Fiduciaries, Can You Pick the Best Ones

Calpers’s announcement that it is liquidating its hedge fund investments continues to attract widespread attention.  Hedge Funds Lose Calpers, and More as reported by James B. Stewart in the New York Times.

“Foremost were fees”.   In light of the middling performance of Calpers’ allocation to hedge funds, the fees could not be justified.  One of Calpers’s “core beliefs” as stated on its website, “Costs matter and need to be effectively managed.”

ERISA takes this concept a step further.  Right in the statute, it provides that fiduciaries are required to “defray expenses”.  How the Department of Labor continues to permit the investment of plan assets in hedge funds is perplexing.

In addition to fees, however, another challenge looms large.   With over 10,000 hedge funds in the market place, how does a fiduciary pick the “best” fund(s)?   This is the same question the indexers have been asking about active managers for decades.  It is at the very core of Modern Portfolio Theory.

Apparently, even Calpers, with all of its resources and its heft in the marketplace, wasn’t able to crack this nut.

As I first identified just prior to Calpers’ announcement, Hedge Funds: Prudent Investments?, EVERY fiduciary needs to be evaluating the role of hedge funds in the portfolios they oversee.

But, the analysis can’t stop with hedge funds.   In the event that hedge fund investments are liquidated, fiduciaries then need to decide where to allocate the cash proceeds.   The investment environment it tough:

  • record low interest rates
  • record high in US equity markets
  • European debt crisis continues
  • geopolitical risks
  • Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing is about to end.

This might not be the most auspicious time for fiduciaries to be re-visiting their asset allocations in light of hedge fund liquidations.

But, fiduciaries don’t get to choose the investment environment.  They must make prudent decisions in light of the real word risks currently prevailing.

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