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Technology adds to human judgement for investment

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Coined in the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, the buzzword “fake news” continues to be a source of frustration amongst politicians, media houses and big corporates alike.
In the realm of investing, however, whether information is based on fact or fiction is less of a concern, as the real value exists in an investor’s ability to objectively read the market sentiment that this incessant ream of information is inciting.
Given the deluge of data that today’s investors are faced with, there is an increasing need for filtering tools. Grant Watson, co-manager of the Old Mutual Managed Alpha Equity Fund, says that this is essentially what machine-readable news – a quantitative tool developed and used in his Fund – was designed for.
“The world is moving into a hugely tech-driven age, but in an era of information overload, the combination of technology with human judgement will prove to be the most powerful investment tool of the future.”
Fawaz Fakier, an analyst for the Managed Equity Fund, notes that while the world is moving at a rapid pace, with technology at the forefront of this, the investment industry has, to some extent, lagged behind.
“While the introduction of machine-readable news as one of the factors in our quantitative model took place less than a year ago, the availability of machine-readable news data goes back to 2012, which allowed for extensive research to be done before incorporating it into our process. Nevertheless, the technology is still in its infancy and, as far as we know, no other local competitors are using it.
“In terms of the news coverage we track using this tool, we get our data from Thomson Reuters – the mass media and information provider that covers in excess of two million business or economics related articles per day,” he adds.
Speaking on the innovative opportunities identified by the screening of machine-readable news, Watson explains that the model essentially enables the analysis of large amounts of data, offering insight into market sentiment to anticipate the behaviour of the ‘herd’.
“One of the key outputs we get is general tone of news items, which enables us to ascertain whether an article has a negative or positive connotation and how this will impact investor behaviour. By blending human analysis with mechanical objectivity, the model enables us to assess how any behavioural biases can be exploited.”
Fakier says that the model has helped the Old Mutual Managed Alpha Equity Fund identify a number of market opportunities. “Essentially, it’s a fund for all seasons, as it adapts to the themes that are driving the market. We’re able to achieve fantastic investment returns for individuals and create wealth, irrespective of whether the market is going up or down, because our buy-discipline is as good as our sell-discipline.
“If you look at our portfolio, we have a broad holding of roughly a hundred odd shares, yet we’re not experiencing huge drawdowns when the market is volatile. This stability in returns allows for consistent incremental gains, which means we are able to keep compounding up off a higher base over time.”
This, he says, is true wealth generation.
But does the approach work? Watson claims the proof is in the pudding. “The Managed Alpha Equity Fund is the top performing fund across the Old Mutual platform over almost all time periods – over two, three, five, seven, 10 years, the fund is consistently top quartile. Another critical point to note here is that the core fund management team (Watson, Saliegh Salaam and Warren McLeod) has remained consistent for more than a decade, further cementing the premium long-term track record of having outperformed the market over the past 15 years of varying market conditions.”
Watson concedes that the world is constantly changing, which is why this particular model is dynamic enough to adapt and take into account multiple changing variables. “We officially run our investment process review on a monthly basis, however, we are looking at the portfolio daily and are able to make adjustments if and when as required.
“Currently, this model has only been used in the Old Mutual Managed Alpha Equity Fund; however, based on performance, we’re looking to roll it out across our global Managed Alpha fund in the future.”