It is notoriously difficult to predict movements in financial markets with any degree of accuracy. In fact, no one can predict with any statistical significance how the price of any financial instrument will behave over a given future time-frame.
In many ways, the prediction of movements in financial markets is similar to another time-series system that is notoriously difficult to predict: The weather. However, there is more predictability in weather patterns, due to seasonal certainty, compared to financial markets where there is very little certainty in what will happen tomorrow, never mind in a year’s time.
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The difficulty in predicting returns leads to some puzzling issues in modern empirical finance, especially since many of these modern processes rely on assumptions of future returns. Most notably, asset allocation is a process that distributes funds to different asset classes based on the long term returns the asset classes generate above a defined risk-free asset (in most cases the prevailing cash return and sometimes a rate of inflation).
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, a large pension fund turned to several of the best minds in academia in an attempt to uncover why they had suffered such severe losses. They contracted with Andrew Ang (Columbia Business School), William Goetzmann (Yale) and Stephen Schaefer (London Business School)*, who produced a journal paper on the fund which, as one may imagine, is somewhat technical and includes an extensive review on the Efficient Market Hypothesis. However, one of the key conclusions they reached is that even though the fund was well diversified across asset classes and invested with around 70 of the world’s top money managers; it was not diversified from a risk perspective.
The underlying managers were taking similar types of risks and exposing the fund, on an aggregate level, to large bets on certain risk factors which came under significant pressure during the financial crisis.
This leads to some critical thinking around the returns generated by managers and what risks are being taken with investors’ assets.
Most asset managers are intent on outperforming a specific benchmark, and they do this by utilising a predefined investment process, often referred to as the asset manager’s style.
A good example of style, ubiquitous in the equity market, is the Value philosophy which was conceptualised and formalised largely by Benjamin Graham and made famous by Warren Buffet. Most academics and market practitioners agree that value strategies outperform market capitalisation weighted indices over time.
The critical question is whether or not managers running Value styles are able to outperform, due to skill or simply because they are taking a different set of risks in their portfolios when compared to accepted market benchmarks. This, in some sense, makes the active versus passive investment debate somewhat blurred, as suddenly one may not be able to compare them reliably since they are arguably different from a risk perspective.
So much so that many consultants in the international market are now comparing active managers with benchmarks that are more representative of the risks that the managers are taking; leading to the emergence of the Smart Beta industry. Smart Beta indices utilise specific risk or fundamental factors in their construction process, and deviate from the pure market capitalisation weighted approach that is traditionally utilised in the industry.
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Although returns themselves are extremely difficult to predict, it seems that by allocating to differentiated risks, one is able to generate a statistically significant excess return or “Alpha”, over market capitalisation weighted indices.
Curiously, there are several styles that lead to an excess return expectation. Therefore portfolios should be constructed in such a way that they are weighted across diverse risk factors, as allocating solely to any one risk factor, no matter how diverse the number of managers, may lead to significant losses in asset value, due to risk concentration.
St John Bunkell, from Absa Alternative Asset Management believes that it is possible to enhance “Smart Beta investing” further by constructing portfolios that target Alpha over Smart Beta indices.
This is achieved by allocating to diverse risk styles, specifically utilising value and momentum strategies which he sees as two of the strongest empirical regularities in finance. He further asserts that, although there seems to be very little ability to predict Beta (general market risks and returns), there is some predictability in Alpha (relative return of stocks against indices).
Combining these two strong excess return drivers (value and momentum) within a very specific risk framework, as well as utilising fundamental and mathematical definitions of value and momentum, the Absa Alternative Asset Management team has created a unique fund range, referred to as the “Smart Alpha” fund range. The most critical component of these funds is to ensure that they continuously take the correct level of risk for the investor, as too much or too little risk may have detrimental consequences.
The investment strategies utilised in these new unit trust finds were previously only available to institutional investors, but are now available to the retail market.
If you are interested in these Unit Trusts or have any enquiries, please call 0860 111 456 or email email@example.com
Strive for the exceptional. Prosper.
*Andrew Ang, William N. Goetzmann and Stephen M. Schaefer, Evaluation of Active Management of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global, December 14, 2009
What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?
Three masters of scale unpack the reasons why you might be failing at growth – or in danger of doing so.
So, what’s stopping you from scaling? If you ask Rich Mullholland, founder of Missing Link, the reality is that most entrepreneurs don’t need to understand what it takes to scale. “Scaling speaks to exponential growth,” he says, “which for the vast majority of business owners simply shouldn’t be a consideration. Growth by itself is okay, and even then, it should be growth as and when it’s required.”
Rich’s key point is that growth for the sake of growth should never be a business owner’s primary goal. Growth should be strategic, and good for the company. Growth without a solid foundation can actually harm – or even kill – your company.
If your goal is growth though, here are three key points to keep top of mind.
