FRANK J. TRAVERS, CFA, is a portfolio manager at LarchLane Advisors. He has over two decades of experience analyzingtraditional long-only, private equity, and hedge fund strategies.Previously, he was the director of research at First PeninsulaCapital and a portfolio manager at Pine Street Advisors and CICGroup. Additionally, he held positions as the director of duediligence at CIBC World Markets, associate director ofinternational equity research at Evaluation Associates, and senioranalyst positions at Morgan Stanley Asset Management and RCB Trust.Travers is the author of Investment Manager Analysis: AComprehensive Guide to Portfolio Selection, Monitoring, andOptimization, also published by Wiley. He received his BS infinance from St. John's University and his MBA from FordhamUniversity.
Hedge Fund History
"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
I recently read an article printed in the financial press that questioned the viability of hedge funds as an asset class. Following the bear market decline and the corresponding volatile market environment, the article suggested that investors had begun to question whether or not hedge funds actually hedge and whether or not the asset class was doomed. Managers responded that it had become too hard to find profitable shorts, as all the best shorts quickly become crowded trades-which can lead to short squeezes.
The author of the article suggested that many hedge fund managers had become overconfident going into the market decline and had begun to invest outside of their core mandates and, even worse, did not do a good job of matching the liquidity of their fund's underlying investments with that of their underlying investors. As a result, some hedge fund investors are still waiting to receive redemption proceeds.
Additionally, the article highlighted that the SEC is tracking hedge funds more closely and that they are currently determining how to best regulate them.
What is most striking about the article (titled "Hard Times Come to the Hedge Funds") is that it was written by Carol Loomis and was published by Fortune magazine in June 1970.1 The bear market referred to in the article occurred the previous year and had a disastrous impact on the hedge fund industry. Many hedge funds shut down and the asset class went into a dark period that lasted nearly two decades. I suggest that readers interested in hedge fund history read this article in its entirety because it provides perspective on hedge fund history and clearly shows that no matter how much things change and progress, history is likely to repeat itself (or at least rhyme).
So Who Invented the Hedge Fund?
The hedge fund industry is generally linked historically to Alfred Winslow Jones, who created the basic format for the hedge fund-which still exists to this day. However, a number of other early pioneers had invested with an absolute return methodology long before Jones entered the investment business.
It has been suggested2 that the world's first commodity trading advisor (CTA) or macro fund was created and managed to great success in the mid- to late 1700s in Japan. During the Tokugawa shogunate (1615 to 1867) Japan changed from many separate provinces to a single unified country. This had a positive impact on commerce and the nation's official marketplace for rice, which effectively was the currency in Japan, formed in Osaka due to its favorable location near the sea. The Dojima Rice Exchange was officially set up in the late 1600s and initially dealt only in the physical purchase and sale of rice. However, as rice became big business, more and more rice farmers and merchants began to sell "coupons" against the future delivery of rice. These coupons became actively traded because they provided buyers and sellers the ability to effectively go long or short various grades of rice at different delivery dates in the future. This market is generally considered to be the world's first futures exchange.
Munehisa Honma was born in 1724 into a wealthy merchant family in Sakata. He took over the family business in 1750, and his talent and skill as a trader has since become the stuff of legend. His first innovation was to study years' worth of price, weather, and crop data (it is rumored that he analyzed hundreds of years' worth of data) and to make forecasts of rice production and quality based on changes in weather and other seasonal effects. By reviewing the historical price movements and plotting them against other factors, he was able to anticipate when rice harvests would be strong and when they would be weak-and trade using that information. This combination of historical technical data combined with fundamental information gave him a genuine edge over his trading competition. This is a concept that we now take for granted, but back then no one else had thought to do it.
In addition, he devised a system of early price discovery. As most rice trading was done in Osaka and he was situated in Sakata (a considerable distance away), he developed an ingenious signaling system by positioning people on rooftops at regular intervals across the distance between the two cities. Once the official price was determined in Osaka, the first team member would signal the next team member using flags. This person would then signal the next in line until the message was received back home; not quite real-time quotes, but this innovation allowed for quicker price discovery. With this information in hand long before other traders in Sakata had access to it, Honma was able to gain a significant advantage over his peers (what we would today refer to as "low latency" trading).
Honma did not run a hedge fund as we define them today, but he certainly embraced the spirit of absolute return investing. He looked to make money by investing both long and short and developed ingenious methods that gave him a clear edge over his competition.
He was so successful as a trader he eventually became a financial consultant to the Japanese government and later was given the honorary title of samurai. He authored a book colorfully titled Fountain of Gold: The Three Monkey Record of Money.3 This work is credited with being one of the first investment books that focused on market and investor psychology. In his book, Honma posited that there was a clear link between supply and demand (in rice markets) but determined that investor perception and sentiment could cause temporary dislocations that an astute trader could take advantage of. He is also credited with developing many of the principles of what we now refer to as contrarian investing and reversion to the mean. In his book, he suggests that when markets are oversold there may exist a buying opportunity and vice versa. He also employed a more philosophical approach to investing, describing the rotation of the markets as yin (a bear market) and yang (a bull market).
Many of his technical and charting techniques became the basis for what is now referred to as Japanese candlestick charting, which is still used to this day (largely in Japan).
Monehisa Honma's Innovations:
Using past price history to develop expectations for the future Employing charts and graphs to quickly and efficiently see potential opportunities-the precursor to candlestick charting techniques Realizing a method of early price discovery (flag communication system) Early work relating to behavioral finance
In 1931, Karl Karsten published a significant but largely unheralded work titled Scientific Forecasting.4 While most people have never heard of this book, it contains some of the most important early work on absolute return investing ever documented.5 The book details eight years of statistical analysis that his firm, the Karsten Statistical Laboratory, performed to develop an automated system designed to gauge the state of the economy and stock market. Their objective was to determine if they could develop a systematic method of beating the market using publicly available information.
Karsten and his team reviewed a variety of "economic conditions," or what we would now refer to as economic/market indicators, to determine which data series had a statistically significant impact on the subsequent return of the equity market. He ultimately determined that thirteen indicators passed their tests. He broke the indicators into two main categories: (1) broad market and (2) industry specific. Economic/Broad Market Indicators Industry-Specific Indicators
The wholesale commodity price level The building trades industry The bond market The automobile industry The stock market The petroleum industry The short-term money rate The iron and steel industry The long-term money rate The railroads General business activity The public utilities The chain stores
Not being financial experts themselves, Karsten and his team started the analytical process by holding conferences with experts in each field specified in the thirteen indicators and then tested a number of data series to determine their relative importance and the degree of influence that they had during the period studied. They looked at each time series over their respective histories but also recognized that recent history might be more relevant, so they reran the statistical work to look at the impact from recent periods as well as the overall time frame.
Some of the thirteen indicators were measured by a single factor or data series while others represented a combination of several. The complete list of underlying factors used to determine and track the indicators follows. Data Series Used to Determine Barometers
Bank debits in New York City Commercial paper rates Bank debits outside of New York City Bond price...