The Alpha Exchange is a podcast series launched by Dean Curnutt to explore topics in financial markets, risk management and capital allocation in the alternatives industry. Our in depth discussions with highly established industry professionals seek to uncover the nuanced and complex interactions between economic, monetary, financial, regulatory and geopolitical sources of risk. We aim to learn from the perspective our guests can bring with respect to the history of financial and business cycles, promoting a better understanding among listeners as to how prior periods provide important context to present day dynamics. The “price of risk” is an important topic. Here we engage experts in their assessment of risk premium levels in the context of uncertainty. Is the level of compensation attractive? Because Central Banks have played so important a role in markets post crisis, our discussions sometimes aim to better understand the evolution of monetary policy and the degree to which the real and financial economy will be impacted. An especially important area of focus is on derivative products and how they interact with risk taking and carry dynamics. Our conversations seek to enlighten listeners, for example, as to the factors that promoted the February melt-down of the VIX complex. We do NOT ask our guests for their political opinions. We seek a better understanding of the market impact of regulatory change, election outcomes and events of geopolitical consequence. Our discussions cover markets from a macro perspective with an assessment of risk and opportunity across asset classes. Within equity markets, we may explore the relative attractiveness of sectors but will NOT discuss single stocks.
Retrospective Episode: Reflections on Women in Finance
Welcome to a special Alpha Exchange Retrospective podcast in which I highlight discussions with female guests and their reflections on efforts to empower careers for women in the field of finance. I launched the Alpha Exchange back in 2018 to host conversations with prominent investors, strategists and policymakers that explored the world of market risk. Over the course of these last 5, most interesting years, I’ve been fortunate to engage with 135 individuals, soliciting their perspectives, uncovering their frameworks and asking them to detail the lens through which they evaluate the trade-off between risk and opportunity. Among my guests, 22 have been women. I’m pleased to say that 2023 is already a record year for female guests at 9. These guests are chief investment officers, heads of derivative strategy, hedge fund founders, heads of asset allocation and macro credit research. Female guests of the podcast are, almost always, mothers as well.
I enjoyed putting this together, hoping to highlight what leading women in our industry think about efforts to expand opportunities for females in the investment industry.
Dennis DeBusschere, Co-Founder and Chief Market Strategist, 22V Research
Game 5 of the 1973 NBA finals would be the last one played by Wilt Chamberlain, as the Lakers lost to a NY Knick team that featured basketball legends Walt Clyde Frazier, Earl the Pearl Monroe and Willis Reed. A fourth hall of famer, Dave DeBusschere, donning the number 22, also played an instrumental role in what was the last championship for the Knicks. 50 years later, his son, Dennis DeBusschere, is a co-founder and the Chief Market Strategist at 22V Research, a firm advising institutional clients on risk and asset allocation.
My conversation with Dennis explores his process for uncovering the interaction between the economy, inflation and the Fed’s reaction function. He emphasizes the importance of the financial conditions channel, asserting that economic growth that proves too resilient will force the market to ultimately confront policy that is higher for longer. A large part of our conversation is around the linkages that Dennis and his team find in various equity factors to macro variables like the shape of the yield curve. Of these, one interesting assertion is that defensive stocks and factors like low vol have provided little safety in the context of bear steepening. Lastly, we talk about hedging in an environment of stock/bond correlation levels that remain unfriendly. Here he points to a customized short basket he’s developed comprised of stocks with deteriorating short-term debt levels and high cash flow volatility.
I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Dennis DeBusschere.
Darrell Duffie, The Adams Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Finance, Stanford University
Over a distinguished 40-year career as an academician in finance, Darrell Duffie has made important contributions to our collective understanding of how markets work. Earning a PhD from Stanford in 1984, Darrell has taught finance there ever since and now serves as the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Finance at the Graduate School of Business. Along the way he has written several books, authored countless papers and provided guidance to policymakers who have sought his counsel in addressing complex regulatory questions.
We review some of Darrell’s research over the past 4 decades, starting with equilibrium models of asset pricing in the 80’s, termstructure models in the 90’s and work on default correlation post the GFC. We spend most of our time on his recent research on the US Treasury market, that risk-free asset class that recently appears anything but. Darrell shares some conclusions from analysis of the melt-down of the bond market in March of 2020 and the policy implications that result. First, he states that yield volatility explains a large proportion of the breakdown of liquidity in what should be the world’s most liquid asset class. Higher vol and compromised liquidity generally go hand in hand. Darrell and colleagues show that the bond market freeze could further be traced to dealers reaching their capacity to warehouse risk, a factor that impacts liquidity in a highly non-linear manner.
We shift to the policy recommendations that arise in light of his research. First, Darrell notes that a campaign of large-scale asset purchases is considerably more effective in combatting a volatility episode when dealer balance sheets are stretched as they were in March of 2020 than the market turbulence of 2022, when dealers had space to absorb more risk. He also points to a greater need for centralized clearing in the Treasury market, a mechanism that would provide much needed netting of risk exposures. Lastly, Darrell shares some new research he is engaged in, specifically, exploring the 2024 Treasury program to buy-back securities.
