In this episode I talk with Aneet Chachra, fund manager at Janus Henderson.
In his role, Aneet runs flow-driven strategies. These are strategies that seek to find an edge in market events where trading volume creates a predictable pressure on price, such as index additions or deletions, corporate buybacks or issuance, or even the rebalancing of target date funds. Our conversation is wide ranging, from the basics of how Aneet categorizes these types of trades, to views on how changing market structure has affected the opportunity set, to the impact of social leverage on risk management.
While the approach may be highly niche, Aneet is bursting with broadly applicable wisdom.
I hope you enjoy this episode with Aneet Chachra.
Corey Hoffstein 00:00
All right 321 Let’s jam. Hello and welcome everyone. I’m Corey Hoffstein. And this is flirting with models the podcast that pulls back the curtain to discover the human factor behind the quantitative strategy.
Corey Hoffstein Is the co founder and chief investment officer of new found research due to industry regulations, he will not discuss any of new found researches funds on this podcast all opinions expressed by podcast participants are solely their own opinion and do not reflect the opinion of newfound research. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. Clients of newfound research may maintain positions in securities discussed in this podcast for more information is it think newfound.com.
Corey Hoffstein 00:51
If you enjoy this podcast, we’d greatly appreciate it. If you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast platform and check out our sponsor this season. It’s well it’s me. People ask me all the time, Cory, what do you actually do? Well, back in 2008, I co founded newfound research, we’re a quantitative investment in research firm dedicated to helping investors proactively navigate the risks of investing through more holistic diversification. Whether through the funds we manage the Exchange Traded products we power, or the total portfolio solutions we construct like the structural Alpha model portfolio series, we offer a variety of solutions to financial advisors and institutions. Check us out at www dot Tink newfound.com. And now on with the show. In this episode, I speak with a neat chatra fund manager at Janice Henderson. In his role a neat runs flow driven strategies. These are strategies that seek to find an edge in market events where trading volume creates a predictable pressure on price, such as index additions or deletions, corporate buybacks or issuance, or even the rebalancing of target date funds. Our conversation is wide ranging from the basics of how a need categorizes these types of trades, to views on how changing market structure has affected the opportunity set to the impact of social leverage on risk management. While the approach may be highly niche, a neat is bursting with broadly applicable wisdom. I hope you enjoy this episode with a neat chatra. Aneet Chachra, Welcome to the show, welcome to flirting with models. This has been a long time coming. I’m very excited to have you here. Because you don’t do a lot of media, you’re hard to get your heart to book. And you’ve got a lot of interesting things to say. So thank you for joining me this season. It’s really a pleasure.
Aneet Chachra 02:46
Well, thank you, Corey for having me on. I really appreciate it. I’m a big fan of the show. I think I told you this, that I once had to decide whether I should fly or drive to San Francisco. And I chose to drive so that I could listen to all the episodes of flooding for model on the way.
Corey Hoffstein 03:01
Well, I hope you don’t regret that decision. I hope that it was it lived up to whatever reputation it had beforehand. But it only gets better from here now that you’re on the show. So let’s dive right in. For folks, perhaps who don’t know who you are, maybe we can start with your background.
Aneet Chachra 03:17
Sure. So Cory, I had a pretty unconventional path to becoming a fund manager. I grew up in Canada, I went to the University of Waterloo to study engineering. From there, Morgan Stanley hired me to be a programmer. So I think starting your career at a big bank, and there’s a lot of good things about it, you go through great training, and you very quickly get exposed to lots of different ideas and people. But the thing you realize that when you’re in technology at a big bank is that it’s not really their core focus. So if you build a system, and I was working on derivative trading, as long as it’s working fine, literally nobody cares. But the minute that something is not quite right, everybody’s calling and yelling at you. So I realized that, hey, I needed to do something a little bit different. And I became a quant at a hedge fund. And I was really fortunate with that, that, you know, I ended up at a place with extremely smart people. And I was already had a pretty technical and programming and quant background. But I was able to really learn how hedge funds look at different trade ideas and how they put trades on and how they manage them. So from there, I became an equity analyst. And that was useful because I got to really understand how to look at a company. But more importantly, I could find out how to long only managers in particular, how do they look at a particular stock? How do they look at their portfolio? And how do they manage their book with tracking error and other constraints. So I had a pretty geeky background. But along the way, I’d kind of picked up a bunch of market knowledge in different asset classes. says, so I was looking to do something that combine the two. And I was really lucky that a colleague of mine, who I had worked with previously at the hedge fund, he had joined a British firm called Henderson. And there was a team there that was very focused on flow and price pressure effects. So I went there, and I’ve been there ever since. Along the way, Janus merged with Henderson. And the thing is, is now if you say to people that, hey, flows can be more important than fundamentals, especially in the short run, like almost everybody will agree with that. But when I started doing this, that was a pretty unusual idea, when I would tell people that, hey, you know, we’re capturing flow effects, who already like, that’s crazy. Markets are efficient, they reflect fundamentals, everything gets priced in, maybe there’s some very short term arbitrage to do. But really, flows aren’t that impactful. And now there’s been a huge shift, especially in the last couple years. Like I think your work on liquidity cascades has been a big part of that, that now it’s like, almost when I talk to people like there’s this nihilism of like hay, all prices are fake, and any asset can trade at any price. And there’s nothing means anything anymore. And really, I think that reality is somewhere in between, that flows can absolutely matter in the short run. But fundamentals are important, especially when you look out your longer horizon. So my background has been integrating technology and markets into flow and price pressure.
Corey Hoffstein 06:38
I want to start back at the beginning of your career really quickly, because you once told me a sort of a funny anecdote, one of your first bosses said to you, quote, when you fit data to a model, you don’t want it to fit too closely to reality. What was the purported wisdom behind that statement?
