, I discovered that it was soaked with a mysterious pink liquid. Everything in my bag was moist, a little fragrant and a lovely shade of rose.
I rushed out into the Vienna evening to purchase something to wear to the event the next day and was at least able to score some skivvies and something to sleep in before the shops closed. I sent those and a suit out to the hotel cleaning service immediately upon my return to the Vienna Hilton.
After two hours, there was a knock on the door.
“Fraulein Jones! We have your laundry!”
I opened the door and was greeted by a white-gloved hotel staffer holding a few coat hangers in one hand, and a silver tray above his head in the other. As I stood slack-jawed and jet-lagged in the doorway, the tray was lowered to my eye level.
On it were my neatly folded and laundered undies. Which had been paraded in all of their unmentionable glory through the entire conference hotel.
The next morning, the “room service undies” story was the talk of the event. I, or at least my underclothes, was the highlight of the conference.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciated the professional Austrian laundry service. The prompt delivery to my door before I collapsed into bed was lovely, too. But much like Goldilocks, there was a desired level of service that was too much, one that was too little, and one that was just right. I’m not sure I quite needed the white gloves. And the silver panty platter? Well, let’s just say that was straight-up overkill.
It’s not much different in hedge fund land either. At another conference last week, I had the pleasure of sitting next to two gentlemen who were running a small hedge fund. They gave me their elevator pitch (interesting) and then peppered me with some questions about how to take their fund to the next level. It wasn’t long before the question of service providers came up.
“Just how important are our service providers anyway?” they wanted to know. “We’re a small fund and we really need to be cost conscious, so can we get by with what we have?” they asked.
Unfortunately for them, the answer was a fairly unequivocal “no.” They were using individuals, not firms, for the most part. And while inexpensive, these individuals were almost certain to cause problems in one of three areas eventually.
- Scalability – When a fund is small, the number of LPs may also be quite low. This means fewer K-1s, usually no tax-exempt or offshore investors, few requirements to register with a regulatory body or file ongoing forms, no separate accounts, etc. If you are dealing primarily with your own money and that of your friends and family, then your uncle’s friend’s cousin’s accountant son-in-law may be sufficient for your needs. But as a fund grows, the demands on fund infrastructure and service providers evolve. An administrator who can handle money-laundering regulations becomes mandatory as you accept offshore dollars. Audited financials, not just a performance review, are essential. Late or incorrect K-1s become a kiss of death. It is essential to pick service providers that can grow with your fund.
- Due diligence – And speaking of growth, it is also vital that your service providers aid the expansion of assets under management, rather than impede capital raising. The last thing a fund manager should want in an already extensive and extended due diligence process is to force an investor to have to investigate a service provider, too. If you don’t select service providers with at least a basic level of “street cred,” then investors must evaluate not just your skills and organization, but the skill and organization of the groups that support you. And this flies in the face of one of the best pieces of advice a fund manager can hear: “Make it EASY for investors to allocate. The more impediments you put on the road to an investment, the less likely someone will actually send you a wire.“
- Level of service – Finally, while I’m sure Aunt Sally’s friend’s neighbor’s daughter is great at creating account statements each month, she probably isn’t going to invite you to industry events, hold webinars on topics that are pertinent to your business or have value-add service like cap intro or strategic consulting. Just like it’s important to make it easy on investors to invest, it is equally important to make it easy on yourself to grow. The straight money-for-service trade is only part of the equation – you have to evaluate whether there is additional “bang for your buck” that you may miss by being penny wise and pound foolish.
Having said all this, I do believe there is a Goldilocks principle at work with fund service providers too. To use my Vienna analogy, you do want to make sure you can get dressed in the morning, but many managers probably don’t need their drawers delivered on a silver tray.
For those looking to play exclusively in institutional investor markets, the biggest names may be essential, but for many hedge funds, there are a range of players (and price points) available. Several publications, like Hedge Fund Alert for example, provide rankings of service providers based on their total number of SEC filings. This can be great starting point for managers looking for firms with experience (and name recognition) in the industry. Ask around and see who other fund managers use as well. At the end of the day, pick a competent, reputable, scalable provider with value-added services at a price point that seems like a good trade for those services.
