Tthrough October 31, the average hedge fund has returned a paltry 6%, 75% below the return of the S&P 500 and the average mutual fund. And while the traditional retort: "hedge funds aren't supposed to outperform the market but to hedge downside risk" is always at the ready, the retort to that retort is that as long as Mr. Yellen is Chief Risk Officer for the S&P, and the Federal Reserve is engaged in QE and otherwise generating a "wealth effect", which according to many will be in perpetuity or until the Fed finally and mercifully is abolished, the purpose behind the existence of hedge funds is simply no longer there as the Fed will never again voluntarily allow the kind of market drop that would make the existence of hedge funds meaningful.
Curious which were the best and worst performing asset classes for the month of October? Deutsche Bank explains.
Succinctly summarizing the weekly bull/bear recap, positive and negative news, data, and market events of the week...
It was overall a fairly dismal month for most assets as Deutsche's Jim Reid notes sentiment was weighed down by a) ongoing tapering fears, b) a further shakeup in EM assets and currencies, and later during the month c) the escalating tension in Syria. Clearly returns in fixed income and the broader emerging market space were tapered down further by tapering concerns but DM equities were also not immune to the softer risk backdrop. The biggest loser in August were EM bonds, followed by Wheat and the S&P 500. The biggest gainer in Auguest was Silver followed by Brent crude and Chinese stocks.
Here are the best and west performing hedge funds so far in 2013. We hardly find it surprising that the woefully named Keynesian Leveraged Quantitative Strategies, which has gotten every part of its name wrong, is among the worst alpha (and amusingly beta) generators so far in 2013.
That hedge funds as a whole have been underperforming the S&P500 not only in 2013 but in the past five years is well-known to most. This trend continued into the second half when, as Goldman calculates, the average hedge fund has returned only 4.1%, or an 80% underperformance compared to the S&P500's 20% through August 9. This is a marked deterioration compared to the 65% underperformance the last time we made this comparative observation in May. Some of the other more surprising observations: YTD, 25% of hedge funds have generated absolute losses and fewer than 5% of hedge funds has outperformed the S&P 500 or the average large-cap core mutual fund. 2 and 20 anyone?
For all those curious why all real money managers (and not those who spend 18 hours a day on the modern day Yahoo Finance known as Twitter, "trading" with monopoly money while selling $29.95 newsletters) are furious at what Bernanke and company are doing as shown in the most recent Ira Sohn conference, we present the chart below from Goldman which confirms what most have already known: the Federal Reserve has made hedge funds a thing of the past, whose investors are sure to keep underperforming the S&P until the moment when it all goes tumbling down.
It may seem uncharitable to note that only 0.4% - that's 4/10th of 1% - of mutual fund managers outperform a plain-vanilla S&P 500 index fund over 10 years, but that is being generous: by other measures, it's an infinitesimal 1/10th of 1%. So what do we get for investing our capital in mutual funds and hedge funds? The warm and fuzzy feeling that we've contributed the liquidity needed to grease a monumental skimming operation. Ten out of 10,000 is simply signal noise; in effect, nobody beats an index fund. The entire financial management industry is a rentier arrangement: they skim immense profits and return no productive yield at all.
There is one problem with relentlessly ramping markets (whether due to four years of liquidity injections by the Fed, or due to four years of liquidity injections by the Fed) - they make all those who by definition have to be hedged, seem stupid by comparison. In this case, this means that for the fifth year in a row, the vast majority of brand name hedge funds are once again underperforming the S&P, even though most of them have shifted to the highest net long exposure in history, while charging their increasingly more angry investors 2 and 20 for the privilege of underperforming the most micromanaged asset of all - the S&P500, and its unpaid portfolio manager, Ben Bernanke. And while there are three certain things in life: death, taxes and Paulson being one of the worst performers in the world (perhaps he is moving to Puerto Rico not to avoid paying taxes but to escape furious LPs), as he indeed is for the third year running what is most surprising is that through the middle of March, according to HSBC, every single brand name hedge funds is once again underperforming the S&P.
