These guys sell insurance against bear markets

You can buy a security for a stock or bond portfolio. It will not be cost free.


sPring 2020. Paul Kim, a middle-aged father of three, with a house in the suburbs and a trustworthy job at a Midwestern insurance company, does something crazy. He quits his job to start his own company.

“It’s one thing to jump into the early part of a bull market,” he recalls, now on safe ground. “But people were panicking. The market was tanking. It looked like a depression and a medical emergency.”

In fact, the timing wasn’t completely crazy. Kim’s venture, Simplified Asset Management, markets exchange-traded funds that protect portfolios from disasters such as stock market crashes and interest rate spikes. The best time to sell such things is when the world is falling apart. As the pandemic unfolded, Kim convinced herself that either she was going to start a company or she was never going to do it and would go to her grave with regrets.

The year they were wowed through the investment-company-building paperwork, the market improved. If the beautiful days had returned for good, the new venture would have been doomed. But there was no happy time for the bulls. For Kim, Providence came as a simultaneous return to both stock and bond prices this year.

That double collapse dealt a blow to retirement savers, who were convinced that bonds would balance the dangers of stocks. They were desperate for a different kind of risk reduction. This is what Simplify sells.

One of the Kim K funds, the Simplified Interest Rate Hedge ETF, makes money when bonds sink. This year (as of July 20) it is up 50%. Another fund of his, which owns stocks as well as partial insurance against bear markets, is only half that of the stock market this year. Simplify has invested $1.4 billion in its lineup of 21 funds, each offering an unusual pattern of risk and rewards across stocks, bonds, commodities and cryptocurrencies.

Kim’s cofounder and junior shareholder in this fling is David Burns, who is trained as a physicist. Like Kim, Burns has escaped the insurance industry. But their career paths were different. Kim, 45, has the anticipated Ivy League undergraduate (Dartmouth) and Wharton MBA degrees you’d expect for PIMCO and then a product manager at Principal Financial Group. Burns, 43, is the son of two New York City police officers and says he would have joined the force if his mother hadn’t insisted on typing an application for him to Tufts, a college.


“If you avoid big losses with a strong defense, victory will have every opportunity to take care of itself.”

—Charles Aliso


Burns received a degree from Tufts and then a Ph.D. in 2008. in physics from MIT. His dissertation was about using superconducting circuits to make the quantum equivalent of a transistor. Classmates took on the task of researching quantum computers, devices that might someday conquer mathematical tasks beyond the reach of ordinary machines. Burns delved into the principles of portfolio construction.

Physics, money—is there a connection? there are. The spread of heat over time, for example, parallels the spread of stock prices. Putting his research in practical terms, Burns explains that it is about risk and how people perceive it.

Kim and Burns were taking a risk when they started a firm without the backing of an angel. Maybe Kim was trying to prove something. He came to America at the age of 4. Her parents, now retired, started with a fruit stand in Queens, New York, and eventually built a wholesale business. If they can succeed as entrepreneurs, surely they can. He says of his work launching the ETF at PIMCO: “Once you’ve built a $20 billion platform, what do you have? You don’t own it. It’s just a job.”


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lower dollar

Even the Great Depression was a boom time—for some who were positioned to profit from the market’s plight. Floyd b. Take Odlum, a “quiet, dazzling, sandy-haired financial genius” who fell out of the Bull Run of 1929, predicting a crash, then $100 million ($2.3 billion in today’s dollars). Earned, which escalates the distressed investment to pennies. Dollar after Black Tuesday.

If you wanted to run from $1,500 to $10,000 during the last four years, you’d have to do what Odlum did. He only started with $15,000,000 and now controls $100,000,000! He believes in spreading risk by diversification; Banks in their portfolio include; utilities; chain stores; agricultural machinery, petroleum, biscuit,

Shoe and automobile companies. “But,” he says, “in times like these you have to do something other than just sit on a portfolio.” When investment trust stocks were trading as low as 50 percent of their true value on the market, it wasn’t difficult for a skilled negotiator like Odlum to quietly buy control. -Forbes, July 15, 1933


The two raised enough equity from family and friends to get the business off the ground. At the half-billion dollar mark in assets, he had enough credibility to run out of money. Kim, a billionaire, does not identify stepping in with $10 million for a 25% stake.