Now clearly, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, so all y’all fund managers should ultimately do what you want. But since so many of you might have already seen my undies, I felt we were close enough for me to offer this unsolicited advice.
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.
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.
HEDGE FUND TRUTH ANIMATED SERIES
WOMEN AND INVESTING
EVERYONE HATES ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS (ESPECIALLY HEDGE FUNDS)
FUND RAISING & INVESTOR RELATIONS
GENERAL INVESTING INSIGHTS
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.
Those of you that have heard me speak on more than one occasion have probably heard me utter the phrase "Investing in emerging managers is like sex in high school. Lots of talk, very little action." In full disclosure, Jim Dunn of Verger was the first to utter those words, but they are so apropos that I have sense borrowed them for myself once or twice. (Thanks Jim!)
This week, I had the opportunity to informally poll investors and emerging managers, this time in the form of women-run funds, and that wonderful turn of phrase proved apt once again. In fact, I could almost hear Mike Damone saying "I can see it all now, this is gonna be just like last summer. You fell in love with that girl at the Fotomat, you bought forty dollars worth of [freakin'] film, and you never even talked to her. You don't even own a camera."
Indeed, it does seem as if investors often spend a lot of time stalking the camera store, but never getting the picture. So I decided to ask the audience of managers and investors at last weeks 100 Women in Hedge Funds Senior Practitioner Workshop where we stand and what could help the situation. Here's what I learned.
1) Some women-run funds may be getting lucky, but action is still sparse.
2) Managers feel that a number of things impede their ability to raise capital, but investors are focused primarily on only two issues: supply and size.
3) And the answer to what would make investing in women-run funds easier? Three words: Binders of Women. Just kidding, but better data sources for women-run funds, better consultant buy-in and the mysterious answer "other" all ranked pretty high. Some of the suggestions for "other" included more seed capital to help overcome AUM objections and more networking with managers you don't already know.
And, while these responses were specifically geared towards women owned and women run funds, in my conversations with investors, the issues are not entirely dissimilar for minority owned and run funds, or really any other emerging manager.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let's work the problem and see if there aren't good solutions to these issues. It will be healthy for me to have to come up with a new, creative and vaguely offensive way to describe the industry.
And please take a moment to support 100 Women in Hedge Funds as they are part of the solution and the reason I could run this quirky poll in the first place!
Less than one score and seven years ago, it was relatively easy for hedge funds and other private fund vehicles to gain early stage capital. They went to their networks of high net worth individuals, let a little word of mouth work its magic, and then waited for early investments to roll in. Due diligence was minimal, who you knew was paramount and a rising tide (the Bull Market) lifted all ships. If it hadn’t been for the shoulder pads, it might have been the golden age of hedge funds.
Now, of course, raising early stage capital is a whole different ballgame. From seeders to bootstrapping to joint ventures to Founders’ Share classes, there are a host of options available to emerging managers who want assets, although frankly most work better in theory than they do in practice.
Lately, most of the buzz has surrounded Founders’ Share capital. And for managers that are unable to secure bulk early stage financing from a seeder, founders’ shares may hold some appeal.
Founders’ shares generally reduce management fees by up to 50 basis points, while incentive fees may be reduced by up to 5 percent. Founders’ shares are generally offered for a limited time for only early mover investors and are discontinued when a specific asset level or time threshold is passed. Founders’ Shares, and their reduced fees, remain in effect as long as the investor maintains an allocation to the fund.
Founders’ Shares have a lot of perceived benefits, including:
- Founders’ Shares sound cool. Seriously. Investors feel more like they’ve build something, and that can be appealing to some.
- They create urgency. Because Founders’ Shares are only offered until a certain AUM threshold is reached, or for a certain period of time, theoretically this “limited time offer” should encourage investors to pull the allocation trigger. Hey, it works for Ronco...
- They entice fee-wary investors without sacrificing the entire fee structure of the fund.
However, just because they sound good in theory doesn’t mean they are a panacea for every fund.
- Managers should consider the capacity of the fund. If the capacity is low, the amount allowed in founders’ share classes must be balanced to prevent a general loss of profitability for the fund.
- Institutional investors who insist on a “most favored nation” clause may be eligible to receive the reduced fee structure. As a result, it is important to discuss any legal ramifications of founders’ shares with counsel.
