They Call It Innovation

Two sessions at the CFA annual conference typified the nature of the discussion of “innovation” in the investment world.

The first was a plenary session that featured Harold Bradley of the Kauffman Foundation, Bill Hambrecht of WR Hambrecht, and Duncan Niederauer of NYSE Euronext. It was titled, “Has Innovation Helped or Hurt the Integrity of Markets?”

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Investment Management Fees Are (Much) Higher Than You Think

CFA Institute

Although some critics grouse about them, most investors have long thought that investment management fees can best be described in one word: low. Indeed, fees are seen as so low that they are almost inconsequential when choosing an investment manager. This view, however, is a delusion. Seen for what they really are, fees for active management are high—much higher than even the critics have recognized.

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Recent Research: Highlights from June 2012

"Some Like It Hot: The Role of Very Active Mandates across Equity Segments in a Core-Satellite Structure"
The Journal of Investing (Summer 2012)

Frank Nielsen, Giacomo Fachinotti, and Xiaowei Kang

This article reviews the active management opportunity in different market segments, and discusses the role of very active mandates across segments in a core–satellite portfolio structure. Research based on manager performance data over the last 10 years indicates that there is little evidence that average emerging market or small-cap managers have produced higher or more persistent risk-adjusted returns relative to their developed market large-cap peers. Therefore, institutional investors may consider active and passive management as complementary strategies across all equity segments. Due to the outperformance of high active risk mandates over the analyzed period, a simulated core–satellite structure across different equity segments achieved a higher information ratio than a combination of low active risk managers. The outperformance of high active risk mandates may reflect links between higher manager skill, higher investment conviction, and/or fewer constraints. Depending on investment beliefs, institutional investors might explore such a core–satellite structure to implement the global equity allocation.

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Worldview Podcast: Not Just BRICs and Mortar

Worlview Podcast

In recent years, Brazil has been touted as one of the most promising and fastest growing emerging markets for investors. Although growth has recently slowed down, events such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics still on the horizon may recharge the market. Geoffrey Pazzanese, Vice President of Federated Global Investment Management, gives an overview of Brazil's current and potential investment opportunities.

Notable facts about Brazil:

  • With the upcoming 2014 World Cup, Brazil will increase its investment in civil infrastructure, transportation, and stadiums.
  • Public housing is one of Brazil's largest investments at R$ 1 trillion (BRL).
  • The poverty level is at 26%, in line with India and higher than Mexico.
  • By 2014, the poverty rate as a percentage of the share of population is expected to be below 10%. (In 2003, it was 30%).
  • The recent rise in the middle class has increased consumer spending on items like white goods, cars, clothes, and homes.
  • Ease of doing business in Brazil is relatively poor because of heavy bureaucracy and a shortage of lawyers to help cut through the red tape. This is a major hindrance of growth.



The Covered Bond: A Vehicle for the Shift to a Low-Carbon Economy?

In our first two articles focused on the emerging climate bond market, we spoke with Nick Robins, Director of HSBC’s Climate Change Center for Excellence, and to Sean Kidney, Cofounder and Chairman of the Climate Bonds Initiative. Here, we look at how the covered bond might be adapted as an investment vehicle to catalyze the funding of the critical transition to a low-carbon economy.

The International Energy Authority now estimates that $1 trillion will be required in annual “low-carbon” project funding out to 2050 if the global economy is to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Meanwhile, the fallout from the global financial crisis has left both governments and the capital markets severely constrained in their ability to support those funding needs.

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Recent Research: Highlights from May 2012

"The Death of Diversification Has Been Greatly Exaggerated"
The Journal of Portfolio Management (Spring 2012)
Antti Ilmanen and Jared Kizer

Diversification is famously referred to as the only “free lunch” in investing, but it has been under assault since the 2007–2009 global financial crisis, when virtually all longonly asset classes moved down together. Ilmanen and Kizer argue that the attacks are undeserved. Most investors were never as diversified as they thought they were, and there is ample room for improvement by shifting the focus from asset class diversification to factor diversification. They show that diversification into and across factors has been much more effective in reducing portfolio volatility and market directionality than asset class diversification. The benefits are greatest for long–short investing, which requires shorting and leverage but are also meaningful in a long-only context.

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Book Review: Ben Graham Was a Quant

CFA Institute


The author, unlike many others, views Benjamin Graham’s work as the origin of quantitative investing. He reviews the history of quantitative investing and uses Graham’s investment methodology to introduce such concepts as alpha, the Sharpe ratio, and the Fama–French model.

The roots of value investing can be traced back to the 1934 publication of Benjamin Graham and David Dodd’s classic, Security Analysis. Graham later disseminated his views to the general public in the highly regarded book The Intelligent Investor. The influence of Graham’s methodology is indisputable. His disciples represent a virtual who’s who of value investors, including Warren Buffett, Bill Ruane, and Walter Schloss. As a measure of his enduring impact on the field, a search of “Benjamin Graham" on yields more than 900 results concerning Graham’s writings and works about his investment philosophy. Given the success of the master and his students, it is no wonder that Graham remains an investor of immense interest to practitioners.

