Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Mar 4, 2024

Hedging in a Robust Equity Market

with Stephan Kessler and Aris Tentes


Stephan Kessler: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Stefan Kessler, Morgan Stanley's Global Head of Quantitative Investment Strategies Research, QIS Research in short.

Aris Tentes: And I am Aris Tentes, also from the QIS research team.

Stephan Kessler: Along with our colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, today we'll discuss different strategies to hedge equity portfolios.

It's Monday, the 4th of March at 10am in London.

The US equity market has been climbing to record levels, and it seems that long only investors -- and especially investors with long time horizons -- are inclined to keep their positions. But even in the current market environment, it still makes sense to take some risk off the table. With this in mind, we took a closer look at some of the potential hedging strategies for high conviction calls with a quantitative lens. Long only portfolios of high conviction names of opportunities for excess returns, or alpha; but also of exposures to broad market risk, or beta, embedded in these names.

While investors are keen to access the idiosyncratic excess return in individual stocks, they often overlook the systematic market and risk factors that come with owning stocks. Rather than treating these risks as uncontrolled noise, it makes sense to think about hedging such risks.

Aris, let me pass over to you for some popular approaches to hedging such risk exposures.

Aris Tentes: Yes, thank you, Stefan.

Today, investors can use a range of approaches to remove systematic risk exposures. The first one, and maybe the most established approach, is to hedge out broad market risks by shorting equity index futures. Now, this has the benefit of being a low-cost implementation due to the high liquidity of a futures contract.

Second, a more refined approach, is to hedge risks by focusing on specific characteristics of these stocks, or so-called factors, such as market capitalization, growth, or value. Now this strategy is a way to hedge a specific risk driver without affecting the other characteristics of the portfolio. However, a downside of both approaches is that the hedges might interfere with the long alpha names, some of which might end up being effectively shorted.

Stephan Kessler: Okay, so, so these are two interesting approaches. Now you mentioned that there is a potential challenge in which shorting out specific parts of the portfolio and removing risks, we effectively end up shorting individual equities. Can you tell us some approaches which can be used to overcome this issue?

Aris Tentes: Oh, yes. Actually, we suggest an approach based on quantitative tools, which may be the most refined way of overcoming the issues with the other approaches I talked about. Now, this one can hedge risk without interfering with the long alpha positions. And another benefit is that it provides the flexibility of customization.

Stephan Kessler: Aris, maybe it's worth actually mentioning why better hedges are important.

Aris Tentes: So actually, better hedges can make the portfolio more resilient to factor and sector rotations. With optimized hedges, a one percentile style or sector rotation shock leads to only minor losses of no more than a tenth of a percentage point. As a result, risk adjusted returns increase noticeably.

Stephan Kessler: That makes sense. Overall, hedging with factor portfolios gives the most balanced results for diversified, high conviction portfolios. One exception would be portfolios with a small number of names, where the universe remaining for the optimized hedge portfolio is broad enough to construct a robust hedge. This can lead to returns that are stronger than for the other approaches.

However, if the portfolio has many names, the task becomes harder and the factor hedging approach becomes the most attractive way to hedge. Having discussed the benefits of factor hedging, I think we also should talk about the implementation side. Shorting outright futures to remove market beta is rather straightforward. However, it leaves many other sectors and factor risks uncontrolled. To remove such risks, pure factor portfolios are readily available in the marketplace.

Investors can buy or sell those pure factor portfolios to remove or target factor and sector risk exposures as they deem adequate. Pure factor portfolios are constructed in a way that investment in them does not affect other factor or

sector exposures. Hence, we refer to them as “pure.” Running a tailored hedge rather than using factor hedging building blocks can be beneficial in some situations -- but comes, of course, at a substantially increased complexity.

Those are some key considerations we have around performance enhancement through thoughtful hedging approaches.

Aris, thank you so much for helping outline these ideas with me.

Aris Tentes: Great speaking with you, Stefan.

Stephan Kessler: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today. 

The U.S. stock market is rising to new highs, but investors should still try to minimize risk in their portfolios. Our analysts list a few key strategies to navigate this dynamic.