Investment Insight
Introduction to Alternative Risk Premia
 
 

Investment Insight

Introduction to Alternative Risk Premia

 

Historically, alternatives investors have been focused on the possibility of achieving a measure of downside protection, accessing differentiated exposures and identifying truly uncorrelated, complementary sources of return. In addition to conventional ways to modify multi-asset portfolios through incorporation of liquid alternatives, such as hedge funds and commodity trading advisors (“CTAs”), we have observed an increase in the number of investors seeking newer innovative ways to improve their portfolios.

In much the same way that long-only investors have considered “passive” investing as a way to adjust their exposures efficiently and to reduce cost, alternatives investors have begun to explore systematic and index-based solutions—such as “alternative risk premia”—as a way to achieve those same objectives. In this paper, we seek to introduce the concept of alternative risk premia, explain how investors may access them, and present the potential benefits and drawbacks associated with them.
 
Managing Director
 
 
Chief Investment Officer and Head of the AIP Hedge Funds Team
 
 

DISCLAIMERS

The views expressed herein are those of the Investment team and are subject to change at any time due to changes in market and economic conditions. The views and opinions expressed herein are based on matters as they exist as of the date of preparation of this piece and not as of any future date, and will not be updated or otherwise revised to reflect information that subsequently becomes available or circumstances existing, or changes occurring, after the date hereof. The data used has been obtained from sources generally believed to be reliable. No representation is made as to its accuracy.

Information regarding expected market returns and market outlooks is based on the research, analysis, and opinions of the investment team. These views do not represent views of other Investment teams at MSIM or those of the firm as a whole. These conclusions are speculative in nature, may not come to pass, and are not intended to predict the future of any specific investment.

Certain information contained herein constitutes forward-looking statements, which can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “project,” “estimate,” “intend,” “continue” or “believe” or the negatives thereof or other variations thereon or other comparable terminology. Due to various risks and uncertainties, actual events or results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. No representation or warranty is made as to future performance or such forward-looking statements.

Past performance is not indicative of nor does it guarantee comparable future results.

This piece has been prepared solely for informational purposes and is not an offer, or a solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any security or instrument or to participate in any trading strategy.

Persons considering an alternative investment should refer to the specific fund’s offering documentation, which will fully describe the specific risks and considerations associated with a specific alternative investment.

Alternative investments are speculative and include a high degree of risk. Investors could lose all, or a substantial amount of, their investment. Alternative investments are suitable only for long-term investors willing to forgo liquidity and put capital at risk for an indefinite period of time. Alternative investments are typically highly illiquid—there is no secondary market for private funds, and there may be restrictions on redemptions or the assignment or other transfer of investments in private funds. Alternative investments often engage in leverage and other speculative practices that may increase volatility and risk of loss. Alternative investments typically have higher fees and expenses than other investment vehicles, and such fees and expenses will lower returns achieved by investors.

This is a summary of various risks associated with investing in alternative risk premia. This summary is not, and is not intended to be, a complete enumeration or explanation of the risks involved. The recipient should consult with its own advisors before deciding whether to invest in these strategies. In addition, to the extent that the investment program of such a portfolio changes and develops over time, additional risk factors not described here may apply. Only a recipient who understands the nature of the investment, does not require more than limited liquidity in the investment, and has sufficient resources to sustain the loss of its entire investment should consider making the kind of investments described in this Presentation.

General Risks of Derivatives. An alternative risk premia portfolio could use various derivatives and related investment strategies, as described below. Derivatives may be used for a variety of purposes including hedging, risk management, portfolio management or to earn income. Any or all of the investment techniques described herein may be used at any time and there is no particular strategy that dictates the use of one technique rather than another, as the use of any derivative by a portfolio is a function of numerous variables, including market conditions.

