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Revisiting the Half Caff Alternative Allocation in a Dramatically Different Environment

half caff coffee cup

If only every year in the stock market was like 2017—12 months of positive returns and a Standard & Poor’s 500 gain of 22%. Last year the equity portion of an investment portfolio was the star. If clients expressed displeasure it was that they didn’t have greater stock market exposure.

But financial advisors know better than to build investment portfolios for perfect conditions (e.g., extended periods of high growth, low volatility, low interest rates and low inflation).

The job of diversified portfolios is to anticipate ugly markets. How do advisors keep clients invested and moving ahead even when the news is worrisome, stocks are losing value and the temptation is to head for the exits? That’s the role that liquid alternative allocations can play today.

Q1 Provided 2 Tests

One year ago, we introduced a liquid alt blend that combined an income alternative with an equity alternative. We called it the Half Caff, as inspired by coffee drinkers who like the jolt that caffeine provides but want to dial back on the accompanying jumpiness (see original post).

When we introduced the allocation to last year’s high return low volatility environment, we provided historical results that showed it offered reduced volatility and improved returns. In 2017, with a new U.S. president in office, there was every reason to expect some market surprises. Many financial advisors saw the merits of what we called the Twenty 50/50 Alternative Blend, driving record attendance to our August 1 webcast.

But it wasn’t until the first quarter of 2018 when our proposed alternative blend would be tested, first from January 29 to February 8 when the S&P declined 10.10% and then in the period between March 9 and March 23, when the market fell 5.44%.

The following charts provide the detail on how our income alternative Calamos Market Neutral Income Fund (CMNIX) and our equity alternative Calamos Phineus Long/Short Fund (CPLIX) performed during those two tests, individually, in combination and as a 20% allocation of an otherwise stock and bond portfolio.

cmnix cplix weathered equity dips

half calf provided stability

which blend helped

helped reduce sp drawdown

q1 2018 performance was consistent

In this post, we’ll revisit the Half Caff and update some of the assumptions of the hypothetical illustration. We provide performance data, of course, but also evaluate the combination following the standards we’ve recommended in our recent related post (see It’s About More Than Performance—How to Evaluate an Alternative Fund).

The Twenty 50/50 Alternative Blend

The benefits of portfolio diversification come from adding assets that have lower correlations to one another to reduce risk concentration. That’s the underlying premise of using liquid alts that deviate some way from a traditional stock and bond portfolio.

But some alternative allocations are more efficient than others. In our view, alternatives used to diversify a portfolio should better shield it from market volatility, ultimately leading to more favorable risk-adjusted returns.

use the half calf alternative blend

We call it the Twenty 50/50 because:

  • We take 10% from a traditional portfolio with 40% allocated to bonds (using the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index as proxy).
  • We take 10% from a traditional portfolio with 60% allocated to equities (using the MSCI World Index as proxy).
  • From that 20%, we allocate half to CMNIX as the fixed income alternative and half to CPLIX as the equity alternative.

The performance results date back to the Calamos Phineus Long/Short Fund’s inception date, May 1, 2002.

Does the blend:

  • Diversify risks?
  • Reduce market sensitivity?
  • Improve alpha?
  • Improve return consistency?

Before we look at the power of the Half Caff, let’s first look at what each alternative has accomplished on its own.

Fixed Income Diversifier: CMNIX

Calamos Market Neutral Income Fund (CMNIX) is a diversifier. Over the last few years, bonds have been a significant contributor to the performance of the 60/40 portfolio. However, we don’t expect fixed income to provide the level of returns they have in the past, even if rates stay relatively low.

Adding a fixed income alternative can provide diversification against fixed income exposures, such as duration and credit risk, while providing returns and risk profile consistent with the characteristics of an intermediate-term bond fund.

Depending on the time period, CMNIX has had negative-to-low beta and correlations with Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index.

cmnix trailing beta

CMNIX’s alternative sources of returns have generated positive performance during past periods of rising interest rates.

cmnix returns when rates rise

A fixed income alternative must do more than hedge against duration risk. It’s imperative to find in the alternative a consistent performer capable of providing a similar return stream. As shown in the 3-year rolling returns below, since its inception, CMNIX provided a return stream similar to that of the bond index.

cmnix return similar to bond index

What’s more, CMNIX enjoyed a greater number of positive months and fewer negative months.

percent of positive vs negative monthly returns

Equity Hedge: CPLIX

Equity risk is the dominant risk in most portfolios. During periods of market stress especially, correlations between asset classes increase—which exposes the portfolio to potentially large drawdowns. CPLIX can be used to address the market risk from long-only equity strategies because it has the ability to benefit from both stocks that are appreciating in price (the long book) and from those that are declining (the short book).