Aneet Chachra 06:55
That’s really funny, because it happened on my very first day of work at the hedge fund. But really, it took me like many years to figure out what it actually means. And the thing is that when you start off as a quant, your temptation is to take like, every piece of data you can find, and shove it into your model. Because you don’t have like, any judgment, or any understanding of really how things work. So you’re just trying to replace it like what you’re trying to do often is build an exact replica of the real world. So like, you might might want to say, Hey, who are the holders of a particular position. So you can look at something like Apple, Apple, you know, you can go through all the 13 D filings, and ETF daily reports and mutual fund data. And Swiss National Bank owns a bunch of Apple shares, and there’s employee ownership. So you can build an imperfect, but directionally pretty accurate map of who all the shareholders are. Now, even if you have like, perfect data, that’s actually a lot less useful than you would think. Because it doesn’t really tell you why somebody owns the shares, and more importantly, what they might do if things change. And really like that’s the most important thing, because it’s the marginal flow that sets the price. Think about that URI, we have 100 bucks in our checking account, and we decide, hey, we’re gonna buy the s&p 500 index fund. So give our money to Vanguard or BlackRock, whoever, and they take that 100 bucks. And out of that, seven of it goes towards Apple shares. So they need to find somebody else who currently holds apple and is willing to let go of it in exchange for cash. And then when you redeem out in that process happens in reverse where somebody ends up with the Apple shares and takes the cash. So it’s much more important and rather than having mapping reality exactly, to have even if you have a much more simpler model, but that incorporates how things might change in the future, even if you’re not going to be exact at all, but directionally, if different events happened, what are the flow impacts they’re going to cause. And the way I think about it is like, imagine you take an airplane and you fly over Los Angeles or any other big city, so you can see all the cars on the ground. And some of those cars are going to be in parking lots or driveways are on the road or on freeways. But really like that’s just a snapshot of where all these cars are. It doesn’t tell you like where people are going. And if you take the same picture, a few hours later, it’s going to look completely different. So really, it’s much much more about building a model of how things will evolve and change, rather than knowing exactly where everything is right now. And particularly in markets like you don’t really want to know like, where’s their traffic right now? It’s much more about like, where’s your traffic going to be?
Corey Hoffstein 09:50
So you’ve mentioned that in the strategies you run you focus a lot on flow and price pressure effects. These might be ideas that aren’t net really familiar to all of the listeners? Can you describe what flow and price pressure effects are, and maybe if you can provide a couple of examples?
Aneet Chachra 10:10
Sure. So I’m going to start by giving you my like grand unified theory of markets. Okay? That there’s really only four ways you can make money. So the first one is the most straightforward. You can buy and hold assets that have positive risk premia associated with them. So that’s what most of us do, you know, you buy stocks, bonds, some of their assets, you hold them for a long time. Typically, with that, you need to have a long holding period, so that you’re reasonably certain that you’re going to end up with a positive return. So these are things that you’ll do for one year or longer. And along the way, you know, maybe you can add some extra return through rebalancing, or using some leverage. Or if you’re really good, then some amount of rotation, or tilting between different asset classes as something is maybe a little rich or cheap. But this is the source of returns that are available to almost everybody. Okay, now, on the exact other end of the spectrum, if you have great technology, and huge scale and amazing infrastructure and really smart people, you can be in high frequency trading and market making. And in that you’re just doing, you know, huge, huge numbers of transactions, and you’re capturing tiny, tiny spreads for providing liquidity. And all these trades are very, very quick, almost everything is less than one day. The third way you can make money is the sort of classic, fundamental analysis. And that’s like, Hey, I found this stock that I think is cheap, and the market is wrong. So I’m gonna buy it. And over time, the market will come to agree with my assessment, and the price will rise up to my fair value. And with those kinds of trades, even if you’re directionally right, generally, unless you’re very lucky, it’s going to take some time for that to happen. So maybe the company has an earnings report or some other catalysts. And then the value that you saw that nobody else did gets recognized. So those trades typically are sort of between one month and one year to play out. So that brings me to the fourth category, which is flow effects. So flow effects tend to be between one day and one month. So if things were, you know, sub one days of high frequency trading, things that are longer than one month, after that point, the fundamentals begin to generally matter more or risk premia associated with the asset. But in that zone, you see that there’s much, much more effect of flow. And so I defined flow effects as trades done by market participants who are inflexible in some way. So that’s a market participant who needs to transact at a particular time, or a particular security or particular quantity. Quite often, they actually have more than one of these constraints. And usually they’re transacting with somebody that is more flexible. So what I’m looking for is, can I find flow effects where I know why the flow effect exists. And I can reasonably at least directionally figure out what the price impact will be. So I’m looking to provide like a market service by guaranteeing somebody that their needs in terms of a fill or execution. But on the other side of it, I’m collecting a statistical edge on that. And I think you have examples of this. So here’s a couple of, you know, almost all of us, as I mentioned, at the beginning, we’re in some sort of asset allocation product. So your might be in a target date fund, or Balanced Fund, or really any asset model. So typically, all of these have weights and bands for different assets that it holds. And then when you are beyond those bands, it triggers rebalancing. So either there might be rules that if your weight of your stocks is too high, you’re going to sell stocks, buy bonds instead, or quite often, they’re counter driven. So these rebalancing might happen every month or every quarter. So that’s an example of a flow, that it’s not reflective of somebody’s opinion of stocks versus bonds. But really, they’re doing this rebalancing because their model is telling them to do it. Another thing is taxes. So we all have to pay taxes. The IRS only takes fiat money, they’re not taking stock, they’re not taking crypto, and because of that tax payment dates create interesting effects. There’s lots of Sox strategies around year end because people do tax loss harvesting, and then lots of people work for an employer where they get shares or options as part of their compensation and so on. As those vest, employees are very likely to at least sell some of the stock that they get to meet tax obligations. And that’s another example of where there’s a flow, that that’s not reflective necessarily of anything about the company itself, then people have to make those payments.