The rate hedge fund, which has $296 million, is involved in the bulk of the bets against Treasury bonds. It owns out-of-the-money put options, which affect payouts dirtier if, six years from now, 20-year Treasuries are yielding one percentage point higher than the current one.

Rates do not have to go beyond the strike point of those options to make options more valuable. When interest rates rise, as is the case this year, the long-shot put has a better chance of paying off and increasing in price.

Simplify gives no illusion that its rate hedge fund is a way of making money in itself. It is like fire insurance. With some of this it becomes more tolerable to hold a more traditional fixed-income asset, such as a portfolio of long-maturity municipal bonds, and hold that asset through bull and bear markets.

Simplified Hedged Equity ETFs have a different strategy. This one has put-option antidotes to bear the markets already added to the S&P 500 portfolio that they are designed to protect. The combination is intended to compete with the old standby of pension investing, a 60/40 mix of stocks and bonds. So far this year, Simplified’s offering is looking good, with the S&P down 16% and the overall bond market down 10%. Hedged equity is down 8%; The Vanguard Balanced Index Fund is down 15%.

Investors have a distorted perception of risk, Burns says, and with portfolios in the air they can’t keep up during severe market moves. Their advisors don’t always prepare them. Indeed, he says, “people on Wall Street try hard to hide the risks of their products.”

A culprit in this process is the almost universal habit of measuring risk by a number, the variation in the month-to-month movement of an asset’s price. adds variance classes How far do share prices move from their starting point? burns cares Cubes. Mysterious? not at all. Just look at the variation, and you’re going to love a strategy that combines lots of small gains with occasional big losses.

This is what you get, for example, in a junk bond fund or a fund that increases its monthly income by writing a call option. Such things sell because it misleads investors into thinking that they can enjoy less risk and increased income at the same time.


how to play it

by William Baldwin

Eliminate risk from portfolio? Can’t be done, unless you eliminate returns (Treasury bills don’t keep up with inflation). However, you can ease the pain of a bear market. Simplify Interest Rate Hedge ETF (ticker: PFIX; expense ratio: 0.5%) is a strong analgesic, not growing five times as fast as the overall bond market decline this year. A $10,000 dose should almost halve the loss from rising rates to a $100,000 stake in the total bond market fund. If interest rates come down, PFIX will suffer, but that will be a good problem, as your core bond fund will be performing well.

William Baldwin is Forbes’ Investment Strategies columnist.


Calculations with cubes, which statisticians call “skewness,” puts a red flag on such strategies. It favors a mirror image of the return pattern: sometimes many small sacrifices in exchange for large payouts. A positive slant is what gets you to the $449 million Simplify US Equity Plus Downside Convexity ETF, which doesn’t do much in this year’s stock-only correction, but will kick into high gear. crash. This pattern holds true for some investors who can handle a 20% drop but not a 50% drop.

Burns says: “We fabricate the return distribution. The alternatives are the scalpel.”

Simplified ETFs cost more than plain old index funds, but much less than private hedge funds that offer optimized return distribution. Rate hedge ETFs have an annual fee of 0.5%; hedged equity funds, 0.53%; Downside Convexity Fund, 0.28%.

“ETFs Are a Better Mousetrap” [than a hedge fund],” says Kim. “It’s cheap. It is more transparent. It is more tax-efficient. ,

Kim’s 23-employee firm isn’t in the black yet, but she expects it to be soon. “ETFs are like a movie studio,” he says. “You’re looking for a blockbuster to fund the business.” He won’t admit to praying for a catastrophic bear market in stocks or bonds that’s worse than what we have, but an event like this would probably deliver that blockbuster.

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