Today’s liquidity-aware fund investor is still seeking the appropriate solutions for cash flow monitoring within alternative portfolios.
Investors in alternative funds are managing far more diverse portfolios than they used to. And even within the hedge funds universe, they are grappling with wildly different structures and liquidity terms. Investors are set to increase their overall allocation to alternative investments, a trend that was already becoming established prior to the financial crisis, but by doing so they are creating some immediate operational challenges when it comes to monitoring their critical cash picture.
Fund allocators embrace new conditions of risk when they invest in alternatives. From an operations perspective, one of the key obstacles is the implementation of appropriate technology within the business that will allow for the effective management of alternative portfolios alongside other investments like long only funds and ETFs, where liquidity timelines and redemption conditions are very different. It is not unusual to have a UCITS fund with daily dealing sitting in the same bucket as a conventional hedge fund with monthly liquidity or a private equity or real estate fund with even longer liquidity time frames.
We are now living in an environment where more emphasis is being placed on internal risk controls and the quality of real time reporting is an important part of the overall risk management package. Portfolio managers and risk officers within investor organisations need to make sense of and fully understand the divergent cash flow and liquidity picture. Failure to do so will only create further pain for the organisation when another disruptive market event occurs.
Today’s institutional allocator will have a number of alternative funds within their portfolio:
- Onshore hedge funds, including Limited Partnerships
- Offshore hedge funds, usually employing a unitised holdings model including series of shares or equalisation allocations
- Private equity investments, again with a Limited Partnership structure with a commitment and funded periodically on a capital call basis
- Real estate funds
- Alternative UCITS with daily or weekly dealing
- ETFs used as indexed hedges of based on alternative markets (e.g. based on commodities futures)
There is a need for a diverse range of alternative investment funds to be managed and analysed via a single platform, particularly when a portfolio manager requires accurate reporting on cash flow and liquidity terms. Managers of alternative fund portfolios now need to see all the way out the liquidity curve, to a year or more if needed. Private equity cash flows, for example, are much less frequent than conventional funds and need to be accounted for efficiently if the investor is going to ensure sufficient cash is on hand to meet PE commitments.
How can daily cash flow commitments to alternative investment funds be monitored on a forwards basis out to 12 months?
Proper cash flow management within the alternative portfolio in this challenging environment goes beyond normal accounting requirements. There is a need to budget and estimate both future commitments and withdrawals, taking into account actual and anticipated liquidity terms. Accurate risk management and forecasting can be managed on a dynamic basis from a single point, but not with an Excel spreadsheet. The sophisticated cash flow requirements of today’s industry go beyond what is economically achievable with Excel.
Today’s portfolio management solution needs to take account of a range of varying factors – liquidity terms of a hedge fund, or a particular side letter for example. It has to be sufficiently customisable to dynamically track commitments over time, and provide an accurate picture of cash and asset positions, on a daily basis if necessary. To do this manually seems a reckless waste of man hours at a time when many investors are very conscious of both the lack of effective reporting on their portfolios and the costs they already incur in their operations.
The typical institutional fund portfolio will hold a range of assets with varying liquidity terms that will behave very differently under liquidity stress test scenarios:
It is important that, as the investment manager maintains his own diversification between different asset classes, he also keeps a clear picture of the pricing and liquidity terms of the portfolio of funds. This can even change several times a day. Juggling the short and long term liquidity picture simultaneously without appropriate monitoring can be like driving a car at midnight with no headlights. An Excel basic road map may help you, but you are still placing yourself at risk.
In addition, today’s portfolio manager will also need to model liquidity scenarios on an allocation-by-allocation basis, including hypotheticals. This can have an increasingly important bearing on decisions to allocate in the first place. The biggest variable, however, is the cash flow picture. Is the manager overweight on monthly dealing funds? Can liabilities be met without altering exposures? Can they monitor and transact on both manager and client portfolio liquidity dynamically?
During the credit crunch of 2008, managers of alternative investment portfolios were forced to turn to their most liquid investments to access cash in the shortest possible time. Sometimes this meant liquidating holdings with some of the better performing fund managers. It is an experience that has created more emphasis on controlling and diversifying the underlying portfolio liquidity picture across sophisticated hybrid portfolios. Doing this effectively without resorting to manual and error-prone Excel-based processes is another matter.