Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pension managers are next

Pension Funds represent the retirement accounts for basically 99% of the working class.  Because they don't have many choices, unlike Ultra High Net Worth Individuals.  Global Pension Assets stand at a staggering $35 Trillion according to Willis Towers Watson:

  • At the end of 2015, total pension assets were estimated at USD 35.4 trillion, which represents a decrease of 0.5% compared to USD 35.6 trillion at the end of 2014
  • Pension assets relative to GDP reached 80% in 2015, which represents a decrease of 4% from the 2014 ratio of 84%
  • The largest pension markets are the US, UK and Japan with 62%, 9% and 8% of total pension assets in the study, respectively

USD 35.4 Trillion is a lot of assets, no matter how you look at it.  In any systemic analysis we often forget about such huge pools of capital.  Mostly, these assets are sitting in stocks and bonds, some real estate - all traditional.  They don't invest in alternatives (because of regulatory rules, mostly).  
In what may be the most stunning move in the asset management space in years, the WSJ reports that Harvard University’s endowment, which manages just shy of $36 billion, will undergo a "radical overhaul" in the way the world’s wealthiest school invests its money by outsourcing management of most of its assets and lay off roughly half the staff in the process.
According to the WSJ, about half of the 230 employees at Harvard Management Company will leave as part of a sweeping change by the university’s new endowment chief, N.P. “Narv” Narvekar. This means that the endowment will shut down its internal hedge funds and let go traders by the middle of the year. Additionally, the internal team in charge of direct real-estate investments is expected to spin out into an independent entity that Harvard is expected to invest with. Only management of Harvard’s natural resources portfolio and passively managed exchange-traded funds will remain in house.
Many fund managers and traders often scratch their heads at how something can be possible, when there is an apparent sea of consistent strategies offering moderate, if not conservative, returns (like 20% per year.)
But such funds like Harvard and Calpers are rife with politics, and staffed with people that generally don't understand markets.  Of course there are exceptions - but having a $30 Billion loss without any hedging in place - well, that's really unprofessional, to say the least.
Of course, once again, who suffers?  It's not going to be the Pension managers, or the hedge funds they 'outsourced' to manage the funds - it's the beneficiaries - working people.  Retirement plans, pension plans - can blow up.  Or in the best case, as is the case now, they can dwindle down so poorly to the point that retirees get only a fraction of what they are expecting.
There's really no solution to this problem, except for working people to stand up to their pension managers - which they do from time to time, but the Pension Funds are staffed with a political Chinese Wall of staffers with 'quick answers' to shut down their inquiries.  
With the renovations Trump is doing to the system of American Government - is the public pension system next?  Harvard's move may be a sign of things to come.  And it needs reform, losing $30 Billion like Calpers is at best, shameful.  At worst, illegal.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Overstock Due To Over-Perform In 2017

Summary

Blockchain to revolutionize financial services.
Overstock's competitors are very successful, now Overstock has an edge.
Company is moving fast and furious in disruptive tech.
Overstock.com appears to be one of the many overlooked tech stocks that is extremely undervalued. As we said in an article last year, based on several key business elements, we believe (NASDAQ:OSTK) is a value buy and a long term play. While day to day operations, earnings, and other variables keep this stock off the radar of most investors, there can be a day that puts Overstock.com on the map - which can happen any day. It can be a news release related to a blockchain related order, or a new contract where Overstock.com is supplying the technology to a huge vendor.
Here's one reason why we believe this company is overlooked. Even in December, when the company received exposure on equities.com, the description failed to mention blockchain or overstock.com's other tech assets:
Overstock.com Inc is an online retailer offering closeout and discount brand and non-brand name merchandise, including bed-and-bath goods, home d├ęcor, kitchenware, watches, jewelry, electronics and computers, apparel, and designer accessories.
Overstock.com Inc. is based out of Salt Lake City, UT and has some 1,900 employees. Its CEO is Patrick M. Byrne.
It is true, that Overstock.com's core business is, and has been, online retailing. But Overstock.com isn't likely to take over Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) anytime soon. But Overstock.com has diversified into so much more than online retailing. Blockchain and related technologies, are no doubt going to be the game changer technology in financial services in the coming decade.
See a recent release about Overstock.com's blockchain technology:
Overstock.com, Inc. (OSTK) has reached a new milestone in its efforts to bring Wall Street and bitcoin pioneered crypto-revolution closer. The world's first trading portal for the exchange of securities on blockchain technology is ready and has been built by Overtstock.com's majority-owned fintech subsidiary t0. Overstock.com recently announced approval of a non-transferable rights offering by its board of directors which allows its stockholders of record to purchase shares of its preferred stock, including preferred shares to be issued and traded exclusively on a registered alternative trading system using the t0 issuance and trading platform.
Like much disruptive technology, it's hard to see which company will be 'the one' that leads the herd in tech that most agree will be a dominating factor in the future of an industry. For every Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) there's a hundreds perhaps thousands of failures. But Overstock.com has a track record of success, and isn't any neophyte when it comes to the markets.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

