Monday, March 22nd, 2021 and is filed under Alternative Strategy Mutual Funds
On Monday, February 22, 2021, the Infinity Q Diversified Alpha Fund (Fund) and its investment adviser, Infinity Q Capital Management (Infinity Q), sought and obtained an order from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permitting the Fund to suspend redemptions indefinitely. The Fund is expected to liquidate assets and distribute the proceeds to shareholders with the assistance of a third-party valuation service and the oversight of the SEC’s Division of Investment Management[i]. At this time, there is no estimate of when the liquidation and distribution will be completed. Until then, redemptions of Fund shares will remain suspended[ii].
Why It Happened
The Fund invested according to an alternative investment strategy that primarily used complex derivative instruments to derive intended exposures. According to the Fund’s most recent financial statement, this included correlation swaps, dispersion swaps, and variance swaps, among various other contracts. Adding to the complexity, a significant portion of these assets were categorized as Level 3 for which market prices are not readily available[iii]. For such securities, third-party services are required in estimating the fair value for purposes of calculating the Fund’s net asset value (NAV).
Based on information learned by the SEC and shared with Infinity Q, it was determined the Fund’s portfolio manager had been adjusting certain parameters within the third-party pricing model being used to estimate the fair value of the Fund’s swap contracts[iv]. Upon review, Infinity Q released the Fund’s portfolio manager, who is also the firm’s CIO and Founder, and determined that it was unable to value the current positions nor confirm the historical values of the Fund’s swap contracts. Presumably to avoid a “run on the bank” situation, which can lead to depressed prices and further losses for investors, Infinity Q sought the order from the SEC while it enlists the services of an independent valuation firm to calculate an accurate NAV for the fund.
Key Takeaways for Alternative Mutual Fund Investors
Despite the increased regulatory oversight of the mutual fund structure, relative to private funds and hedge funds, financial professionals and investors must exercise caution when using alternative mutual funds (AMFs). This is due to the increased complexity that may be present within the product structure including short positions, derivatives instruments, illiquid investments, and leverage. The complexity broadens the opportunity set of these funds allowing portfolio managers to pursue non-traditional investment strategies that may provide enhanced portfolio diversification, systematic risk reduction, and alternative sources of return. However, they may also increase risk and reduce transparency for investors, as demonstrated by the recent developments in the Infinity Q Diversified Alpha Fund. As such, consider the following:
- Is the strategy comprehendible? If upon reviewing the fund, you are unclear as to what the fund does and why, exercise extreme caution. An overly complicated strategy that cannot be explained is potentially a red flag. Furthermore, if the fund cannot be understood completely, nor can the inherent risks.
- Does the fund make heavy use of derivatives? This alone is not a red flag. Derivative instruments increase efficiencies in capital markets and provide increased opportunity for return[v]. However, they also increase the potential for investors bearing risk they do not fully understand. As such, if you are unable to determine why a fund is investing in the types of contracts they do, or what exposures they provide, exercise extreme caution.
- Alternatives require increased due diligence. The complexity of an AMF calls for increased due diligence[vi]. If research resources are constrained or limited, consider the use of third-party services for education and research surrounding alternative investments. Services may help drive efficiencies in research, improve understanding, and increase regulatory compliance.
AI Insight by iCapital Network currently offers an AMF platform designed to provide financial firms and advisors a comprehensive tool for research with a focus on education and application (versus an investment rating). The platform is a web-based, subscription service and consists of two main components specific to AMFs:
- Comprehensive fund-level research reports that focus on a qualitative understanding of team, strategy, and process.
- A training and education platform inclusive of an extensive AMF module and strategy specific modules.
The platform focuses on mutual funds with alternative investment strategies consistent with the hedge fund industry. Funds covered by the platform are portfolio oriented and will typically have a minimum 2-year track record and $200 million in AUM.
The platform currently covers the Fund on a limited basis. As part of our fund-level research, we have a tiered system that includes full and limited reviews. The former includes investment due diligence summarized within the report while the latter aggregates only the available public data. Considering the Fund’s developments, the platform is actively pursuing ways to improve our process including an increase in our screening parameters for limited reviews, enhancing the existing derivative contract reporting, and summarizing Level 3 assets within each report.
For more information on the platform, please contact AI Insight Customer Care at (877) 794-9448 ext. 710 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Infinity Q Diversified Alpha Fund
The Fund sought to generate positive absolute returns by combining risk management with diversified alpha strategies. Per the latest summary prospectus, the four primary strategies included Volatility, Equity Long Short, Relative Value, and Global Macro. The investable universe included global markets across equities, fixed income, commodities, credit, and foreign exchange.
