Tag: risk

A Gentle Introduction to Hedging

What? Why? Who?

What is Hedging?

Here are a couple of popular definitions and explanations to get the conversation started:

Investopedia: A hedge is an investment that is made with the intention of reducing the risk of adverse price movements in an asset. Normally, a hedge consists of taking an offsetting or opposite position in a related security.

Varsity: Hedging makes sense as it virtually insulates the position in the market and is therefore indifferent to what really happens in the market. It is like taking vaccine shot against a virus. Hence when the trader hedges he can be rest assured the adverse movement in the market will not affect his position.

The way it is commonly described, hedging is the act of taking offsetting positions against a portfolio to even out the bumps in the market.

The CAPM β

According to EMH, a portfolio’s return could be fully explained by the market (source):

r = rfß(rm – rf) + α


  • = Expected rate of return

  • rf = Risk-free rate

  • ß= Beta

  • (rm – rf)= Market risk premium

If you set the risk-free rate (rf) to zero, you get r =  ß*rm + α

Now, subtract away the market from the asset returns and you’ll be left with α.

Basically, a perfectly hedged portfolio will be a completely market neutral portfolio who’s returns will be pure alpha.

The offsetting positions can be taken via futures or options. To keep it simple, we will use futures to illustrate an example.

An Example

It is 2005 and the master analyst that you are, you expect HDFCBANK and KOTAKBANK to be decades long compounders. So, you setup an equal weighted portfolio that has only those two stocks.

If you stayed with this portfolio, then you truly have 💎🤲

Even though the annualized returns during the ~15 year period is twice that of NIFTY 50’s, very few investors would have stuck through the 70% drawdown that the portfolio had in 2008 and the 40% drawdown it had in 2020. Not to mention the numerous 20% dips along the way.

The question that hedging tries to answer is as timeless as time itself: Can I have my cake and eat it too? Is there a way to get only the excess returns without the market’s ups and downs?

What is the “market?”

Given that your portfolio consists entirely of banks, what exactly is your “market?” The answer to this question is not trivial.

You could go with the NIFTY 50 index but it has companies from different sectors like oil, metals, IT, etc. How much of an offset do you expect it to provide?

Or, you could go with the NIFTY BANK index. Intuitively, you would expect it to be a better hedge because it is composed almost entirely of banks – just like your portfolio.

Rolling βs

Rolling βs of the portfolio to each index gives us an idea of the appropriate benchmark to use.

What this is telling us, with perfect hindsight, is that the NIFTY BANK index comes close.

Theoretically, Hedging works in Theory

The math checks out. Irrespective of whether you hedge against the NIFTY or the NIFTY BANK index, you end up with much lower drawdowns.

For example, if you hedge against the NIFTY BANK, assuming no frictions and slippage, drawdowns never exceeded 20% and returns came in at a respectable 12% annualized.

Reality Sucks

Hedged portfolios have high Sharpe ratios and look attractive in backtests. However, reality is quite different.

βs are not Stable

The chart of rolling betas of the portfolio over different indices highlight the biggest problem with hedging: the hedge ratio needs to be constantly adjusted because the relationships are unstable.

Adjust it too often, then you lose to transaction costs. Adjust it too slowly, then you are no longer perfectly hedged.

βs > 1

Sometimes, betas can exceed 1. This means that your portfolio is net short during those periods. If the original intent of setting up the portfolio + hedges was to just even out the market fluctuations in a long-only portfolio, then being net-short is something that you may not have bargained for.

Margin requirements Vary

The backtest presented above allocates 90% to the cash (long-only) part of the portfolio and 10% towards margin requirements. However, during periods of market stress, brokers are known to hike margins to protect themselves. This might end up putting you in a position where you will need to pare back some of your long-only exposure to raise funds to meet the increased margin requirements. Basically, selling the dip.

Markets have a Positive Drift

Over long time horizons, markets typically have a positive drift. With a hedged portfolio where you are short the market, you are betting that this drift is overshadowed by volatility and portfolio alpha. It may very well be true, but you are betting against the winds.

Who should Hedge?

Leveraged Investors

Hedging doesn’t make sense for long-only cash portfolios. If you are a CNC (Cash N’Carry) investor, then you are better off de-grossing (reducing overall exposure or positions) and focusing on diversification rather than trying to hedge your portfolio.

Investors who employ leverage, however, should hedge. For example, if you were to take levered positions in HDFCBANK and KOTAKBANK through futures, then it makes sense to try and hedge out the market risk. Futures have 5x leverage built in, so it has the potential to boost your CAGR, as long as you can meet the mark-to-market during the 20% drawdowns.

Tactical Positioning

Some investors may prefer to hedge only when they expect market volatility. In our introduction to Tactical Allocation, we touched upon how we can use moving averages to shift between stocks and bonds. Instead of trading in-and-out, investors might prefer to add a hedge instead.

Needless to say, we are not big fans of investors trying to time the market like this.


Hedging makes sense if you are a leveraged investor. Given the costs, complexity and performance drag involved, it doesn’t make much sense for cash investors to hedge.