A derivative is a financial instrument the value of which depends upon (or derives from) the value of another asset, security, interest rate or index. Derivatives may relate to a wide variety of underlying instruments, including equity and debt securities, indices, interest rates, currencies and other assets. Certain derivative instruments which a portfolio may use and the risks of those instruments are described in further detail below. A portfolio may also utilize derivatives techniques, instruments and strategies that may be newly developed or permitted as a result of regulatory changes, to the extent such techniques, instruments and strategies are consistent with a portfolio’s investment objective and policies. Such newly developed techniques, instruments and strategies may involve risks different than or in addition to those described herein. No assurance can be given that any derivatives strategy employed by a portfolio will be successful.

The risks associated with the use of derivatives are different from, and possibly greater than, the risks associated with investing directly in the instruments underlying such derivatives. Derivatives are highly specialized instruments that require investment techniques and risk analyses different from other portfolio investments. The use of derivative instruments requires an understanding not only of the underlying instrument but also of the derivative itself. Certain risk factors generally applicable to derivative transactions are described below.

Derivatives are subject to the risk that the market value of the derivative itself or the market value of underlying instruments will change in a way adverse to a portfolio’s interests. A portfolio bears the risk that the Adviser may incorrectly forecast future market trends and other financial or economic factors or the value of the underlying security, index, interest rate or currency when establishing a derivatives position for a portfolio.

Derivatives may be subject to pricing (or mispricing) risk. For example, a derivative may become extraordinarily expensive (or inexpensive) relative to historical prices or corresponding instruments. Under such market conditions, it may not be economically feasible to initiate a transaction or liquidate a position at an advantageous time or price.

Many derivatives are complex and may be valued subjectively. The pricing models used by a portfolio to value derivatives may not produce valuations that are consistent with the values a portfolio realizes when it closes or sells an over-the-counter (“OTC”) derivative. Valuation risk is more pronounced when a portfolio enters into OTC derivatives with specialized terms because the market value of those derivatives in some cases is determined in part by reference to similar derivatives with more standardized terms. Improper valuations can result in increased payment requirements to counterparties, over-and/or under-collateralization, and/or a loss of value to a portfolio.

Using derivatives as a hedge against a portfolio investment subjects a portfolio to the risk that the derivative will have imperfect correlation with the portfolio investment, which could result in a portfolio incurring substantial losses. This correlation risk may be greater in the case of derivatives based on an index or other basket of securities, as the portfolio securities being hedged may not duplicate the components of the underlying index or the basket may not be of exactly the same type of obligation as those underlying the derivative. The use of derivatives for “cross hedging” purposes (using a derivative based on one instrument as a hedge on a different instrument) may also involve greater correlation risks.

While using derivatives for hedging purposes can reduce a portfolio’s risk of loss, it may also limit a portfolio’s opportunity for gains or result in losses by offsetting or limiting a portfolio’s ability to participate in favorable price movements in portfolio investments.

Use of derivatives for non-hedging purposes may result in losses which would not be offset by increases in the value of portfolio securities or declines in the cost of securities to be acquired. In the event that a portfolio enters into a derivatives transaction as an alternative to purchasing or selling the underlying instrument or in order to obtain desired exposure to an index or market, a portfolio will be exposed to the same risks as are incurred in purchasing or selling the underlying instruments directly as well as additional risks associated with derivatives transactions, such as counterparty credit risk.

The use of certain derivatives transactions, including OTC derivatives, involves the risk of loss resulting from the insolvency or bankruptcy of the counterparty to the contract or the failure by the counterparty to make required payments or otherwise comply with the terms of the contract. In the event of default by a counterparty, a portfolio may have contractual remedies pursuant to the agreements related to the transaction, but there is no guarantee that the Portfolio will be able to enforce such contractual remedies in a timely manner, or at all.

While some derivatives are cleared through a regulated central clearinghouse, many derivatives transactions are not entered into or traded on exchanges or in markets regulated by the CFTC or the SEC. Instead, such bi-lateral OTC derivatives are entered into directly by a portfolio and a counterparty. OTC derivatives transactions can only be entered into with a willing counterparty that is approved by the Adviser. Where no such counterparty is available, a portfolio will be unable to enter into a desired OTC transaction.

