Monthly Archives: January 2014

John Authers

How exactly should we benchmark hedge funds? It is obviously unfair to compare them directly to equity indices, as the whole point of hedge funds is to aim for an “absolute” return, not a return relative to gains in the equity market. They will naturally under-perform an S&P 500 tracker in years like 2013 when the stock market shoots straight up.

I drew attention last week to the way hedge fund returns have been left badly behind by long-only equity returns over the five years of the post-crisis relief rally, and this understandably provoked comments that this was an unfair comparison. There are also obviously many methodological problems with creating hedge fund indices. Hedge funds have many different strategies, and they may be particularly prone to “survivorship bias” – those that do not have a good story to tell tend to shut down quietly, and do not tell index compilers about their record.

However, hedge funds do have to accept that their offerings will be used by asset allocators trying to use them to balance against the main asset classes of equities and bonds. On that basis, the following chart, produced by Barclays’ capital solutions group using HFRI indices, is very interesting.

It confirms a basic intuition: hedge funds did very well during the bursting of the dotcom bubble, more than held their own during the subsequent 2002-2007 rally, and have had a far harder time of it in the last five years. Why might this be? Read more

John Authers

The Bank of England has hit the target at last. UK inflation is at 2 per cent, bang in line with the Bank’s target, for the first time since the end of 2009. This is good news for the UK, which had been buffeted by an incipient inflation problem. But it is part of a global trend that could be far more problematic: deflationary pressure.

As the chart shows, the BoE now completes a set of all the four major developed market banks – along with the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank – to have inflation at or below the target of 2 per cent. Read more

James Mackintosh

Old stock market wisdom has it that as goes January, so goes the year. As with “sell in May”, “run your winners” and so many others, there is some truth in the saying: in 62 of the last 85 years the US market has moved the same direction in January as in the full year ahead.

On the other hand, the first day of trade is irrelevant, as Howard Silverblatt at S&P Dow Jones Indices points out. Read more

James Mackintosh

When the European Central Bank governing council meets on Thursday in Frankfurt, sushi is unlikely to be on the menu. But officials should have a concern: is the eurozone turning Japanese?

This chart shows headline inflation (in Japan the measure excludes fresh food) for Japan since its bubble turned to bust in 1990, heralding a slide into deflation. Radical action by its central bank is just beginning to return price rises, as the far right hand side shows. Read more