Alternative Investments can help you pursue your goals across market cycles
Volatility in the financial markets and macroeconomic uncertainty have left many investors feeling paralyzed. Many investors are questioning whether now is an opportune time to invest in Alternative Investments strategies given their less liquid nature. However, history has shown that when investing in Alternatives, the most critical thing is to allocate throughout a full cycle—including downturns—to help realize the powerful return premiums and diversification benefits of this asset class.
Effectively timing the markets is difficult and the opportunity costs of missing out on performance rallies can hinder long-term performance. Our Chief Investment Office has shown that an investor’s returns in public equity markets can be significantly eroded by not participating in its best performing days.
S&P 500 Compound Annual Growth
Staying Invested Matters For Private Markets Too
The benefits of staying invested and the difficulties of market timing also apply to Alternative Investments. And the less liquid nature of the strategies only raises the hurdle to trying to time one’s investments. For instance, within Private Equity (PE), the illiquidity and contractual obligations of multi-year investment periods limit an investor’s ability to tactically enter and exit the market. While investors can time when they make commitments, they do not control when that capital is invested by the Private Equity fund manager or when that manager exits an investment.1 Despite that, a fund manager’s ability to be patient and discerning with respect to capital deployment is a key element of the value he or she delivers.
A Disciplined Approach Is Key
“Even in an environment like the current one, constructing a portfolio to include an appropriate allocation to Alternative Investments is a valuable exercise for qualified investors.”
These factors underscore the importance of investing for the long-term, which underpins the Chief Investment Office’s Strategic Asset Allocation (SAA) framework. This asset allocation guidance recommends a diversified approach that invests across asset classes, including Alternative Investments. Maintaining allocations to Hedge Funds, Private Equity and Real Assets—in alignment with one’s risk profile and liquidity needs—should, over the long term, shift a portfolio’s efficient frontier to deliver greater return per unit of risk. Even in an environment like the current one, constructing a portfolio to include an appropriate allocation to Alternative Investments is a valuable exercise for qualified investors.
While building their exposures, investors should seek to achieve diversification including by manager, strategy and vintage. To the extent investors may want to include opportunistic investments, there are several Alternative Investment strategies with favorable outlooks even in a market regime characterized by equity and Fixed Income volatility, higher inflation and interest rates, and greater uncertainty.
Private Markets Deliver Compelling Returns
20-Year Annualized Performance of Private Market Strategies versus U.S. Equities and Fixed Income
|July 1, 2002 - June 30, 2022||20-Yr Internal Rate of Return|
|US Aggregate Bond||3.6%|
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Source: Cambridge Associates, eVestment, Bloomberg. Private Equity, Venture Capital, Private Credit and Real Estate returns reflect net annualized returns using Cambridge Associates benchmarks.
Private Markets Performance versus The S&P 500 During Fed Hiking & Cutting Cycles
Returns of U.S. Private Equity Funds by Vintage Year versus U.S. Real GDP Growth.
Private Market strategies have, over multiple decades, delivered competitive returns relative to public equities and fixed income strategies. Spanning Private Equity, Venture Capital (VC), Private Credit and Real Estate, these strategies exceeded the S&P 500 in terms of performance, with the exception of Real Estate, which trailed only slightly over the twenty-year period from Q2 2002 to Q2 2022. The outperformance of Private Market strategies was also achieved with lower volatility, thereby making the relative risk-adjusted returns even more compelling.
Private Market strategies have outperformed public equity strategies during both Federal Reserve interest rate hiking and cutting cycles, which is pertinent to today’s markets. The current Fed hiking cycle that began in Q1 2022 has not officially ended, however, early performance indications suggest the pattern of Private Markets outperformance may hold once again.
Certain private markets strategies display relatively strong performance from funds originated during economic downturns. For example, U.S. buyout fund vintages from periods in and around recessions have historically delivered competitive returns. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, this data bolster the case for vintage year diversification, including committing to Private Equity strategies during periods of economic and financial volatility.
Hedge Funds May Also Benefit From Higher Rates
The decade following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) proved challenging for Hedge Funds. And yet, today’s macroeconomic environment may present an improved investment environment for this asset class: Historical data shows that higher interest rates may create a better opportunity set for Hedge Fund returns and alpha generation.
Recent data backs this up. Amid a challenging backdrop, Hedge Funds on the whole generated returns of approximately -4% in 2022.2 This margin of outperformance relative to a traditional 60/40 portfolio was greater than during the GFC. Looking forward, Hedge Funds may be well positioned coming off strong relative performance in 2022. Many investors believe the asset class’s diversifying characteristics were validated in the past year and intend to continue using Hedge Funds to improve portfolio outcomes.