- Marketing materials must be created that clearly outline the opportunity for early investors. These materials (as well as any databases to which you’ve reported fees) must be updated when the initial “founding period” is over.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s important to remember that sacrificing fee revenue is most dangerous when assets under management are low. Once a firm or fund has attracted $1 billion in AUM, even a 1% management fee will generate $10 million in fee revenues in a flat year. For a $100 million fund, that fee revenue falls to $2 million in a 2% and 20% scenario, and $1 million in a 1% and 20% scenario (assuming flat performance).
And of course, those numbers are BEFORE expenses. Citibank estimates that a typical $100 million hedge fund must spend $2,440,000 each year to keep the fund running. Factoring that into the equation, it’s easy to see how quickly a fund can go from hero to zero, particularly if performance doesn’t pan out.
So I said all that to say this. Founders’ Shares can be a great thing if used judiciously, but please do the math to determine how much of a great thing you can stand to offer.
During an unbelievable number of meetings with investors and managers, I hear the same two refrains:
“We’re looking for the next Blackstone.”
“We think we’re the next Blackstone.”
It’s enough to make you wonder if such success is commonplace or if we’re all overreaching just a teeny bit.
Well, I’ve shaken my Magic Eight Ball and the answer is this, at least for newer funds: “Outlook Not So Good.”
Recently, on a boring Sunday afternoon, I decided to go through Institutional Investor’s list of the 100 largest hedge funds and figure out when each fund company launched.
Yes, clearly I need more hobbies.
But the results (as well as my lack of social life) were pretty shocking. There are no funds within the top 100 that launched during the last 5 years. There are only 4 funds in the top 100 that launched within the last 10 years. In fact, nearly 70% of the top 100 hedge fund firms launched before the first iPod.
Obviously, this begs a question: Where are all the new Blackstones?
Whatever complaints can be lobbed at hedge funds, I do find it hard to believe that the talent pool has deteriorated to such a degree that there just isn’t a supply of skilled fund managers available. On the other hand, I do have a few theories on what forces may be at work.
- Change In Investor Dynamics: For a long time, hedge funds were the investment hunting ground of high net worth individuals and family offices. In fact, pre-1998 saw little to no meaningful investment of institutional capital into hedge funds, and investment activity into hedge funds didn’t accelerate markedly until after the Tech Wreck. But by 2011, 61% of all capital in hedge funds was institutional capital. But why should this matter? Imagine you’re an institutional investor with $1 billion or more to invest into hedge funds. Imagine you have a board. Imagine you have headline risk. Imagine you are hit on by every fund marketer known to man if you go to a conference. Imagine you have policies that dictate the percent of assets under management that your allocation can represent. Now, try to put that capital to work in a reasonable number of high-performing hedge funds. It seems reasonable to assume that the investing constraints of being a large institutional investor would drive allocations towards larger funds with longer track records. Just like you never get fired for buying IBM, it’s unlikely you’ll be canned for investing with Blackstone, AQR, Credit Suisse or other big name fund complexes.
- Market Timing: According to HFR, assets in hedge funds grew from $490.6billion in 2000 to nearly $1.9 trillion in 2007, or more than 287%. One of the reasons for this surge in assets is, I believe, prevailing market conditions. Having just exited one of the greatest bull markets in history and entered two of only four 10-year losing streaks in the history of the S&P 500, hedge funds had an opportunity to well, hedge, and as a result, outperform the markets. Unlike the last 6-ish years (recent months notwithstanding), where hedge funds have been heavily criticized for “underperforming” during an almost unchecked market run-up, market conditions were more favorable to hedged strategies between 2000 and 2008. This allowed managers with already established track records and AUM to capitalize on market and investor demographic trends and secure their dominant status going forward.
- Evolving Fund Management Landscape: Let’s face it – the financial world was a kinder and gentler place before 2008. Ok, that’s total BS, but it was less regulated. Hedge funds were not required to register with the SEC, file Form PF, hire compliance officers, have compliance manuals, comply with AIFMD, FATCA and a host of other regulatory burdens. As a result, firms formed prior to 2005 did perhaps have an overhead advantage over their newer brethren. Funds today don’t break even until they raise between $250 and $350 million in AUM, and barriers to entry have certainly grown. Add to this that more than 90% of capital has gone to funds with $1billion+ under management post-2008 and a manager would practically have to have perfectly aligned stars, impeccable performance and perhaps have made some sort of live sacrifice to achieve basic hedge fund dominance, let alone titan status.
