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Things With a Low Probability


Nassim Taleb has made a career out of trying to get financial professionals to pay recognize that unpredictable events do occur, with devestating effect.

The problem is ... neither Taleb nor you nor I can predict what that next event will be. The idea of a Black Swan, as Taleb would call it, is just an idea. It's not a definition of what comes next.

"Things with a low probability do occur,'' said James I. Robertson, chief executive officer of Invesco Perpetual at the outset of Thursday's proceedings at the General Membership Meeting.

"More often than we thought,'' chimed in George Gatch, chief executive of J.P. Morgan Funds.

Which is what has given rise to what pros in the know now call "go anywhere" funds.

These, essentially, are funds without any mandate. They don't have to invest in stocks or bonds from a particular part of the world or in a particular type of security or a particular set of valuation criteria.

They can go "anywhere" and to any asset class, even cash, if need be. 

When the unpredictable set of conditions warrants it.

This is, of course, a reaction to the events of late 2008, when funds with specific mandates found themselves abused by their shareholders who couldn't understand why their money couldn't be moved -- faster -- into safer havens.

What a go-anywhere fund, though, does is put the burden of choice on ... the fund manager. Which means -- does it not? -- that investors will need and the Securities and Exchange Commission will come to require, a lot more disclosure on the past performance of whomever is in charge of the "go anywhere" fund.

Because you're betting on the comprehensive knowledge and professional instincts of the person or team who is calling the shots. The fund manager the bankable object.

Or the Black Villain, if things don't turn out right when that next unpredictable event arrives.