Potential Opportunities And Risk Considerations For Qualified Investors
Despite the macro uncertainty of today’s world, several Alternative Investment strategies across Private Markets and Hedge Funds currently have favorable outlooks. For one, Private Market funds in aggregate have a sizable amount of dry powder—available cash on hand—allowing them to capitalize on emerging opportunities. With patient capital at their disposal, Private Markets fund managers can act as liquidity providers and potentially take advantage of discounted valuations.
U.S. Private Equity Dry Powder
U.S. Venture Capital Dry Powder
In addition, the recent environment of higher interest rates and inflation, geopolitical uncertainty, and increased volatility in equity and fixed income markets has favored various Alternative Investment strategies, particularly those that typically display low correlations to traditional asset classes. To the extent that the environment shifts, a sizable opportunity set could unfold across asset classes, as noted below.
Potential Opportunity: Rising short-term interest rates have significantly increased return expectations, with the added benefit of lower durations relative to traditional fixed income strategies. By year end 2022, new private credit transaction yields had risen to low to mid-teens levels. Due to structural factors, direct lenders have become the de facto lenders of choice for many companies and Private Equity sponsors. Interest coverage has declined with rising rates though overall remains at manageable levels, and defaults continue to remain low. Existing Private Credit portfolios, as always, will have to contend with legacy issues; however, fresh pools of capital could find compelling opportunities given the backdrop.
Risk Considerations: Greater-than-expected deterioration of interest coverage; a severe economic recession that creates a spike in default rates, even for private middle market borrowers.
Special Situations and Distressed
Potential Opportunity: The opportunity set for Special Situations and Distressed was historically sparse in 2021-2022 due to historic fiscal and monetary stimulus. As this government intervention wanes, default rates have begun to rise and are expected to reach long-term averages. In addition, if the credit environment remains challenged for longer than expected (e.g., inflation and rates surprising to the upside or a more severe-than-expected recession), then distressed assets could quickly metastasize. Given that companies largely extended maturities during the forgiving environment of 2021, we expect the opportunity set to unfold at a slower pace than recent cycles.
Risk Considerations: Interest rates revert to a lower-for-longer dynamic; reduced/weakened covenant packages in the syndicated leveraged loan market make it difficult to initiate debt restructurings.
Potential Opportunity: Rising inflation and interest rates presented a challenging environment for Private Equity in 2022—similar to public equities. This led to slowing deal activity and reduced exit opportunities. Despite that, the strategy has had several levers to pull to adjust to the shifting landscape, including focusing on more economically resilient sectors or businesses with hard assets. The rise of Private Credit has also kept open an important source of financing for sponsors. Going forward, with the pace of Fed tightening likely slowing, bond yields declining at the start the year and the valuation gap between public and private markets narrowing, 2023 could see a more favorable backdrop for the strategy. In addition to potentially improved sentiment, structural forces will continue to propel Private Equity to new heights.
Risk Considerations: A slowdown in Private Credit availability to hamper an important source of financing for the strategy; higher financing costs can potentially challenge equity returns and/or require larger equity checks in deals; a severe economic recession could affect existing portfolio companies.
Potential Opportunity: The pendulum has quickly swung back to favoring limited partners (LP) compared to the frothy environment of 2021, which significantly favored founders. Deals today are expected to be struck with better terms and more compelling entry valuations. In the near term, investors expect an increase in Structured Equity and Venture Debt strategies. Likely unfolding over the course of 2023-2024, the opportunity set for VC vintages during this period of reset for the strategy could be historic, as animal spirits are revived and deal-making resumes.
Risk Considerations: High valuations paid in 2020-2021 could weigh on the market for some time, lengthening the market’s process of adjustment; if interest rates continue to rise that could challenge valuations and keep the initial public offering market closed.
Hedge Funds – Global Macro
Potential Opportunity: Global Macro strategies have benefited throughout this new market paradigm that has characterized the post-pandemic period. The opportunity set is expected to remain fruitful on the back of elevated volatility across asset classes, continued factor reversals, shifts in global monetary policy, and volatile inflation dynamics. Most importantly, Global Macro has historically exhibited low correlations to traditional equity and fixed income strategies while trading in relatively liquid asset classes, thereby providing significant portfolio utility.
Risk Considerations: Reemergence of low-volatility with little to no trends in rates or currencies could diminish return expectations.
