After a banner year for public equities and fixed income, it may be time to consider diversifying into alternatives.

Many advisors today are increasing allocations to alternative investments with the goal of enhancing returns or mitigating risk. We would agree that this is a prudent approach that can improve portfolio diversification and deliver a smoother ride when markets turn volatile, as they inevitably do. But many advisors hold firm in the belief that a traditional “60/40” approach can provide each of the three main ingredients in a healthy portfolio: strong performance, capital protection and diversification.
 
Forget for a moment that private equity (PE) has historically outperformed publicly traded stocks by roughly 300 basis points per year, or that as much as 1000 additional basis points can be accessed by investing in top-performing PE funds1 (top-performing funds have become more accessible today because of advances in technology and the growing number of PE firms prioritizing the private wealth channel). Forget too that hedge funds, despite a challenging period post-crisis, have still managed to outperform global equities with less than half the downside volatility over the past three decades. If you are one of those 60/40 traditionalists, congratulations on a banner year.
 
At the time of this writing,2 the S&P 500 Index has appreciated by roughly 25% in 2019, while the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Bond Index is up over 8.5%. Together, a blended 60% stock and 40% bond investment has delivered a return of over 18% thus far this year.
 
In addition to strong performance and minimal volatility, investors have also benefited from a return of the negative correlation between stocks and bonds. The only two negative months for the S&P 500 (May and August), coincided with some of the best returns for fixed income in 2019. Should the rally in traditional assets persist through year-end, a 60/40 portfolio could easily generate a return of 20% for the first time since 1998.
 
Will next year bring more of the same? Well, monetary policy remains accommodative, equities appear attractive on an earnings-adjusted basis versus bonds, and the macro environment is benign. Case in point: At 3.5%, the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 1969.
 
Advisors with an appreciation for historical context may be interested to know that two of the years mentioned earlier – 1969 and 1998 – were also notable for S&P 500 “Sharpe Peaks.” In both of these years, while a peak in S&P 500 risk-adjusted returns was followed by a continued equity rally lasting approximately 18-24 months, equities subsequently experienced declines of 40% or more, with investors realizing cumulative losses over the next 5-10+ years. As the chart below shows, the most recent Sharpe peak occurred in September 2018, roughly 14 months ago. Since then, despite a tumultuous fourth quarter, the S&P 500 has continued on its upward trend and is again trading at record levels.

Chart - 1969, 1998 and 2018 experienced peaks in the sharpe ratio

After another strong year for traditional assets, it’s reasonable for the 60/40 believers to question whether alternative strategies are needed at all. If you have faith that the current trend will continue, your answer may be no. We would certainly argue that this is an opportune time to shift some assets into alternative investment strategies, particularly those designed to capitalize on the myriad inefficiencies in private markets, to exploit complex opportunities that are less directional in nature, or to profit from shorting those securities that have been lifted by the rising tide. While the recent success of traditional assets may indeed persist, history suggests otherwise.

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1) Source: Cambridge Associates, as of December 31, 2018.
2) November 10, 2019.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION
This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as, and may not be relied on in any manner as legal, tax or investment advice, a recommendation, or as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to purchase or a recommendation of any interest in any fund or security offered by Institutional Capital Network, Inc. or its affiliates (together “iCapital Network”). Past performance is not indicative of future results. Alternative investments are complex, speculative investment vehicles and are not suitable for all investors. An investment in an alternative investment entails a high degree of risk and no assurance can be given that any alternative investment fund’s investment objectives will be achieved or that investors will receive a return of their capital. The information contained herein is subject to change and is also incomplete. This industry information and its importance is an opinion only and should not be relied upon as the only important information available. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed, and iCapital Network assumes no liability for the information provided.

Products offered by iCapital Network are typically private placements that are sold only to qualified clients of iCapital Network through transactions that are exempt from registration under the Securities Act of 1933 pursuant to Rule 506(b) of Regulation D promulgated thereunder (“Private Placements”). An investment in any product issued pursuant to a Private Placement, such as the funds described, entails a high degree of risk and no assurance can be given that any alternative investment fund’s investment objectives will be achieved or that investors will receive a return of their capital. Further, such investments are not subject to the same levels of regulatory scrutiny as publicly listed investments, and as a result, investors may have access to significantly less information than they can access with respect to publicly listed investments. Prospective investors should also note that investments in the products described involve long lock-ups and do not provide investors with liquidity.

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Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns

Joseph is a Managing Director and Head of Hedge Fund Solutions at iCapital Network, where he is responsible for leading the research team focusing on investment strategies across single and multi-manager product offerings. Before joining iCapital, Joseph was Chief Operating Officer at TCS Capital Management, a global equity hedge fund where he focused on portfolio construction, risk management, and business development. He holds a BA in Political Science from Manhattanville College and an MBA from Fordham University. See Full Bio.