• Mark Beardow

Diversifying equity risk

Equities are the foundation of many portfolios and have generated returns well above cash and inflation over the long term. However equities have been vulnerable to infrequent, but large losses (drawdowns), which have been as large as 40 to 50%.

We assume that long term investors are prepared to pay for protection from very large losses and would like to limit them to ~20%, which is about half of the historic loss. This equates to a 20% out of the money equity put option.

Choices can be viewed as a balance of cost and efficacy.

  • Diversification beyond equities - widely used but sensitive to assumptions

  • Timing based techniques - hard to implement

  • Options and tail risk hedging - may be expensive

Diversification based strategies

  1. Government bonds. Bonds are widely used and have been highly effective but may be less so going forward due to low yields.

  2. Currency. Some currencies such as the A$ have offered reliable risk offset during crisis.

  3. Precious metals. The performance drag of gold, cryptocurrencies and collectables are lower when interest rates are close to zero.

  4. Risk parity. This type of fund prescriptively allocates to a broader set of economic scenarios.

  5. Alternative Risk Premia (ARP). These strategies allocate to risk premia such as 'value', 'low volatility', etc.

  6. Market neutral strategies. These long/short strategies are typically based on equities and rely on generating alpha to mitigate equity risk.

  7. Illiquid alternatives. These rely on less frequent valuation methodologies to avoid price risk.

Timing based strategies

  1. Cash. This may have high opportunity cost and may be sensitive to timing.

  2. Discretionary macro strategies. including TAA and DAA. These have the capacity to reduce tail risk.

  3. Systematic macro strategies including managed futures/CTA. These have the capacity to pursue positive and negative trends and protect capital.

Options and tail risk hedging

  1. Equity Options. These are highly targeted but expensive. For example a vanilla 20% OTM equity index put option may cost 5% pa.

  2. Long volatility strategies. These are option based and form the foundation of many tail risk strategies.

Our recent survey showed that government bonds and unhedged A$ assets were most cited as investments (66%) that are effective protection against large equity drawdowns. While 22% nominated other strategies such as equity options, long volatility strategies and cryptocurrency.

How does the Darling Macro Fund fit in? Darling Macro combines multiple strategies to achieve its objectives.

Principally, Darling Macro is a systematic macro strategy and varies it's allocations to macro markets to manage risk given current measurement of performance, volatility and correlation. The fund also incorporates reliable diversifiers such as precious metals, government bonds and currency. Finally, the fund also incorporates a tail risk hedging program which is focussed on identifying overly mature trends in equities, bonds and commodities.

In the next post, we will identify benchmarks for each of the risk mitigation strategies and analyse how each has performed during 2020.

Source: Darling Macro. Wholesale investors only.