Enter the Dragon: David S. Wong interviews Thurleigh’s David Rosier
The S&P 500 index ended 2011 relatively unchanged despite a year of high volatility driven by the European Sovereign Debt Crisis and the pertinent risk of double dip recession. During the year, the markets witnessed the major impacts of the Arab Spring, Japanese earthquake, downgrade of the US credit rating and the risk of a Eurozone country defaulting on its debt obligations – none of which were ‘predicted’ by Wall Street analysts in the beginning of the year.
The future is a lot harder to predict than Wall Street would have us believe in. As Nassim Taleb remarked, “To prophesize, don’t add anything to the future; just figure out and eliminate what will not survive.” This Popperian view that all investment hypotheses are provisionally accepted until proven wrong may not seem comforting to investors. Nonetheless, it has not stopped the influx of money flowing into hedge funds.
Hedge funds on average lost 4.83% in 2011 despite amassing a record $2.04 trillion in total capital under management in the first quarter of 2011. The industry – which caters to wealthy and institutional investors chasing higher returns for bigger fees – appears to be licking its wounds as fund managers finished the year in the red. The hedge fund industry which prides itself on outperforming the market has failed to live up to expectations and delivered one of their worst annual performances last year. As 2012 – the year of the black Dragon according to Chinese Zodiac – rolls on, can the industry reverse its fortunes?
B Beyond caught up with David Rosier CEO and co-founder of Thurleigh Investment Managers.
David Rosier and Charles MacKinnon, founders of Thurleigh Investment Managers, are a rare breed of investment managers who have skin in the game. David and Charles stress the importance of ‘eating your own cooking’ and have their own personal wealth invested alongside their clients’.
BB In your view, what is driving the current market conditions?
DR At the moment, there is greed and there is fear. There is greed because you are leaving your money on deposit and earning next to nothing and there is fear because the markets have become so volatile. It is a ‘risk on risk off’ mentality. The flight to safety or what investors perceive as safe investments has been driving this ’bubble’ in the gilt-edge securities. I mean, it’s mad to buy 10-year gilts yielding less than 3% when inflation is 5%.
BB Has this affected your strategy?
DR The way we implement our strategy hasn’t changed. We have always focused on asset allocation and academic research has shown that 90% of portfolio returns can be attributed to asset allocation rather than stock selection. We have always invested in a mixture of index funds, ETF and absolute return funds. We believe that by active asset allocation it is possible to capture short-term cyclical opportunities to enhance the returns without increasing risk. I’d say the main change is we no longer invest in hedge funds with the exception of a few CTAs (Commodities Trading Advisors). People got very frightened in 2008.
BB Why do you no longer invest in hedge funds?
DR We no longer invest in hedge funds for two reasons: liquidity and control. Firstly, our clients wanted liquidity. After the credit crunch, our clients would ring us up and ask ‘how soon could we liquidate our portfolio’, not necessarily doing it, but just the comfort to know they could turn it into cash. Secondly, when you invest in hedge funds, you lose the element of control. In early 2007, we put orders on to sell the hedge funds, but when we wanted the cash to invest – when markets had fallen – we couldn’t get the cash. It’s not that we don’t think there are some good hedge fund managers out there. The structure or the lack of liquidity is something that neither our clients nor we can take. Also, the UCITS III funds can essentially do what hedge funds do with slightly more onerous restrictions. With a UCITS III fund, you can get similar investment policies with the added benefit of daily dealings.
BB Can you tell us about your investment strategy and has that changed recently?
DR We have four core strategies based on volatility. The very low risk strategy has a maximum volatility of 4%, the low risk is 6%, medium is 8% and the high risk is 12%. Our strategies have not changed as we actively manage them to the desired risk levels. We are constantly checking our proprietary risk models to ensure our strategies run to a certain volatility level.
BB Any thoughts on the European Debt Crisis?
DR As central banks continue to debauch their currencies, government bond yields do not offer a smart risk-reward profile. We think there is a distinct possibility the Eurozone area would fragment with either departures or some form of dual currency emerging (convertible euros and non-convertible euros) to enable the most indebted nations to reflate their economies. It is unlikely for the Eurozone to survive in its current form. Regardless of the outcome, there will be a wealth of investment opportunities that will arise out of the ashes of the Euro project.
BB Any insights on investing in 2012?
DR We think that the large growth economies of China, Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan will continue to grow, and their currencies and bond markets will continue to deepen and strengthen. Within the equity and the bond portfolios, we will continue to move them towards a higher yield profile. We currently have 20 per cent of our bond portfolios exposed to high yield, and we anticipate growing this significantly at the expense of the strategic bond positions. Within equity portfolios, we anticipate altering the weighting of the indices and funds we use to increase the dividend yield significantly with a continued focus on global multinationals.
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