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Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-16-2007, 11:08 PM   #1
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Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

I've just finished reading a Random Walk Down Wall Street by Malkiel, fantastic book. Now, I am sure in this forum I am preaching to the choir by asking "why active investing"? Study after study show that long term investment results are a factor of keeping expenses as low as possible, and asset allocation. Yet, looking in any newspaper or financial rag you see active fund after active fund touted, generally after it has run up in price.

Why hasn't indexing become part of the dogma yet? Why isn't it a huge chunk of the investment capital? How do people get fooled into buying active funds? Is it the gambling portion of our psyche? The part that says we can "beat the system"?

I've been reading about all these private equity acquisitions. These people believe they can beat the market by buying huge companies outright to change the management structures. Others are investing in hedge funds with OUTLANDISH expenses. I think the phrase is "2 and 20" which means, 2% of net assets, and 20% of any profits! Some of these hedge funds are (ab)using our court system to file claims against companies to try to reduce the stock price while shorting the stock.

So, besides for a long rant, do you believe it is possible to generate long term alpha? Or is this just a heyday for investment banks and hedge funds to find yet another sophisticated way of siphoning profits?

The more paranoid part in me thinks that it is a vicious circle. The magazines pump the active mutual funds, who then rich in management fees spend money advertising in their papers. The fund will get too large, not do too well, but all the fees collected will allow them to create another 20 funds. 3 of these will stick and make it to the next issue of the magazine. Rinse and repeat!

It is rare that any financial magazine will say "This fund has a beta of 1 to the S&P 500, so your money is better spent on a low-cost S&P500 index fund." So rare in fact, that I have never seen such a thing ...

/rant
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 06:13 AM   #2
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

you are lumping investment vehicles for the masses along with hedge funds and private equity. apples to oranges

a lot of these investment vehicles have generated returns better than indexing for a very long time

Random Walk is just a theory among dozens of investment theories. some people have made money by indexing, others have beat the indexes over the long term with active investing
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 08:27 AM   #3
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

The way to non-average returns is through a non-average portfolio, either through above average selection skills or maybe through increased volatility. In essence it’s the placement of big bets, with above average gains or losses. Mutual funds are required by law to maintain a minimum level of diversification (making it harder to be non-average), while hedge funds are not. Mutual funds often have high returns in their early years, when they have a small investor base, becoming more average as they grow larger. Hedge fund data appears to suffer from serious survivor bias, with a lower average returns than is reported.

Index investing is simply the logical conclusion that a large fund holding many securities will likely have relatively average returns, and that there is no need to pay high prices for average returns. Add to that the higher investing costs and taxes triggered by turnover from active management, and the active manager has a steep hill to climb.

Magazines are for entertainment, and need a new ‘hook’ each month to make a sale.
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 08:48 AM   #4
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

hedge funds and private equity get a lot of their returns from being highly levaraged. back in the day long term capital management was making double digit gains on bond trading and single digit gains on each trade. but with the magic of levarage it turned into 20% plus gains per year for a few years.

hedge funds can short so when the market is tanking 20% in a bear market a good hedge fund manager can make a ton of cash

private equity gets a lot of it's investment money from pension funds and is kind of like Enron where they have SPV's. Strategy is buy up a company in trouble with very little debt. use a lot of borrowed money as levarage. transfer the debt to the company and take a ton of money as special dividends and management fees, etc. fix the company and then pawn it back in an IPO like JCrew and come out with 20% plus annual gains

the law of large numbers is the only thing working against them. when you manage $1 billion in capital it's easy to move money around. if you are like Fidelity it takes months to buy and sell your positions even in the biggest companies and that is when returns suffer.

but you can't compare index investing to hedge funds and other alternative investments. with the sp500 index fund your gains depend a little on dividends and mostly on others bidding up the stock you already own to new highs. with private equity and hedge funds a lot of their investments generate real cash on a regular basis at amazing rates of return
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 09:01 AM   #5
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Hedge funds have the potential for higher returns through highly leveraged speculation, but it is still governed by the principles of risk and reward. A large bet has both a large risk and a large reward. And to finish your thought on LTCM, it was making huge leveraged bets speculative bets. Yes, the reward paid off at first making 40% per year for around 3 years. Then the risk-side reared its ugly head and had to be bailed out by the Fed it had lost so much money!

I don't think a hedge fund to mutual fund comparison is really apples to oranges. Can anyone report that a hedge fund has beaten an index fund consistently, even after the expenses?
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 09:06 AM   #6
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

I use active funds for most of my portfolio.

I believe I can generate above average returns with some intelligence and thought. All managed funds are NOT created equal.

