Everyone is in a lather about…

…the disconnect between retail sales and jobs.  But check out this chart:

retail sales

The same thing happened in the mid 90’s, an absolute boom period.  What was going on….? Gas prices collapsed, just like now. Gas as a percentage of total sales has dropped by a third. Even stripping out gasoline isn’t totally clean either – the likes of Costco, Walmart and WaWa all sell gas as well.

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Where has all the alpha gone?

Where has all the alpha gone (to paraphrase a 60’s protest song)? Roughly, alpha is the ability to consistently outperform a well-defined benchmark. Alpha is notoriously hard to measure as most managers do not have records long enough to establish “consistently.” That matter aside, there are at least three forces compressing our notion of alpha – better benchmarks, better information and better liquidity. The traditional long only investing world has been wrestling with this issue for years, but the notion is now moving to the alternative space.

In the 60’s and 70’s, academic research on mutual fund results indicated that a better benchmark definition (compare a manager to a small cap index if she owns small cap stocks) diminished the perceived value added in fund results. Over the last 20 years or so, there has been an unknown quantity of permutations of alternative beta, hedge fund replication, liquid alts, and other repackaged versions of the same theme – to figure out if there is beta in the macho alpha alternative space. Continue reading