Busting the 60:40 myth

by | Opinions

Why private assets are emerging as an alternative for HNI investors

  • Private Equity returns have beaten public market returns over the last 10, 15 and 20 year period
  • A 30-year investment of 10,000$ in S&P 500 would amount to 76,312$, whereas the same amount in a private equity fund would become a whopping 211,071$ – a 20x return
  • Individual investors allocated less than 5% of their investments to alternatives, compared to 26% by pension funds and 57% by endowment funds. America’s largest public pension plan, CalPERS put $7 billion into private equity during the 2018-2019 fiscal year. “We need private equity, we need more of it, and we need it now,” chief investment officer Ben Meng said in early 2019
  • The case for alternatives is well understood by HNW (High Net-Worth) investors: for instance, 67.5% of the registered investment advisors surveyed said their HNW clients are interested in private equity. And yet, on average only 10% of their client base is investing in private equity funds
  • In view of worldwide rising volatility and disruption, alternatives are well suited to create value through selection and a record 1.7 trillion dry powder ready to invest
  • Disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are helping fund managers to improve operational efficiencies while creating new opportunities for investment

Over the past 20 years, alternative investments have surged tenfold from a trillion dollars to 10 trillion USD compounding roughly at 12% per annum and slated to grow to 14 trillion USD by the year 2023. 

You may ask what are alternative investments? Alternative investment is a financial asset that does not fall into traditional investment categories like stocks, bonds or mutual funds. These include, but are not limited to private equity, private debt, hedge funds, real estate, infrastructure and natural resources.

Over the last few decades private markets have grown significantly in scale and complexity and are rife with opportunities. Quite simply put, alternative investments provide higher returns and lesser volatility as compared to private markets as we can see from the data of the last two decades.

 Source – Committee on Capital Markets Regulation and Voya Investment Management (October 2017)

By investing in alternatives, an investor can easily diversify their portfolio and control risks. According to a study published on PlanAdviser.com, more than half (53%) of millennials favor alternative investments over ‘traditional diversification’. People all over the world are realizing the potential of such investments and the train is about to leave the station. Googling “liquid alternatives” yields 119 million results in half a second.

The pandemic has ruined businesses and all over the world, companies in certain sectors are being sold for cents on the dollar. Private equity companies are sitting on a cash pile of 1.7 trillion USD and are ready to take advantage of these distress opportunities and primed to push for higher deal-making. According to a PwC report, PE firms are looking to increase investments across TMT – technology, media, and telecom in the coming months as the sector has shown more recession resiliency relative to other industry groups.

Further reasons why seasoned or ‘accredited investors’ should make the shift towards alternatives are:

Public Markets are overcrowded and expensive – Over the last 10 years, stock market valuations have kept on increasing year on year and as of September 11, 2020, the P/E ratio of S&P 500 has reached 28.72 compared against the historical average between 13 and 15. Overcrowding in the public markets has led to such high valuations and earnings are simply not matching up to these crazy valuations. For example, TESLA trades as 970 times its earnings, and Hilton Hotels trades at 728 times its earnings. There are fewer public companies (number of listed companies have decreased 39% in the last 25 years) and companies are waiting much longer in their life cycle to go public (average age of US tech cos which went public was 4 years in 1999, which had risen to 11 years by 2014).

Private Markets Opportunities Growing – There are around 400 unicorn startups (private companies that are valued above $1 bn). With large companies and funds willing to back these companies, they don’t have a huge incentive to go public to raise funds. These companies are remaining private longer because it allows them to think and act more strategically, which means that equity investors have less access to the market as a whole. Alternative investments allow individual investors to gain access to this asset class which is designed to take advantage of volatility, dispersion, and dislocations are particularly well suited and may provide returns that have low correlations to traditional betas. The industry has crossed the 10 trillion barrier and with over 12,000 active alternative asset management institutions, the numbers are just going to grow. Furthermore, more and more fund managers are deploying artificial intelligence & machine learning (AIML) technologies to stay ahead of the curve.

More sources of information available to investors – Individuals have much higher access to information regarding private markets. There are hundreds of financial research software that can help an investor conduct proper due diligence on private companies as well as private equity funds. Some of the most used databases are Pitchbook, CB Insights, Mattermark, Tracxn, S&P Capital IQ, Eikon, and the Bloomberg Terminal. Apart from providing investors with quality data, some of these platforms also allow for making models and risk analysis. The free internet also has huge coverage of private companies and markets which enable an investor to make a rational decision.

Change in regulations paving way for easier access to private markets – The Securities and Exchange Commission in the USA is changing the way alternative investments are going to be regulated. Chairman Jay Clayton has said he’s eyeing an overhaul of all regulations around private placements, with the intent of making them more accessible to individual investors. It appears the democratization of alternatives is an SEC priority. In fact, its December press release recognizes the key role that pooled investment vehicles, including private and regulated funds, can play in providing a more level playing field for individual investors and allow them to gain from excess or uncorrelated returns from participation in the private markets. The European Commission has issued its much-awaited report on the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD). The report is short – only six pages of substance – but gives a clear sense of the direction of travel.

Asset owners’ evolving needs – Asset owners are looking for ways to optimize their alternatives allocations, with goals that extend beyond performance and diversification. In many instances, investors are seeking strategic relationships with alternatives managers that have the potential to create value on several levels. Investors want to invest in causes or technologies they are personally interested in. The new-age investor also wants to invest in companies following ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) norms. According to consultancy firm Mercer, more than three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) incorporate ESG criteria when investing in alternative asset classes and that most believe ESG improves risk-adjusted returns and is an important aspect of risk and reputation management. New platforms are emerging which allows for customization in the alternatives. iCapital in the US, Moonfare in Europe, and Torre capital in Asia are changing the way people invest in alternatives.

While we advocate for allocation to alternatives, we don’t want to wish away the inherent risks. Some of the risks while investing in private markets are:

Illiquidity – While private markets are gaining higher liquidity over time with the deepening of the secondary market and lingering overhaul of regulations, certain assets in private markets are highly illiquid and an investor must be aware of the amount of time their capital may be locked for 5-10 years. Only dedicate that portion of your portfolio which you are comfortable investing for long term, and where a little bit of volatility would not unnerve you. 

Smart Allocation: We at Torre Capital do not recommend investors to allocate more than 10% of their portfolio to alternatives across asset classes. It is always better to ask for advice and understand the role of alternatives in your portfolio given your current asset allocation and your financial goals before you make your first investment. Smart allocation that allows you to stick to your investing plan would always yield higher returns than investing just based on returns offered or relative “hotness” of an asset class. 

Novice Effect – During the cryptocurrency mania in 2016, everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon rather than regret missing out on a huge opportunity and a lot of amateur investors lapped up various cryptocurrencies only to suffer a major crash and lull for a long-time. Although interest in alternatives is heating up, novice investors should do proper due diligence of where their money is going and not bet on gambles promising enormous returns. 

Manager Selection – Manager selection in alternatives matters. Unlike in public equities, where the difference between top- and bottom-quartile managers in any one-year averages about 2.5 percent, in private equities that spread approaches 20 percent. Picking the right or wrong manager matters hugely if an investor is looking for discretionary portfolio management.

We at Torre Capital pride ourselves on our promise to always look out for our investor interests. Irrespective of incentives offered, we only bring investments that make sense for our investors. Our motto is principal preservation over principal protection, and we conduct multiple levels of due diligence before offering an investment on our platform. We request you to always do your homework before investing, and reach out to us in case of any queries! 

 

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