1. Too many business owners don’t understand what it takes to scale a business
“Entrepreneurs are so focused on getting through the month with their cash flow intact that they often fail to lift their heads and look to the horizon,” says Allon Riaz, CEO and founder of Raizcorp. “Scale requires strategic thinking, while most entrepreneurs are in operational thinking mode.”
Howard Mann, president at Brickyard Partners and a US-based business turnaround specialist, advises business owners to stop focusing on revenue growth alone. “Scaling a business is about balance and too many entrepreneurs just focus on the speed of revenue growth. When revenue grows without the infrastructure to support that growth, clients leave as quickly as they come in.
“Instead of focusing on top-line growth, focus on maximum profit margins. This will completely change where you focus your efforts. I would rather have a $10 million business with 50% margins over the false glamour of a $50 million revenue business with razor thin profits.”
2. Without the right systems, process and people, you’ll never be able to scale
Allon believes the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make are:
- Not arranging sufficient cash reserves for a growth period
- Believing that the people who brought you to point A are the same people who will take you to point B
- Having insufficient systems to scale the business
Rich agrees, adding that you need to focus on the business you want to be, and not the business you currently are. “Businesses often commit legacide,” he says. “They allow the legacy systems, put in place for a business of a smaller stature, to hold them back. Not to get too cheesy here, but to quote the Great One, NHL hockey legend Wayne Gretsky, you need to skate to where the puck is going. The systems you put in your business should be systems appropriate for the business you want, not the business you have. Sure, you’ll possibly be paying more in the short term, but it will be a fraction of what you lose trying to play catch-up later.”
Howard believes that losing track of managing the expenses required to manage growth is one of the biggest stumbling blocks entrepreneurs face. “To intentionally over simplify it, you want to figure out the most efficient and effective way to rapidly attract and close new clients while being able to serve and delight them at the lowest possible cost,” he says.
“Another mistake is taking on too much debt in the name of growth. We are all mesmerized by VC backed start-ups that put out press about their massive growth. You do not see how much cash they are burning through and that most of these companies have net losses that are growing as fast (or faster) than their revenue growth. Again, protect your profit margins. That is your growth fuel and protection against shocks in the economy.”
3. Growth for the sake of growth can actually kill your business
Before you embark on your growth journey, understand that growth, without sufficient structural foundations, can often lead to a business collapsing. “Some scale has the opposite of economies of scale, and actually becomes more expensive as the business becomes more complex,” says Allon. “It’s important to restructure the model as the business grows to ensure the highest possibility of economies of scale.”
Howard warns that a business structured to lose money as it grows is a poorly structured business. “Making the switch back to strong profitability after a growth phase is difficult to pull off,” he says. “Yes, we all know Amazon.com eventually did it. You are not Amazon.com. Growing with a net loss is a straight road to the business graveyard.”
Rich disagrees with the notion that growth in and of itself will lead to death. He believes that growth is, generally speaking, healthy. “I’ve seen businesses grow too quickly and not know how to deal with it, and I’ve seen businesses that out-grow the maturity of their management teams and get strangled by the firm hold the management team try to keep,” he says, but for Rich, this is the product of a business ill-prepared for growth, rather than a product of the growth itself.
“This is why slow is often better, as opposed to scale,” he says. “I remember when my son was young, and I was still his hero. I couldn’t imagine him shouting at me the way I did to my folks as a teenager – I’d be destroyed. So, I asked my dad about it, he smiled and said, don’t worry kiddo, they ease you into it, it all happens over time. By the time they start screaming, you’re ready. That’s true too for business growth. Most entrepreneurs are running their businesses as a real-time business school. You can’t always rush that education.”
Allon: One top tip for business owners on scale is to remain strategic by knowing what you want to create and by ensuring a healthy balance of capital resources, sufficient people skills and the appropriate support systems.
Howard: Famed business owner Ricardo Semler said “Only two things grow for the sake of growth: Businesses and tumors.” Get crystal clear on why you want to grow. Once you do, find your balance between accelerating new business and the cost to manage that business.Scaling, like a scale, needs balance
Rich: Stop thinking about scale, and start thinking about solving an important problem that world has, even (especially) if they don’t know it yet. It the problem is real, and big enough, you will have a scale-able business.
See Allon Raiz, Rich Mulholland and Howard Mann live at the first Secrets of Scale event, which will be taking place at the MESH Club in Rosebank on Thursday, 24 May. Buy your tickets online here: www.qkt.io/secretsofscale
Why Customers Don’t Respond To Disruption
You’ve got chatbots running your customer service, interactive screens across your stores and you’ve just appointed a chief digital officer. Why aren’t you seeing sales going through the roof?
PwC partner Quinton Pienaar says there could be many reasons for this. But the short answer is probably that in your understandable rush to stay relevant and keep up with the latest technology trends and developments, you lost sight of your number one priority. You’re just not that into your customers – and they know it.
