HedgeNews Africa | Fairtree extends Wild Fig access to retail and offshore investors

The Wild Fig Multi Strategy SNN QI Hedge Fund is diversified across equities, fixed income and commodities and has had no negative years.

Fairtree is extending its multistrategy Wild Fig hedge fund to a wider audience with the launch of a retail version of the fund on June 1, as well as a dollar version of the strategy which went live earlier this year. The Fairtree Wild Fig SNN Retail Hedge Fund (RIF) gives retail investors access to the same strategy that has been employed in the Fairtree Wild Fig Multi Strategy SNN Qualified Investor Hedge Fund (QIF) since 2010, with similar returns expected over time. The dollar-based fund is available to offshore investors on the SA Alpha platform, hedging currency exposure.

The Fairtree Wild Fig Multi Strategy SNN QI Hedge Fund has been a strong and consistent performer, adding a net annualised 20.98% since inception in August 2010 compared with 11.45% from the JSE for the period and 6.12% from STeFi. It has won multiple HedgeNews Africa awards, including most recently for best multi-strategy fund in 2022, with a net gain of 26.55% on a Sharpe ratio of 1.84. The fund is around 11% higher to the end of June this year, adding 5.2% in June after a tough May. It has had no negative years – delivering solid double-digit gains each year, barring two muted years in 2016 and 2017.

The strategy is diversified across three asset classes: equities, fixed income and commodities. Fairtree’s multi-strategy team, which comprises Bradley Anthony, Kurt van der Walt, and Obakeng Mophosho, construct the portfolio using a strategic long-term allocation framework, seeking maximum asset class diversification. The strategy currently has around 20% in commodities, 36% in fixed income and the remainder in equities. By equity sector, its biggest gross exposures are currently to materials, industrials and retail, with net long positions in industrials and materials, and consumer staples and communication services on the short side. Capital is allocated across the various strategy teams within asset classes.

The portfolio is rebalanced at least monthly to prevent over-concentration in any area, and the team is able to flex the gearing at portfolio level using a VAR approach. “All our exposure is run on the balance sheet, we don’t invest into underlying funds,” says Anthony. “For example, if we want exposure to our market-neutral strategy we will allocate a certain amount of capital from our central cash pool for the underlying managers to draw from. We are very aware of risk concentration across strategies, looking through two lenses of market backdrop and positioning.”

In any given month, month-end allocations will drift depending on the performance of the underlying asset classes. “We rebalance and take profit. It is a constant discipline of buying into weakness and selling into strength,” says Anthony. The team remains flexible and aware of changing markets, and is able to bring down the risk exposure across the portfolio when necessary. “We can also change the mix across asset classes when we have high conviction,” says Anthony. “It is rare but we have done it. We are more inclined to move the risk exposure up and down. We are also able to trade individual securities should we have a particularly strong view – it is used even more rarely but it can be done. We have other tools which we are more inclined to use.” “Wild Fig enables us to combine uncorrelated building blocks giving a smoother return profile and more optimal use of leverage,” he says. Anthony adds that the fund’s typical net equity exposure has changed of late, and is now sitting at just 10% compared with an average of 45% over the years.

On the equity side, it allocates to the South African directional long/short equity team, comprising Clarissa van der Westhuyzen, Donald Curtayne and Deon Botha, who also manage the standalone Assegai and Silver Oak funds. The strategy currently comprises around 15% of risk allocation of the book. It also has exposure to Fairtree’s longrunning market-neutral strategy, managed by Botha, which takes minimal directional exposure, looking to extract alpha from the markets with a relative-value focus, including intra-sector pairs. The fund also allocates to Fairtree’s global equity team, which runs a relative value strategy, and its listed global real estate capability, managed by Rob Hart. Total non-SA equity exposure is around 10%. “These are both relative-value market neutral strategies and both hedge currencies,” says Anthony. “Our aim is to isolate the alpha opportunity that sits offshore.”