Since CPLIX’s inception, it has provided equity-like returns with lower correlations to equities, diversifying the equity risk in the portfolio while providing strong risk-adjusted returns.

cplix net exposure more variable

CPLIX also has the ability to tactically adjust its market exposure, creating opportunities to diversify the alpha generation relative to long-only equities. A recent example of this includes 2017, when CPLIX’s average beta to equities was negative as it focused on capital preservation. This added significantly more alpha generation relative to the average large blend and long/short equity manager.

cplix tactical moves create opportunities

An Uncorrelated Pair

The low to negative excess returns between CMNIX and CPLIX and the blend of CMNIX/CPLIX suggest that adding this pair of funds to a traditional 60/40 portfolio can be additive as these funds earned their excess returns during different market periods.

correlation matrix

The Power of the Half Caff

A blend of these alternatives since 2002 would have provided stronger risk-adjusted returns with lower sensitivity, correlations, and down capture to the blended benchmark and would have improved gain and loss deviations (increasing dispersion of positive performance while decreasing dispersion of negative performance).

the power of the half caff

This translates to an improved up/down capture profile.

up down capture percent

And, this can be observed over the past market cycles.

performance over market cycles

Calamos is the #6 manager of assets in the Alternatives category, as ranked by AUM by Morningstar (12/31/17), up from #10 the year prior.

Financial advisors, talk to your Calamos Investment Consultant about how the Half Caff might make a difference in your portfolios. Call 888-571-2567 or email [email protected].

Data as of 3/31/18
average annual returns pls
average annual returns mni
Performance data quoted represents past performance, which is no guarantee of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance quoted. The principal value and return of an investment will fluctuate so that your shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Performance reflected at NAV does not include the Fund’s maximum front-end sales load of 2.25%. Had it been included, the Fund’s return would have been lower. For the most recent month-end fund performance information visit

Before investing carefully consider the fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. Please see the prospectus and summary prospectus containing this and other information or call 1-800-582-6959. Read it carefully before investing.

The performance shown in this post is hypothetical in nature and does not represent the performance and/or investment risk characteristics of any specific client. While the performance listed for each respective Investment Professional is based on actual performance, the aggregate portfolio performance, allocations listed and account comparisons shown are hypothetical in nature, as no actual clients are invested in these blended strategies. Hypothetical performance results have many inherent limitations, including those described below:

  • Hypothetical performance results are generally prepared with the benefit of hindsight.
  • There are limitations inherent in model results, such results do not represent actual trading and that they may not reflect the impact that material economic and market factors might have had on the advisor's decision making if the advisor were actually managing clients' money. In the hypothetical accounts shown actual 3rd party advisor performance has been blended in various allocations.
  • The hypothetical performance shown does not involve financial risk, and no hypothetical performance calculation can completely account for the impact of financial risk on an actual investment strategy.
  • The ability to withstand actual losses or to adhere to a particular investment strategy in spite of losses are material points which can adversely affect actual performance results.

There are distinct differences between hypothetical performance results and the actual results subsequently achieved by a particular investment portfolio. No representation is being made that an account will or is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to those shown, and any investment may result in loss of principal.

As with any hypothetical illustration there can be additional unforeseen factors that cannot be accounted for within the illustrations included herein.

Hypothetical performance and index returns presented assume reinvestment of any and all earnings/distributions.

Some of the risks associated with investing in alternatives may include hedging risk–hedging activities can reduce investment performance through added costs; derivative risk–derivatives may experience greater price volatility than the underlying securities; short sale risk - investments may incur a loss without limit as a result of a short sale if the market value of the security increases; interest rate risk–loss of value for income securities as interest rates rise; credit risk–risk of the borrower to miss payments; liquidity risk–low trading volume may lead to increased volatility in certain securities; non-U.S. government obligation risk–non-U.S. government obligations may be subject to increased credit risk; portfolio selection risk – investment managers may select securities that fare worse than the overall market. Alternative investments may not be suitable for all investors.

