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Alpha Theory Blog - News and Insights

6 posts categorized "Institutional Investor"

September 14, 2017

Asset Manager Reliance on Human Judgement vs Machine

Asset management is the industry most reliant on human judgement according to a recent Price Waterhouse study on Data Analytics.


Screen Shot 2017-09-14 at 10.14.59 AM


Asset managers rely on human judgement 3x more than the next industry. For an industry with some of the best and brightest, we seem to be far behind. There is no expectation that this will happen overnight, but at a bare minimum we need to be experimenting with ways to enhance our judgement with machines.

Alpha Theory has been doing just that for over 10 years and our clients have outperformed the average hedge fund by over 2x. Getting started is not hard. Adopting “machine” does not require a wholesale change as all of our clients operate with Man + Machine. What it does require is an acceptance that Man alone is generally inferior to Man + Machine and a cultural embrace of the “machine” as an enhancement to the daily judgements we all make.

The reliance on human judgement will fall over time for asset managers. Do not be the last the change.



April 17, 2017

Investor Bias Seen in Data

By Cameron Hight and Justin Harris


Alpha Theory’s Analytics Department studies clients’ historical data to provide useful insights. Over time, we have identified patterns that point to certain investor biases. Typically, biases are highlighted by deviations between actual and optimal position sizes. Said another way, biases occur when managers size positions different than what the risk-reward would suggest.


Here are a few examples:


1. NOT ADJUSTING POSITION SIZE AFTER A BIG PRICE MOVE: One of the most common biases we see in the data, is that after large positive price changes, managers are less likely to cut exposure, even though the probability-weighted return has diminished due to the move. The potential damage from this willful ignorance is compounded by a much larger position with a lower expected return. The typical behavior of investors is to let winners run, however, we’ve found that to be sub-optimal for fundamental funds.

The first step to alleviating this bias is to force re-underwriting names when they reach an unacceptable PWR. If the new assumptions justify the size, then all is good. If not, then the manager knows there is some bias that is causing them to stay in the position. Forcing re-underwriting at critical levels ensures that checks and balances are in place so that profits are kept and not lost on reversals.


2. NOT SIZING UP GOOD PROBABILITY-WEIGHTED RETURN WHEN INITIATING A POSITION: When analysts input price targets into Alpha Theory, and a manager decides to act on that information, what we’ve seen in the data is a tendency to build a position over time. We’ve found, on average, this is detrimental to returns. Slowly scaling into a high conviction and high probability weighted return name causes investors to miss some of the return potential.


3. UNDISCIPLINED APPROACH: Our data has shown that managers who are more disciplined (i.e. have more of their portfolio with price target coverage and size closer to optimal position sizing) tend to outperform those who don’t. Unfortunately, running complex sizing algorithms through our heads is not something we do well. What we see in the data is that positions without explicit price targets underperform. Be it hubris or any other number of reasons, it’s almost always detrimental to returns.


4. DIVERSIFYING: Our research shows that the largest positions in client portfolios outperform smaller names by a big margin, mostly because the batting average on top holdings is high. Most clients nullify this benefit by taking on many more names in the portfolio at much lower probability-weighted returns. We’ve done research which shows that concentrated portfolios outperform diversified portfolios by 2.2% on an alpha basis (run as a Monte Carlo study using batting averages calculated for various portions of client portfolios 2011-2016). The cost of diversification is a loss of alpha without a commensurate improvement in risk protection.


For 2016 returns, if clients sized using the suggested Optimal Position Size, they would have been better off by 5.1%. Clearly we recognize that not every position was able to be sized optimally, but even if half of that difference could have been captured, there was a lot of money left on the table. The biases above highlight why some of the difference occurs. It’s hard to beat an unemotional version of yourself, especially when we’re not psychologically built for the game.

September 13, 2010

Institutional Investor | 8 Mistakes Series – Final Installment Released Today

The last installment of the "8 Mistakes Money Managers Make" series on Institutional Investor (www.InstitutionalInvestor.com) was released today. The series has been highlighted in their weekly electronic newsletter and posted on their homepage. The articles focus on poor position sizing's effect on portfolio risk and return. The root cause being a basic misunderstanding of an asset's impact on the portfolio and how it should be used to determine position size.

A link to the entire series can be found here or by visiting www.InstitutionalInvestor.com and clicking on the "8 Mistakes Money Managers Make" link under the "Asset Management" section.


September 02, 2010

Institutional Investor Article Series: 8 Mistakes Money Managers Make

Institutional Investor (www.institutionalinvestor.com) will feature a daily article series I authored beginning today. The series, “The 8 Mistakes Money Managers Make,” was highlighted in their weekly electronic newsletter today and posted on their homepage. The articles focus on poor position sizing's effect on portfolio risk and return. The root cause being a basic misunderstanding of an asset’s impact on the portfolio and how it should be used to determine position size.

The initial article, “Mistake #1: Discounting the Downside” is located under the “Asset Management” portion of the website and can be found here. Be sure to visit www.InstitutionalInvestor.com tomorrow for the solution to Mistake #2: The Good Stock Paradox.

December 04, 2009


I recently wrote a second article for Institutional Investor magazine (http://www.iimagazine.com/) called “The Problem with Dividends.” You can read the full article here.

Here is an excerpt from that article:

To paraphrase Einstein, “matter cannot be created or destroyed,” yet this fundamental tenet seems to be ignored when discussing dividends. Despite the popularity of dividend-paying stocks, serious analysis dictates that dividends are a net drain of company enterprise value. Why are we so confused about dividends? There seems to be a misunderstanding of enterprise value and tax-effect because dividend payments by their very nature have a negative expected return.

If a company has just paid $10 million in dividends then its enterprise value has decreased by a corresponding $10 million dollars. No value has been created in the dividend payment, but investors are quick to praise the merits of a dividend-paying stock. I believe the flawed logic of this problem is ingrained in the dogma of investing…


September 23, 2009

Institutional Investor Magazine article: A Plea to Put Down the Mental Calculator

I recently wrote an article for Institutional Investor magazine (www.iimagazine.com) called "Capturing the Benefits of Risk-Adjusted Return." It was a plea to put down the mental calculator. You can read the article here.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Hedge funds throw away half of their potential returns by not explicitly calculating risk-adjusted return. After working for a fund and having numerous conversations with hedge and mutual fund managers over the past decade, it is obvious that an overwhelming majority of funds’ mistakes come from poor estimation of risk-reward. 

In fact, most funds have not explicitly defined an upside price target, downside risk target and conviction level for each investment in their portfolio. This is because most fund managers trust that they can manage the portfolio in their head. They analyze and discuss the upside, downside and conviction level for every investment so they assume these factors’ influence is carefully measured into every decision. But I would posit that there is a distinct difference between factoring in upside, downside and conviction level through mental calculation and measuring it with risk-adjusted return. 

Why would you trust your mental calculator for such an important decision? Could you imagine a bungee jumper that knows the height of a bridge, tension of the bungee cord and weight of the jumper but just estimates the correct length of the bungee cord? Absolutely not. For every jump, a calculation is performed to make sure that easily avoidable risk is eliminated.  Investors all too often skip the “bungee cord” calculation of risk-adjusted return and end up assuming undue risk.