02 November 2009

When is Beta Alpha? Or V/V?

It's Spring 2007, Geo. W. Bush, Chas. Prince, Rick Wagoner, Robt. Steel and even Stan O'Neal are still bosses of their respective organizations. You detect a pattern and consider a range of investment decisions. You select one and hold it through thick and (mostly) thin until Spring 2009. Here they are your choices from 2007:

Buy the S&P 500 (SPY). (100%)
Short SPY. (-100%)
Buy the SPY at 130% and Short AIG (-30%) Net 100%
Buy some banks JPM and GS (50%+50%) and short some banks WB and C (-50%+-50%) Net 0%
You buy 50 low beta, big cap stocks (100%) and you short 50 high beta small cap stocks (-100%) Net 0%
You buy SPY (100%) and you short XLF financials (-100%) Net 0%
You go to cash (0%)

Which would have been the worst? No question is was #1 - long SPY. Which one would have done best? An interesting question but not the one I am interested in. Would the good 'investment decisions' have been indications of special market skill? Would they have been a measure of stock selection i.e. 'alpha'? Or would it have been market timing i.e. 'beta'? With the benefit of hindsight would it have been easier to get the beta right or the alpha? That's an easy one, beta. Presumably as we sit at another market inflection point, it makes most sense to spend 130% of your time on beta and perhaps waste no more than 30% on Twitter, Facebook or Alpha.

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