Strategic allocation models typically carve out a portion of an investment portfolio for alternative investments, such as commodities, hedge funds, private equity or managed futures. These alternative asset classes provide exposure to less correlated assets, theoretically increasing returns and lowering risks over the long term. Of course, investors are glad when these types of exposure are performing well and adding to their portfolio returns, but many have trouble understanding why they even own these assets when they are underperforming. This year, that questionable asset class has been commodities, which have come under pressure year-to-date as a result of slow global growth, a rising U.S. dollar and falling oil prices. If this trend persists, we feel that commodity indexes that provide long-only exposure may be missing out on an opportunity.
One asset class that has been utilized by institutional investors as a way to achieve diversification and performance potential in almost any market is managed futures. Unlike long-only investments, managed futures employ long/short strategies designed to profit from both rising and falling markets. Also, many managed futures are not confined to commodities futures but can also invest in currencies or interest rate futures. The ability to go long or short commodities, non-U.S. currencies and U.S. Treasuries has provided managed futures a performance edge year-to-date.
The graph below illustrates the year-to-date performance of the Diversified Trends Indicator™ (DTI®) against some popular commodity indexes, to highlight the performance difference.
For definitions of indexes in the chart please visit our glossary.
• Exposure to Oil Had a Large Impact on Returns—Because oil has declined so dramatically year-to-date, by over 32%, the larger an index’s exposure to oil, the lower the overall return.1 The DBIQ Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Index places more weight in what it classifies as the most heavily traded and important physical commodities, so it had a larger weight to oil over the period compared to the Thomson Reuters Equal Weight Continuous Commodity Total Return Index, which employs an equal weighting methodology. A unique feature of the DTI® is its ability to go long or flat oil, but never short. Since August, the index has been flat (meaning no exposure) to oil, allowing it to largely avoid the decline in oil prices. If the price trend reverses, the index has the ability to go long oil, and it could benefit from a rebound in prices.
• Diversification Beyond Commodities Helped Drive Returns for DTI®—One of the most persistent trends year-to-date has been the strength of the U.S. dollar against other developed currencies. The flexibility for DTI® to go long or short non-U.S. currencies and U.S. Treasuries, beyond just commodities, has provided a further performance edge. DTI®’s performance has benefited from being long both Treasury bonds and Treasury notes, as interest rates have fallen in the U.S. year-to-date. DTI®’s performance also has benefited from being short the Japanese yen since August and short the euro since June. WisdomTree believes that we are still in the early innings for dollar strength, and this trend should continue into 2015 and beyond.
An Established Strategy—Now in the Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) Structure
Traditionally, to access managed futures strategies, individuals would have to make significant investments with hedge funds or commodity trading advisors (CTAs)—an expensive proposition. These investments typically charge a 20% performance fee on top of a 2% annual fee. Additionally, CTAs generally lack transparency, have limited liquidity and can introduce single-manager risk.