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Recent market reversals brought about by the Sub-Prime mortgage melt down is clearly a significant market correcting event. No matter if you work in the risk department of a large bank with many employees or a small fund of funds as co-manager, you share the same basic concerns regarding the management of your portfolio(s).

1. how to maintain top quartile performance;
2. how to protect assets in times of economic uncertainty;
3. how to expand business reputation to attract new client assets;

It remains common in the financial industry to hear experienced Portfolio Managers state their risk management program consists of timing the market using their superior asset picking skills. When questioned a little further it becomes apparent that some confusion exists when it comes to hedging and the use of derivatives as a risk management tool.

Risk management analysis can certainly be an intensive process for institutions like banks or insurance companies who tend to have many diverse divisions each with differing mandates and ability to add to the profit center of the parent company. However, not all companies are this complex. While hedge funds and pension plans can have a large asset base, they tend to be straight forward in the determination of risk.

While Value-at-Risk commonly known as VaR goes back many years, it was not until 1994 when J.P. Morgan bank developed its RiskMetrics model that VaR became a staple for financial institutions to measure their risk exposure. In its simplest terms, VaR measures the potential loss of a portfolio over a given time horizon, usually 1 day or 1 week, and determines the likelihood and magnitude of an adverse market movement. Thus, if the VaR on an asset determines a loss of $10 million at a one-week, 95% confidence level, then there is a 5% chance the value of the portfolio will drop more than $10 million over any given week in the year. The drawback of VaR is its inability to determine how much of a loss greater than $10 million will occur. This does not reduce its effectiveness as a critical risk measurement tool.

A sound risk management strategy must be integrated with the derivatives trading department. Now that the Portfolio Manager is aware of the risk he faces, he must implement some form of risk reducing strategy to reduce the likelihood of an unexpected market or economic event from reducing his portfolio value by $10 million or more. 3 options are available.

1. Do nothing - This will not look favourable to investors when their investment suffers a loss. Reputation suffers and a net draw down of assets will likely result;
2. Sell $10 million of the portfolio - Cash is dead money. Not good for returns in the event the market correcting event does not occur for several years. Being overly cautious keeps a good Portfolio Manger from achieving top quartile status;
3. Hedge - This is believed by all of the worlds largest and most sophisticated financial institutions to be the answer.

Let's examine how it's done.

Hedging is really very simple, and once you understand the concept, the mechanics will astound you in their simplicity. Let's examine a $100 million equity portfolio that tracks the S&P 500 and a VaR calculation of $10 million. An experienced CTA will recommend the Portfolio Manager sell short $10 million S&P 500 index futures on the Futures exchange. Now if the portfolio losses $10 million the hedge will gain $10 million. The net result is zero loss.

Some critics will argue the market correcting event may not happen for many years and the result of the loss from the hedge will adversely affect returns. While true, there is an answer to this problem which is hotly debated. After all, the whole purpose of implementing a hedge is because of the inability to accurately predict the timing of these significant market correcting events. The answer is the use of technical analysis to assist in the placement of buy and sell orders for your hedge.

Technical analysis has the ability to remove emotional decisions from trading. It also provides the trader with an unbiased view of recent events and trends as well as longer term events and trends. For example, a head and shoulders formation or a double top will indicate an important rally may be coming to an end with an imminent correction to follow. While timing may be in dispute, there is no question a full hedge is warranted. Reaching a major support level might warrant the unwinding of 30% of the hedge with the expectation of a pull back. A rounding bottom formation should indicate the removal of the hedge in its entirety while awaiting the commencement of a major rally.

It is evident that significant market correcting events occur infrequently, in the neighbourhood of every 10 to 15 years. Yet many minor corrections and pullbacks can seriously damage returns, fund performance and reputation.

If you have ever been confronted with upcoming quarterly earnings or a topping formation which has caused you to consider liquidation then you should have first considered a hedge used in conjunction with the evidence from a well thought out analysis of technical indicators. Together they are a powerful tool, but only for those who have the insight to consider asset protection as important as big returns. I guarantee your competition understands and so does your clients who are becoming more sophisticated each year. It's important that you do too.


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