A portfolio may be required to make physical delivery of portfolio securities underlying a derivative in order to close out a derivatives position or to sell portfolio securities at a time or price at which it may be disadvantageous to do so in order to obtain cash to close out or to maintain a derivatives position.

As a result of the structure of certain derivatives, adverse changes in, among other things, interest rates, volatility or the value of the underlying instrument can result in losses substantially greater than the amount invested in the derivative itself. Certain derivatives have the potential for unlimited loss, regardless of the size of the initial investment.

Certain derivatives may be considered illiquid and therefore subject to a portfolio’s limitation on investments in illiquid securities. Derivatives transactions conducted outside the United States may not be conducted in the same manner as those entered into on U.S. exchanges, and may be subject to different margin, exercise, settlement or expiration procedures. Brokerage commissions, clearing costs and other transaction costs may be higher on foreign exchanges. Many of the risks of OTC derivatives transactions are also applicable to derivatives transactions conducted outside the United States. Derivatives transactions conducted outside the United States are subject to the risk of governmental action affecting the trading in, or the prices of, foreign securities, currencies and other instruments. The value of such positions could be adversely affected by foreign political and economic factors; lesser availability of data on which to make trading decisions; delays in a portfolio’s ability to act upon economic events occurring in foreign markets; and less liquidity than U.S. markets.

Currency derivatives are subject to additional risks. Currency derivatives transactions may be negatively affected by government exchange controls, blockages, and manipulations. Currency exchange rates may be influenced by factors extrinsic to a country’s economy. There is no systematic reporting of last sale information with respect to foreign currencies. As a result, the available information on which trading in currency derivatives will be based may not be as complete as comparable data for other transactions. Events could occur in the foreign currency market which will not be reflected in currency derivatives until the following day, making it more difficult for a portfolio to respond to such events in a timely manner.

OTC Options. Unlike exchange-traded options, which are standardized with respect to the underlying instrument, expiration date, contract size and strike price, the terms of OTC options generally are established through negotiation between the parties to the options contract. Unless the counterparties provide for it, there is no central clearing or guaranty function for an OTC option. Therefore, OTC options are subject to the risk of default or non-performance by the counterparty to a greater extent than exchange-traded options.

Additional Risks of Options Transactions. The risks associated with options transactions are different from, and possibly greater than, the risks associated with investing directly in the underlying instruments. Options are highly specialized instruments that require investment techniques and risk analyses different from those associated with other portfolio investments. Options may be subject to the risk factors generally applicable to derivatives transactions described herein, and may also be subject to certain additional risk factors, including:

• The exercise of options written or purchased by a portfolio could cause a portfolio to sell portfolio securities, thus increasing a portfolio’s portfolio turnover.

• A portfolio pays brokerage commissions each time it writes or purchases an option or buys or sells an underlying security in connection with the exercise of an option. Such brokerage commissions could be higher relative to the commissions for direct purchases of sales of the underlying securities.

• A portfolio’s options transactions may be limited by limitations on options positions established by the SEC, the CFTC or the exchanges on which such options are traded.

• The hours of trading for exchange listed options may not coincide with the hours during which the underlying securities are traded. To the extent that the options markets close before the markets for the underlying securities, significant price and rate movements can take place in the underlying securities that cannot be reflected in the options markets.

• Index options based upon a narrower index of securities or other assets may present greater risks than options based on broad market indexes, as narrower indices are more susceptible to rapid and extreme fluctuations as a result of changes in the values of a small number of securities or other assets.

• A portfolio is subject to the risk of market movements between the time that an option is exercised and the time of performance thereunder, which could increase the extent of any losses suffered by a portfolio in connection with options transactions.