Ben-Graham-Was-A-QuantThe title Ben Graham Was a Quant: Raising the IQ of the Intelligent Investor (Wiley Finance) will probably cause readers to envision a book that traces Graham’s remarkable life and dissects his use of quantitative techniques that have become prevalent in modern finance. In reality, Steven P. Greiner has written a very different type of book. Greiner, the head of Risk Research for FactSet Research Systems, is the stereotypical Wall Street quant, holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and chemistry from the University of Buffalo and a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester. Greiner’s background in the hard sciences is evident in the quotations from either Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton at the beginning of nearly every chapter and in the author’s extensive use of examples from the hard sciences.

Throughout the book, Greiner pays homage to Graham, using his investment philosophy as the catalyst for examining quantitative investing. In the early chapters of the book, however, Greiner focuses mostly on his own view of quantitative investing. In spite of his strong quantitative background, he does a good job of making his ideas accessible to readers with a wide variety of backgrounds.

Greiner starts with a review of the history of quantitative investing. In most accounts, the story begins with Harry Markowitz’s seminal work on portfolio theory in 1952. For Greiner, however, the origins of quantitative investing date back earlier, to the work of Benjamin Graham. Greiner points out that Graham’s 1949 classic, The Intelligent Investor, lists seven criteria that defined the “quantitatively tested portfolio." These criteria include such factors as the size of the enterprise, earnings stability, financial condition, dividend record, earnings growth, price-to-earnings ratio, and price-to-book ratio. As Greiner points out, the definition of a quant as someone who designs and implements mathematical models for the pricing of securities does not mention the use of a computer.

As the pages go by, the link between Graham’s methodology and quantitative analysis becomes clearer. Chapters 4–6 begin to delve into the quantitative factors that Graham used in formulating his investment philosophy. Throughout these chapters, Greiner tests the empirical validity of Graham’s factors with a Fama–French type of model. Greiner criticizes the factors used by many MBAs that are linked to academic theories but may have no empirical validity. He writes, “Empiricism suggests the main drivers of stock returns are often market trading forces more than business financials." In testing Graham’s model, Greiner finds that such factors as book-to-price ratio, price-to-earnings ratio, and dividend yield do extremely well in predicting performance.

Using the Graham factors, Greiner goes on to build a factor model for predicting returns. Because he cannot confer with Graham on which factors to include in the model, Greiner does not use stepwise regression to identify the best ones. Rather, he elects to use all the factors in order to remain true to the Graham methodology. Throughout the book, Greiner provides numerous tables and graphs to document the effectiveness of the Graham factors in predicting security returns and to support the fundamental tenet of the book—that empiricism should trump theory in modeling security returns.

Continue reading "Liquidity Level or Liquidity Risk?" »


Video: The Positives of Investing in Technology Micro-caps

The volatility of investing in mirco-caps may scare away some investors, but there are many opportunities to find hidden gems in the sector. As seen on CNBC's Talking Numbers, Barry Sine, Managing Director of Drexel Hamilton, gives an overview on the positives of micro-caps. The ability to pinpoint specific markets and segments can be especially rewarding when investing in new technologies, which are in favor this year.

Positives of microcaps:

  • The financial statements are much simpler. Financial statements of microcaps are very straight forward, as opposed to having multiple sectors and a complex balance sheet .
  • The management teams are very accessible. It is common to have direct communication with the management team and CEO of a micro-cap company.
  • There is the ability to pinpoint a very specific market down to a country, or even a state.
  • You can zero in on a specific technology or trend and capitalize on it. With trends and innovations like social media, display technology, and memory, there is potential for great rewards.
  • If you do not want to invest in the companies that make these new technologies, you can invest in the companies that own the patents.


Recent Research: Highlights from April 2012

"Defending the “Endowment Model”: Quantifying Liquidity Risk in a Post–Credit Crisis World"
The Journal of Alternative Investments (Spring 2012)

Abdullah Z. Sheikh and Jianxiong Sun

This article sets forth the proposition that liquidity risk may be optimized in an attempt to forestall or minimize the impact of a liquidity crisis. For a generic (but typical) endowment asset allocation, the authors find that liquidity levels between 6% and 14% are optimal, all other things equal, because 95% of the time, an allocation in this range would obviate situations in which a portfolio’s payout rate exceeds its liquidity pool. The framework also provides insights for tail-risk events involving a particularly severe liquidity crisis. For a generic endowment portfolio, the analysis indicates that in order to reduce the severity of a liquidity crisis to zero (i.e., eliminate risk completely), the allocation to fixed income would have to be around 35% (close to seven times the payout rate of 5%). Such an allocation would entail a very significant opportunity cost in terms of forgone returns based solely on a desire to mitigate extreme liquidity events (the proverbial “100-year flood”). In the authors’ view, reducing the likelihood of a liquidity crisis to below 5%, may be undesirable for all but the most risk-averse and least return sensitive endowments.