Corey Hoffstein 15:17
So after initially talking to you, I sat back and thought about the different ways in which these flow trades could emerge within the market. And it seemed to me like, there was a wide variety of potential trades. And I’m curious whether, in your experience, there’s a way to sort of categorize or apply a taxonomy to the different types of flow effects that you would typically see.
Aneet Chachra 15:42
So I classify flow effects into like three big categories. One is mandates, the other is incentives, and the final one is behavioral. So the first one mandates like that’s the strongest. So it’s when a market participant has to do something because of a legal or a similar reason. So a good example of that is like index fund providers. As I was mentioning before, if a company like when Tesla got added to the s&p 500 index, every manager had to go out and buy Tesla, it didn’t matter what your opinion of the company was, or your opinion of Elon Musk was, right, if you’re tracking the index, you have to be following the rules of that. The second category is incentives. So incentives are not quite as strong. But I think they’re still very, very important. So you can think of something like option hedging. Like if a bank or a market maker sells an option to a retail investor, generally, the bank is not legally obligated to Delta hedge their position, but they will almost certainly do so for their own risk and portfolio management reasons. Because if you’re an option market maker, if you can get rid of the risks in the market that you easily can, then that will let you run a much bigger option book. The third category is behavioral, an example that would be share supply. So like imagine, you know, you’re a founder, you’re a venture capitalist, and you invest it into a tiny startup, maybe it’s new fund research. And eventually, it ended up being a huge firm goes public, there’s an IPO. So now you’re sitting on this very concentrated stock position, where you have this big unrealized paper gains. So your incentive or your behavioral reasons, you know, you’re going to want to diversify your portfolio. Now, you might have quite a bit of leeway in terms of the exact timing are the exact scale of your sales, but the direction of this overhang is pretty predictable. Like if you’re sitting on a billion dollars worth of stock as a founder, you’re much much more likely to be selling shares than going out and buying more of them.
Corey Hoffstein 17:57
So how do these flow effects ultimately change over time? Do you constantly have to be looking for new flow effects in the market, or just sort of the classifications and strategies you can apply remain constant.
Aneet Chachra 18:11
So these flow effects do change over time. And I see kind of two big reasons for that. So the first one is that what things people are interested in evolves over time. So an example of that is option trading, we all know that there was a big pickup in individual investors getting involved in options post COVID. First, people were out buying lots and lots of call options. More recently, people have been buying put options. And retail tends to trade options differently institutions, they’re much, much more focused on shorter dated, they tend to pile into a small number of names at a time. And then also, generally they’re taking a directional view. So institutions might buy options, protect their portfolio on an index level versus, you know, retail is out making a very clear bet. So because of that the impact on markets of delta hedging of options changes over time, depending on like what particular securities retail is trading the most, or just the overall amount of trading that’s happening. Like there’s always been option trading or at least for a very, very long time, but it does go through periods where activity picks up or drops. So the impact of option trading on markets is going to move through time depending on how much delta hedging there is to do in the market. Now, the second reason is much less obvious. And that is that even the same amount of flow can have a different impact depending on who the holders are. example that is share buybacks. So, companies generally try to buy back shares at a relatively consistent pace, but they might decide that hey, they’re gonna buy, you know a certain number of shares or spend this certain amount of money every month. So when they first start their share buyback program, there might be a lot of flexible holders who are willing to let go their shares. And you know, they can start affecting a buyback without creating much impact on price. But as time goes on, especially if they’re significantly shrinking the float, then they’ll find that a lot of their meaning holders left are much more inflexible, like there can be index funds to hold it. And index funds are really like the ultimate diamond hands, because they’re not going to sell no matter how high the price gets. Also think about, like what happens when a company’s stock price is going up, it tends to attract a lot of momentum funds and strategies. And a momentum style, by definition, will not sell until the direction of momentum turns. So even the same amount of flow can start having a much bigger and bigger impact as you try to incentivize the remaining flexible holders to sell. So this is the kind of non linearity that you can see. In flows. You’re asking about the classification, whether that changes and big picture, it doesn’t the big three categories that I gave mandates, and incentives and behavioral like these, I think are actually fundamental characteristics of financial markets, and even human psychology. But definitely new flow effects within these categories. Keep coming. An example that actually I think you brought up recently was buffer funds. So Buffer funds are an example of something that generally they are trying to protect by selling a call option. And then using that to fund a put spread. And buffer funds are are interesting, because they’ve just grown so much in the last couple of years. So that’s an example of a flow source where they probably if you ran a back test, no buffer funds probably didn’t have a huge impact on the market. But it’s pretty reasonable to think that they’re going to be more important going forward, especially since buffer funds tend to have fairly fixed rules on like how they execute their hedging programs, what strikes, they buy, what maturities they buy? So this is an example of where you can apply some amount of quantum knowledge you have from other derivative, systematic derivative trading programs, but also layer in some human judgment that hey, even though buffer funds were not meaningful before, they are probably going to start creating much bigger flow impacts in the future,
Corey Hoffstein 22:31
the risk of being a bit redundant to your answer there, I want to dive in a little deeper, because he brought up a bunch of ideas around market structure and how the market itself has sort of changed over time, you talked a little about the growth of options strategies, the growth of indexing, I personally think about, for example, the growth of ETFs and index, ETFs, and basket trading and how a lot of active money has moved to sort of this semi passive structure. And all of that has occurred slowly over the last 15 to 20 years. I’m curious, from your perspective, having done this for a while how that’s impacted flow effect strategies.
