Alternative Markets Review 2018
2018 started as strongly as it finished in 2017, but spikes in volatility caught hedge funds unprepared and highlighted the weaknesses of the industry. The rest of the year continued in the same pattern with major political risks adding to the problem such as Brexit outcome, European elections, end of quantitative easing and trade war. The fourth quarter and equities sell-off since October ruined hedge funds hopes to rebound and sank them deeper into their losses. Event-driven and equity hedge strategies were the worst performers among hedge funds, followed by systematic CTA and macro strategies. For our in-house strategies, the scenery was slightly altered as the worst performing asset class was tactical trading. Underperformance of cryptocurrency and CTAs are the main drivers of the underperformance compared to other indices, despite the strong performance of our global macro and market neutral strategies. Equities globally suffered severe losses, similar to the majority of our in-house strategies. Our niche equity strategies focusing on disruptive techno-
logies and directors' dealing though posted strong returns and constitute our best two performing strategies for 2018, consequently leading to a relative outperformance of peer indices. Direct lending and structured credit enjoyed a good year assisting in our credit index's outperformance. Only two out of eight strategies posted losses for a year, when equity and credit largely disappointed their investors. Overall, our cross-asset and single manager index posted losses for the year due to our tactical trading underperformance, but still performed better than the majority of the individual indices.
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Our in-house strategies in credit, equity and fund of funds, as measured by our indices, have performed better in the first half of the year than their traditional and alternative peers. Tactical trading is still lagging due to the struggling performance of the actively managed altcoin strategy this year mainly driven by falling bitcoin prices. Equities are the top performing and the bucket that has the most representatives in the top-5 performing table, followed by credit/fixed income strategies.
Hedge funds started 2017 under pressure and the overall industry’s model was in question. Performance and fees were the main topic of debate among investors at the beginning of the year, but hedge funds managed to pull a strong year with no down month. Despite losses from some large managers, the industry overall generated strong returns according to HFR data attracting more capital. Per HFR, total hedge fund industry AuM increased by $59bn to $3.21tr, the sixth consecutive quarterly record for total industry AuM. The inflows suggest a sign of regained optimism, but the industry will need to sustain its performance long-term in order to regain its calibre. The oxymoron of the industry is the fact that equity hedge were the best performing strategies amongst hedge funds but suffered the biggest outflows. Macro, CTAs and multi-strategy attracted more capital this year, and given the outlook for more volatility and less central bank intervention, investors target further allocations in those sub-sectors.
Stone Mountain Capital Strategies
2017 was the year producing the strongest return for hedge funds since 2013 and second best since 2009. Stone Mountain Capital strategies outperformed in last year’s environment across all asset classes. Credit was the only strategy underperforming its peers, caused by yield compression in the direct lending space. One, out of only three negative strategies was in credit, while the other two, were CTAs that struggled amid the low volatility and trendless environment. Despite these two strategies, tactical trading was overall the best performing strategy with strong returns generated by discretionary global macro and cryptocurrency. Equities enjoyed a very profitable year and Stone Mountain Capital’s mandated equity hedge managers produced astonishing returns, beating their traditional and alternative peers. Finally, fund of hedge funds recovered from their 2016 losses, surviving while the industry’s model is evolving.
Figure 3. Stone Mountain Capital In-House Indices vs. Major Benchmark Indices Hedge Funds and Long Only in 2017, Stone Mountain Capital Research; SMC strategy indices are not investable products but are used as indication of our managers' performance and are calculated with the equally-weighted method.
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Bitcoin is enjoying a plenty of attention lately due to the rally in its price driven by its usage as frictionless payment solution and the catalyst: the ambitious plans of the Winklevoss brothers to launch the first bitcoin ETF. Friday, 10th March though was the day that SEC rejected the brothers’ ETF application, which could have been a ‘revolution’ for the digital currency in the investment space, like the first Gold ETF, due to the anticipated inflow of new institutional capital. The same day, after the ETF disapproval, the price of Bitcoin plunged to levels around $1000, which constituted an almost 18.5% decrease intraday. Bitcoin price recovered immediately and currently trades around $1230, proving that the drivers of demand for the digital currency are strong regardless of the launch of an ETF. We are living in the age of the machines, where investors are looking for fintech, artificial intelligence and machine learning supported products to source uncorrelated alpha for their investment portfolios. This perspective will examine the Bitcoin and CTA market to analyze its effect on investors’ portfolios.
There are hundreds of different cryptocurrencies, but only two managed so far to distinguish themselves and establish a market. Bitcoin is the most capitalized with current market capitalization being around $20bn. Ethereum, its only relevant peer so far, has a market cap of around $2bn. Bitcoin is the main player in the cryptocurrency spectrum and its growth is significant over the last 3 years. Since 2014, $15bn of new capital has boosted the growth of bitcoin as a new asset class. CTA AuM has risen by $22bn since 2014 and is currently at an all-time high of $340bn, proving that machine related strategies are here to stay while attracting new capital allocations.
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Alternative asset management is a growing industry, where investors seek diversification to their traditional long only investment portfolios. According to PWC, a significant increase in the assets under management (AuM) of alternatives is anticipated over the next quinquennium, reaching the levels of $15.3tn with hedge funds expected to contribute one third to that amount, which means an increase of $2tn in their AuM. Main drivers of this increase are risks associated with the geopolitical environment of investments. Major determinants of the new risk framework are Brexit discussions, major country elections and Euroscepticism in Europe, the new U.S. government and FED’s policies incertitude in the U.S., and mixed signs for growth globally. Investors are in a quandary regarding their allocations amid the current uncertainty, and are scrutinizing investment opportunities that will allow them to navigate profitably during the new era. Risk and uncertainty are two coherent terms, but different, while investors are keen on identifying the key risks in their investments. The recent spike in the number strategies (both active and passive) seeking ‘alternative risk premium’ highlights the importance of identifying risk factors.