War on thinking - CIA controls the markets, too

(GLOBALINTELHUB) – There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the ‘internets’ (The internet is a medium which was invented by Al Gore and named ‘internets’ by George Bush) about CIA mind control, and CIA propaganda techniques being heavily used in the campaign to deceive the public about Russian ‘hacking’ and to create false enemies like ‘terrorists’ such as the alleged mind controlled shooter (shooter admits he was ‘mind controlled’ by intelligence agency, eyewitness claims there were at least three other “sleepers,” shooters, with high-powered rifles shooting into crowd » Intellihub):
 Santiago, who was arrested in January and waiting to stand trial in March on criminal charges, recently showed up to an F.B.I. office in Anchorage unannounced seeking help.
Santiago told the F.B.I. he thought he was being mind controlled, possibly by the U.S. government or the C.I.A. and admitted hearing voices, which Santiago said told him to study “extremist materials on the Internet,” the New York Times reports.
This is no surprise as those following this topic for years know that this is a common method used by the CIA originally developed during the 60’s most notably but not exclusively through a program known as MK Ultra.  You can read more about this in this book: Virtual Government: CIA Mind Control Operations in America.
The fact is that the CIA, as a branch of America, Inc. is simply the arm of a business.  It’s a subversive division of a huge corporate enterprise called America, Inc. which has turned everything into a business, even politics.  Health care is a ‘business’ now and even there is something called the ‘restaurant industry’ – where people used to cook now even that has been outsourced to corporate America Inc.  The CIA and it’s games are no different – they are simply a well funded group that protects American business interests at home and abroad (with a flat world, who is to say there are not reasons the CIA needs to operate domestically, for example terrorist cells in Florida, foreign owned corporations which is nearly 50% of all US corporations… )
We explain the connection between the CIA and the markets in our book Splitting Pennies.  The CIA works for the banks.  Banking, is simply the most profitable business in America.  There are nearly 10,000 banks in USA.  In previous times, the CIA worked for other corporations such as The United Fruit company, ending in a coup in Guatemala in 1954.  It’s not a conspiracy, it’s not a secret, it’s just business.  The connection between the CIA and America Inc. is fairly simple, it’s explicit, obvious, and useful for American business.  Now, the modus operandi is the information war – the war for your mind – which is largely fought on the battlefield of the internet.  So the CIA backed Facebook, Google, and other data-collecting internet ventures through their VC arm (ironically, the only non-profit VC fund in Silicon Valley) In-q-tel.  Of course, early stage investment comes with one condition – management has to sign an NDA that protects ‘classified’ investors CIA, NSA, etc.  And their other condition – to provide them with ‘data’ as they request it.
Those in financial services know quite well how quickly the FBI can shut down your offices, and most financial professionals are given training about Patriot Act compliance and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) training always includes the humorous ‘terrorist identification training’ – bankers are supposed to ask their clients if they are terrorists, and report any suspicious activity to FinCen.  The reality of these programs is they do not stop any terrorist financing they only stop Americans with dogs with strange names like “Dash” and serve as a potential threat to ‘fake news sites’ (anyone can be reported as a terrorist, without any evidence – and because of new rules you are guilty until proven innocent).  Fortunately this power isn’t being used YET but it exists, and it’s there.  They’re still using the planting child porn trick which seems to work well because how can you prove that you didn’t plant it, everyone who actually is a pedophile hides the fact that he is.
The CIA was a business from day one, but it has rapidly evolved and changed with the times.  It’s first several significant clients were Oil Sheik states, leading to the extremely economically positive Nixon US Dollar / Petro Dollar deal currently supporting the US Dollar today; opening up the seizure of huge assets in Latin and Central America for US and UK corporations; and in the last 20 years the creation of a new generation of vassal states like Ukraine, Libya, Iraq, and the final attempt at Syria which is a huge failure.  Now, the CIA has simply shifted to adapt to the new world, their focus is now the information war, mostly on behalf of their banking clients, but also the information war can be used to create “Arab Spring” or even to fake a hacked election as we’re seeing now with this Wag the Dog style campaign.  A major difference in the CIA’s project “Russian Hacked the Elections” and other campaigns is this is one of the first large domestic, politicized campaigns.  Few Americans would critisize the agency for working hard for the taxpayer getting that Oil we are so thirsty for, or for helping US companies plunder foreign assets.  We have big appetites and as a net importer we need the spice to flow.
But here they may have crossed the line, getting themselves involved in domestic politics is an obvious conflict of interest and interesting abuse of power (as the Democrats still hold the keys to the kingdom for another few days).  Trump says he’s going to revamp the intelligence aparatus – we’ll see what happens when he’s in the Oval Office.
If you’re an ECP / QEP or from another country checkout these great investment strategies from Fortress Capital CTA & RIA.  Due to the wacky Dodd-Frank regulations half of Wall St. can only offer their services to non-US citizens, and billionaires.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Slow death of the hedge fund era