Aneet Chachra 23:10
Okay. Well, you know, 1520 years is a long time, a lot has happened in markets. But I definitely think that there’s been two big structural megatrends. So the first one is, as you just mentioned, just the sheer rise in the amount of inflexible strategies, whether that’s ETFs or passive mutual funds, or vol targeting risk parity, momentum factors, target date funds, balanced funds, like I can keep going on, right, there’s just more and more money is in styles, where there’s rules that dictate when they buy when they sell, and what assets they hold. And then also, as you mentioned, generally, the amount of option trading has gone up. Also, there’s much more structured note issuance, there’s convertible arbitrage. So all those things also create a lot of systematic flow related to delta hedging. When you add those things up, the amount of inflexible flow out there keeps going up, not just in terms of the absolute number of dollars, but also the share of the overall market. And on the flip side, there’s just a lot less active funds or other discretionary type capital out there to be more flexible. But the other big mega trend that’s happened is you know, who is intermediating these kinds of flow effects like when I started my career in a banks dominated this space, like banks had huge balance sheets, and they were very active making deep and liquid markets in all sorts of products. And banks. Were also pretty interesting that they not only had, you know, very big flow trading businesses, but they often tended to have very big proprietary trading businesses. So For a whole bunch of reasons, after the great financial crisis, banks are still important, but their share of intermediating flows has gone down significantly. And so what banks used to do, a lot of it is being kind of captured by two other categories. So on the very short time horizons, there’s a handful of high frequency trading and market making firms and they’re really dominating on the intraday level. But in terms of these kinds of flow effect type trades, hedge funds, and particularly multi strategy, hedge funds have gotten much, much bigger in these areas. And that’s a big shift. Because the thing with high frequency trading firms and hedge funds is that they have a lot of flexibility in terms of what asset classes or markets they get bigger in or get out of. And they can make that decision really quickly to get in and out depending on how market conditions are changing, or volatility. So the intersection of these like two big mega trends of more and more inflexible flow with this kind of very much more fragmented intermediation can cause pretty big price moves. In my opinion. It’s actually one of the reasons why we’re seeing these big intraday swings, that when you see this coalition of more and more trades that have to get done with market participants that are fragmented, and they can choose to provide liquidity or not, or widen out spreads, depending on it. So you’re just seeing that there’s just a much, much bigger impact and market structure in general, has gotten to be a bit more unstable. Now unbalanced. I actually think that this is, it’s good for flow strategies, because frankly, there’s more opportunities to capture. But it also really changes how you have to look at risk and portfolio management. When I
Corey Hoffstein 26:57
think about some of the flow strategies. You’ve mentioned, two categories sort of come to mind. For me, there’s one where a Counterparty might be a party that with non profit motives, like an index funds just rebalancing or you know, introducing Tesla, for example, they just have to do it, versus a Counterparty that maybe does have profit motives in mind, like corporation doing a buyback or issuing shares where they might have information you don’t have, and it almost seems like an adverse selection problem for those stylet trades. So I’m curious, how do you handle a situation where the other side of the trade does introduce that adverse selection problem? Sure. So
Aneet Chachra 27:41
Cory, actually, I wish I had like a great answer to this question. Because with most flow strategies, that if you can avoid adverse selection, they’re a heck of a lot more profitable. One thing you can do is try to look at incentives, like you mentioned, a company selling stock. So can you get some sense of why they’re doing it. So if a company, let’s say a company is in the middle of doing an acquisition, and they need to raise cash to close the deal, and that’s probably a pretty benign reason for selling stock. But then you can have the situation where there’s a private equity firm who sits on the board of the company, and they’re selling a big block. Now, that firm may not know anything specific about that company, but they probably know a heck of a lot more about the industry in the sector than I do. In general, I think it makes sense to think that you’re the less informed party in any transaction, you should assume that I’m the idiot around here. And really, like, that’s going to be my main answer. It’s kind of like what people say on the internet. That’s what the money is for. And what I mean by that is, when a company is selling shares, or a large holder selling a block, typically they’re doing it at a price discount to market price. And part of that discount reflects this risk of adverse selection that you’re taking. Because on any of these individual trades, you’re taking irreducible idiosyncratic risk. It’s like playing poker, like you can execute your strategy absolutely perfectly, but you’re still gonna get hit by bad beats. And frankly, like these strategies are not generally good as one off trades, you really need to be executing a lot of them to kind of smooth out your returns. It’s really one of the reasons why these trades exist. Like I’ll ask lots of people actually, I’ll ask you, right? Would you take a million dollar bet? No tears on a 6040 coin flip? You’re probably not. And most of you will give the same answer that as a one off trade, even though you have a pretty big expected positive edge and expect to return. It doesn’t really make sense for anybody to take it but you know, most people give me this answer that well, if I could do the trade 10 times or 100 times or something, I would do it, but not on a single coin flip work. Anything can happen.
Corey Hoffstein 30:01
Well, that also introduces this time, something you and I have talked about, I know in the past sort of the ensemble risk versus time sequence risk, right? If you have to take those bets in a row and you go bust before you get to the wins, that doesn’t help you. And it makes me think of the event driven nature of these trades that you are having these trades come in and out. And I would imagine that you go through periods of glut when there’s a lots of events and periods of drought, when there are very few. And it might introduce sort of a sequence risk element to the strategy. I’m curious how you sort of navigate those swings in the number of events that you’re seeing or the types of events that you’re seeing at a given time.