It’s fairly easy to get dazzled by the array of technologies out there. But the trap that you’ve got to guard against is that you start seeing the world through a technology lens, rather than a customer one. Remember, technology is a tool, not an outcome. It’s the means to the end, not the end itself.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be transforming your business digitally. You absolutely should. But there’s a big difference between investing in technology to keep up with the Joneses, and investing in technology that’s going to drive specific business outcomes and improve the customer experience.
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In fact, it would be downright dangerous to ignore the game-changing benefits that the current wave of emerging technologies brings to the table. To understand what they can do for your business, you have to know what they are. We at PwC talk about the ‘essential eight’:
- The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the building blocks for the next generation of digital work.
- Robotics, drones, and 3-D printing are all about machines that extend the reach of computing power into the material world.
- Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) merge the physical and digital realms, and offer incredible advances in customer experience.
- Blockchain rethinks our approach to commercial transactions by allowing participants to exchange value, and verify ownership of something, without a third party.
Some of these technologies are verging on science fiction. So how do we use them in a way that supports customer obsession? The starting point of any successful customer transformation is a customer-focused design that brings together three essential elements – business strategy, customer experience and technology – into a coherent, fully-fledged digital strategy.
In other words, today’s most successful companies have a strategy that is focused around a simple and regularly-updated list of priorities. They incorporate the new generation of technologies like IoT, blockchain and AI. But they keep their people, and their customers at the core of their business by designing strategies that directly address customers’ underlying needs and desired outcomes.
This sounds dead obvious. But what we find is that many companies we talk to are focused on growing their revenues, or making improvements to their products and services, rather than creating better customer experiences. Or they have the strategy, but are battling to execute it effectively.
Of course, to underpin this customer transformation journey, you’re going to need some data and the foundational technologies on which today’s innovations depend – data mining and analytics, mobile, and cloud. You may also need to rethink your processes to manage, enrich and maintain data, and operationalise it throughout your business.
So you have all of that in place? Good. Now stop. Breathe. Ask yourself whether your technology and data are truly supporting an unwavering focus on the customer. Because if you take one message from this article, let it be this: in today’s marketplace, putting your customer at the centre of your business is imperative to driving growth and profitability, winning market share and unlocking the value of your technology investments.
Start This Business With Zero Advertising Budget And No Need For Premises
What do we need to do to make our chances of entrepreneurial success as high as possible? Is it possible to build and position a business that has the highest statistical chances of survival? How would we even go about building such a business? Financial Freedom Project seems to have the answer.
What are the causes of most business failures?
When it comes to business failure in South Africa, the numbers aren’t optimistic. Some of the more common reasons for business failure include:
- Start-up funding
- Ongoing support
- Lack of new business to sustain growth
- Admin time / costs associated with running a business
- High cost of equipment / premises
- Advertising budget
- Cost of personnel labor
- Legalities of employment contracts
- Costs of credit
- Market experience
- Competition within the industry
- Current market conditions.
With the odds stacked against you, what type of business could you start that offers you:
1. Minimal start-up funding
Consider minimal start-up funding requirements to mitigate as much risk as possible and make start-up as easy and quick as possible.
We need to go as low as less than one month of one month’s average salary as so to be able to start this business on the spot. Let’s make our criteria less than R10 000.
2. Mentor/ Trainer support
For support and experience we need to have easily accessible communication methods with a mentor / trainer i.e. WhatsApp and skype.
3. Access to a market full of customers with unlimited spending ability
Want a colossal market, how about an estimated 5.3 Trillion Dollars a day?
4. No need for an advertising budget
Maybe a business where customers come to you without advertising because they want what you have. Let’s be ridiculous and put a zero advertising budget.
5. Minimum paper work / admin requirements before and after sales
Let’s aim for no admin and have everything processed and stored online for absolute minimal ongoing costs.
6. No premises required
You can work from anywhere at minimal cost and only need one computer.
7. No employees required
This business must be able to run as a “one man show” as to exclude all labor costs and employment legalities. As in previous point, let’s aim for one person to run this business and internet to stay connected to the world.
8. Little competition
This industry offers the least possible competition between participants.
9. A industry with no “seasonal times” so you can make money all the time
To get a never ending supply of opportunity we absolutely have to be a part of the global supply and demand system.
10. A proven concept
This will be outlined below.
What’s the business?
Financial Freedom Project provides you with a long-term financial freedom by utilising financial markets. The Financial Freedom Project is a results-based wealth creation training and mentorship programme that has start-up capital requirements of only R4 000 to begin accessing markets. The course requires only 3 days of your time and offers unlimited course re-sits.
For more information about how you can work with Financial Freedom Project visit financialfreedomproject.net or call them on 010 020 5699 for further info.
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