NEW YORK (HedgeWorld.com)–Several recent events such as alleged mispricing of asset-backed bonds at Clinton Group are pushing investors and regulators to pay more attention to how portfolio assets are valued. This time they have help from the Investor Risk Committee of the International Association of Financial Engineers.
A working paper with a comprehensive list of issues concerning valuation is now available at www.iafe.org. The group advises against one-size-fits-all rules, instead presenting a total of about 170 sets of questions, to be tailored for specific needs.
“We did not rank the questions because the most critical aspects of valuations vary according to, for example, the underlying strategies of the portfolio, asset class, level of internal controls, quality of risk management and staff, and accessibility to management,” explained Leon Metzger of Paloma Partners, who led the IAFE study.
HedgeWorld asked him which one he would choose if he were allowed to raise only one issue with a manager. Mr. Metzger replied that if one could only ask one question, perhaps it might be, “Which questions on this list would you not want to answer, and why?”
It should be more valuable to the investor if this question is answered in a dialogue rather than in writing, he pointed out. That way the investor can ask follow-up questions if the answer is unclear. IAFE discourages turning the document into a formal questionnaire.
Rather, the study is meant to guide investors’ discussions with managers. One general rule it advocates is transparency in valuation policies, practices and procedures. Investors must understand these in order to assess whether an investment is suitable for them, the paper argues.
“Going through a checklist and putting that into your file does not do the job,” says Mr. Metzger. “The more you know the better off you are as an investor.”
Idiosyncratic or arbitrary pricing methods are a particular concern. “Does the firm mark to a proprietary model?” is one of the first questions in the report. “If so, why is that better than the alternatives? What are the alternatives?”
Continuing with this line of investigation, the study suggests looking at how a firm addresses any difference between the price generated by the proprietary model vs. the price realized when the position is closed. “What process does the firm use to seek independent valuations of such trades on a regular basis to compare to internal model results?” it asks.