Last updated: 19:09 / Wednesday, 6 January 2016
Interview with Seeyond

"Only One Thing is Sure over The Short Term, Uncertainty Is Here to Stay... until Economic Data Shed Some Light on The Underlying Fundamentals"

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"Only One Thing is Sure over The Short Term, Uncertainty Is Here to Stay... until Economic Data Shed Some Light on The Underlying Fundamentals"
  • "Due to this market psychology of “good news is bad news”, we might witness volatility spikes in an environment of robust and favourable fundamentals"
  • "Higher US interest rates as well as an expensive U.S. Dollar could weaken certain market segments, such as emerging markets and U.S. high yield which, in turn, would be a source of contagion and potential increased market volatility"
  • "Volatility will remain a key driver in 2016 in such an uncertain environment"

Emmanuel Bourdeix, General Director at Seeyond and Co-CIO at Natixis AM, explains in this interview with Funds Society his view about volatility and the trends we will see in the next months.

Does the volatility has come back to stay? Will it increase in the coming months?

Over 2015 and late 2014, we have observed a period of heightened volatility spikes. Now that the Fed starts normalising its rates after several years of accommodative monetary policy, the beginning of 2016 should probably look very much like the end of 2015, in the sense that market participants will keep on taking a close look at economic data releases to convince themselves that the Fed’s decision was the good one… or not.

More precisely, should strong economic data be published, investors might finally wonder whether the Fed is not behind the curve. Due to this market psychology of “good news is bad news”, we might witness volatility spikes in an environment of robust and favourable fundamentals. Indeed, higher US interest rates as well as an expensive U.S. Dollar could weaken certain market segments, such as emerging markets and U.S. high yield which, in turn, would be a source of contagion and potential increased market volatility.

Conversely, should weak data be released in the coming months on the back of a sustained deterioration of the manufacturing sector in the US, it would mean that the U.S. economy might find itself at the end of an economic cycle with a risk of a recession and that the Fed’s action was inappropriate. To that extent, volatility spikes would occur, with the risk that they become so frequent that it leads over the medium term to a structural adjustment of volatility to the upside.In a nutshell, we believe only one thing is sure over the short term, uncertainty is here to stay... until economic data shed some light on the underlying fundamentals.

Would volatility management be an investment key theme for 2016?

Definitely, volatility will remain a key driver in 2016 in such an uncertain environment. Specialised in extracting value from risk, Seeyond has developed different strategies that can make the most of the current period of low visibility and beyond.For instance, Seeyond’s Minimum Variance strategy offers investors a full exposure to equities with an average risk reduction of 30%. By investing in stocks that display not only low volatilities but also low correlations between each other, we strive to build portfolios that reduces volatility to the lowest, however not at the expense of long term performance: as a matter of fact, academic research, but also empirical observations, suggest that low volatility stocks tend to outperform their peers over long time horizons. This strategy typically fits uncertain environments, like the one we forecast for the coming months.

Beyond, once the economic background gets clearer, be it on the upside or the downside, Seeyond’s multi-asset conservative growth strategy is able to drastically adapt its asset allocation, avoiding markets that would be negatively impacted by the economic environment. Investing in each market independently, the investment process has no structural bias to any asset class in order to provide investors with a robust total return strategy. It combines volatility metrics with fundamentals and momentum indicators, adjusting market views to the underlying risk. To that extent, Seeyond’s multi-asset allocation and minimum variance strategies are complementary and are expected to be a good fit to next year’s environment.

Which are the investment opportunities in the current scenario? Is it more efficient to seek for protection against volatility or to try to take advantage from it?

The arbitrage between seeking protection and exploiting volatility depends on client needs. Intuitively, the cost of holding protection, that is to say the cost of carrying volatility, tends to be expensive in a normalized environment. Investors have to ask themselves if they are not better off selling an overpriced asset. However as structural market crises materialize, investors are potentially compensated for carrying volatility as the crisis unfolds. Volatility has therefore the potential to generate alpha which sets it apart from risk off assets such as cash. This duality is really the corner stone of Seeyond’s investment philosophy around volatility: by looking at the effective cost of carry of volatility instead of its facial level, our strategy is by construction long volatility during a systemic crisis, striving to generate significant value when risk assets are out of favour ; it is short volatility the remainder of the time, striving to provide an additional alpha stream to the overall portfolio.

2016 feels like we are in front of an heightened uncertainty and the outcome from the scenarios we have identified are miles apart. In that context, our firm belief is that allocating to volatility actively has the potential to present investors with the ability to adapt to a favourable scenario while maintaining the ability to generate value should a storm set in.

In this environment how do Seeyond funds help the investors to balance the risk/return equation in their portfolios?

Depending on client needs, balancing risk/return profiles of portfolios can be done on different levels:

-          Downside risk protection though structured products (full or partial): investors have a formal protection of their capital whilst being able to participate partially in financial markets’ potential.

-          Equity volatility reduction through minimum variance strategies which offer full long-only equity exposure, whilst reducing volatility considerably.

-          Risk/return optimisation through total return strategies offering multi asset exposure (equities, fixed income, currencies) based on risk-adjusted allocation

-          Active volatility management by investing in equity volatility, an asset class which generates uncorrelated returns to equity markets and thus, significantly enhances the diversification profile of an asset allocation.

It is the 5th anniversary of the Europe Min Variance fund. How has the performance been since the launching?

Since inception and as of end of Sept 2015, Seeyond Europe Minvariance has outperformed its benchmark by more than 15% and reduced volatility by around 30% vs the MSCI Europe NR EUR over the period. Despite varying market configurations, and strong performance shifts encountered over the last 5 years due to various events (among which eurozone debt crisis, FED tapering and European QE, China’s “Black Monday”, etc.), the strategy succeeded in generating consistent returns proving the relevance of its core foundation: focusing on managing the overall level of portfolio volatility does indeed benefit from superior long term risk-adjusted returns. The fund also demonstrated its ability to adapt over different market environments through its reactive allocation from a geographic or industry point of view.

How does the other fund, which invests in derivatives, work? What kind of investors profile and portfolios is it recommended for?

Seeyond’s equity volatility strategy provides investors with a diversification tool that can be used as part of their allocation. It invests in equity volatility actively through listed and liquid instruments, and aims to provide diversification during structural crises. During normalised market conditions, we strive to harvest the equity volatility risk premium in order to generate a moderate total return.

Though this strategy hasn’t had so far the opportunity to experiment a strategic bear market (comparable to 2008 or 2011) in order to demonstrate its ability to generate a decent crisis alpha, it hasn’t exhibited any significant cost of opportunity in comparison with money market investments since its inception in 2012.  Therefore, we would recommend this strategy to investors who still hold large portions of cash in their asset allocation: they could arbitrage part of this cash into Seeyond’s equity volatility strategy without any substantial cost while integrating a source of active diversification, should equities enter an undesired bear market.

 

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