2016 was a bad year for hedge funds, pension funds, and university endowments.  In fact, the last several years have been horrible.  But until now, there haven’t been many alternatives.  Hedge Funds became popular for investors who wanted to achieve more than the 4% or 6% offered by traditional managed investments like mutual funds.  Although their history evolved from the idea of ‘hedging’ the market (hedge funds could sell AND buy, can you imagine?) this quickly evolved into an asset class where managers employed strategies based on mathematics in order to achieve above than average and above than expected returns.  And some private funds such as Renaissance do very well year in and year out – continued to this day.  But the majority suffer from strategy fatigue, and failure to bring in a new generation of ‘quants’ that can do anything more than copy, paste, and cold call.  If we skip all the Soros bashing about how he manipulates politics (which, on the surface, is not a bad investing strategy if you have the money to do it, and to control both sides – this is a Rothschild invention not a Soros invention) – the Soros family of funds outperformed their peers by a significant multiple.  These funds were trading the markets, unlike what some may want us to believe.  Some of their policies to ‘influence’ foreign markets (historically, from the 80s) may have been seen as unethical – and it may be.  But the returns have always been spectacular.  We’ll see soon if Robert can continue the family legacy of great returns – it looks like – yes he can!  
But the few examples of extraordinary funds with consistent returns like Renaissance, they’re an anomaly.  The industry in general has suffered from poor returns, which when combined with the standard 2/20 fee model – can be disastrous for investors’ confidence.  Bloomberg ran a story recently with verbage such as "The year Big Money ditched Hedge Funds:
“There has been a massive blowback from public pension funds and private endowments,’’ said Craig Effron, who co-founded his Scoggin Capital Management nearly 30 years ago. An investor told him recently that many chief investment officers are so fed up that they would prefer to entrust their cash to a trader who charged no management fee, over one who did, even if they expected the latter to make them more money.
Public retirement plans from Kentucky to New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island have decided to pull money from hedge funds. So did a state university in Maryland and other endowments. MetLife Inc. and other insurers followed suit. Money-losing firms were forced to reduce their fees. Client withdrawals ($53 billion in the last four quarters) drove some managers out of business, including veteran Richard Perry, who until recently had managed one of the longest-standing and better-performing firms.
It's not surprising that investors - especially institutional investors, are abandoning such strategies.  As they say in trading, 'you're only as good as your last trade.'  According to Barclay Hedge Fund Data, 2016 is a little better than 2015, but not much:
4.89% is a good return, but it's not much better than you can acheive with traditional mutual funds or tax free munis.  Certainly it's not a compelling reason to drain your IRA from the markets and invest with hedge funds.  But, this is just an average, there are strategies out there that overperform this index, such as this one.
The California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) is about to report the world’s largest public employee pension suffered an actuarial investment loss of $30.8 billion last year.