This is not to say that newer funds haven’t made it into the “Billion Dollar Club” or that rarified air of 500 or so hedge funds that manage the bulk of investor assets. It is, however, a stark look at how we define expectations and success on both the investor and manager side of the equation. If 40 is the new 30 and orange is the new black, is $500 million or $1 billion in AUM the new yardstick for hedge funds? Time will tell, but I’m wondering if the Magic 8-Ball isn’t on to something.
As I prepare to move from one demographic checkbox to another later this week, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time wandering down memory lane. I’ve re-watched the movies from my youth, including Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Caddyshack and Smokey & The Bandit. I’ve gotten in touch with my inner Carlton Banks during a stirring, post-wedding live band rendition of “Footloose.” And I’m pretty sure when Loggins sang “everybody cut, everybody cut, everybody cut Footloose!” he wasn’t talking to me.
I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about all the things I know now and all the stuff I have yet to learn.
For my 45th year, I plan to keep learning as much as possible. I’m going to surf camp for a week. I will finally learn how to do a proper figure skating sit spin. I vow to discover how to drive with more limited use of my middle finger. And of course, I hope to continue to figure out how to be a better investor, researcher and snarky advocate for the alternative investment industry.
When reflecting on what I do know I know, however, I did come up with some truths that constantly guide my investment decisions and unsolicited advice. They’ve become the North Star of my investment world, so to speak. And as luck would have it, there’s exactly one for each decade, with one to grow on. How fitting!
One: Continuous outperformance is a myth. Every manager screws up, gets caught with their portfolio pants down, or otherwise loses money from time to time. Finding the managers that minimize those downturns, can admit to and learn from mistakes, doesn’t keep making the same mistakes and, perhaps most importantly, live to invest another day is the real trick. Frankly, the only managers I’ve ever seen that never posted losses were frauds or, um, otherwise a bit creative in how they marked their portfolios.
Two: Between investing early and late, I’ll take early any day. In 2006, I started researching the outperformance of emerging managers. In 2010, I started researching women and minority run funds. Thus far, investors have largely ignored those groups in favor of the same old, same old. As an investor friend of mine once quipped: “Investing in emerging managers is like sex in high school, even though everyone talks about it, no one actually does it.” Despite the lack of investors putting their money where my mouth is, I remain convinced there’s significant alpha to be had with these groups. The lesson? Just because the packaging doesn’t look familiar doesn’t mean there’s not goodies inside. The same thing goes for new trends for venture capitalists, out-of-favor investments, sectors or strategies. Early bird, meet worm.
Three: Any way you can invest involves risk. Whether you keep money in a checking account, invest in hedge funds, index funds, actively, passively, in real assets, conservatively or aggressively, there is a risk you will lose money or not make enough money, or that you will not have access to your money or otherwise lose out. My Grannie kept money stuffed in the pockets of the clothes in her closet because she thought that was risk free, but she missed out on any potential profits and, obviously, her returns lagged inflation. Not to mention: what if the house burned down? There are no risk-free investments. Period.
Four: Investment professionals (and anyone else) that truly want to rip you off will find a way to do so. Having said that, the best way for them to accomplish that is to build blind trust. After all, the “con” in con artist is short for confidence. Most of the big scams in investing couldn’t happen without trust, and most of the time those closest to the bad actor are the first to get victimized. Think Bernie Madoff who bilked members of his religious community and other friends and family. Obviously, you need to trust your investment professionals by all means or you’ll never sleep at night, but never forget to at least periodically verify.
And one to grow on: Look out for zebras, but don’t forget about the horses. A recent venture capital fraud case involved not a sophisticated cyber fraud or complex skimming techniques. The perpetrator merely added a “1” to a check, changing $8 million to $18 million. Occam wasn’t wrong: It’s not always the most sophisticated schemes or black swans that cause losses. Sometimes the ordinary can be just as dangerous.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your investing career? Feel free to sound off in the comments below with your best advice. And please follow me on Twitter (@MJ_Meredith_J) if you prefer your snark in 140 characters or less.
