atans1

Trading ETFs can be dangerous

In ETFs, Financial competency on 12/10/2015 at 1:24 pm

Fronm NYT Dealbook

RISKY STRATEGY SINKS SMALL HEDGE FUND At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, investors would have had a gain of more than 600 percent, according to projections in investor documents for the new hedge fund, Spruce Alpha. But the fund, which started in April 2014, has failed to turn recent market turmoil to its advantage and has lost investors 48 percent of their money, Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein report in DealBook.

The under-$100 million fund, which was managed by the $1.5 billion Spruce Investment Advisors, has moved its positions into cash, a person with knowledge of the fund said. The fund has told investors that they can redeem what remains of their money.

This sudden reversal of fortune at Spruce has highlighted the way hedge funds rely heavily on exchange-traded funds and derivatives to profit from short-term turmoil in the stock markets, and the way some use back-tested data to market to their investors.

Back-tested results in hedge fund marketing materials have long drawn scorn from some in the hedge fund world. They are typically recreated with the benefit of hindsight, making it easier for a fund to post hypothetical good results.

It is not clear exactly what caused the big losses in August. Spruce Alpha used a sophisticated strategy that involved derivatives to amplify returns from trading in E.T.F.s. The strategy seeks to make money off stock market volatility.

Trading in E.T.F.s has become controversial with big-name investors blaming them for the violent swings in the market and Laurence D. Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, which sells more traditional E.T.F.s, warning that E.T.F. strategies that rely on derivatives could blow up.

The tests at Spruce Alpha had apparently not simulated a situation like Aug. 24, when some E.T.F.s seized up in the first few minutes of trading.

Todd Rosenbluth, director of E.T.F. research for Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ, said leveraged E.T.F.s were an inherently risky strategy that is more akin to “gambling than investing.”

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