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Video: Trends in Biotech and What They Mean for the Future

Senior biotechnology analyst, Yigal Nochomovitz, PhD, discusses how to improve investment strategies in the biotech sector. Looking at data and trends from 2011, we can gain a clearer picture of what lies ahead. Surprisingly, small cap investments have been performing better than large cap investments in this industry. Using this information and other insights, we can draw conclusions about the best biotech investment decisions for 2012. 


Recent Research: Highlights from March 2012

"Topics in Applied Investment Management: From a Bayesian Viewpoint"
The Journal of Investing (Spring 2012)
Harry M. Markowitz

When John Guerard, the special editor for this issue, was assembling the articles to be published, he asked Harry Markowitz to write the introduction. By the author’s own words, once he had completed that task he could see that his remarks were more like discussant comments than an introduction and could equally well be read after reading the articles.

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What's Really Going on with US-Listed Chinese Stocks?

In this report, we analyze the technical position of every US-listed Chinese stock with a market cap above $5 billion. Of these, nine are based in mainland China, three in Taiwan and two in Hong Kong. By far the best looking chart is China Petroleum and Chemical while PetroChina shares are stuck at resistance. The worst stock, from a technical perspective is the telecom provider in Taiwan, Chunghwa Telecom.

From a value investing perspective, we believe that the best time to invest in a market sector is when sentiment is extremely biased against it. Presently, in our view, US-listed Chinese stocks appear to be one of the most reviled investment sectors, and not without some cause. A series of frauds uncovered by diligent short-sellers, and halfhearted support in reforming fraudulent practices by Chinese regulators have undermined confidence in Chinese stocks. The most widely cited index of US listed Chinese stocks, the USX China Index, is off 42% from its October 2007 high but has more than doubled from its November 2008 low.

We believe that Chinese stocks, having fallen out of favor, will gain newfound interest by investors. Later today, [Ed. Note: This paper is dated February 14, 2012.] Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will be visiting the White House. Xi is expected to become the Premier or head of the government later this year and the media are expecting that this visit will lead to a “reset” of US-China relations. There are concerns about a slowdown in the Chinese economy as global commodities prices rise, real estate prices weaken and some manufacturing at the margin is returning to the US. But the Chinese economy is still largely tied to the financial health of its largest customer—the US consumer—who appears to regaining his health after a long illness. So despite the concerns, there is a bull case to be made for the Chinese economy as well.


We do not have a view as to whether Chinese stocks now represent a good fundamental value or how pervasive the fraud issues are. However, the key premise of technical analysis is that the charts represent “the wisdom of the crowds” or, in other words, the many market participants ranging from savvy short-sellers like Muddy Waters, large sell-side and buy-side firms globally, individual investors and corporate insiders collectively bring all their knowledge to bear in the setting of share prices, and those with the most conviction, and presumably best knowledge, have the most impact on price given the higher volumes they trade. So, stock prices tend to correctly reflect underlying fundamental value. So in this report we look at what the technicals are saying about US-listed Chinese stocks.

We begin with an overview of the major Chinese markets. Our focus is on mainland China, but it is impossible to analyze this market without considering the interrelated Hong Kong and Taiwan markets. The main stock exchange in China is the Shanghai Stock Exchange which trades two classes of stocks – A shares which are traded in Renimbi, and are limited to Chinese citizens and Qualified Foreign Institutional Investors, and B shares which are traded in dollars and available to global investors. The Shanghai Stock Exchange is 23% off its 52-week high and just 10% above its low having bottomed in January, so this may represent an interesting entry point for investors. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index bottomed in September and has gained 29%. In Taiwan, the stock exchange is 19% off its high, having bottomed in December. The USX China Index of US-listed Chinese stocks also bottomed in October and is up 25% off its low. So investors are seeing something they like again in Chinese stocks. Overall, most stocks are at inflection points of breaking out to the upside. A positive catalyst such as a good visit by Xi or a Greek settlement could push these stocks significantly higher. But, in our view, it is definitely time to be looking east again.

–Barry M. Sine, CFA, CMT

This an exerpt from a white paper entitled, "What's Really Going on with US–Listed Chinese Stocks ?" by Barry Sine, CFA, CMT, Managing Director and Director of Research at Drexel-Hamilton. Click here to download the full report.


Implications of New Accounting Standards

Accounting standards are modified on a regular basis and several changes will affect your analysis of financial statements in the coming months.  To put them into perspective, you might first ask yourself some other questions:

  • How does your organization approach such changes in accounting standards?
  • What does that say about your investment process?

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Who's Got G.A.M.E.?


Finance professionals will have the rare opportunity to attend a Who’s Who of financial industry leaders next month. On March 29, 2012, a host of notable speakers will gather to discuss and debate key issues in investments at the second annual Global Asset Management Education (G.A.M.E.) II Forum. “This is the first academia-hosted event of this magnitude in New York City,” said Dr. David Sauer, managing director and program chair, citing top names in the field such as Guy Adami (of CNBC’s “Fast Money”) and Abby Cohen (president of the Global Markets Institute and senior investment strategist at Goldman Sachs)—to name a few.

