So you' d like to try some of the risk-management and return-boosting strategies of people like Ken Griffin, 2015's top-earning hedge fund manager as head of Citadel Investments. But you're not knowledgeable about or comfortable with sophisticated investment tools like futures. It turns out you can still invest in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that employs futures in some of the same ways that hedge fund managers do.
Most funds do not use futures. Fund prospectuses typically rule out use of futures as well as other derivatives. They usually describe investment strategies that involve only buying and selling stocks and bonds.
Futures are, however, commonly employed in some types of funds. Some bond funds will use futures to hedge against changes in interest rates. Certain equities funds may employ futures to generate leverage in expectation of increasing returns beyond what a cash-only position could provide.
Commodities funds are the type of funds that most commonly use futures. Commodities funds employ futures contracts as an alternative to actually owning and taking possession of oil, livestock, precious metals or other commodities.
"Funds targeted towards these asset types use futures as it is often difficult to acquire, trade and store these physical commodities," explains Drew Jackson, president of Concorde Asset Management in Livonia, Mich.
REX Shares takes a different approach with a pair of recently created exchange-traded funds that hedge investments in stock indexes by investing in gold futures. The technique allows investors to invest long-term in equities, while diversifying with gold, which tends to not track moves in the stock market.
"We do it as potentially a more efficient way to get exposure to gold," says REX CEO Greg King. "We see investors who are looking for a solution that gives them exposure to gold but also allows them to maintain exposure to stocks."
Investors who want that combination can purchase shares in REX ETFs and let a team of professional investors handle details of the futures contracts. "It's all packaged up in one investment and gives the entire exposure all at once," King says. "It's a convenience factor."
King says financial advisors have shown good interest in the EFTs, but that individual investors have been less interested. "We don't spend too much time speaking to retail investors directly," he says.
Advisors often recommend against individual investors using futures or funds that employ futures. Barbara Delaney, founder of StoneStreet Advisor Group in Pearl River, New York, says they employ futures only for institutional clients, such as pension funds. "Within the context of 401(k) plans we manage, none of our funds use futures," she says.
Advisors often recommend against individuals using futures and funds that use futures because of the potentially higher costs, volatility and complexity compared to conventional long-only strategies. "It's a complex strategy that is typically used on an institutional level," Delaney says.
Ric Edelman, Chairman and CEO of Edelman Financial Services in Fairfax, Va., agrees that individual investors should avoid futures and funds that use them. "The fact that you can do certain trading strategies is a very different thing than saying that you should," Edelman says. "In my opinion, there's no justification for options or futures contracts to be used by mutual funds."