Aneet Chachra 30:42
You’re absolutely correct, you go through swings, part of the reason for that is seasonal, there’s just less activity or issuance around the holidays, or maybe in the middle of August. Also, a lot of these effects tend to be counter driven. So you’ll see a lot more around month end or quarter end or around earnings, dates, or dividends. But a lot of these activities depend on volatility. And that can be very, very interesting. So when volatility picks up, normally, there’s a drop in the amount of discretionary activity. So like if a company was planning to go public, you’ll start seeing these notices that well, this firm has postponed its IPO due to market conditions, but at the same time, systematic strategies, they continue. So things like index rebalancing will continue to happen. And risk parity and CTAs will adjust as prices move up and down. So the impact of flows generally goes up when volatility is higher. And that’s generally positive for flow type strategies. But at the same time, it kind of pushes up the risk, because the most flow strategy, what they’re doing is they’re providing a market service. And when volatility is higher, the average compensation for providing that service tends to also go up because somebody’s getting a certain outcome. And over time I’m collecting this statistical edge is the main part of the answer. Your question of how to deal with these swings is, it’s acceptance, it’s like being willing to know that you will go through periods of time where there’s just lower volatility, or there’s just not that many attractive opportunities out there. And you shouldn’t go chasing marginal trades. On the flip side, when the opportunity set is greater, you need to be kind of willing to flex your portfolio up and take more trades. And part of the reason why these trades exist is somebody needs to transact and the other side, you need to be a sort of a flexible and adaptive capital provider. So these swings are just it’s part of inherent to the strategy. And it makes it difficult that they they don’t really fit into an ETF or a mutual fund structure. And that’s one of the reasons why it makes it a bit difficult for them to be completely competed away.
Corey Hoffstein 33:02
Well, that sort of leads nicely into a conversation about position management itself get going on maybe a little down to the microscopic level here, right? With this idea of the market environment is going to change the opportunity set, you could have a great opportunity set where risk is really high or thin opportunity set, perhaps or risk is really low. How do you think about position sizing an entry criteria and exit criteria for these trades.
Aneet Chachra 33:30
So for most of these four strategies, you have a small edge, and you’re trying to capture that repeatedly. So your biggest risk tends to be idiosyncratic. There’s known unknowns or unknown unknowns. And the best way that you can kind of defend against these tail outcomes is by doing lots of trades, both simultaneously and repeatedly. Like when I go back to that coin flip that I offered you, ideally, you want to be flipping 10 coins at a time and then repeating that 10 times. So that way, you’re diversified both at any given point in time, but also across time. And you know, generally, I don’t want to be reliant on correlation or volatility in terms of position sizing or management. Because both correlation volatility can be pretty unstable, especially when things change. Correlation in particular is interesting. Like there’s the big market, people saying that, hey, all correlations go to one in a crisis. But like, really, if that was true, that would not necessarily be such a bad thing. Think about your running equity long short book. If all your Long’s and all your shorts go down 10% You’re still roughly hedged, like your real risk is that the correlation suddenly shifts and it’s completely different than what you thought it would be. And that’s true for volatility as well. It’s easy to look at different assets and say, Well, historically, this asset has been very low volatility, but that’s not a good representation of what could happen. I think we’re seeing that with something like stable coin where if He looked at the VAR of it historically, it might look great, but it was seeing that one of them is getting wiped out. Now, even if it recovers, that was much more volatile path than anybody would have done on looking on of past basis. And even in crypto aside, right, if you’re just looking at traditional stocks, like there’s lots of large cap companies like Boeing, or Disney or Facebook or Alibaba, that, at one point were considered to be low volatility, even boring companies. But then some news or some event happened, and you just saw giant stock price moves and capitalization moves. So you can’t rely really on volatility weights. And this is gonna sound like really simple and dumb. But if I was going to summarize position sizing, I would just say be small, because you really don’t know what are all the future outcomes of any trade. And so in like both markets in life, you just need to survive long enough to get lucky. And then you’d ask me about entry and exit. So entry and exit, this is one thing where I think like flow trades are different. So for most trading strategies, price is your primary guide to how you get in and out. With flow strategies. Quite often, it’s about a time horizon. So like, if you’re modeling a particular flow, and you’re expecting to have an impact, so like, let’s say rebalancing a portfolio or index, add delete or a bond auction, then that flow effect should happen sometime around that event. And maybe you’re right, or maybe you’re wrong. Like sometimes, maybe the flow was already priced in by the market, or just wasn’t that large, or some other news came up and there wasn’t a flow impact. So regardless of whether the trade worked or didn’t work, right, you need to exit. So again, it’s like playing poker where you see your cards, you play your hand, and then you move on.
Corey Hoffstein 37:00
When we discuss these trades in isolation, they all sound like convergent trades where you’re waiting for a spread to close. And the big risk is that the spread ultimately blows out against you. So you, I guess, in theory to have these sort of positive expectancy, negative skew type trades, how do you think about building a portfolio? Or I guess, how do you prevent a portfolio comprised of these types of positive expectancy, negative skew type traits from ultimately blowing up in your face?
Aneet Chachra 37:29
I don’t actually think that’s generally true across the entire portfolio, I definitely think that there can be negative skew, you know, you we’ve talked about a company selling stock, a really public example, that is what happened around RK goes where a whole bunch of banks found themselves with basically the same position. And when they all had to dump stock, it created a price impact and a flow impact that was probably much, much larger than anyone had anticipated. But even a company selling stock can sometimes have positive skew. And I’ll give an example of that, that around COVID, a whole bunch of company’s share price had collapsed, because people were pricing in that there was a real risk of these firms would go bankrupt. So like, you can think of things like airlines or cruises or so on. So if these firms were able to play shares, even if they were doing a big price discount, or even if they were diluting out their shareholders often once these companies had raised capital and sold shares, their prices rallied, you know, not because necessarily COVID was over, or their businesses are in much better shape. But this near term and solvency risk got pushed out. So broadly, I don’t think that flow strategies in aggregate are either positive skew or negative skew, but what I will say is that they tend to have very wide variance in both directions. So these things tend to be very low Sharpe ratio on any angel trade. And it’s part of the reason why these trades continue to exist. Again, they’ve gone back to you don’t want to be flipping a single coin, and also deters competition from entering.
