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Alpha Theory Blog - News and Insights

March 13, 2017

Ted Seides - Alpha Theory Book Club

 

On March 7th, Alpha Theory hosted a book club with over 30 portfolio managers, analysts, and allocators coming together to discuss Ted Seides’ book, “So You Want to Start a Hedge Fund?”. We were lucky enough to have Ted present and answer questions about the capital raise environment, investment process best practices, hiring, keeping investors happy, etc.

 

Here are a few takeaways:

 

1. CAPITAL RAISE ENVIRONMENT: It’s hard out there and isn’t getting any easier. Allocators are getting pressure from their investors about their hedge fund investments.

2. INVESTING ENVIRONMENT: Once again, it’s hard out there and isn’t getting any easier. There are more smart managers than ever looking at the same ideas.

3. FEES: Fee pressure will continue and managers will be asked for fee strategies which better align the interests of the investor and the manager.

4. DURATION DISCONNECT: There has been, and probably always will be, a disconnect between the duration that a manager is judged and the duration in which a manager manages their portfolio. The best thing a manager can do is be open and honest about their challenges so that investors get comfortable with volatility of performance numbers.

5. TURNOVER: Managers should be quick to remove “bad fit” analysts, even if they’re going to get push-back from investors over changes with the team.

6. STASIS: Many hedge funds have a “set it and forget it” mentality towards culture, personnel, and investment process. Many great corporations have advanced human capital strategies and hedge funds can leverage that knowledge to build superior organizations (i.e. Bridgewater or Point72).

7. COACHES: To prevent stasis, it is important to read and sometimes bring in outside help. There are experts in team building, time management, bias mitigation, decision science, investment process, etc.

8. RUNNING A BUSINESS IS HARD: Most hedge fund managers don’t have the luxury of just picking stocks. They’re charged with hiring/firing, raising capital, investor relations, human resources, picking accountants, selecting offices, etc. All the things that a CEO of a company deals with plus managing a fund. The reason portfolio managers are so busy is because they have two full time jobs.

9. THE BET: As most know, Ted was the other side of the famous 10-year bet with Warren Buffett pitting the S&P 500 against a basket of hedge fund allocators. Ted still fully believes that hedge funds can outperform in the right environments (i.e. market is overbought).

 

Thanks to all those that attended and contact Alpha Theory if you would like to learn more about attending future book clubs.

 

February 24, 2017

Stock Picking is Hard

 

Stock picking has never been so hard.

 

From a recent interview with Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway:

“In the old days, I frequently talk to Warren about the old days, for years and years and years what we did was shoot fish in a barrel. It was so easy we didn’t want to shoot fish while they were moving. We waiting until they slowed down and shot at them with a shot gun. It’s gotten harder and harder. Now we get little edges. It isn’t any less interesting. And we do not make the same returns we made when we’d pick this low hanging fruit off trees that offered a lot of it.”

“I used to say, ‘you have to marry the best person that will have you.’ That’s a rule of life. You have to get by on the best advantage you can get. Things have gotten so difficult in the investment world.

 

From a recent article on investing by Ben Carlson of CNBC:

Michael Mauboussin calls this the paradox of skill. Mauboussin says, "It's not that managers have gotten dumber. It's precisely the opposite. The average manager is more skillful than in past years. The paradox of skill says that when the outcome of an activity combines skill and luck, as skill improves, luck becomes more important in shaping results." How many institutional investors bother to ask themselves if the investment managers they are investing with are lucky or truly exhibit skill?

Active managers are competing against many more managers these days than they did in the past. There are roughly 300,000 investment professionals worldwide (portfolio managers and analysts) working for hedge and mutual funds (Alpha Theory estimate). There are 43,000 exchange listed public companies5. That works out to about 7 analysts for every stock! Asset prices become more efficiently priced when lots of smart people pay attention. With those odds, it is no wonder that there is a dearth of good ideas.

 

From Daniel Chambliss’s paper on “The Mundanity of Excellence”:

“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole.”

“Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.”

It has never been more important to do the little things that lead to success. Alpha Theory’s dominant beneficial attribute is the process discipline it instills in our clients. Our clients have outperformed the HFRI Index for each of the last five years (as far back as we have data) by an average of 3%. I believe their discipline is a big part of what makes them excellent. As good as they are, they can be better. If they would have strictly followed their models, their performance would have been 6% higher. There is alpha out there for the good stock pickers but it requires discipline and a desire to be excellent.