Alternative Investment Performance and Return

Understanding Alternative Investment Performance | CFA Level I

Introduction to Alternative Investment Risks

Alternative investments carry risks that markedly differ from those associated with traditional, unleveraged, long-only investments. These risks are primarily related to the timing of cash flows, the strategic use of leverage, valuation challenges, and complex fee structures that influence the performance and return calculations of such investments.

Decoding Cash Flow Timing in Funds

Understanding the life cycle of private equity and real estate development funds is crucial due to its significant impact on investment returns. This cycle is characterized by three phases: capital commitment, capital deployment, and capital distribution, each affecting the fund’s cash inflows and outflows differently.

  • Capital Commitment Phase: Early funding requirements lead to capital calls with minimal inflows.
  • Capital Deployment Phase: Major capital outflows for funding commitments with some potential early exits or interim income.
  • Capital Distribution Phase: Realization of gains from successful exits or property sales, leading to significant cash inflows.
Timing of cash flows in alternative investments

This sequential flow results in the J-curve effect, highlighting the importance of phase-specific return calculations such as IRR (Internal Rate of Return) and M.O.I.C. (Multiple of Invested Capital). The timing of cash flows profoundly influences the return profile of alternative investments. The J-curve effect, a common phenomenon in private equity funds, illustrates how returns initially dip before potentially rebounding as investments mature. Accurate return measurement techniques like IRR provide a nuanced view of a fund’s performance over time, accounting for the complex cash flow patterns unique to alternative investments.


The Use of Leverage in Enhancing Returns

Leverage is a double-edged sword in alternative investments, amplifying both potential returns and losses. Hedge funds, in particular, use leverage through margin financing or derivatives to capitalize on small pricing anomalies. However, this approach introduces heightened risks, especially when market movements are contrary to expectations, leading to margin calls and forced liquidations.

Use of Leverage in Enhancing Returns

Valuation Challenges in Illiquid Assets

The valuation of illiquid assets, which are a staple in alternative investments, necessitates reliance on a fair value hierarchy. This hierarchy ranges from Level 1 assets with readily available market prices to Level 3 assets valued based on unobservable inputs. The subjective nature of these valuations, especially for Level 3 assets, underscores the importance of robust, transparent valuation methodologies and independent testing to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Fair value hierarchy

Complex Fee Structures in Alternative Investments

Alternative investments are known for their intricate fee structures, including management fees, incentive fees, and specific clauses like high-water marks and hurdle rates. These fees can significantly impact the net returns available to investors and underscore the need for clear understanding and careful negotiation of fee arrangements to align the interests of managers and investors.


Alternative investment performance appraisal and return calculations entail navigating a landscape rife with unique challenges and considerations. From the nuanced timing of cash flows in fund life cycles and the strategic use of leverage to the intricacies of asset valuation and the complexities of fee structures, each element plays a critical role in shaping the risk and return profile of alternative investments.

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