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How and Where Should You Invest in Emerging Markets?

As the new year failed to ring in a solution to the debt crisis that has transfixed the eurozone, investors are left wondering whether now is the time to place their bets on potentially risky growth opportunities or to keep their assets in safe havens. Beyond Europe’s sovereign credit issues, other factors such as massive debt overhang, the threat of double-dip recessions, and ongoing money printing by central banks in the developed world call into question the traditional definition of “safe.” In this environment, some money managers are asking whether investing in emerging economies may, in fact, be safer than committing assets to developed markets.

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Book Review: The Hedge Fund Mirage


If you want the truth about hedge funds and how to invest in them, The Hedge Fund Mirage: The Illusion of Big Money and Why It's Too Good to Be True is a must read. An especially important picture of a major part of financial services, this book provides insight into a field of which little information is publicly available.

Despite the increased fortune hedge funds produce, their investors barely profit. As the book reads, “investors would have made more putting their money into treasury bills instead.” Currently risks and returns favor the hedge fund managers. Of course, this was not always the case. During the 1990s, there were fewer hedge fund investors, which, to some degree, allowed for greater profitability. Owing to this shocking truth, author and hedge fund expert Simon Lack provides an in-depth inside look into the world of hedge funds in an effort to help put the investors back on top.

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Regaining Investor Confidence for US-Listed Chinese Companies

A number of high profile scandals such as Longtop Financial Technologies and Sino-Forest have given Chinese companies a bad name among US investors. Portfolio managers who previously held extensive investments in US-listed Chinese equities now avoid the sector and some of the previously largest underwriters of US-listed Chinese equities have exited this market.

Between 2006 and 2010, a total of 339 Chinese companies listed on the major US stock markets, 106 on NYSE and 233 on NASDAQ. During this period of high interest in investing in Chinese companies, few anticipated the coming scandals and delistings.

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Video: Myths to Energy Investing

There are various myths circulating about investing in energy and natural resources—one of them being "peak oil." As Bernard J. Picchi, CFA, a portfolio manager at Palisade Capital Management, explains in this clip from the New York Society of Security Analysts' "Future of Energy Investing" Conference, the truth about the notion of "peak oil" is there have only been 9 of the last 60 years in which oil production has declined. Each of these occurrences have been due to "artificial" interruptions, recessions, or wars—not physical production capabilities of the wells. In fact, some countries have doubled their oil production.


How Psychological Pitfalls Generated the Global Financial Crisis


The root cause of the financial crisis that erupted in 2008 is psychological. In the events which led up to the crisis, heuristics, biases, and framing effects strongly influenced the judgments and decisions of financial firms, rating agencies, elected officials, government regulators, and institutional investors. Examples involving UBS, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Standard & Poor’s, the SEC, and end investors illustrate this point. Among the many lessons to be learned from the crisis is the importance of focusing on the behavioral aspects of organizational process.

Acknowledgments: I thank Mark Lawrence for his insightful comments about UBS; Marc Heerkens from UBS; participants at seminars I gave at the University of Lugano and at the University of California, Los Angeles; and participants in the Executive Master of Science in Risk Management program at the Amsterdam Institute of Finance, a program cosponsored with New York University. I also express my appreciation to Rodney Sullivan and Larry Siegel for their comments on previous drafts.

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How Bond Plays Work in a Market of Global Systemic Uncertainty

We recently spoke with Glenn Reynolds, CEO of CreditSights, who offered us some straight talk on how global credit market risk is impacting the broad capital markets. Reynolds will be a speaker at the upcoming NYSSA conference, Market Forecast: Turbulent Times, to be held on January 5.

Here he explains why he recommends a blended strategy of investing in high-yield corporate bonds as an equity surrogate and investment grade bonds as a defensive play to navigate what is likely to be continuing systemic market uncertainties.

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Recent Research: Highlights from December 2011

A Comment on “Better Beta Explained: Demystifying Alternative Equity Index Strategies”
The Journal of Index Investing (Winter 2011)
Noël Amenc

Cap-weighted indices have been subjected to increasing criticism. Empirical evidence suggests that cap-weighted indices deliver poor risk-adjusted performance. It has also been questioned whether market cap is a reliable proxy for the size and economic influence of a company. The fact that cap-weighted indices have been found to be neither representative nor efficient has led to the development of various alternative weighting schemes. However, how to best replace cap-weighted indices remains an open question. In an article from the Summer 2011 issue of The Journal of Index Investing, Robert Arnott discusses an empirical analysis of several alternative indexing methodologies that he broadly classifies as relying on heuristics or on portfolio optimization. Although an analysis of competing non-capweighted indices should, in principle, provide useful insights, the results reported by Arnott suffer from a flawed methodology and may confuse readers about the issues with different non-cap-weighted indices in practice.

