AgPa #78: Hedge Funds – Man vs. Machine

Man vs. Machine: Comparing Discretionary and Systematic Hedge Fund Performance (2017)
Campbell R. Harvey, Sandy Rattray, Andrew Sinclair, Otto Van Hemert
The Journal of Portfolio Management 43(4), URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines the ongoing Man vs. Machine question in asset management at the example of hedge funds. The paper is therefore a predecessor to AgPa #21 that examines the same question for AI-powered mutual funds. The authors mention that there are still myths around systematic investing and many investors seem to have some kind of algorithm aversion. This is in-line with my own experiences, so I believe the paper fills an important gap for better education. In addition to that, the authors provide a practical framework to evaluate the performance and risks of hedge funds which I believe goes beyond the question of Man vs. Machine.

  • Macro hedge funds: systematic beat discretionary
  • Equity hedge funds: a draw between systematic and discretionary
  • Systematic and discretionary funds are quite similar
  • Hedge fund investing is more difficult than averages suggest

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AgPa #73: Country and Industry Momentum

Can exchange traded funds be used to exploit industry and country momentum? (2013)
Laura Andreu, Laurens Swinkels, Liam Tjong-A-Tjoe
Financial Markets and Portfolio Management, URL/SSRN

Even if you believe in factor investing, it is very difficult for most investors to actually implement it. Trading portfolios with hundreds of stocks requires considerable infrastructure, enough money, and efficient transaction cost management. This is already a challenge for many institutional investors, so it is logically even more difficult for people like you and me. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper addresses this issue and presents an idea to still benefit from momentum via equity indices and the corresponding ETFs.

  • Country and industry momentum worked historically
  • The strategies seem to be implementable via ETFs
  • The strategies remained profitable after trading costs

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AgPa #71: Go Where the Earnings (per Share) Are

What Matters More for Emerging Markets Investors: Economic Growth or EPS Growth? (2022)
Jason Hsu, Jay Ritter, Phillip Wool, Harry Zhao
The Journal of Portfolio Management Emerging Markets 2022, 48 (8), URL/PDF

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is one from the myth-busting category and examines the relation between countries’ GDP growth and stock market returns. The idea and analyses are admittedly not new and the paper is basically an update of one of the authors previous work. Nonetheless, I think the question is very interesting and still very relevant for regional asset allocation.

  • GDP growth and stock returns are not correlated over the long-term
  • Theoretically, the missing relation is not surprising
  • Go Where the Earnings (per Share) Are

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AgPa #63: Fire the Winners and Hire the Losers

The Folly of Hiring Winners and Firing Losers (2018)
Rob Arnott, Vitali Kalesnik, Lillian Wu
The Journal of Portfolio Management Fall 2018, 45 (1), URL/research affiliates

I am still in my research on manager selection, so apologies to everyone who doesn’t find that too interesting. We already touched the question on what to do with underperforming managers in AgPa #59 and #60. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper, however, examines this problem somewhat more generally and delivers some really simple (but psychologically hard-to-execute) common-sense conclusions.

  • Current winners tend to be future losers
  • High fees are the most reliable way to underperform
  • Investors should use factor exposures and valuations to evaluate fund managers

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AgPa #58: International Diversification – Doing the Right Thing is Hard Sometimes

International Diversification—Still Not Crazy after All These Years (2023)
Cliff Asness, Antti Ilmanen, Dan Villalon
The Journal of Portfolio Management 49(6), 9-18, URL/AQR

In the last post (AgPa #57), we have already seen that international diversification is a powerful protection against the higher-than-expected risk of losing real wealth with stocks over the long term. By coincide, three of the OGs from AQR Capital Management also just released an article about the Fors and Againsts of international diversification. Unsurprisingly, I picked that one for this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper…

  • For: Not everyone can invest in the best-performing market
  • Against: Everything crashes together
  • For: Historic returns don’t show changes in valuation
  • For: Valuation levels should eventually matter
  • For: International diversification provides opportunities for active investors

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AgPa #57: Stocks for the Long-Run – Riskier Than Thought

Stocks for the long run? Evidence from a broad sample of developed markets (2022)
Aizhan Anarkulova, Scott Cederburg, Michael S. O’Doherty
Journal of Financial Economics 143(1), URL/SSRN

Stocks for the Long-Run – this is not only the title of Jeremy Siegel’s popular book but also a well-established idea among investors. If you can wait long enough and don’t need your money on the way, just put it in a diversified index fund and wait. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper challenges this simple advice and shows that even over very long periods, the chance of losing money with stocks can be higher than previously thought…

  • History offers some scary events of wealth-destruction
  • The US equity market is not necessarily representative
  • Global diversification helps tremendously

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AgPa #53: Investing in Interesting Times

Investing in Interesting Times (2023)
Annti Ilmanen
The Journal of Portfolio Management Multi-Asset Special Issue 2023, URL/AQR

Almost exactly one year ago, Antti Ilmanen (Partner at AQR Capital Management) released his outstanding book Investing Amid Low Expected Returns: Making the Most When Markets Offer the Least. The book is (in my opinion) a must-read and the timing couldn’t have been better. Many of the key themes began to materialize in 2022. Given how much markets have changed since then, Antti released a few updates for six of his major ideas in this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper.

  • The low expected return challenge
  • Investors’ response to low expected returns – private markets
  • What happened in 2022 and where we stand now
  • Long-only versus long-short strategies
  • Downside protection via trend-following

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AgPa #47: Equity Factors without Shorting

When Equity Factors Drop Their Shorts (2020)
David Blitz, Guido Baltussen, Pim van Vliet
Financial Analysts Journal, 76(4), URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines the important issue of performance contributions from the long and short legs of the major factor premiums. In English: can we profitably invest in factors without shorting a large number of stocks?

  • The long-legs of factors are more important than the short-legs
  • The same pattern holds in international markets

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AgPa #46: Transaction Costs and Capacities of Factor Strategies

Transaction Costs of Factor-Investing Strategies (2019)
Feifei Li, Tzee-Man Chow, Alex Pickard, Yadwinder Garg
Financial Analysts Journal 75(2), 47-61, URL

In this week’s AGNOSTIC paper, the authors develop a transaction cost model and use it to estimate the capacity of the major factors. There are many ways to define capacity in more detail, but the general idea is quite simple. It is the amount of money you can invest in a profitable strategy before you move prices too much and lose your advantage. Unfortunately, what theoretically sounds simple and intuitive is actually quite difficult to estimate in practice…

  • Implementation costs depend on tilt, turnover, and execution speed
  • Capacities of factors for a maximum cost of 0.5% per year
  • There is not yet a consensus on factor capacities

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AgPa #44: Betting against Quant – Thematic Indices

Betting against Quant: Examining the Factor Exposures of Thematic Indexes (2021)
David Blitz
The Journal of Beta Investment Strategies Winter 2021, URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines a recent trend in the asset management industry: thematic indices. The sales pitch is simple. With a thematic index you can easily invest in the “next big things”. Artificial intelligence, aging population, e-sports and gaming, healthcare breakthroughs – just name your buzzword and you will find an investment product for it. This week’s paper is among the first that examine such thematic investments through the lens of the major factor premiums.

  • Thematic indices are more volatile and have higher betas than the overall market
  • Thematic indices tend to hold expensive, low-quality stocks with neutral momentum
  • There are still reasons why thematic indices exist

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