Corey Hoffstein 39:05
So given the different types of flow trades that you categorized, and that you’ve got this varying number of flow trades going on at any given time, how do you think about portfolio construction and diversification? So
Aneet Chachra 39:21
I’ve already talked a lot about finding edges and sizing trades small and doing lots of trades. So the only thing that I’m going to add here is diversification. And I know that’s a kind of a boring topic. So let me try to give you a visual. So imagine you’re running a casino, you want not just lots of customers coming in to the door, but you want to be offering like lots of different games, whether it’s poker or roulette or craps or slot machines. And that’s partially because of what I talked about before that different people are interested in different areas at different times. So flows in different strategies, you know, may change depending on what people are interested in. But Another big part of why you want to have this diversity is maybe there’s one of your roulette wheels is tilted, and some number keeps coming up more often than it should. Or maybe there’s like some really smart woman who’s sitting at a blackjack table and counting cards. So what she’s doing is that you think that you have a positive edge in offering Blackjack, but instead, now she has a positive edge that you didn’t anticipate. And the nature of statistics is that it can take a very long time to figure out whether strategy has stopped working, or you’re just kind of going through a period of bad luck. I think Korea, like you wrote a paper that basically said that, by the time we know for sure whether the Value Factor has stopped working or not, we’re all going to be dead. So instead, you know, you want to be running like lots of different strategies, so you can absorb the hit if one of them is not working because of bad luck, or it’s been crowded, or you’re facing a much more savvy competitor. If you only have one investing style, you can’t really diversify enough. And this is why it’s really important to build an ensemble. I know you love that word of lots of lots of different strategies, even within the strategy as much as you can, can you diversify across different assets and countries and sectors. So a big picture, I think I’m gonna repeat myself, but it’s the same thing. It’s like have an edge, be small in each trade, do lots and lots of trades, and diversify as much as you possibly can.
Corey Hoffstein 41:33
One of the things that really dramatically changed in the last couple of years has been the role of social media, in the influence of traders. So we can talk about the Reddit meme mania. But I would even argue that someone like Elon Musk was in many ways able to meme his stock into the s&p 500 and meme his way into shoring up his balance sheet by creating people who were just avid fans and would by the secondary issuance, our friend Lily frankness, as written about the idea of salience and social leverage in many ways. How do those risk factors change the profile of these trades? Sure,
Aneet Chachra 42:16
that’s become much more important as you’ve given lots of good examples of that. The way I think about it is like lottery tickets. We all know how a negative expected return. And I hate to admit this, but like sometimes I bought lottery tickets, and I’ve been in an office, and there’ll be like a big Powerball jackpot. And somebody will put together a pool. And I’ll join in, because I have this like tiny fear that what if everybody in the office wins the lottery, except for me, because I like I wouldn’t chip in five bucks. So meme, stocks can be like that, that there you have lots of people who either know each other or they meet online, and they all decide to pile into a particular stock. But there’s a really big difference between a lotteries and memes. So with lottery tickets, it doesn’t matter. Like how many tickets I buy, or my friends buy, we’re not going to change the outcome. But that’s absolutely not true with stocks, if you have a whole bunch of people who are all piling into the same name, especially if they’re using call options, it’s going to cause an impact on price. And this is what I tend to call social leverage. And what you see with that is that people who come early into a trend, they tend to benefit the most, and then people tend to come in afterwards. The other thing is, is that the flow effects is originally when people start buying the shares, the most flexible holders tend to exit out because they’re happy to see this pick up and rise, and then the people left are much, much more inflexible. So you end up with in the example of Tesla index funds have a huge holding in it. Momentum strategies, for sure have gone into it. But you also get the stocks tend to be culty, or at least that there’s a lot of true blue believers that will not sell no matter how high the price goes, then what happens is that even the same amount of flow can again start to cause this nonlinear impact, where there’s just so much supply has been sucked out by all these inflexible holders that whatever flow has to jam up the price from a few people that are willing to transact now like the old saying in markets has been markets take the escalator up and the elevator down. And I still think that’s like mostly true for at the index level. But that’s not true at all on the single stock or crypto level. Like you definitely see lots of examples of things, taking the elevator up and taking the elevator down. And then once that happens to a particular stock, people know that hey, it can happen again. It’s like the famous for being famous and that’s what I think Lilly Frank is she coined the term salience and once something happens that it becomes As a salient or a meme, then the risk profile of that security totally changes. Because it now has a completely different holder base and price impact of flows and option markets like nobody is out comparing AMCs valuation to other movie theater chains. Nobody’s really looking at AMC as valuation at all. Same thing is true with GameStop, where you’re not going to try to build a long shore model where you compare it to other mall retailers, and the hedge funds that didn’t take that into their risk management, right. There’s certainly examples of where they did quite poorly because of that. But I don’t want to just pick on retail meme stocks. There’s lots and lots of examples of this. There’s thematic ETFs or you’ll see there’ll be growth hedge funds that all piled into a relatively small number of tech names. And the thing is that once that happens, then you will see that a whole bunch of businesses and securities that should not necessarily be correlated, because their businesses are quite different. Like if you think of a thematic ETF that owns electric cars and biotech companies and internet companies, the underlying businesses are very, very different. Yet, they will often all trade together because they have the same set of holders, same thing we’re seeing across hedge funds, where if you look at like the results for a lot of tech names, they range from being very good to not so much, but yet, they’re all trading together. And so when you start seeing very high correlation across acids that shouldn’t necessarily be correlated. That’s a really good sign to me that it’s flow effects that are dominating
Corey Hoffstein 46:47
in the call we had together. And in preparation for this episode, you made an offhanded comment. I don’t even know if you remember saying it. But I wrote it down, that quote, signal turns to noise because of arbitrage. But noise turns to signal because of reflexivity. And I thought it was a really interesting thought. And I was hoping you could expand upon what you meant by it and why you think it’s an important concept. Sure. So
Aneet Chachra 47:09