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The State of China’s Economy and US-Listed Chinese Companies

Ten years ago, when you read The Wall Street Journal, you barely noticed articles about Chinese public companies. Today, when you click your iPad app, WSJ.Com, China-related news generates daily headlines. On Oct 24 2011, the New York Society of Security Analysts (NYSSA) joined with China Council for International Investment Promotion (CCIIP) to host “2011 Chinese Companies Listed on US Market Development Forum”, which provided an opportunity for US investors to have an open dialogue with several Chinese companies. Not surprisingly, this forum drew a lot of attention from an audience that including both private and institutional investors. When analyzing the complex interdependent relationship between the fast-growing Chinese economy and the globally dominant US economy, one must understand three key points.

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Recent Research: Highlights from November 2011

"Breadth, Skill, and Time"
The Journal of Portfolio Management (Fall 2011)
Richard C. Grinold and Ronald N. Kahn

The information ratio determines the potential of an investment process to add value, and according to the fundamental law of active management, adding value depends on a combination of skill and breadth. Grinold and Kahn use an equilibrium dynamic model to provide insight into the concept of breadth, as well as a refined notion of skill. In equilibrium, the arrival rate of new information exactly balances the decay rate of old information. Grinold and Kahn denote the information turnover rate g. It is relatively easy to measure for any investment process. If the investment process forecasts returns on N assets, the breadth of the strategy i is g · N. Skill—the correlation of forecasts and returns—increases with the return horizon for small horizons, but then asymptotically decays to zero for very long horizons. The authors’ main result is that the ex ante information ratio is Breadth, Skill, and Time , where κ is a measure of skill.

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Secrets to Investment Report Writing: What Successful Analysts Know

Your career depends on your ability to communicate effectively.  If you can write investment research reports that your clients find both useful and thought-provoking, you have a powerful career advantage.  

Here are four top tips for you on how to advise your clients on that critical decision: buy or sell?

  • Research widely and deeply.  

    What industry is the company in? Who are the key competitors? How are globalization, technology, demographic trends and competition affecting the industry's future? Is the company well-run? Does it have a smart strategy? Do its products and services meet the needs of today's customers?  Is it an ethical company? Does it have a reputation for integrity and social responsibility? What do its employees say about it? Does its culture foster innovative risk-taking—or is it a culture of fear? Do not fall for the company's self-promoting rhetoric.  

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Russia: Some BRICs Are Different

Russia has always been different from the rest of the world. Even 20 years after the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, this author still finds it a little strange to find Russia grouped with other BRICs, or most emerging market countries. The others—China, India, and Brazil—all have very large portions of their populations struggling with poverty, and are characterized by historically limited, but now improving, access to technology. Not Russia.

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Not So Great Expectations

Oddly enough, the day after Steve Jobs died was the first time that I had been in Silicon Valley in decades.  Finding myself with a rental car and time on my hands, I drove to Apple headquarters. The scene was very much like that for other cultural icons that have passed on: a row of TV trucks, a large pile of notes, photos, flowers, and mementos, and the flags at half staff. There were spots available in the visitor parking area adjacent to the building, and people milling around—even going into the building—but I didn’t join them.

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Martin L. Leibowitz: Alpha Orbits


Let us ponder, for a moment, a hypothetical market consisting of only two assets: (1) cash and (2) one big Treasury bond. To keep things simple, let’s make the bond a perpetual with a 5 percent coupon and a current yield of 5 percent so that its price is 100. Further, let us assume that there is no credit risk whatsoever.

Now let us suppose that some investors own only cash, some own only the bond, and others own a mix of both.

We all know what happens to the bond price when the yield goes up or down: If the bond yield rose to 6 percent, the price would drop from 100 to 5/(0.06) = 83.33; if the yield fell to 4 percent, the price would rise to 5/(0.04) = 125.

But we also know that when the price goes up for any reason, the bond’s yield must fall.

In our hypothetical model, the all-cash investors are risk averse as a group, probably believing that bonds are simply not the “right kind” of asset for their highly risk-averse type of fund. But now let’s suppose that one of these all-cash funds suddenly receives an unanticipated contribution that raises its portfolio asset value to a level that modestly increases its risk tolerance. The fund decides to break out of its all-cash stance and buy some bonds, which nudges the bond price up to 101.

Then, a second all-cash fund, noticing that an all-cash fund’s buying bonds has become more acceptable, proceeds to take a nibble. The price moves up to 102.

When a third all-cash fund sees that owning a few bonds has become reasonably respectable, its bond purchases move the price up to 104.

At a cocktail reception at the next All-Cash Funds Conference, these few radical bondholders are the “talk of the town.” Having at least a small bond allocation quickly changes from being a novelty to being downright fashionable.

With this new surge in motivated buying, the price moves up to 107.

Some momentum investors observe this price action and begin to salivate. They don’t hesitate long, and their purchases raise the price to 110.

(Let’s not muddy the waters by wondering who is selling these beautiful bonds. A few contrarians are always lurking in the wings.)

