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Alternative Market Briefing

Other Voices: Two unanswered questions about alternative betas

Thursday, March 13, 2014

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Andrew Beer
By: Andrew Beer, Beachhead Capital Management

Alternative betas, or risk premia, are established investment strategies that are simple enough to automate with a computer but too complicated for most investors to implement directly. For instance, you can program a computer to buy "value" stocks and short "growth" stocks, but few investors choose to do this on their own. The same argument can be made for merger arbitrage, currency carry trades, momentum, trend following, commodity roll trades and other common trading strategies employed by hedge funds.

The advertised appeal of alternative beta products is that they have a low correlation to traditional assets and have a high-expected return – the practical definition of a valuable diversifier. With widespread pressure to bring down the cost of investing, many investors are considering whether to invest directly in alternative betas to avoid high hedge fund fees and improve liquidity. Having examined a broad range of these products, we conclude that there are two (big) unanswered questions. Each arguably undercuts the diversification thesis.

1. What are expected returns?

There is a paradox in the alternative beta diversification thesis. Expected returns for alternative risk premia are supposed to be high since most investors do not or cannot invest in them directly. However, the proliferation of products should lead to capital inflows and hence drive down returns over time.

This is not a small issue. Ta......................

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