I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Darrell Duffie.
Amanda Lynam, Head of Macro Credit Research, Portfolio Management Group, Private Markets, BlackRock
As head of Macro Credit Research within Private Markets at BlackRock, Amanda Lynam is responsible for assessing how the broad picture of risk impacts credit markets and the securities within them. In doing so, she marries the top down with an understanding of company fundamentals, a skillset developed during her time in a sell-side research role focused on the insurance and healthcare sectors. Our discussion takes stock of the current opportunity set in corporate credit, exploring Amanda's process for finding value amidst an environment of middling credit spreads, but high all-in yields. As most of the heavy lifting is currently being done by the risk-free component, her team sees this continuing, with a view that the bar is high for Fed rate cuts well into 2024.
Expecting a higher cost of capital to prevail for some time, Amanda expects more dispersion of returns across issuers in credit, with a view that certain capital structures that added considerable leverage when rates were low will struggle as they ultimately need to refinance. She notes that to some extent, higher rates are already biting, with defaults picking up and with the maturity wall beginning in earnest in 2025, corporates will need to engage markets on rolling paper in the not-too-distant future.
Next, we talk about the supply and demand for funds in credit markets. First, on the demand for capital side, she states that 2022 was the lowest issuance year in high yield since the GFC, a favorable technical backdrop that is fading as a tailwind this year and next. With respect to the supply of credit, a topic that has received more attention post the SVB debacle, Amanda shares her team's focus on opportunities in private credit, a market she sees as expanding amidst the contraction in bank lending and offering higher spread compensation.
We finish the discussion with some of Amanda's views on the progress of empowering careers for women in finance. She says it is important for females to have both a mentor who helps you in the day to day and a sponsor who can help you advance on a longer-term basis. I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Amanda Lynam.
Anastasia Amoroso, Chief Investment Strategist, iCapital
As Chief Investment Strategist at iCapital, a global alternatives platform, Anastasia Amoroso is responsible for helping the firm’s clients understand changes in the macro regime and how capital should be allocated in response. We start our discussion by considering the current state of affairs – of high interest rates, of correlated moves in stock and bond prices and resilient economic growth – and exploring where history is and is not relevant.
Here, Anastasia highlights the degree to which both consumers and corporations are far less sensitive to interest rate increases than they were in the pre-GFC era. Higher rates are a concern, but they need not derail the case for risk assets like stocks which have delivered good returns amidst higher rates in the past. For Anastasia, an instructive framework for evaluating opportunity is one that considers valuation, positioning and a catalyst. And in the context of this last factor, she notes favorable earnings revisions which are showing signs of recently bottoming and strong earnings growth, specifically in the tech sector. We spend the bulk of our time on the important topic of diversification and the faltering performance of the traditional 60/40 portfolio. She highlights exposure to global macro hedge funds, a strategy that delivered a 9% return in 2022 as both the stock and bond market lost nearly 20%.
We finish the conversation by having Anastasia reflect on the state of female careers in financial services. She states that the industry has become more inclusive and more representative of women in leadership roles. With this progress noted, she sees a gap in women serving in the middle, between junior and senior roles, potentially the result of the unique demands on females that often include family responsibilities. Ongoing attention to office/life balance and creating a degree of flexibility in work is likely one part of the remedy here.
I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Anastasia Amoroso.
Torsten Slok, Partner and Chief Economist, Apollo Global Management
Armed with a PhD in economics, Torsten Slok spent several years at the OECD, doing deep dive analysis and making policy recommendations on big picture issues such as pension reform, tax systems and health care policy, before ultimately hitting Wall Street. He spent more than 15 years on the sell-side, a period that included the GFC and Pandemic and the lean rate years between them.
Now a Partner and Chief Economist at Apollo Global Management, Torsten is providing input on the macroeconomic backdrop and the implications for the firm’s investments. Our discussion primarily considers the joint states of the economy and inflation - where we’ve been, where we’re headed and the read through on Fed policy. On the economy, Torsten suggests that in this cycle, the transmission of changes in monetary policy to the real economy is especially lagged as both individuals and corporates have largely shielded themselves from rate increases.
On inflation, Torsten describes the ebbing and flowing of goods versus services inflation. The latter, which fell sharply during the Pandemic lock-downs has re-emerged as consumers travel, stay at hotels and attend concerts. We then talk about wages, which Torsten believes the Fed sees as still too high. Moderation here is a key part of reducing service sector inflation which, in turn, is needed to reduce the overall level of inflation.
I hope you enjoy this episode of the Alpha Exchange, my conversation with Torsten Slok.
Glad I found it
Thanks so much for creating it public
It’s definitely worth your time if you are trying to stay informed.
Colin Lancaster interview was great
Alpha Exchange is one of my favorite podcasts. Really smart discussions around global macro, volatility, convexity. Great guests and Dean is a fantastic interviewer