 Institutional Capital Network, Inc. and affiliates (herein “iCapital Network”)
[i] Securities and Exchange Commission. https://www.sec.gov/rules/ic/2021/ic-34198.pdf
[ii] Infinity Q Capital Management, LLC. http://www.infinityqfunds.com/
[iii] Financial Accounting Standard 157 (FAS 157). https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/fasb_157.asp
[iv] Securities and Exchange Commission. https://www.sec.gov/rules/ic/2021/ic-34198.pdf
[v] The Economics of Derivatives. https://www.nber.org/digest/jan05/economics-derivatives
[vi] FINRA Investor Alert. https://www.finra.org/investors/alerts/alternative-funds-are-not-your-typical-mutual-funds
This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as, and may not be relied on in any manner as legal, tax or investment advice, a recommendation, or as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to purchase or a recommendation of any interest in any fund or security offered by Institutional Capital Network, Inc. or its affiliates (together “iCapital Network”). Past performance is not indicative of future results. Alternative investments are complex, speculative investment vehicles and are not suitable for all investors. An investment in an alternative investment entails a high degree of risk and no assurance can be given that any alternative investment fund’s investment objectives will be achieved or that investors will receive a return of their capital. The information contained herein is subject to change and is also incomplete. This industry information and its importance is an opinion only and should not be relied upon as the only important information available. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed, and iCapital Network assumes no liability for the information provided.
This material is confidential and the property of iCapital Network, and may not be shared with any party other than the intended recipient or his or her professional advisors. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of iCapital Network.
Products offered by iCapital Network are typically private placements that are sold only to qualified clients of iCapital Network through transactions that are exempt from registration under the Securities Act of 1933 pursuant to Rule 506(b) of Regulation D promulgated thereunder (“Private Placements”). An investment in any product issued pursuant to a Private Placement, such as the funds described, entails a high degree of risk and no assurance can be given that any alternative investment fund’s investment objectives will be achieved or that investors will receive a return of their capital. Further, such investments are not subject to the same levels of regulatory scrutiny as publicly listed investments, and as a result, investors may have access to significantly less information than they can access with respect to publicly listed investments. Prospective investors should also note that investments in the products described involve long lock-ups and do not provide investors with liquidity.
Securities may be offered through iCapital Securities, LLC, a registered broker dealer, member of FINRA and SIPC and subsidiary of Institutional Capital Network, Inc. (d/b/a iCapital Network). These registrations and memberships in no way imply that the SEC, FINRA or SIPC have endorsed the entities, products or services discussed herein. iCapital and iCapital Network are registered trademarks of Institutional Capital Network, Inc. Additional information is available upon request.
© 2021 Institutional Capital Network, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2020 and is filed under Alternative Strategy Mutual Funds
As the dust settles from the Corona Market, albeit perhaps temporarily, it is prudent to revisit one’s portfolio and assess the effectiveness of your asset allocation. Diversification is an important component to risk management, and at no time is this better tested than during an equity selloff. Beyond the traditional stock and bond allocation, alternative investments can be an effective way to accomplish this. Broadly speaking, the asset class is designed to provide alternative sources of return to traditional market beta and provide the potential for capital preservation during market drawdowns. As such, it is good to assess the performance of alternatives during these periods to see if the hypothesis holds. Specifically, this piece will focus on alternative mutual fund (AMF) performance through the 1st quarter of 2020. AMFs offer exposure to “hedge fund-like” strategies among other non-traditional approaches within a mutual fund structure. Thus, they can be a liquid and cost-effective means to enhance portfolio diversification.
For the scope of this piece we will define the Corona Market as the equity declines experienced from February 19th through March 23rd. As much uncertainty around the COVID-19 virus and its economic impacts remain, it is important to understand that volatility may persist and that a new low may be established before the drawdown is officially measured. Working with this definition of the Corona Market allows us to make some unique observations about the recent market drawdown.
The Corona Market
The total loss to the S&P 500 Index, a barometer for US equity markets, amounted to 33.8%. According to data from the CFRA, the average loss experienced during all bear markets dating back to 1929 is 38.2%. Thus, from a historical perspective, the Corona Market was below average in magnitude. However, what made the drawdown so extreme was the speed in which it took place.
*Assumes that the March 23rd index low is the bottom of the Corona Market. Data for the table was sourced from CFRA and S&P Down Jones Indices.
As demonstrated by the table above, the Corona Market decline reached 20% (the definition of a bear market) in 22 calendar days. This is less than half the time it took markets to reach bear territory in 1987 (“Black Monday”) and far below the average of 254 calendar days dating back to 1929. The Corona Market also reached its current low in just 33 days. Such extreme price volatility highlights the uniqueness of a pandemic induced selloff. Taking a closer look, the following chart represents daily NAV changes in excess of +/- 2.5% for the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (IVV), a passive ETF that tracks the returns of the S&P 500 Index.
The ETF, ticker IVV, had daily NAV moves in excess of +/- 2.5% for 18 out of the 22 trading days in March. This included the March 16th decline of nearly 12%, the S&P’s third largest daily price decline in history (“Black Friday” is the largest daily price decline at -20.5%). As a result, the VIX Index, the market’s forward-looking indicator of volatility, closed at an all-time high of 82.69 the same day.