Foreign Currency Forward Exchange Contracts and Currency Futures. A portfolio may enter into foreign currency forward exchange contracts. Unanticipated changes in currency prices may result in losses to a portfolio and poorer overall performance for a portfolio than if it had not entered into foreign currency forward exchange contracts. At times, a portfolio may also enter into “cross-currency” hedging transactions involving currencies other than those in which securities are held or proposed to be purchased are denominated. Forward contracts may limit gains on portfolio securities that could otherwise be realized had they not been utilized and could result in losses. The contracts also may increase a portfolio’s volatility and may involve a significant amount of risk relative to the investment of cash. While a portfolio seeks to hedge against its currency exposures, there may be occasions where it is not viable or possible to ensure that the hedge will be sufficient to cover a portfolio’s total exposure.

Additional Risk of Futures Transactions. The risks associated with futures contract transactions are different from, and possibly greater than, the risks associated with investing directly in the underlying instruments. Futures are highly specialized instruments that require investment techniques and risk analyses different from those associated with other portfolio investments. Futures may be subject to the risk factors generally applicable to derivatives transactions described herein, and may also be subject to certain additional risk factors, including: The risk of loss in buying and selling futures contracts can be substantial. Small price movements in the commodity underlying a futures position may result in immediate and substantial loss (or gain) to a portfolio.

Buying and selling futures contracts may result in losses in excess of the amount invested in the position in the form of initial margin. In the event of adverse price movements in the underlying commodity, security, index, currency or instrument, a portfolio would be required to make daily cash payments to maintain its required margin. A portfolio may be required to sell portfolio securities, or make or take delivery of the underlying securities in order to meet daily margin requirements at a time when it may be disadvantageous to do so. A portfolio could lose margin payments deposited with a futures commodities merchant if the futures commodities merchant breaches its agreement with a portfolio, becomes insolvent or declares bankruptcy.

Most exchanges limit the amount of fluctuation permitted in futures contract prices during any single trading day. Once the daily limit has been reached in a particular futures contract, no trades may be made on that day at prices beyond that limit. If futures contract prices were to move to the daily limit for several trading days with little or no trading, a portfolio could be prevented from prompt liquidation of a futures position and subject to substantial losses. The daily limit governs only price movements during a single trading day and therefore does not limit a portfolio’s potential losses.

Index futures based upon a narrower index of securities may present greater risks than futures based on broad market indexes, as narrower indexes are more susceptible to rapid and extreme fluctuations as a result of changes in value of a small number of securities. Warrants. Warrants are equity securities in the form of options issued by a corporation which give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to purchase stock, usually at a price that is higher than the market price at the time the warrant is issued. A purchaser takes the risk that the warrant may expire worthless because the market price of the common stock fails to rise above the price set by the warrant. Rights. A portfolio may purchase rights for equity securities. If a portfolio purchases a right, it takes the risk that the right might expire worthless because the market value of the common stock falls below the price fixed by the right.

General Risks of Swaps. A portfolio may enter into swaps directly or indirectly (including through Risk Premia Investments). The risks associated with swap transactions are different from, and possibly greater than, the risks associated with investing directly in the underlying instruments. Swaps are highly specialized instruments that require investment techniques and risk analyses different from those associated with other portfolio investments. The use of swaps requires an understanding not only of the underlying instrument but also of the swap contract itself. Swap transactions may be subject to the risk factors generally applicable to derivatives transactions described above, and may also be subject to certain additional risk factors. In addition to the risk of default by the counterparty, if the creditworthiness of a counterparty to a swap agreement declines, the value of the swap agreement would be likely to decline, potentially resulting in losses.

In addition, the U.S. government has enacted legislation that provides for new regulation of the derivatives market, including clearing, margin, reporting, and registration requirements, which could restrict a portfolio’s ability to engage in derivatives transactions or increase the cost or uncertainty involved in such transactions. The European Union (and some other countries) are implementing similar requirements, which will affect a portfolio when it enters into a derivatives transaction with a counterparty organized in that country or otherwise subject to that country’s derivatives regulations.