I have several managed funds with expenses less than .75%... I realize this might be 4X the amount on VFINX (.18%), but I also did much better in 2000-2002, and the index still has not caught up. I am ahead of index this year, and was ahead of index last year... and one of my funds has beaten index for last 5-7 years.

My large cap funds own many of the same stocks as the S&P 500 index funds, but not all the stocks in the index, so I have some of the upside and avoid a significant amount of the downside.

Indexing to some is a religion... I will live or die broke based on my investment decisions... I choose to put a manager in charge of this... not some independant company (S&P) to choose my stocks for me.

I know my fund manager. Do you know anyone on the committee to choose which stocks are in the S&P 500?

I know how my fund manager picks stocks (based on his 10+ years tenure with T Rowe Price and record of investing). How does the committee mentioned above choose the 500 companies in the index. It is NOT the 500 biggest, it is NOT the 500 fastest growing. It has the "biggest of the big", but it is not the 500 largest, so I am skeptical of subjective criteria for an unknown committee to add stocks to the index.

For the record my two core fund are

PRFDX
PRWCX

I also own

PRNHX
PRIDX
PREMX
RPMGX

and my wife owns
TRIGX
TROSX

These are the core of our Roths- we have other funds in our 401ks.

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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 09:16 AM   #7
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Olav23
Hedge funds have the potential for higher returns through highly leveraged speculation, but it is still governed by the principles of risk and reward. A large bet has both a large risk and a large reward. And to finish your thought on LTCM, it was making huge leveraged bets speculative bets. Yes, the reward paid off at first making 40% per year for around 3 years. Then the risk-side reared its ugly head and had to be bailed out by the Fed it had lost so much money!

I don't think a hedge fund to mutual fund comparison is really apples to oranges. Can anyone report that a hedge fund has beaten an index fund consistently, even after the expenses?
downfall of LTCM was the law of large numbers again as well as copycats. they were great in their first few years and as people started copying them and they got in more capital they had to take more risks to make the same return. victim of success just like Peter Lynch and Magellan.

i forgot the guy's name but one of the Black-Scholes duo was part of LTCM. The one who believed in an efficient market and whose theory was torn to shreds in 1998

Jim Cramer beat the Sp500 over the long term. Blackstone has done it. Pretty sure T Boone Pickens has done it as well along with George Soros

it's apples to oranges because there is no such legal entity as a hedge fund. it's a nickname for a private investment partnership that can invest in almost anything it wants. Both Jim Cramer and George Soros ran hedge funds, but it was vastly different investments. mutual funds are limited to stocks and no derivatives
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 10:03 AM   #8
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Mutual funds can short-sell (I think up to a maximum of 30% of profits or some arbitrary number). There are also mutual funds from Rydex and Proshares that return the inverse of some indices, so I am not sure how they can get away with this. Maybe they never profit more than 30%? They can also use leverage, but to a much smaller degree. Some funds that seem to blur the line between hedge and mutual:

PCRIX - profits from commodity instruments
Rydex Inverse Dynamic S&P 500 - Inverse fund that seeks 200% of the daily performance of the S&P 500® Index.

So, it seems to me the only difference between a hedge and a mutual fund is basically disclosure and SEC registration. It seems sorta like people paying for the exclusivity of being in a select club, and proving they have a high net worth.

I guess the argument can be made that it is another asset-class, and overall provides diversification benefits since it has more of a range of investments it can make, but it just doesn't seem like a prudent investment for a person with "just enough" to get into a hedge fund expecting to beat the market overall.

And sure, you can make the arguments that there are the T Boone Pickens of the world, just as you can say there are Warren Buffets. But, try to predict the next Pickens or Buffet, and if you find them in advance, please let me know!
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 11:35 AM   #9
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

The folks who manage the Yale Foundation have done very well investing in "managed futures", which are basically baskets of non-correlated assets like international currencies, commodities, . etc.

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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 11:50 AM   #10
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Olav23
Mutual funds can short-sell (I think up to a maximum of 30% of profits or some arbitrary number). There are also mutual funds from Rydex and Proshares that return the inverse of some indices, so I am not sure how they can get away with this. Maybe they never profit more than 30%? They can also use leverage, but to a much smaller degree. Some funds that seem to blur the line between hedge and mutual:

PCRIX - profits from commodity instruments
Rydex Inverse Dynamic S&P 500 - Inverse fund that seeks 200% of the daily performance of the S&P 500® Index.

So, it seems to me the only difference between a hedge and a mutual fund is basically disclosure and SEC registration. It seems sorta like people paying for the exclusivity of being in a select club, and proving they have a high net worth.