Alternative Mutual Funds, Passing the Test
The speed and volatility witnessed during the market drawdown was historic. Working with this understanding of the Corona Market, we can now visit AMF performance for this period within the appropriate lens. The following table represents the performance of the AI Insight universe of AMFs. AI Insight focuses our coverage on funds that execute alternative strategies designed to be held as part (or as all) of an alternative allocation. We also aim to limit our coverage to funds with established track records and sustainable levels of total AUM. The universe is organized into 7 strategy groups, for which the table presents the average performance of each.
The data for the table was sourced from the AI Insight AMF database.
The strongest performer for the period was Managed Futures delivering positive 1.33% through the first quarter. It was the only strategy to remain in the black propelled by a positive 2.36% return during the month of March. Historically, Managed Futures have struggled to capture sharp price reversals as the strategy relies on sustained price trends to build portfolio positions. However, many managers today have increased their weighting toward short term trading strategies and trend signals to better capture downward price swings. This is often referred to as “crisis alpha”, the ability to capture persistent trends that occur across markets during turbulent periods.
Below the AMF universe average for the period were the equity and credit alternative strategies (e.g. Equity Long Short, Equity Option, and Alternative Credit). These funds will typically have higher exposures to risk assets, and as a result, a higher correlation to traditional markets. Furthermore, it is possible the orientation of this market crisis (virus induced shutdown) may have led managers to be more aggressive than they otherwise would have been in a low growth and/or fundamentally weak economy. Prior to the selloff, the financial health of companies and consumers was considerably stronger than what was seen in 2008.
One exception to the equity alternative strategies was Equity Market Neutral. More specifically, the Event Driven sub-strategy of Equity Market Neutral that focuses on mergers and acquisitions among other corporate related events. The sub-strategy was a stronger performer for the period delivering -2.83% performance through the first quarter. These funds are unique in that they invest almost exclusively in equity and equity related securities yet provide a low beta return profile. The -2.83% return equates to a 16.73% outperformance over the iShares Core S&P 500 ETF for the first quarter.
Overall, AMFs delivered strong relative results during the Corona Market with the universe average outperforming the S&P 500 by 11.71% during the first quarter. This included downside protection for both the month of February and March as the average outperformed the equity index by 6.12% and 6.58% respectively. Strategies performed as expected with the more correlated strategies under-performing the average AMF but still out-performing equities, and the less correlated strategies out-performing both the average AMF and the equity markets.
Consistent with these results was the Alternative Allocation strategy which delivered -8.07% for the first quarter as compared to the -7.85% return for the universe. These funds actively invest across multiple alternative strategies and managers within a single fund, providing broad exposure to alternative sources of return. Similarly, the strategy delivered downside protection in both February and March outperforming the equity index by 6.41% and 6.07% respectively.
As demonstrated during the first quarter of 2020, AMFs provide the potential for increased portfolio diversification and downside protection relative to traditional equities. This may serve to reduce portfolio risk during an equity selloff as witnessed during the Corona Market. As mentioned previously, the current low to equity markets occurred on March 23rd. However, there is still much uncertainty that remains around the COVID-19 virus such as potential treatments and vaccines, how best to re-open the economy, and how we will manage the increased debt load that the government and many companies are undertaking to weather the economic shutdown. Despite these uncertainties, equity markets have stabilized since the March 23rd lows appreciating approximately 27% on the backbone of positive hospitalization trends and historic fiscal and monetary policy measures (the S&P 500 is currently down 12.2% through Friday, April 24th). The road may be long, but as mentioned before, diversification is an effective tool in any risk management strategy.
Friday, January 24th, 2020 and is filed under Alternative Strategy Mutual Funds
If your firm approves all fund company mutual funds, additional due diligence may be needed based on continued regulatory guidance on alternative strategy mutual funds.
Some financial firms have raised questions about the need for conducting additional research on alternative mutual funds given their complex structure compared to traditional mutual funds. Both FINRA and the SEC have published supporting regulatory detail to help differentiate the need for additional due diligence on alternative mutual funds.
How are you demonstrating your understanding of the complexities of alternative strategy mutual funds?
According to PwC’s recent report, Alternative asset management 2020-Fast forward to centre stage, “In the light of the attention from regulators, asset management firms should enter this new line of business well-prepared from a compliance and organisational standpoint. This includes:
- assessing customer suitability
- marketing and education
- building out compliance and surveillance, and
- robust liquidity risk management.”
Take the first step. Let AI Insight help your firm:
1) Identify potential risk exposure
2) Determine due diligence needs
3) Establish policies and procedures around Alternative Strategy Mutual Funds
Contact us for a complimentary Risk Exposure Analysis to see if your firm may need to conduct additional due diligence on alternative strategy mutual funds.
Related Regulatory References