For example, the U.S. government and the European Union have adopted mandatory minimum margin requirements for OTC derivatives. The Adviser expects that a portfolio’s transactions will become subject to variation margin requirements under such rules in 2017 and initial margin requirements under such rules in 2020. Such requirements could increase the amount of margin a portfolio needs to provide in connection with its derivatives transactions and, therefore, make derivatives transactions more expensive.

These and other new rules and regulations could, among other things, further restrict a portfolio’s ability to engage in, or increase the cost to a portfolio of, derivatives transactions, for example, by making some types of derivatives no longer available to a portfolio or otherwise limiting liquidity. A portfolio may be unable to execute its investment strategy as a result. The costs of derivatives transactions are expected to increase as clearing members raise their fees to cover the costs of additional capital requirements and other regulatory changes applicable to the clearing members become effective. These rules and regulations are new and evolving, so their potential impact on a portfolio and the financial system are not yet known. While the new rules and regulations and central clearing of some derivatives transactions are designed to reduce systemic risk (i.e., the risk that the interdependence of large derivatives dealers could cause them to suffer liquidity, solvency or other challenges simultaneously), there is no assurance that they will achieve that result, and in the meantime, as noted above, central clearing and related requirements expose a portfolio to new kinds of costs and risks.

Interest Rate Swaps, Caps, Floors and Collars. A portfolio may enter into interest rate swaps, which do not involve the delivery of securities, other underlying assets, or principal. Accordingly, the risk of loss with respect to interest rate and total rate of return swaps is limited to the net amount of interest payments that a portfolio is contractually obligated to make. A portfolio may also buy or sell interest rate caps, floors and collars, which may be less liquid than other types of swaps.

Currency Swaps. Currency swap agreements may be entered into on a net basis or may involve the delivery of the entire principal value of one designated currency in exchange for the entire principal value of another designated currency. In such cases, the entire principal value of a currency swap is subject to the risk that the counterparty will default on its contractual delivery obligations.

Credit Default Swaps. A portfolio may be either the buyer or seller in a credit default swap. As the buyer in a credit default swap, a portfolio would pay to the counterparty the periodic stream of payments. If no default occurs, a portfolio would receive no benefit from the contract. As the seller in a credit default swap, a portfolio would receive the stream of payments but would be subject to exposure on the notional amount of the swap, which it would be required to pay in the event of default. The use of credit default swaps could result in losses to a portfolio if the Adviser fails to correctly evaluate the creditworthiness of the issuer of the referenced debt obligation.

Combined Transactions. Combined transactions involve entering into multiple derivatives transactions instead of a single derivatives transaction in order to customize the risk and return characteristics of the overall position. Combined transactions typically contain elements of risk that are present in each of the component transactions. Because combined transactions involve multiple transactions, they may result in higher transaction costs and may be more difficult to close out.

Other Instruments and Future Developments. A portfolio may take advantage of opportunities in the area of swaps, options on various underlying instruments and swaptions and certain other customized “synthetic” or derivative investments in the future. In addition, a portfolio may take advantage of opportunities with respect to certain other “synthetic” or derivative instruments which are not presently available, but which may be developed to the extent such opportunities are both consistent with a portfolio’s investment objective and legally permissible for a portfolio.

Morgan Stanley does not render tax advice on tax accounting matters to clients. This material was not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used with any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding penalties which may be imposed on the taxpayer under U.S. federal tax laws. Federal and state tax laws are complex and constantly changing. Clients should always consult with a legal or tax advisor for information concerning their individual situation.

The information contained herein may not be reproduced or distributed. This communication is only intended for and will only be distributed to persons resident in jurisdictions where such distribution or availability would not be contrary to local laws or regulations. Index data is provided for illustrative purposes only. Indices do not include any expenses, fees or sales charges, which would lower performance. Indices are unmanaged and should not be considered an investment. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

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