Class I shares are offered primarily for direct investment by investors through certain tax-exempt retirement plans (including 401(k) plans, 457 plans, employer-sponsored 403(b) plans, profit sharing and money purchase pension plans, defined benefit plans and non-qualified deferred compensation plans) and by institutional clients, provided such plans or clients have assets of at least $1 million. Class I shares may also be offered to certain other entities or programs, including, but not limited to, investment companies, under certain circumstances.

An investment in the Fund(s) is subject to risks, and you could lose money on your investment in the Fund(s). There can be no assurance that the Fund(s) will achieve its investment objective. Your investment in the Fund(s) is not a deposit in a bank and is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or any other government agency. The risks associated with an investment in the Fund(s) can increase during times of significant market volatility. The Fund(s) also has specific principal risks, which are described below. More detailed information regarding these risks can be found in the Fund’s prospectus.

The principal risks of investing in the Market Neutral Income Fund include: equity securities risk consisting of market prices declining in general, convertible securities risk consisting of the potential for a decline in value during periods of rising interest rates and the risk of the borrower to miss payments, synthetic convertible instruments risk, convertible hedging risk, covered call writing risk, options risk, short sale risk, interest rate risk, credit risk, high yield risk, liquidity risk, portfolio selection risk, and portfolio turnover risk.

Covered call writing: As the writer of a covered call option on a security, the fund foregoes, during the option’s life, the opportunity to profit from increases in the market value of the security, covering the call option above the sum of the premium and the exercise price of the call.

Convertible securities risk: The value of a convertible security is influenced by changes in interest rates, with investment value declining as interest rates increase and increasing as interest rates decline. The credit standing of the issuer and other factors also, may have an effect on the convertible security’s investment value.

Convertible hedging risk: If the market price of the underlying common stock increases above the conversion price on a convertible security, the price of the convertible security will increase. The fund’s increased liability on any outstanding short position would, in whole or in part, reduce this gain.

Convertible securities risk: The value of a convertible security is influenced by changes in interest rates, with investment value declining as interest rates increase and increasing as interest rates decline. The credit standing of the issuer and other factors also may have an effect on the convertible security’s investment value.

The principal risks of investing in the Calamos Phineus Long/Short Fund include: equity securities risk consisting of market prices declining in general, short sale risk consisting of potential for unlimited losses, foreign securities risk, currency risk, geographic concentration risk, other investment companies (including ETFs) risk, derivatives risk, options risk, and leverage risk.

Citigroup 30-Day T-Bill Index is generally considered representative of the performance of short-term money market instruments.

Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Government/Credit Index comprises long-term government and investment grade corporate debt securities and is generally considered representative of the performance of the broad U.S. bond market. Unlike convertible bonds, U.S. Treasury bills are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government and offer a guarantee as to the timely repayment of principal and interest.

Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based flagship benchmark that measures the investment grade, US dollar-denominated, fixed-rate taxable bond market. The index includes Treasuries, government-related and corporate securities, MBS (agency fixed-rate and hybrid ARM pass-throughs), ABS and CMBS (agency and non-agency).

Morningstar Market Neutral Category represents funds that attempt to eliminate the risks of the market by holding 50% of assets in long positions in stocks and 50% of assets in short positions.

Morningstar Large Blend Category funds are fairly representative of the overall U.S. stock market in size, growth rates, and price. Stocks in the top 70% of the capitalization of the U.S. equity market are defined as large-cap. The blend style is assigned to portfolios where neither growth nor value characteristics predominate. These portfolios tend to invest across the spectrum of U.S. industries, and owing to their broad exposure, the portfolios' returns are often similar to those of the S&P 500 Index.

Morningstar Long/Short Equity Category funds take a net long stock position, meaning the total market risk from the long positions is not completely offset by the market risk of the short positions. Total return, therefore, is a combination of the return from market exposure (beta) plus any value-added from stock picking or market-timing (alpha).

S&P 500 Index is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market.

MSCI World Index is a market capitalization weighted index composed of companies representative of the market structure of 21 developed market countries in North America, Europe, and the Asia/Pacific region. Unmanaged index returns assume reinvestment of any and all distributions and do not reflect fees, expenses or sales charges. Investors cannot invest directly in an index.