the first part of it signal turns to noise. That’s just a reminder to me that markets are adaptive and flexible. Even if I have some great edge or signal or strategy, I’m never going to publish an academic paper about it. But there’s lots and lots of smart people in markets. And it’s pretty likely that other people are going to discover the same thing, and they’re going to start to do it. So even if general strategies can persist over time, how exactly you do something, it generally makes sense to adapt and evolve over time. A good example of that is like what’s happened with option selling. So for a very long time, implied volatility was consistently averaging well above realized volatility. And because of that, you could instead of buying the SP 100 index, you could every month sell an at the money put option on it instead. And both those strategies ended up with roughly the same return. But the option selling strategy had a lot less volatility and smaller drawdowns. And that’s sort of the market equivalent of a free lunch. So you saw that lots of institutions piled into systematic options, selling programs. And because of that, if you look at put selling, especially if you do the part of the conversation you’re getting is for taking equity risks. So if you isolate out the volatility component, the returns for selling volatility over the last five years is somewhere between zero and negative. So this is an example of like, there was absolutely a real signal there around in volatility risk premia. But in the sheer amount of money that went into it, it took this signal and people made in firms made, you know, huge fortunes from volatility selling, but it’s an edge that got completely ground out. And now it’s basically noise, at least for now, this might change and it’s something to watch. But it’s a something that’s really not a great signal anymore. Now the flip side of that, where noise turns to signal, that’s something that is a little bit more complicated, but I think is more interesting. And that is that a single exists, because people have belief that it does. And I wouldn’t even example of that, which is since I started my career, like the dominant trend average is the 200 day, and you’ll see it everywhere. You’ll see it on TV and research. It’s probably the single most cited technical indicator. Now, why do you wonder days? Like why not 20 to 25 days? Why not 20 to 50 days, which would be roughly a year? And the answer, or at least what I think the answer is, it’s hidden in 1987. And look, I wasn’t trading them, but I’ve looked at the data from that year. And one thing you see is that if you were following a 200 day moving average strategy, the s&p closed just below the 200 day on Thursday, October 15. And with most trends strategies, you know, you take a signal on the clothes, and then you transact the next day. So if you are following a 20 day moving average, the signal would have tripped on Thursday, and you would have exited your long position on Friday, October 16. So at that point, you would either be flat, or you would have gone short. Then what happened? Well, the next business day, Monday, October 19, the market crashed as stocks closed down more than 20%. But if you were following a 20, day moving average, right, you were not exposed to that crash at all. And then as the market recovered, eventually, you got back to being long again. Now imagine that instead of a 20 day average, you were following a 202 day moving average strategy. So when you look at that the s&p didn’t close below it until Friday, October 16. So you would not only have been long into the crash on Monday and lose 20%. But because the signal had just tripped, you would be selling all the shares that you held on Black Monday, which turned out to be in hindsight, of course, the very bottom of the market. So there’s a huge difference in returns and outcome, whether using a 20 day moving average, or 22, day moving average. Now to be clear, like I’m a big believer in trends strategies, I work with some really great colleagues who have an exceptional CTA model. But I don’t think that there’s any sort of magic parameter out there that there’s some physical constants of the universe that, hey, 20 days is the right trendline. Instead, the right approach is to use an ensemble of it. But there is some randomness that happened in 1987, that 20, they happen to work really well. And now, you know, 35 years later, that is still probably the most popular technical indicator. And so it’s something that my opinion started out as almost noise or luck or randomness, that is now a very important signal.
Corey Hoffstein 52:01
We spent a lot of this conversation talking about these different flow trades. But I know you also spend a decent amount of your time modeling the position dynamics for macro strategies like CTAs, risk parity, target vol funds, target date funds, all of which can have their own flow impacts. But I’m curious, given the prevalence of index rebalances, and additions and deletions and corporate buybacks, why is this higher level macro flow analysis important to your process?
Aneet Chachra 52:32
So there’s a few reasons for that. One is that I’m not alone. And most banks and research firms will build out some sort of position models of systematic strategies. But unless you build it yourself, you really don’t understand like, what assumptions go into it? And what are the limitations of your data gathering and your analysis? We all get these emails that say that, Oh, well, if the market goes up, then CTA firms will be forced to buy at this level, and they’ll be long. But if the market falls, and there’s going to be selling pressure at this other level, and it’s really hard to like make sense of any of these things, unless you’ve at least looked at it yourself. The next reason is that look, these systematic players can be very important. I think you highlighted it in your work on liquidity cascades. And one of the things that you showed was that one of the reasons why the market dropped so much and so quickly, in March 2020, was the presence of volatility targeting funds being forced to deliver. And that was a really interesting feedback loop if you think about it, because if somebody’s using volatility as a signal, it’s forcing them to, let’s say, sell a huge amount of s&p futures at the close, which pushes down the price, which then increases realized volatility, and which makes it much more likely that the next day, they’re going to have to continue to just keep selling more futures. So the other thing that’s really interesting there is it’s actually quite similar to what happened in October 1987. With portfolio insurance, people generally are trying to look for strategies where they can capture all the upside of equities while cutting off the downside. And those things, they don’t really work if everybody’s trying to do the same thing, because there’s an inherent assumption in them that they’re selling is not going to have much price impact. And that’s might be true in normal times when volatility is low, and the selling is small. But when the numbers get big and volatility high, then these things have a pretty big impact. And even if you trade individual stocks, you’re still going to get affected by what’s happening at this index level. If a huge futures or basket or ETF trade is going through, right it’s going to affect whatever stock you own, whether you like it or not. Finally, the thing about all these flows is that even if they’re individually not that big, sometimes they can be an additive be quite important. I should be calling this like flow stacking, like, you know, return stacking, that sometimes you can end up with multiple strategies that all need to buy or sell at the same time, or similar instruments. And because of that, you can again see these more nonlinear impacts, because everybody models that their individual trades are relatively small. But if lots and lots of different market participants and actors are doing similar trades, then effectively, they’re acting as a one much bigger, larger trade.