Thus, over the course of a year, the bond’s 5 percent coupon, plus the 10 percent price appreciation, produces a hefty 15 percent total return.

Now let us consider a long-term investor with a 50/50 cash/bond portfolio. The assumed expected return for the bond was set at 5 percent in the last mean–variance optimization. With the dramatic shift in the structure of market returns, the fund decides to call for a new study.

Continue reading "Martin L. Leibowitz: Alpha Orbits" >>


Making Rare Earth Element Disclosure Transparent and Compliant

"Getting the Most Out of other Organizations’ Practices"

When prices for rare earth metals rose sharply over the last five years, we saw junior mining companies take on rare earth projects and seek financing to explore them on the equity markets.

Such events would not normally create a compliance problem. But, in the rare earth business, there were a few new twists that made clear disclosure harder to do. One such twist was that there were just so many rare earths; another was that the term had been popularly stretched to cover other metals that were not rare earths at all. Rare earth elements are the lanthanide series (lanthanum through lutetium, elements 57-71 on that long-neglected row of the periodic table atop thorium, uranium and the Lawrence Labs synthetics), plus yttrium, which occurs with the lanthanides and shares most of their chemical characteristics.

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Investment Advisors Respond to Market Paradigm Shifts in an Age of Uncertainty

As extraordinary uncertainty continues to characterize the global investment markets, “paradigm shift” has become the catchphrase of the moment. Investment managers are interpreting this shift in a variety of ways and responding to it with a diversity of new tools and strategies. We spoke to three investment advisors who will be speaking at NYSSA’s upcoming "10th Annual Wealth Management Summit" for their views.

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Investors Step Up Pressure for Integrated Reporting

We live in a world of rapid human population growth and consumption,  heightened resource scarcity, and the attendant stresses placed by all these factors, not to mention our "business as usual" economy on the earth's ecosystem.   Corporations must acknowledge this and can no longer afford to operate without closely monitoring, managing, and disclosing their environmental, social, and [corporate] governance (ESG) risks—any one of which can explode into a crisis with very material financial consequences. Asset managers who fail to require the companies in which they invest to step up to the plate and take on this responsibility are rightfully being viewed as shirking their own fiduciary duty. 

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Converting Mission-Related Investing into Action in the Foundation World

The global economy appears to be settling into a period of protracted sluggish growth where “outsized” returns will be harder to come by. At the same time, trust in the conventional financial markets has sunk to an all-time low. The moment may therefore have arrived for foundations to move in a meaningful way beyond granting making and the occasional program-related investment (PRI) as the sole tool for expressing their missions and to begin deploying their endowments in the service of their missions through mission-related investing.

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Rare Earths in Rare Lands


Count Otto von Bismarck was not only the most visible European politician of his generation, but also a famous wiseacre. Driving home a point on the importance of hard power, he said that “if Germany will be weak, no armies of diplomats besieging European courts will further its interests. If on the contrary, it will be strong, its diplomatic representation can be delegated to the international corporation of dentists“ (cited from memory).

Today, the People’s Republic of China packs enough hard power for its diplomats to go into dentistry. It produces 97% of the world’s rare earth elements, which are essential components in many industries. When Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan tried to whip up nationalist sentiment by denying the wartime atrocities of the Japanese military against Chinese civilians, China instituted a technical shutdown of some of its rare earth mines. Several industries in Japan including automotive immediately felt the punch. Rare earths are necessary for the magnets used in cars’ electric motors, among many other technologies.

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Recent Research: Highlights from August 2011

Risk-Based Asset Allocation: A New Answer to an Old Question? The Journal of Portfolio Management (Summer 2011). Wai Lee.

In recent years, we have witnessed an alarmingly large and growing amount of literature on portfolio construction approaches focused on risks and diversification rather than on estimating expected returns. Numerous simulations applied to different universes have been documented in support of these approaches based on their apparent outperformance versus passive market capitalization–weighted or static fixed-weight portfolios. Many studies attribute the better performance of these risk-based asset allocation approaches to superior diversification. Given the absence of clearly defined investment objective functions behind these approaches as well as the metrics used by these studies to evaluate ex post performance, Lee puts these approaches into the same context of mean-variance efficiency in an attempt to understand their theoretical underpinnings. In doing so, he hopes to shed some light on what these approaches attempt to achieve and on the characteristics of the investment universe, if indeed these approaches are meant to approximate mean-variance efficiency. Rather than adding to the already large collection of simulation results, Lee uses some simple examples to compare and contrast the portfolio and risk characteristics of these approaches. He also reiterates that any portfolio which deviates from the market capitalization–weighted portfolio is an active portfolio. He concludes that there is no theory to predict, ex ante, that any of these risk-based approaches should outperform.