We noted yesterday the growing disconnect between stocks and credit - today saw stocks start to play catch-down. High-yield credit (specifically HYG - the bond ETF) has fallen four days in a row - its biggest four day plunge in over 2 months (with today's drop the biggest single-day drop in almost 4 months) amid mega volume. VIX (another notable disconnect) continued to push higher (above 14% for the first time in 3 weeks). Treasuries had been leaking higher in yield on the week (30Y +8bps as FOMC hit) but slid lower as the post-FOMC day wore on. The USD weakness (led by significant strength in CHF and EUR) supported precious metals (and commodities broadly) but not stocks. Silver are up almost 3% on the week (and Gold outperforming USD's implied shift). Homebuilders faded from the open with all the QE-sensitive sectors (Materials, Energy, and Discretionary) all red on the week now. It would appear that bonds recoupling (higher in yield) with stocks was the end of the catalyst for this run higher for now as divergences are appearing everywhere. S&P futures end the day red on the week, on large average trade size and volume.
While the overnight session has been relatively quiet, the overarching theme has been a simple one: currency warfare, as more of the world wakes up to what the BOJ is doing and doesn't like it. The latest entrants in global warfare: Taiwan, whose central bank overnight said it would step in the FX market if needed, then Thailand, whose currency was weakened on market adjustment according to Prasarn, and of course South Korea, where the BOK said that global currency war spreads protectionism. Last but not least was China which brought out the big guns after the PBOC deputy governor Yi Gang "warned on currency wars." To wit: "Quantitative easing for developed economies is generating some uncertainties in financial markets in terms of capital flows,” Yi, who is also head of China’s foreign-exchange regulator, told reporters. “Competitive devaluation is one aspect of it. If everyone is doing super QE, which currency will depreciate?” “A currency war, a series of tit-for-tat competitive devaluations, would trigger trade protection measures that would damage global trade and therefore growth globally,” said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc in Hong Kong, who previously worked for the World Bank. “That would not be good for any country with a stake in the global economy.” Which brings us to the fundamental question - if everyone eases, has anyone eased? And is there such a thing as a free lunch when central banks simply finance global deficits while eating their soaring stock market cake too? The answer, of course, is no, but we will cross that bridge soon enough.
We warned yesterday that European equity's surge was not supported by credit and that truism is massively obvious in today's market moves. European stocks soared (especially Italy and Spain) to new cycle highs as corporate and financial credit capped in its recent range - actually widening from its opening gap tights. European sovereigns also gapped tighter on the open and then proceeded to bleed wider all day long - most notably in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. Spanish 2Y jumped over 25bps from low to high yield today (and we suspect Spain bond yields have bottomed in teh short-term). EURUSD remains practically unch on the week - having dropped from over 1.30 earlier when Van Hollen let some truth out on the US fiscal cliff deal. Oil recovered from its spike lows yesterday (as did Silver). GGBs were very quiet and stable at around 35 but Weidmann's comments into the close on transfer unions and not rewarding failure did spook some weakness into risk-assets. Europe's VIX, meanwhile, closed at 16.49% - its lowest since June 2007!
Year-to-Date, the S&P 500 has just dropped back below Gold...Gold's performance year-to-date just surpassed that of the S&P 500 once again. If this remains the case into year-end, this will be the third year in a row that Gold has outperformed stocks. Looking forward, which 'asset' would you choose - Stocks with an implied volatility of 17% or Gold at 15.75% to the end of the year? Sharpe Ratio anyone? Perhaps asking your 'asset allocator' what his weighting is based on will be a worthwhile conversation - with the outperforming returns (past is not a predictor of the future - and noone knows) but lower forward risk expectations?
Hands down, the best way to trade stock market volatility day today is simply not to do it, cash out, and purchase hard assets, in particular, precious metals.