Corey Hoffstein 55:30
Sort of the last piece of the portfolio design puzzle that you and I have discussed in the past when it comes to these flow trades is the application of portfolio level tail hedges that this is a key part of your risk management strategy. So hoping you could walk me through sort of the why behind that decision, because obviously, tail hedging is a really hotly debated topic as to whether it’s additive or not. And then since you have elected to implement tail hedges, maybe how you think about implementing them in practice.
Aneet Chachra 56:01
So hedging is something that we do on a team basis, because it’s really important to look at the entire risk of the portfolio, not just any particular trade or strategy. So based on the entire portfolio, you want to be sizing, and implementing your hedges. Now for the why we run tail hedging, there’s two big reasons. So the first one is like the obvious direct benefit that you get that hopefully, during a period of market stress, you’re less correlated, you’re taking a smaller loss, and you don’t find yourself in a big hole that you have to dig yourself out of. But the second one, which I think is much less appreciated, is that when you have some hedges on, it helps you take advantage of the market opportunities that come up. And what I mean by that is that look, if you’re down a lot, you’re not mentally going to be in a good position to take advantage of whatever opportunities are coming your way. I really liked the the Walter Deemer quote that when the time comes to buy, you won’t want to, but instead if you’re in a position where the hedges are helping you, and you can look at what opportunities are out there. And you can add positions at much more attractive levels. So you know, we don’t see hedges as a profit center. Over time, I expect that our hedges will generally lose money, at least in isolation. We’ve actually done better than that. But certainly that’s not something that you want to build in. But more importantly, hedging gives you this mental edge of being able to take on more risk when other market participants might not be able to because of financial constraints or psychological reasons. Now for that how we implement hedging, we have sort of three main types. So the first market risk is gap risk. So that is like we’ve talked about a good examples of October 1987, and March 2020, where there’s like a huge move in markets accompanied with a jump in volatility. So for those kinds of events, you typically want to have a long volatility hedge that has a nice meaningful payoff in a crisis period, but that you can hold in non crisis periods and not have a huge drag. The second type of hedge is against more sort of gradual and slower moves, whether up or down. So an example that is stocks in 2008 2009, where they tended to grind lower until March of 2009. So trend, CTA tends to be ideal for those kinds of hedges we’ve seen in the last year, pretty consistently, commodity prices have gone up, bonds have gone lower. So that’s been a good environment for most trend and CTA type strategies. And it’s been a good portfolio hedge, even during periods where vol has not necessarily been as reactive. The third type of hedge is the hardest, it’s around events. So for that is where you’re looking at the world today. And saying that there’s a market is not really pricing in that the world could look quite different in the future. You know, going back to what I was saying at the beginning around you taking a look at the entire city from a sky that you could see that right now there’s no traffic, but you can also model in that, you know, maybe there’s no traffic at noon, but at 5pm. There is going to be and a good example of that would be what’s happened with bonds. So a year ago, not only were bond yields low, but Bond implied volatilities were also low. So you could structure something that you wouldn’t have a nice payoff if rates were to rise, but with a fixed known downside cost. So that was a good example of advantage. But I will say that they tend to be the hardest because you need to get not only at least directionally, the timing and predict what’s going to happen in the future. But you also need to structure in a way that you get a payoff that’s much greater than what the odds of that happening is much greater than the market is anticipating.
Corey Hoffstein 59:59
Well, we’ve come to sort of The last question, I guess of the episode here, unfortunately, but I’m excited to ask you this because you’ve had a varied career. And the question I’m asking everyone at the end of the episode is to reflect back upon their career and think about what was sort of the luckiest thing that happened to you are the luckiest break that you got in your career.
Aneet Chachra 1:00:21
So for my career, I think the luckiest thing was that even though I started as a programmer, and then eventually in a quant, I was able to get the opportunity to move into portfolio management role. So to me, the the luckiest break was this colleague that I’d worked for at a prior hedge fund, remembering what I had done, and when he moved to Henderson contacting me, so that’s something where, you know, when I look back, it’s a relatively hard transition to make from being a much more quant to being able to run a portfolio. So I think that was super appreciative of that. I think it’s much more common now to see that people with a much more technical background, because of the ironically, the rise of all the quantitative strategies, you’ll see much more people with Kiki backgrounds like me get into fund management, but when I got that role, it was definitely unusual. It was also relatively unusual for people to be doing in strategies that blended both quantitative analysis with financial analysis. So I you know, really lucked into having a role that really fit my skills and interests.
Corey Hoffstein 1:01:31
Lenny, this has been fantastic. I can’t thank you enough for joining me today. I know our listeners are gonna love this episode. So thank you.
Aneet Chachra 1:01:39
Thanks, Cory. It’s been a pleasure to be on