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Peru (Part II): Currency and Equities


Part I of Worldview’s Peru coverage discussed Peru’s recent macroeconomic history and political economy, noting that Peru has been an impressive economic story that has stayed largely under the media radar. The recent election of Ollanta Humala, a candidate with a history on the far left of the political spectrum has cast the future performance of the economy into question, even if—as part of his runoff campaign—he has promised to govern the country from center-left policies rather than the far-left of Peru’s political spectrum and his base coalition. This piece examines the performance of Peru’s currency and equity markets and considers the attractiveness of the asset markets going forward.

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Peru: Inca Gold Still Powers a People


While its neighbors Brazil and Chile capture much of the world’s attention, Peru has quietly grown into a star performer among emerging markets. Whether this continues as its newly elected leftist president Ollanta Humala takes the helm remains to be seen, but preliminary signs are hopeful, even if growth becomes more muted than in the recent past.

Peru has been known as a commodity exporter for much of its history, and this has been both a blessing and a curse. Properly managed, Peru’s resource wealth presents great opportunities, but countries whose economies are based on extractive industries tend to be wealth concentrators. The profits from concentrating industries are not always reinvested optimally and can become the enabler of corruption networks. Peru has struggled with this dynamic through much of the last century and even before, at times rising above it, and at other times becoming overwhelmed. Its most recent track record has been positive, however, and there are reasons to hope that it will continue.

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Recent Research: Highlights from July 2011

The Role of Speculators During Times of Financial Distress.” The Journal of Alternative Investments (Summer 2011). Naomi E. Boyd, Jeffrey H. Harris, and Arkadiusz Nowak.

One of the best-known and largest hedge fund failures was the 2006 failure of Amaranth Advisors, LLC. The authors use detailed, trader-level data to examine the role of speculators during times of financial distress—in this case, the failure of Amaranth. They find that speculators served as a stabilizing force during the period by maintaining or increasing long positions, even while prices fell. The authors develop two testable propositions regarding liquidation versus transfer of positions and conclude that the probability of transfer was more likely for distant contract expirations and for contracts more dominantly held by the distressed trader. The article also examines the role of speculators in providing liquidity and mitigating the effects of liquidity risk by evaluating the change in the number of traders, the size and time between trades, and a Herfindahl measure of speculative trader concentration during the crisis period.

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Astrology and Economic Forecasts

John Galbraith once said that “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” Although many of us are avid readers of economic forecasts issued by the OECD, the IMF, and the EU (the government’s forecasts attend to suffer from a general lack of creditability), it is questionable if our confidence in them is well founded. In my opinion, which is based on my experience, it is not.

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Are Buy-Backs on a Rising Market Always a Bad Move?

In an article in the Financial Times, “Buy-backs on a rising market are always a bad move” on Monday, June 13, 2011, Tony Jackson made the argument that share buybacks are a failed strategy because companies are buying back stock more frequently when stock prices are high than when they are low. He framed the argument in terms of recent actions by ExxonMobil to use stock to buy XTO Energy last summer and subsequently to increase its buyback program. He stated “Logically, the first action made sense only if Exxon thought its stock was over-valued. The second made sense only if it thought the opposite.”

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Robert Litterman: Who Should Hedge Tail Risk?

CFA InstituteIn a somewhat ironic turn of events, many investment banks began selling insurance against equity tail risk to institutional investors following the financial crisis. Ironic because one might expect that investment banks, with high leverage and quarterly earnings reports to worry about, would be the natural buyers of such insurance and long-horizon investors the natural sellers.

Surely, those with deep pockets and long horizons, who would be little affected by the crisis, should be selling insurance to those with short horizons and leveraged positions, who would be most highly affected.

Of course, there will always be a price low enough that a given investor would be willing to buy insurance, and there will always be a price high enough that the same investor would be willing to sell insurance. But investors who have long horizons, sufficient liquidity, and low leverage should consider carefully whether, in practice, the price at any given time is low enough that buying tail-risk insurance makes sense for them. That scenario is unlikely because long-horizon investors are not natural buyers of tail-risk insurance.

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From the Arcives: Benjamin Graham on Being Right in Security Analysis

Ben GrahamBenjamin Graham, the man widely recognized as the father of security analysis, wrote the following article in 1946. Though the market has changed dramatically since then, his approach to judging the success of an analyst’s recommendations remain just as valid today.


The most interesting and important work of the senior ana­lyst leads up to and includes the recommendation that one or more common stocks be purchased. How can we tell whether such a recommendation has been right or wrong?

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Historical Scenarios with Fully Flexible Probabilities

After reviewing the parametric and scenario-based approaches to risk management, we discuss a methodology to enhance the flexibility of the scenario-based approach. We change the probability of each scenario, and then we compute the ensuing p&l distribution and all relevant statistics such as VaR and volatility. The probabilities can be changed to reflect specific market conditions, advanced estimation techniques, or partial information, using the entropy-based Fully Flexible Views technique in Meucci (2008). The implementation of this approach is trivial, as no costly repricing is needed.

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The Arithmetic of Reading and Writing: The Paradox of the College Savings Account

Tuition at American universities, both private and public, has been increasing at an average annual rate of 7.6% (private) and 7.87% (public) over the period 1976–2005. For 1976–2008, these averages declined slightly to 7.47% for private universities and 7.72% for public universities.