I’m a data nerd. I know it. You know it. It’s not like it’s a big secret. My name is Meredith Jones, and I let my geek flag fly.
So it’s no wonder that my nerdy spidey senses tingled late last week and early this week with the release of two new hedge fund studies. The first was eVestment Alliance’s look at small and young funds - version 2.0 of the emerging manager study I first launched at PerTrac in 2006. The second study, authored by hedge fund academic heavy weights Andrew Lo, Peter Lee and Mila Getmansky, looks at the impact of various database biases on aggregate hedge fund performance.
Neither paint a particularly bright picture of the overall hedge fund landscape.
So why aren’t I, Certified Data Nerd and long-time research of hedge funds, rolling around on the floor in piles of printed copies of each study right now? Because, in addition to being a total geek when it comes to a good pile of data, I’m also a big ol’ skeptic, and never moreso than when it comes to hedge fund data.
Here’s the thing, y’all. Hedge fund data is dirty. Actually, maybe even make that filthy. It's "make my momma want to slap me" dirty. Which is why it is critical to understand exactly what it is you may be looking at before jumping to any portfolio-altering conclusions. Some considerations:
One of the reasons I imagine Lo et al undertook their latest study was to show just how dirty hedge fund data is. They looked at backfill bias and survivor bias primarily, within the Lipper Tass database specifically. Their conclusion? When you adjust for both biases, the annualized mean return of hedge funds goes from 12.6% to 6.3%.
However, let’s consider the following:
No hedge fund database contains the entirety of the hedge fund universe. A 2010, comprehensive study of the hedge fund universe (again, that I completed for PerTrac) showed that 18,450 funds reported performance in 2009. Generally speaking, hedge fund databases cover roughly 7,500 or fewer “live” hedge funds. So, no matter what database you use, there is sample bias from the get go.
And while backfill bias and survivor bias do exist, so does participation bias.
Because a fund’s main motivation to participate in a hedge fund database is marketing, if a fund does particularly poorly (survivor bias) or particularly well (participation bias) it may stop reporting or it may never report. For example, of the top ten funds identified by Barron’s in 2014, three don’t report to Lipper Tass, two are listed as dead, two more aren’t reporting current data and three do report and are current. This could be sample bias or it could be participation bias. Hell, I suppose it could be survivor bias in some way. In any case, it does show that performance gleaned from hedge fund databases could be artificially low, not just artificially high.
As for emerging manager studies – they run into a totally different bias – one I’ll call barbell bias.
Unfortunately, due to wildly unbalanced asset flows over the last five years towards large funds, 85% of all hedge funds now manage less than $250 million. More than 50% of funds manage less than $100 million. Indeed, the hedge fund industry looks a little bit like this:
Some of you may remember my “Fun With Dots” blog from a few months ago. Using that same concept (each dot represents a hedge fund, each block has 100 dots and each line 1,000 dots, for a total of 10,000 dots, or funds) the Emerging vs. Emerged universe looks like this:
What’s interesting about this is, at least mathematically speaking, every fund in the large and mid sized category could have been outperformed by a smaller fund counterpart, but because of the muting effect that comes from having such a large bucket of small funds, the small fund category could still underperform.
Now, of course, I still found both studies to be wildly interesting and I recommend reading both. Again: Nerd. I also know that people have poked at my studies over the years as well, which, frankly, they should. Part of the joy of being a research nerd is having to defend your methodology. In addition, most people do the best they can with the data they’ve got, but it’s not for nothing that Mark Twain stated there are “Lies, damn lies and statistics."
What I am saying is this: Take all studies with a grain of salt. Yes, even mine.
In hedge funds - perhaps more than anywhere else, your mileage may vary. You may have small funds that kicked the pants off of every large fund out there. Your large funds may have outperformed your emerging portfolio. You may have gotten closer to 12% than 6% across your hedge fund universe (or vice versa). Part of the performance divergence may come from the fact that it’s hard to even know what the MPG estimates should be in the first place, which is why it’s critical to come up with your own return targets and expectations and measure funds against those indicators and not industry “standards.”
Sources: Barron's, CNBC, Bloomberg, LipperTass, MJ Alts, PerTrac, eVestment Alliance