CalPERS manages the defined pension plan investments and record keeping for 3,007 California state and local government entities. The pension plan is also responsible for paying the pension benefits to 611,078 retirees and will eventually be responsible for paying retirement benefits to another 868,713 active and 335,908 inactive government workers.
Despite Governor Jerry Brown last summer demanding CalPERS immediately “lower its investment risk and volatility of returns” by reducing its “assumed” annual investment return from 7.5 percent to 6.5 percent, the CalPERS board voted 7- 3 on November 15, 2015 only to slowly reduce the investment return expectation over the next decade.
Practically, the slow death of the hedge fund industry is merely a milestone in its evolution.  Just like robotic strategies are now replacing traditional managers with a suit and tie, the structure of investments is evolving, too.  Hedge Funds aren't going to go away anytime soon, but how they are structured, how the fees are charged, and the strategies that they use, will rapidly change in 2017.  For example, some strategies such as managed accounts have a fee structure that charges only a percentage of profit, called 'performance fee' - with no other fees.  See one example the Magic FX strategy, for QEP/ECP US investors only - which charges a 30% performance fee from the profit.  In this model, if the strategy doesn't perform for investors, there is no fee.  This type of pay for performance model has been around for years, but will become more useful in a climate of diminishing returns and investors angry at paying fees for getting no results or even losing money.  It really is crazy, why investors should pay managers millions of dollars for losing money - it just shows how programmed investors are by traditional media, as we explain in Splitting Pennies the book.
While clients have only pulled a net 2 percent of assets so far, Tony James, the president at Blackstone Group, the largest investor in hedge funds, predicted in May that the industry would shrink by roughly a quarter over the next year. Hedge fund closures (782 in the first nine months) are on track to be the most since 2008, and startups (576) the fewest.
Any manager still standing applauds a smaller industry. Less money under management means fewer crowded trades and more chances to find the elusive alpha. Interest rates on the rise in the U.S., while still near zero or negative in the rest of the world, should also help. The Trump presidency, which promises less regulation, more infrastructure spending and the potential return of prop trading by banks, could also be a boon.
Where will the assets go?  The alternative investment industry is large - institutional funds, pension funds, hedge funds, are but a small part.  According to Barclay Hedge, there are 342 Billion in Managed Futures:
And, although the change from Q2 to Q3 of 2016 is a small percentage of @ $9 Billion, it is a positive figure, and shows that managed futures is one place funds are flowing into.  CTAs, CPOs, and other types of managed investments that have a track record should all benefit from the poor performance of traditional managers, especially those which don't charge a management fee.  But in any scenario, investors only started to loathe the management fees when performance suffered.  When performance is good - who doesn't mind paying for it?
And finally - it may shed light on the still standing FX manager industry.  While these hedge funds have suffered volatile returns, losses, and fee congestion - some FX managers have continued to perform year in and year out with the use of complex algorithms, that work in FX but not in other markets.  Now may be the time for institutional investors to take another look at such algorithmic FX strategies.
Here's a list of books to add to your bookshelf to enlighten yourself.