Looking for a sensible way to invest? Here’s how to get started.

Volatility vs. Risk

Sentiment vs. Reality

Volatility is how rapidly an investment tends to change in price. Risk is the potential permanent loss of money.

This is a continuation of our earlier post: Embracing Volatility

Volatility measures changes in price. Price is a measure of sentiment. Volatility measures changes in sentiment.

Most of the time, it is impossible to tell the difference between the two.

Exhibit A: AIG

American International Group, AIG, had enjoyed a AAA rating for 22 years and had been just one of eight US companies to hold the top rating from both S&P and Moody’s.

As mortgages started to go bad, AIG stock began its long journey to zero from July 2007. During that time, a majority of investors thought that every dip was a buying opportunity.

The problem with trying to be too smart about “volatility” vs. “risk” is how do you know what is priced-in vs. what is panic-selling?

If you are going to panic, panic early!

Panic is good only if you panic early, and as a trader the first thing you learn is to panic early. – Nassim Taleb

Discretionary investors wax eloquent about the strength of their conviction. Having done their homework, they claim, they have the “diamond hands” to hold onto their investments during bouts of volatility and to buy the dip.

However, these narratives are heavily driven by survivorship bias. You will never hear about conviction and diamond hands from investors who bought the dip in Bear Stearns, Suzlon or Kingfisher Airlines.

As an investor, you get no points for being a hero. If there is a whiff of something unpleasant, it is better to get out of an investment entirely, take a beat, re-evaluate, do a relative-value assessment to figure out how it compares to other opportunities and only then decide whether you want add it back to your portfolio.

Exit first. Ask questions later.

Compounding works both ways

Losers average losers – Paul Tudor Jones

Paul Tudor Jones quote: Don't ever average losers. Decrease your trading  volume when you...

We have all seen the Whatsapp forward about compounding: (1 + 0.1)^10 = 2.59 i.e., 10% compounded over 10 years will turn every rupee into 2.59 rupees. Rarely do you see the reverse: a 50% loss requires a 100% return to get back to even.

If you care about compounding your portfolio, stop compounding your losses!

Investing is risk management

… and risk management is not free.

Most investors focus on the glamor part of the process: scuttlebutt stock-picking to find the rare “hidden” gem that will 100x in 5 years. They would have better odds buying lottery tickets instead.

There are plenty of investors who became millionaires simply by grinding away at harvesting risk premia and managing risk.

Avoid blowing yourself up and allow statistics to do play out.

Risk Management Is Not Free: Part I, II, III

Diversify and Rebalance

The only investors who shouldn’t diversify are those who are right 100% of the time. – Sir John Templeton

There is a big difference between the advice professional investors give to other professional investors (like the ones above) and the advice that savers need to follow. The media often focuses on the former because it is exciting and there’s always something new whereas the later is mostly timeless and boring.

The media’s sampling and survivorship bias ensures that only large, successful, telegenic professional investors get the spotlight. And media’s short attention span ensures that most of them are never held to account for their pontifications. As far as the media is concerned, the only crime is to be boring.

The tragedy is that there are only so many ways in which you reframe “save into a diversified portfolio by dollar cost averaging into a low-cost, broad-based equity fund and a short-term bond fund.” So it is guaranteed to never get the airtime in proportion to how important it is.

Diversification means that your incremental dollar is buying the asset that has not appreciated as much as the other. For example, if you keep a static 50/50 equity/bond portfolio and equities are up 10% but bonds are up 2% then the next dollar you put into that portfolio is going to buy more of the bonds and less of equities. This is where the Risk Management is Not Free rule kicks in: diversification is anti-momentum, a premier market anomaly. By diversifying and rebalancing, you are not maximizing your portfolio returns but minimizing volatility in a cost-effective way.

Remember, that in the end, we are all short volatility.


Looking for a sensible way to invest? Here’s how to get started.

Did you know that the following recording can be watched at 2x speed and is often hilarious?

Embracing Volatility

Market volatility is a feature, not a bug.

In the short run, market is a voting machine; in the long run, it’s a weighing machine. – Benjamin Graham

Price is a measure of Sentiment

Buy! Buy! Sell! Sell! signed Kal print | Get money online, Ways to get  money, Stock trading

Early last year, when it became clear that the China Virus had spread all over the world and was getting millions sick, overwhelming healthcare systems everywhere, the markets tanked. In USD terms, Indian stocks were down more than 40% and the S&P was down more than 30%.

Then, a miracle cure was discovered and the markets quickly recovered.

Just kidding!

Governments and Central Banks everywhere did whatever they could to lift sentiment. And markets quickly followed.

Sentiment remains one of the least understood but the most important factor in investing. All prices are eventually tied to how optimistic or pessimistic investors are feeling about the future.

While Graham’s weighing machine might arrive in time for tenured investments, like bonds, that have a fixed maturity date, perpetual securities like stocks are always at the mercy of the voting machine, i.e., sentiment.

The Market sets the Price

For stocks, Price = multiple x earnings

For prices to go up, you don’t need earnings to go up. It is enough if multiples do.