Hedge Funds – Equity Hedge
Potential Opportunity: High macro uncertainty and expected dispersion are expected to drive an attractive opportunity set. Equity market neutral strategies in particular may be best positioned in this environment. From a portfolio construction standpoint, an allocation to these funds sourced from traditional long-only investments can help reduce portfolio beta and potentially increase alpha, thus helping to provide differentiated equity risk.
Risk Considerations: Significant rise in equity correlation; lower single-stock dispersion; exogenous shocks to the financial system.
Selecting The Right Alternative Investments
As with all investment decisions, the right investment depends on a range of factors, including your risk tolerance, time horizon, tax sensitivity and liquidity needs. The Chief Investment Office recommends an allocation to Alternative Investments of 20%-30% for many investors. It also encourages clients to understand how each individual investment supports an investor’s overall goals and to take a diversified approach when adding Alternative Investments to a traditional portfolio approach.
Talk to your advisor about how allocating to alternatives may make sense for your overall investment strategy.
A private wealth advisor can help you get started.
1Failure to make required capital contributions when due can cause severe consequences to the investor, e.g., forfeiture of all investments in the fund made to date.
2Hedge Fund Research, HFRI® Indices Performance Tables. Data as of January 2023.
Opinions are as of 03/15/2023 and are subject to change.
Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Alternative investments are intended for qualified investors only. Alternative investments such as derivatives, hedge funds, private equity funds, and funds of funds can result in higher return potential but also higher loss potential. Changes in economic conditions or other circumstances may adversely affect your investments. Before you invest in alternative investments, you should consider your overall financial situation, how much money you have to invest, your need for liquidity, and your tolerance for risk.
Alternative investments are speculative and involve a high degree of risk. An investor could lose all or a substantial amount of his or her investment. There is no secondary market nor is one expected to develop and there may be restrictions on transferring fund investments. Alternative investments may be leveraged and performance may be volatile. Alternative investments have high fees and expenses that reduce returns and are generally subject to less regulation than the public markets. The information provided does not constitute an offer to purchase any security or investment or any other advice.
Investors should bear in mind that the global financial markets are subject to periods of extraordinary disruption and distress. During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, many private investment funds incurred significant or even total losses, suspended redemptions or otherwise severely restricted investor liquidity, including increasing the notice period required for redemptions, instituting gates on the percentage of fund interests that could be redeemed in any given period and creating side-pockets and special purpose vehicles to hold illiquid securities as they are liquidated. Other funds may take similar steps in the future to prevent forced liquidation of their portfolios into a distressed market. In addition, investment funds implementing alternative investment strategies are subject to the risk of ruin and may become illiquid under a variety of circumstances, irrespective of general market conditions.
This information should not be construed as investment advice and is subject to change. It is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be either a specific offer by Bank of America, Merrill or any affiliate to sell or provide, or a specific invitation for a consumer to apply for, any particular retail financial product or service that may be available.
The Chief Investment Office (CIO) provides thought leadership on wealth management, investment strategy and global markets; portfolio management solutions; due diligence; and solutions oversight and data analytics. CIO viewpoints are developed for Bank of America Private Bank, a division of Bank of America, N.A., (“Bank of America”) and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (“MLPF&S” or “Merrill”), a registered broker-dealer, registered investment adviser and a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation (“BofA Corp.”).
Investments have varying degrees of risk. Some of the risks involved with equity securities include the possibility that the value of the stocks may fluctuate in response to events specific to the companies or markets, as well as economic, political or social events in the U.S. or abroad. Bonds are subject to interest rate, inflation and credit risks. Treasury bills are less volatile than longer-term fixed income securities and are guaranteed as to timely payment of principal and interest by the U.S. government. Investments in foreign securities (including ADRs) involve special risks, including foreign currency risk and the possibility of substantial volatility due to adverse political, economic or other developments. These risks are magnified for investments made in emerging markets. Investments in a certain industry or sector may pose additional risk due to lack of diversification and sector concentration.
Asset allocation, diversification and rebalancing do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.
Securities indexes assume reinvestment of all distributions and interest payments. Indexes are unmanaged and do not take into account fees or expenses. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Indexes are all based in U.S. dollars.
S&P 500 is a stock market index that tracks the stocks of 500 large-cap U.S. companies. It represents the stock market's performance by reporting the risks and returns of the biggest companies.
The Cambridge Associates U.S. Private Equity index and benchmark statistics are based on data compiled from more than 1,400 institutional-quality buyout, growth equity, private equity energy, and subordinated capital funds.
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