Alternative Investing

Where the Wild Things Aren't: Using Derivatives and Leverage to Improve Portfolio Performance

Topics - Alternative Investing Portfolio Construction Leverage

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Where the Wild Things Aren't: Using Derivatives and Leverage to Improve Portfolio Performance

Institutional Investor

In the current world of modest risk premia, investors face a choice: Limit their investment options and concentrate their risks in traditional equities, or diversify and build more stable portfolios more likely to meet their difficult benefit and spending requirements. Choosing the latter course has a lot of appeal, but it will require — brace yourself — the prudent use of leverage and derivatives.

Investors who cannot or will not use leverage and derivatives are resigned to allow equity market direction drive their portfolio performance. We think a better option is to choose and manage your risks by applying modest leverage to a more diversified portfolio because we believe this approach delivers higher risk-adjusted returns with smaller tail events. Both concentration and modest leverage are risks, and nobody should tell you different. But concentrating in equities simply because it is the more common choice does not make it any less scary.

Leverage and derivatives are just tools. At their best they are useful — in some cases, essential — to reduce risks, by allowing investors to improve asset allocation, make shifts efficiently and cheaply, implement intended bets, close market inefficiencies that would be left open, and transfer risk between parties.

Particularly in a world of narrow risk premiums, growing liabilities and lofty return goals, improvement over tradition is necessary. The way forward is to use everything we have learned from experience and theory to invest wisely the great pools of assets we manage.

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The information contained herein is only as current as of the date indicated, and may be superseded by subsequent market events or for other reasons. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AQR Capital Management, LLC, its affiliates or its employees. This information is not intended to, and does not relate specifically to any investment strategy or product that AQR offers. It is being provided merely to provide a framework to assist in the implementation of an investor’s own analysis and an investor’s own view on the topic discussed herein. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.


Hypothetical performance results have many inherent limitations, some of which, but not all, are described herein. The hypothetical performance shown was derived from the retroactive application of a model developed with the benefit of hindsight.  Hypothetical performance results are presented for illustrative purposes only.


Diversification does not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment loss.


Certain publications may have been written prior to the author being an employee of AQR.

This material is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice of a qualified attorney or tax advisor.


AQR Capital Management is a global investment management firm, which may or may not apply similar investment techniques or methods of analysis as described herein. The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of AQR.