Thursday, August 12, 2010
Hello Myrna Loy
Such style success has historically been, if not cyclical, then irregular at best. Older practitioners know this, and the more honest do not shy away from it in their marketing pitches, though many have admittedly watered-down its purity in recent years with diversified programmes and time-frames ostensibly to smooth returns for more risk-averse investors. In its purer form, the fat years have indeed been fat but historically fewer and farther between, whereas the lean years, though more numerous as they have been have (at least for the more disciplined) been negative, though of decidedly smaller magnitudes than the positive. The honest argument (stylistically) remains that such modestly positive aggregate returns with admittedly high variability and prolonged periods of drought have high utility due to their unusual lack of traditional asset class correlations during times of stress. Fair enough. And while intellectually I must admit that I remain snobbish about such a seemingly mindless pursuit, I do accept the premise of the arguments and their agnostic point of departure with regards to the underlying and believe there is a role for such in portfolios. A victory perhaps for function over form.
That said, I believe one can state that during the last decade, price trends across markets and asset classes have been reasonably attractive to this pursuit stylistically - perhaps more attractive than historically one might surmise or forecast it ought to have been. Now, of course, each epoch is different. This epoch may indeed be driven by forces that cause prices to maintain long extended trends that bear no relation to the apparent mean-reversion (stylistically-speaking) of the past. This is an argument one might make with fortitude, given the macro state of the world. But, then again, perhaps not. Perhaps not because perhaps stylistically too many moths may have been attracted to the stylistic flame. Perhaps because the volatility of volatility might have increased and (Hello Myrna) the return of episodic whipsaws might be both more numerous and of heretofore not seen magnitudes that, in a word, bugger existing model parameters, and perhaps more importantly to those who've over-specified, bugger the adaptations to emergent regimes.
It might be foolish to forecast with certitude such a future. Nonetheless, I suspect there is a sea-change about, a sea-change worthy of contemplation in the same thought as Myrna and Spencer. There can be no table-pounding in this regard, for it is not proverbial low-hanging fruit. But for the introspective (and Andy Grove paranoid) it is always worth looking around to see who is playing, how they are playing, and in what relative size they are playing. The now-hackneyed "Risk-on, Risk-Off" paradigm being exemplary. For when too many pursue the same, using similar methods, returns inevitably drop, while unexpected shit happens. So look around, observe, and ruminate upon the old saw..."too clever by half".