The market doesn’t care why you are transacting. Only that you are. It doesn’t matter what your investment horizon is or the type of investor you are, all transactions take place in the market at a price set by it.

As an investor, you can be right about the company (direction of earnings) but wrong about the sentiment (direction of multiple) and can end up with a stock that goes nowhere in price for years and exit with no rewards for your effort.

No such thing as Buy-and-Hold Forever

It is the end of a “long-term” for a subset of investors everyday.

Investors usually save with a specific goal in mind. These goals tend to be time bound: retirement, kid’s education, etc. While their horizons can be “long” at the outset, it gradually shortens as the D-day arrives. Equities (and other high-risk securities) are constantly being sold and rotated into bonds (and other low-risk securities) set by a glide-path.

As much as professionals like to fantasize about long-term investing, the investors in their funds have bounded horizons. This is especially true for open-end funds.

Sentiment + Finite Holding Periods = Volatility

Finite holding periods create the need to transact. This makes it impossible to ignore sentiment. The two combine to create volatility.

It is easy to blame investor greed and fear for bad portfolio outcomes. We have all seen this sketch make the rounds:

Buy High, Sell Low: How To Free Yourself From The Madness

However, even if an investor overcomes the call of greed and fear, it is impossible to ignore time. This makes sentiment the prime determinant of investment outcomes.

If you think investors having longer time-horizons can ignore volatility. Think again. As the chart above illustrates, volatility is an equal opportunity hater.

Embrace and Extinguish

Volatility clusters. You have reasonably long periods of calm, then suddenly a lot of things “go wrong.” Markets gyrate and you feel that all hell has broken lose.

This leads investors to assume that periods of calm are normal and volatility is abnormal. But in markets, the reverse is true. Sudden shocks, volatility and jolts to sentiment are the norm. Calm periods are the anomaly.

Sentiments wax-and-wane. Multiples expand and contract. Markets melt-up and melt-down for no good reason.

The only time-tested way of reducing volatility is asset allocation. Invest in a basket of different assets (make sure that at least a few of them a not financialized) and accept the market for what it is.

Embrace volatility and extinguish it.

Looking for a sensible way to invest? Here’s how to get started.

Volatility and Allocation

Think in terms of volatility buckets, not assets

This post is part of our series on diversification and asset allocation. Previously:

  1. Diversification and its Malcontents

  2. The Permanent Portfolio

  3. Sequence Risk and Asset Allocation

  4. Static vs. Tactical Allocation

  5. Tactical Allocation

The thrust of our previous posts on allocation was that Indian investors shouldn’t blindly copy strategies that worked well in the US. There are a lot of qualitative arguments to be made to support a India-dominant view for allocation strategies. In this post, we introduce a quantitative aspect to the discussion.

It is Volatility, Stupid!

In finance, more than any other field, it is very easy to get correlation and causation mixed up.

A man goes to the doctor and says, “Doctor, wherever I touch, it hurts.”
The doctor asks, “What do you mean?”
The man says, “When I touch my shoulder, it really hurts. When I touch my knee – OUCH! When I touch my forehead, it really, really hurts.”
The doctor says, “I know what’s wrong with you. You’ve broken your finger!”

There are no universal laws for an asset class that holds across geographies and economic systems. The reason why a 60/40 Portfolio “works” in the US has more to with the quantitative aspects of the assets being mixed than what they are called. US bonds have benefitted greatly from a 30 year slide in yields, benign inflation and a flight-to-safety bid. None of these hold true for Indian bonds. So, expecting a 60/40 Indian portfolio to behave like a 60/40 US portfolio just because you mixed the same assets together is idiotic.

The most import aspect while considering assets for diversification are their volatilities. Specifically, the correlation of their volatilities at their left tails.

To keep things simple, consider a 2 asset portfolio: Eq and X. Eq has some average return that will be held constant during this analysis. What changes is its standard deviation (aka, volatility.) X is a stable asset with zero volatility (think of it as a fixed deposit.) How does different allocations to Eq change portfolio returns and volatility?

  1. Low volatility is supportive of higher allocations

  2. Higher allocations to the higher volatility asset progressively reduces the predictability of portfolio returns

Volatility is Volatile

Asset return volatility is itself volatile.

The past performance of a diversified portfolio is based on the realized volatility of its components. However, volatility itself is unpredictable over long periods of time.


While considering assets to diversify into, look at the volatility of the asset rather than what it is called.

Don’t expect the quantitative aspect of an asset class to transcend economic systems – different markets need different treatments.

All investing is forecasting. And all allocation is forecasting volatilities.

Fat Tails


Years of returns can get wiped out in a month in the markets. While investors mostly focus on the average, the tails end up dictating their actual returns. (Introduction)

Sampling and Measurement

Typically, a uniform sample is taken. The problem with this is it under-represents the tails. This leads to models that work on average but blow up on occasion. One way to overcome this problem is through stratified sampling. (Sampling)

Expected shortfall (ES) is a risk measure that can be used to estimate the loss during tail-events. (Measuring)


All assets have fat tails. It is a feature, not a bug. (Historical)