Alpha is a historical measure of risk-adjusted performance. Alpha measures how much of a portfolio’s performance is attributable to investment-specific factors versus broad market trends. A positive alpha suggests that the performance of a portfolio was higher than expected given the level of risk in the portfolio. A negative alpha suggests that the performance was less than expected given the risk.

Beta is a historic measure of a fund’s relative volatility, which is one of the measures of risk; a beta of 0.5 reflects 1/2 the market’s volatility as represented by the Fund’s primary benchmark, while a beta of 2.0 reflects twice the volatility.

Correlation is a statistical measure that shows how two securities move in relation to each other. A correlation of 1 implies that if one security moves up or down, the other security will move in lockstep, in the same direction. Alternatively, a correlation of 1 means that if one security moves in either direction, the other security will do the exact opposite.

Credit ratings is a measure of a company’s credit worthiness and ability to service its debt. Ratings are relative, subjective and not absolute standards of quality. Ratings are measured using a scale that typically ranges from AAA (highest) to D (lowest). The security’s credit rating does not eliminate risk.

Duration is a measure of interest rate sensitivity.

Gain deviation Similar to standard deviation, except that this statistic calculates an average (mean) return for only the periods with a gain and then measures the variation of only the gain periods around this gain mean. This statistic measures the volatility of upside performance.

Gain/loss ratio Measures a fund's average gain in a gain period divided by the fund's average loss in a losing period.

Interest rate risk: The value of fixed-income securities generally decreases in periods when interest rates are rising. In addition, interest rate changes typically have a greater effect on prices of longer-term fixed-income securities than shorter-term fixed-income securities. Recent events in the fixed-income market may expose the Fund to heightened interest rate risk and volatility.

Kurtosis is a statistical measure that's used to describe the distribution, or skewness, of observed data around the mean, sometimes referred to as the volatility of volatility.

Loss deviation Similar to standard deviation, except that this statistic calculates an average (mean) return for only the periods with a loss and then measures the variation of only the losing periods around this loss mean. This statistic measures the volatility of downside performance.

Max drawdown A statistical measure that shows the maximum loss that occurred during any subperiod over the time period listed.

Sharpe ratio is a measure of risk-adjusted performance, where higher values are indicative of better investment decisions rather than the result of taking on a higher level of risk. Sharpe ratio is calculated by the difference between a portfolio’s return and a risk-free rate, often that of the 10-year Treasury bond, and dividing the result by the portfolio’s standard deviation.

Short-only equity: The strategy may incur a loss without limit as a result of a short sale if the market value of the security increases.

Short sale risk: The Fund may incur a loss (without limit) as a result of a short sale if the market value of the borrowed security increases between the date of the short sale and the date the Fund replaces the security. The Fund may be unable to repurchase the borrowed security at a particular time or at an acceptable price.

Standard deviation measures the overall risk of a fund.

Sortino ratio is the excess return over the risk-free rate divided by the downside semi-variance, and so it measures the return to "bad" volatility. (Volatility caused by negative returns is considered bad or undesirable by an investor, while volatility caused by positive returns is good or acceptable.)

Upside deviation measures only deviations above a specified benchmark.

Downside deviation measures only deviations below a specified benchmark.

Up-capture ratio is the statistical measure of an investment manager's overall performance in up-markets.

Down-capture ratio is a statistical measure of an investment manager's overall performance in down-markets.

Active management does not guarantee investment returns or eliminate the risk of loss.

As a result of political or economic instability in foreign countries, there can be special risks associated with investing in foreign securities, including fluctuations in currency exchange rates, increased price volatility and difficulty obtaining information. In addition, emerging markets may present additional risk due to potential for greater economic and political instability in less developed countries.

Opinions and estimates offered constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice, as are statements of financial market trends, which are based on current market conditions. We believe the information provided here is reliable, but do not warrant its accuracy or completeness. This material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. The views and strategies described may not be suitable for all investors. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, accounting, legal or tax advice. References to future returns are not promises or even estimates of actual returns a client portfolio may achieve. Any forecasts contained herein are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be relied upon as advice or interpreted as a recommendation.

801088 4/18

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