In this post I am going to take a look at what an investor can do to improve a hedge fund investment through the use of dynamic capital allocation. For the purposes of illustration I am going to use Cantab Capital’s Aristarchus program – a quantitative fund which has grown to over $3.5Bn in assets under management since its opening with $30M in 2007 by co-founders Dr. Ewan Kirk and Erich Schlaikjer.
I chose this product because, firstly, it is one of the most successful quantitative funds in existence and, secondly, because as a CTA its performance record is publicly available.
Cantab’s Aristarchus Fund
Cantab’s stated investment philosophy is that algorithmic trading can help to overcome cognitive biases inherent in human-based trading decisions, by exploiting persistent statistical relationships between markets. Taking a multi-asset, multi-model approach, the majority of Cantab’s traded instruments are liquid futures and forwards, across currencies, fixed income, equity indices and commodities.
Let’s take a look at how that has worked out in practice:
Whatever the fund’s attractions may be, we can at least agree that alpha is not amongst them. A Sharpe ratio of < 0.5 (I calculate to be nearer 0.41) is hardly in Renaissance territory, so one imagines that the chief benefit of the product must lie in its liquidity and low market correlation. Uncorrelated it may be, but an investor in the fund must have extremely deep pockets – and a very strong stomach – to handle the 34% drawdown that the fund suffered in 2013.
Improving the Aristarchus Fund Performance
If we make the assumption that an investment in this product is warranted in the first place, what can be done to improve its performance characteristics? We’ll look at that question from two different perspectives – the investor’s and the manager’s.
Firstly, from the investor’s perspective, there are relatively few options available to enhance the fund’s contribution, other than through diversification. One other possibility available to the investor, however, is to develop a program for dynamic capital allocation. This requires the manager to be open to allowing significant changes in the amount of capital to be allocated from month to month, or quarter to quarter, but in a liquid product like Aristarchus some measure of flexibility ought to be feasible.
An analysis of the fund’s performance indicates the presence of a strong dependency in the returns process. This is not at all unusual. Often investment strategies have a tendency to mean-revert: a negative dependency in which periods of poor performance tend to be followed by positive performance, and vice versa. CTA strategies such as Aristarchus tend to be trend-following, and this can induce positive dependency in the strategy returns process, in which positive months tend to follow earlier positive months, while losing months tend to be followed by further losses. This is the pattern we find here.
Consequently, rather than maintaining a constant capital allocation, an investor would do better to allocate capital dynamically, increasing the amount of capital after a positive period, while decreasing the allocation after a period of losses. Let’s consider a variation of this allocation plan, in which the amount of allocated capital is increased by 70% when the last monthly equity value exceeds the quarterly moving average, while the allocation is reduced to zero when the last month’s equity falls below the average. A dynamic capital allocation plan as simple as this appears to produce a significant improvement in the overall performance of the investment:
The slight increase in annual volatility in the returns produced by the dynamic capital allocation model is more than offset by the 412bp improvement in the CAGR. Consequently, the Sharpe Ratio improves from o.41 to 0.60.
Nor is this by any means the entire story: the dynamic model produces lower average drawdowns (7.93% vs. 8.52%) and, more importantly, reduces the maximum drawdown over the life of the fund from a painful 34.87% to more palatable 23.92%.
The much-improved risk profile of the dynamic allocation scheme is reflected in the Return/Drawdown Ratio, which rises from 2.44 to 6.52.
Note, too, that the average level of capital allocated in the dynamic scheme is very slightly less than the original static allocation. In other words, the dynamic allocation technique results in a more efficient use of capital, while at the same time producing a higher rate of risk-adjusted return and enhancing the overall risk characteristics of the strategy.
Improving Fund Performance Using a Meta-Strategy
So much for the investor. What could the manager to do improve the strategy performance? Of course, there is nothing in principle to prevent the manager from also adopting a dynamic approach to capital allocation, although his investment mandate may require him to be fully invested at all times.
Assuming for the moment that this approach is not available to the manager, he can instead look into the possibilities for developing a meta-strategy. As I explained in my earlier post on the topic:
A meta-strategy is a trading system that trades trading systems. The idea is to develop a strategy that will make sensible decisions about when to trade a specific system, in a way that yields superior performance compared to simply following the underlying trading system.
It turns out to be quite straightforward to develop such a meta-strategy, using a combination of stop-loss limits and profit targets to decide when to turn the strategy on or off. In so doing, the manager is able to avoid some periods of negative performance, producing a significant uplift in the overall risk-adjusted return:
Meta-strategies and dynamic capital allocation schemes can enable the investor and the investment manager to improve the performance characteristics of their investment and investment strategy, by increasing returns, reducing volatility and the propensity of the strategy to produce substantial drawdowns.
We have demonstrated how these approaches can be applied successfully to Cantab’s Aristarchus quantitative fund, producing substantial gains in risk adjusted performance and reductions in the average and maximum drawdowns produced over the life of the fund.