I guess the argument can be made that it is another asset-class, and overall provides diversification benefits since it has more of a range of investments it can make, but it just doesn't seem like a prudent investment for a person with "just enough" to get into a hedge fund expecting to beat the market overall.

And sure, you can make the arguments that there are the T Boone Pickens of the world, just as you can say there are Warren Buffets. But, try to predict the next Pickens or Buffet, and if you find them in advance, please let me know!
main difference is that you can start a hedge fund to invest in any way you want. from stocks, to derivatives to buying apartments in Berlin. anyway you can think of making money you can do it and change asset classes as you want.

with a mutual fund there is a charter to follow with all kinds of limitations as to which assets the fund can buy and how much cash it can hold. I can sell my entire 401k with a click of a mouse if I think the market is going to tank. Most mutual funds have to keep the depreciating assets and take the loss until they come back.

last few years commodities have been hot and hedge funds made a ton of money. mutual funds were left out since almost all of them are not allowed to buy commodities. why do you think you don't hear so many horror stories about CALPERS and other pension systems that were throught to be on the brink of collapse after the Nasdaq bubble? because they are all big investors in hedge funds and private equity and have made a ton of money in the last few years

with hedge funds and private equity you don't need to find the next Peter Lynch or whatever since your investments are rolled over into what is currently making money rather being stuck in one asset class. a lot of funds made a ton of money doing no brainer things like the yen carry trade with leverage
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 12:53 PM   #11
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

As I remember readinng a long time ago.... it is not hard to 'beat' an index such as the DOW...

look at all 30 stocks... rank them in order of the best to worst... don't buy the worst one or two stocks and weight the rest of your portfolio a bit higher...
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 01:01 PM   #12
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Texas Proud
As I remember readinng a long time ago.... it is not hard to 'beat' an index such as the DOW...

look at all 30 stocks... rank them in order of the best to worst... don't buy the worst one or two stocks and weight the rest of your portfolio a bit higher...
That sounds logical.

I sometimes wonder if the appeal of passive investing via index funds appeals to people like me for all the wrong reasons. I have less understanding of the positive and negative aspects of the multitude of individual companies than almost anyone you might meet. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to retire and trying to learn what I need to know to invest. The suggestion that all I have to do is to invest in a few index funds, using a simple asset allocation, is far too appealing.
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 01:12 PM   #13
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Well - it took me about forty years of reading/study/hands on investment and a fairly expensive education via learn thru your mistakes to figure out:

1. Yes - it really is that simple.

2. The more you know, the greater danger you are - to yourself.

3. Hormones(especially male though not always) are incurable - unless you are dead.

Target Retirement - for retirement AND a few individual stocks for da hormones cause I don't golf and I haven't bought that kayak yet.

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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 01:16 PM   #14
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Want2retire

I sometimes wonder if the appeal of passive investing via index funds appeals to people like me for all the wrong reasons. I have less understanding of the positive and negative aspects of the multitude of individual companies than almost anyone you might meet. Suddenly, I find myself wanting to retire and trying to learn what I need to know to invest. The suggestion that all I have to do is to invest in a few index funds, using a simple asset allocation, is far too appealing.
If you follow the teachings of Bogle, this is exactly what he says. That everyone has a "system" to beat the odds, but in the end, simply staying the course and buying the market will beat 2/3s or 9/10s of active funds.

On the dow idea, there is a well known tactic did sorta similar, except the exact opposite called "dogs of the dow". The idea behind the "Dogs of the Dow" strategy is to buy those DJ companies with the lowest P/E ratios and highest dividend yields. By doing so, you're selecting those Dow stocks that are cheapest relative to their peers. So, basically, you are buying the WORST performing dow stocks. It is a value play and it worked well for a time. Then everyone started doing it and it worked its way out of the market.

So, Want2Retire, I'd say you have as close to the optimal plan as possible, whether by accident or intent A whole lot of Hurry up and wait. And don't worry, most mutual fund and hedge fund managers just like to THINK they understand the positive and negative aspects of most of their investments, time is the judge of that.
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 01:52 PM   #15
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Olav23
On the dow idea, there is a well known tactic did sorta similar, except the exact opposite called "dogs of the dow". The idea behind the "Dogs of the Dow" strategy is to buy those DJ companies with the lowest P/E ratios and highest dividend yields. By doing so, you're selecting those Dow stocks that are cheapest relative to their peers. So, basically, you are buying the WORST performing dow stocks. It is a value play and it worked well for a time. Then everyone started doing it and it worked its way out of the market.
You missed what I said then... yes, I know the dogs of the Dow... but that is one where you buy the highest yielding stocks.... they might or might not be the 'best' or 'worst'...

