zwitserlanden
Trading is an opportunity to capture alpha

Trading is an opportunity to capture alpha

05-03-2018 | Insight

Trading is often considered a necessary, but tedious and costly step of the investment process. However, it should also be seen as an opportunity to improve performance. Moreover, there are ways to make trading more efficient and better integrate it into the investment value chain, in particular for quantitative strategies, says Wouter Tilgenkamp, a member of our equity trading team in charge of R&D.

  • Wouter Tilgenkamp
    Wouter
    Tilgenkamp
    Trading developer

Speed read

  • Trading is often mostly associated with costs
  • There are ways to make trading more efficient
  • Robeco is constantly trying to improve the way it trades

In your opinion, how does trading fit into the investment process and where can value be added?
“Trading is frequently associated with costs, but this is a somewhat negative perspective. I see trading more as an opportunity to capture alpha, rather than a burden on performance. One way to put it is to compare investing with car racing. In order to perform, you need to have skillful drivers: the research and portfolio management teams. But they can only be as good as the quality of their vehicle. And that is where good trading comes in.”

“To win the race, you obviously need to be there on time and get off to a good start. In investing, that means responding as quickly as possible to signals and with trading orders. But your execution also needs to be excellent, and you have to take corners in the best possible way. And a good trading team can make a difference in bringing everything together. In recent years, our efforts have focused on leveraging technology but also on removing the boundaries between portfolio management, operational portfolio management, research and trading, to make the investment process integrated and more automated.”

How can that be achieved?
“As quantitative researchers, we always try to measure everything. Initially, we quantified investment strategies, but now we also want to quantify and optimize the implementation process, in particular the implications in terms of trading. The underlying idea is that with these insights, we might be able to generate orders in a smarter way, using different instructions, different order sizes and different algorithms.”

“We want to get the best stocks in the best possible quantities, which can be quite challenging. Let’s imagine that we want to have a certain position in the market. Instinctively, we would rather trade as quickly as possible to avoid alpha fading away. In the process, however, we might disrupt the market and end up paying higher transaction costs.”

“So we would like to be fast, but we also have to be patient. We need orders to come in as quickly as possible, but we also need to trade them slowly in the markets. This is the kind of balancing act we strive for on a daily basis.”

We want to quantify and optimize the implementation process of a strategy

What do you mean by having the teams working together in a more integrated way?
“Here is an illustration. Most academic papers do not take transaction costs into account and the ones that do usually use some general model or just assume fixed costs. At Robeco we go further; we have calibrated a custom Transaction Cost Model, based on our own historical trades. This model is used directly by different departments in the portfolio construction process and simulations.”

“This helps us get realistic results in the simulations and make smarter trading choices in the portfolio construction phase. Additionally, it sets the standard for the trading department. This continuous feedback loop between the trading desk and the research teams has helped specify the portfolio construction process in the best possible way.”

These changes have been applied to some of our quantitative strategies. But they could also help improve fundamental strategies, right?
“Absolutely. The liquidity driven approach is applicable to any strategy in an investment universe with unpredictable liquidity. The use of automation and customization of algorithms is also being rolled out to the fundamental trades. Additionally, we shared insights into the usage of different order instructions and how they yielded different results in terms of trading costs with the fundamental investment teams. Based on this, fundamental portfolio managers made some enhancements. Sometimes a small change makes a big difference. Ultimately, the trading equity roadmap involves all capabilities. Coming back to the metaphor of investing and car racing, the secret lies in understanding the different requirements, and adapting the car to the needs of the driver.”

This article is an excerpt of a longer interview published in our Quant Quarterly magazine.

Stay informed on Quant investing with monthly mail updates
Stay informed on Quant investing with monthly mail updates
Subscribe

Important legal information

The content displayed on this website is exclusively directed at qualified investors, as defined in the swiss collective investment schemes act of 23 june 2006 ("cisa") and its implementing ordinance, or at “independent asset managers” which meet additional requirements as set out below. Qualified investors are in particular regulated financial intermediaries such as banks, securities dealers, fund management companies and asset managers of collective investment schemes and central banks, regulated insurance companies, public entities and retirement benefits institutions with professional treasury or companies with professional treasury.

The contents, however, are not intended for non-qualified investors. By clicking "I agree" below, you confirm and acknowledge that you act in your capacity as qualified investor pursuant to CISA or as an “independent asset manager” who meets the additional requirements set out hereafter. In the event that you are an "independent asset manager" who meets all the requirements set out in Art. 3 para. 2 let. c) CISA in conjunction with Art. 3 CISO, by clicking "I Agree" below you confirm that you will use the content of this website only for those of your clients which are qualified investors pursuant to CISA.

Representative in Switzerland of the foreign funds registered with the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority ("FINMA") for distribution in or from Switzerland to non-qualified investors is Robeco Switzerland AG, Josefstrasse 218, 8005 Zürich, and the paying agent is UBS Switzerland AG, Bahnhofstrasse 45, 8001 Zürich. Please consult www.finma.ch for a list of FINMA registered funds.

Neither information nor any opinion expressed on the website constitutes a solicitation, an offer or a recommendation to buy, sell or dispose of any investment, to engage in any other transaction or to provide any investment advice or service. An investment in a Robeco/Robeco Switzerland product should only be made after reading the related legal documents such as management regulations, articles of association, prospectuses, key investor information documents and annual and semi-annual reports, which can be all be obtained free of charge at this website, at the registered seat of the representative in Switzerland, as well as at the Robeco/Robeco Switzerland offices in each country where Robeco has a presence. In respect of the funds distributed in Switzerland, the place of performance and jurisdiction is the registered office of the representative in Switzerland.

This website is not directed to any person in any jurisdiction where, by reason of that person's nationality, residence or otherwise, the publication or availability of this website is prohibited. Persons in respect of whom such prohibitions apply must not access this website.

I Disagree