The fixed income component invests into Fairtree’s two in-house fixed income strategies, replicated on the balance sheet. The fixed income component is typically relative value or neutral in approach but is currently taking directional exposure, with the team retaining conviction despite a tough May. Paul Crawford and Louis Antelme head a team of six, who manage the Fairtree Proton RCIS Retail Hedge Fund, balancing fixed income relative-value exposures with credit exposures, using primarily quantitative analysis to identify mispriced assets. For the Wild Fig Retail Hedge Fund, exposure to this particular team is gained through a fund investment into the Fairtree proton RCIS Retail Hedge Fund.

Jacobus Lacock and Ian Millard manage the Fairtree Fixed Income SSN QI Hedge Fund, a long/short fixed income strategy focused on extracting pure alpha returns from South African capital markets, generating ideas from global and domestic macro views. They invest long/short in South African fixed income instruments to take advantage of relative-value opportunities across the short and long end of the FRA, bond and swap yield curves. “The fixed income book is unusual right now in that we have a directional view,” says Van der Walt. “Our fixed income team has been convinced that too many rate hikes have been priced into the market. We started building a position which hurt us in May, but we still see opportunity on both the short end and longer end of the curve.”

The soft commodities book, which is not available as a standalone fund, is managed by Denise van Wyk, applying a relative-value mindset to soft and agricultural commodities globally, excluding energy and metals. It has returned around 8-10% per year for the past three years, before pulling back slightly this year. “We have been impressed by the consistency of the strategy,” says Anthony. The Wild Fig portfolio retains a strong South African bias, with more than 80% of the exposure onshore. “It is about keeping the volatility low and maximising the Sharpe ratio. We haven’t taken loads of risk to annualise 22% over 13 years,” says Anthony. “Gearing is applied at asset allocation level, which gets us to the best risk-adjusted return. If we allocate out 2-2.5 times the portfolio NAV in aggregate to the underlying strategies and if each strategy hits a 10% return, these returns become additive and you end up with the kind of double-digit annual returns we have seen. The returns are cumulative and the risks offset each other.”

Recent de-risking of the equity book has come about as the team battles to identify good long positions. “Dispersion is the key to performance in this fund, even when markets are strong,” says Anthony. “You need equity dispersion to create an alpha product and this has been elevated of late, creating opportunities. It plays to our strengths in picking stocks and sectors.” “From a valuation point of view, as a team we are starting to see value in SA Inc stocks but we haven’t taken exposure yet,” says Anthony. “We don’t want to be too early and there could be another shoe to drop before that crystallises.”

“For a while we had aggressive bets on resources,” adds Mophosho. “We had decent size Resi exposure at the end of 2022 and the start of 2023. We have gone from 30-40% net resources exposure in March/April to around 2-3% at present.” “Platinum group metals and gold did well earlier this year but increasing costs, productivity issues and persistent loadshedding have created issues, so our net exposure is flat.”

The team also had a bullish view on the China recovery earlier this year, which hasn’t played out, altering its iron ore thesis. In fixed income, Anthony notes that on a simple valuation, SA bonds are trading 100-125 basis points cheaper than US bonds. “South Africa has scored a couple of own goals so one could argue that is justified. But we think issues like loadshedding are already in the price. The risks are tilted towards bond yields being lower – it’s not a slam dunk but there is a higher probability.” He adds that the team is constantly mindful of the interplay between fixed income and equities, and in an ideal world can offset positions. “Currently we have very little net rand hedge exposure in the equity book and long rand exposure in the fixed income book,” says Anthony.

“The balance of probability is towards the rand and bonds strengthening. Should the world change, we can act and hedge positions in bonds, equities and currencies. That is the beauty of the strategy.” “As a team, Obe, Kurt and I talk constantly about potential risks, and postulate about what could play out. But our philosophy is to talk often and act infrequently. That said, over the years we have proved that when the environment changes, we have the ability to act immediately, with our underlying teams managing securities on the balance sheet.” Fairtree now has total assets under management of R130 billion, of which the Wild Fig strategy comprises around R2 billion, with significant capacity to grow.

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