When I say rank them, you have to rank according to expected total gain.. you might have all the Dogs in this group.. maybe not... what you are trying to do is 'pick' the one or two WORST stocks for expected return next year. Now, you might not actually pick the one number 30, but if it is in the bottom 10, then you buying all the others as a group, you beat the index...
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 02:26 PM   #16
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Sorry, I just don't follow. How do you subjectively characterize "best" and "worst"? Are we talking yearly performance? Some fundamental metric? or?
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 02:28 PM   #17
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Olav23
So, it seems to me the only difference between a hedge and a mutual fund is basically disclosure and SEC registration. It seems sorta like people paying for the exclusivity of being in a select club, and proving they have a high net worth.
Nope, apples and oranges. David Swensen, chief investment officer of Yale University, wrote a book that basically said there are two types of investors: those who have the capacity to follow a high-quality active management program and those who don’t. In other words, there are those who can obtain alpha and those who can’t. He essentially recommended that the latter investors follow low-cost, passive strategies for the bulk of their portfolios.

Look him up, he has a pretty decent track record - Yale's endowment has returned an average of 16% per year the past two decades.

Here's their asset allocation. "Absolute Return" is a fancy name for hedge fund.

• 14 percent domestic equities
• 14 percent international equities
• 5 percent fixed income
• 25 percent absolute return
• 25 percent real estate
• 17 percent private equity

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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-17-2007, 08:14 PM   #18
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jIMOh
I use active funds for most of my portfolio.

I believe I can generate above average returns with some intelligence and thought. All managed funds are NOT created equal.

I do believe that NOT all managed funds and more importantly NOT all managers are created equal. The problem that I have is that given there are more managed funds than stocks, I don't know how to chose the managers. I don't know if there past performance is due to lucky (1 billion monkey producing Shakespeare) or skill. I find it personally easier to select stock since there are more metrics available besides, past performance, and perhaps a bit of data on relative risk.
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-18-2007, 12:26 AM   #19
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Yeah, I heard Swensen has a new book out. He attempted to write a book on how us "regulars" can invest like an endowment, but as he sat down to write it, his conclusion was we can't.

Interesting op-ed piece on the yale endowment from nytimes:

Quote:
Yale has an endowment of something approaching $13 billion. Under the stewardship of its top-flight investment manager, David F. Swensen, it has compounded recently at the rate of very roughly 20 percent a year.

The Yale endowment can grow at this astounding rate partly because of the stock-picking prowess of Mr. Swensen's team. That prowess is obviously formidable - although, based on what I read by and about him, it is not unusual or exotic. But the endowment can compound at that rate mostly because its immense size allows it to invest in great things called private-equity deals. In this type of investment, the managers of a company buy it away from its stockholders, or outsiders buy it from its owners and then restructure it.

There are staggering profits to be made in these deals - sometimes losses, too. But in a well-thought-out deal, private-equity investors buy a company with a thin little slice of equity - maybe 10 percent - and a lot of debt. If the company can be spruced up and resold a few years later (or many years later) for four times the purchase price, that original investment has suddenly (or gradually) grown by a multiple of 30 because all of the gain goes to the investors who put up only 10 percent of the purchase price.

This is the best business in America - by far - and it is run by very brilliant men and women. People like me, even with seven figures to invest, cannot come near these deals. Big players like university endowments and very rich family funds get in on them all the time. Again, these deals account for a large part of Yale's spectacular endowment growth.

Another major source of Yale's great gains is their tax-free status. Its endowment managers can trade rapidly in hedge funds without paying the short-term capital gains rates that we peons pay. This gives them a big advantage over most investors. If it were taken away, I wonder what the endowment's return on investments would be in stock or commodities trading.
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?
Old 05-18-2007, 05:50 AM   #20
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Re: Can anyone realistically generate long-term alpha?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Texas Proud
As I remember readinng a long time ago.... it is not hard to 'beat' an index such as the DOW...

look at all 30 stocks... rank them in order of the best to worst... don't buy the worst one or two stocks and weight the rest of your portfolio a bit higher...
Not that simple. The "best" stocks (usually high growth) will have higher prices, whereas the "worst" stocks will have low prices (in general). You may be paying too much for the best and too little for the worst. The only long term strategy that seems to beat the index (by fractions - ref Dreman) is to buy what are called "value" stocks which are mostly the beat up stocks disregarded by the market. This value effect is causing a lot of theoretical head scratching at the moment to try and figure out why it might be so.
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