High tuition rate increases create financial hardship for many attempting to save for college. But college savings plans that invest solely in government bonds are unlikely to generate the necessary amounts. And as investors have recently and painfully experienced, investing solely in stocks is a risky proposition because equities may not outperform government bonds over any given period. Nor is a combination of stocks and government bonds a viable, risk-managed college tuition saving strategy.

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Suggestions for Modern Security Analysts

Ben Graham Economics is the social science that most identifies itself with the natural sciences. There is much that can be written about this statement in light of the events that unfolded in the 2007–2008 credit crisis, but this article focuses on the consequences pertaining to the field of Security Analysis, which is an economics-based discipline.

Security Analysis seeks to value firms based on the goods and services sold to customers via the assets (tangible and intangible) and obligations (liabilities) generated to support those sales. Despite the simplicity of this exposition, and the related simplicity of cash flow-based valuation, assessing value can be extremely difficult. The difficulty stems from the well-known fact that value is subjective, and from the equally well-known fact that the future is uncertain. Subjectivity and uncertainty means that Security Analysis requires many working assumptions, which is important because modern economics is currently grounded in mathematics that accommodates only a limited number of assumptions. As a purely theoretical, science-like endeavor this may (or may not) work, but Security Analysis is a profession, and professions are concerned with decision-making in contrast to science, which is concerned with prediction.

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Future of Microcap Rally Uncertain in 2011

As is traditional when an economy begins to recover, microcap and smallcap stocks have ruled during the past several years. From the spring of 2008 until this spring, the Russell 2000 Index of smallcap companies has outperformed the S&P 500 by a staggering margin. While the S&P 500 has returned just 2 percent on an average annual basis during that time, smallcaps have returned 9 percent.

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BP’s Failure to Debias: Underscoring the Importance of Behavioral Corporate Finance

“BP has a systemic problem with its culture that runs deep.”

Ending the Management Illusion, Shefrin (2008), p. 95.

“In the view of the Commission, these findings highlight the importance of organizational culture and a consistent commitment to safety by industry, from the highest management levels on down.”

Report to the President, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, (2011), p. ix.


In this paper, we apply key concepts from behavioral finance to document how psychological biases and framing effects impacted corporate culture and management decisions at energy firm BP. On April 20, 2010, an accident drilling BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico produced the worst environmental disaster in US history, an event which dominated the daily news during the spring and summer of 2010. In itself, this event makes for the study of BP’s decision making of interest, prompting the question of whether the April 20 accident was simply an unfavorable chance event or instead the result of biased decision making.

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Liquidity Level or Liquidity Risk? Evidence from the Financial Crisis

CFA InstituteAlthough generally considered safe assets, liquid stocks underperformed illiquid stocks during the financial crisis of 2008–2009. The performance of stocks during the crisis can be better explained by their historical liquidity betas (risk) than by their historical liquidity levels. Stocks with different historical liquidity levels did not experience different returns after controlling for liquidity risk. The authors’ findings highlight the importance of accounting for both liquidity level and liquidity risk in risk management applications.

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Sliced & Diced: A Taste of Structured Investments

A May 2009 report from Research and Markets of Dublin notes that “structured products are among the fastest growing investment classes in world financial markets.” Although not really an asset class, structured investment products represent an array of investment tools for retail and institutional investors. They can enhance the returns of traditional asset classes, provide exposure to hard-to-reach sectors and markets, and often mitigate investors’ risk of losing some or all of their principal.

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Another Clue to Volatility

CFA InstituteFinancial economists treat volatility as a function of investors’ responses to new information. They generally presume that if an asset class is more volatile in one geographical region than in another, it is attributable to a difference in either the local version of the asset class or the economic environment. A case study involving high-yield bond volatility in Europe and the United States suggests that cultural differences may also contribute to disparities in volatility.

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21st Annual High Yield Bond Conference and Tutorial


A New Approach to Calculating Risk-Adjusted Returns

"People don’t perceive that they are going to be the one in a crash,” laments Russ Rader, media director at the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). “They believe that they are in control when they’re behind the wheel. They don’t sense how high the risk actually is.” The IIHS, a Virginia-based, national nonprofit that has helped significantly increase seat belt usage in the last twenty years, has a simple objective: lessen the risk taken in everyday driving behavior. The risk-measurement approach it employs has the potential to revolutionize how the investment community evaluates manager performance.

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Mental Aspects of Day Trading

Day Trading Commodity Futures Throughout my years in the futures industry, I have come to a conclusion in regards to the difference between winning and losing as a trader. In my opinion, the primary characteristic of successful traders is the ability to stay calm through thick and thin. This means avoiding the panic feeling that overcomes logic when trades are going against the speculation, and resisting the over-confidence that can come with a few winning endeavors. Each of these symptoms can have a severely negative impact on future trading decisions and profitability.

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