Investment Acumen

Investment managers at Harvard and the State of Hawaii—and a potful of others—have made big bets [sic] on the low volatility of the stock and bond markets and on the apparent permanence of that low volatility.

After interest rates collapsed on the heels of the financial crisis, they [pension funds, endowments, and family offices] ran into challenges paying pensioners and filling university budgets, and added riskier bets on hedge funds and venture capital in the hopes of winning better returns.

More recently, some of these investors also made big, unpublicized wagers seeking to benefit from what had been an unusually long period of low volatility, according to pension-fund consultants and others who deal with these institutions. The strategies, often involving the writing of complicated options contracts….

These high-rolling gamblers include such luminaries as Harvard University’s endowment managers, Hawaii’s managers of the State’s Employees’ Retirement System, and the managers of the Illinois State Universities Retirement System.

Talk about betting the farm.  And then, as some of you may have noticed, volatility returned to the markets a couple weeks ago.  The markets returned to normal.

The rise of low-volatility bets is among the reasons this downturn is different, investors say, and difficult to predict.

Right.  This time it’s different is the most common claim of those who’ve bet the biggest and are losing big league.

At least these geniuses aren’t betting their endowments and pensions on bitcoin futures.  Yet.

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