Highlights from the 2022 Alternatives Summit
A volatile and uncertain macro backdrop has left investors wondering how many times they will be faced with “once-in-a-lifetime” events. At the 21st annual two-day Alternatives Summit held at our global headquarters in New York, over 400 clients heard from 61 leading investors, economists, policy analysts, scientists, technologists, and Goldman Sachs experts providing insights on the inflection points and disruptions driving markets today, as well as views into what lies ahead in 2023 and beyond.
Gathering of the Event
Uncertainty and volatility have become commonplace for investors in recent years, but the number of challenges and sources of risk seemingly continue to multiply. More than two years since the onset of Covid-19, the world is still grappling with both the immediate and second-order effects of the pandemic. Deglobalization was a recurring theme throughout the Summit, with the shifting geopolitical landscape influencing how issues like supply chain resilience and onshoring will be addressed going forward. There was an acknowledgement that governments today appreciate the importance of maintaining sufficient domestic supplies of key materials and manufacturing capabilities, with the energy situation in Europe noted as a prime example. The rising risk of conflict was also discussed, with our growth equity panelists highlighting that industrial defense traditionally has been under-invested, despite being the genesis of the venture capital industry.
As investors seek to navigate this environment, the increasing intersection of public and private markets is an area that will require cross-functional expertise. As traditional capital markets have become more challenged in the current environment, private market sources of financing have gained greater focus. Panelists highlighted how these strategies are often flexible, designed to adapt to shifting market conditions, but investors need to be cognizant of looking through fund structures to the underlying positions throughout the portfolio and not rely solely on strategy labels. Private markets are largely insulated from the immediate impacts of public market volatility, but longer-term dislocations will ultimately be reflected and public markets can be a guide to future private equity marks. However, some areas, like early-stage venture, may be more resilient. Investors operating in both public and private arenas are better able to evaluate the relative investment opportunities.
– Jan Hatzius, Chief Economist and Head of Global Investment Research, Goldman Sachs
– David Kostin, Chief U.S. Equity Strategist, Global Investment Research, Goldman Sachs
As the rising-tide-for-all backdrop ebbs, many of our sessions focused on how a more balanced and nuanced approach to portfolio construction will be needed going forward. Utilizing the playbooks of the past will not work—or is not a feasible option—as these changes occur. Dispersion has already increased between and within different assets classes, requiring investors to both re-underwrite existing positions and reevaluate their approach to new investments.
Real estate investors at the Summit highlighted how major trends across technology, demographics, and sustainability have created pockets of risk and opportunity across different assets and regions. Managing portfolios and sourcing new opportunities requires operational excellence in a number of areas, as well as deep expertise across markets. Renewable energy also appears to be reaching a tipping point, with both infrastructure and sustainability investors at the Summit highlighting breakthroughs that are solving key pain points in the transition from fossil fuels. Battery storage, which is crucial to solving the intermittency issues of wind and solar, is now price competitive in many situations. Despite increased focus and investment, penetration of renewables remains low today and there are opportunities across the risk spectrum—from higher-risk growth investments in new technologies, to more established areas that have risk profiles similar to traditional utilities. Our commodities research team also cited the rise of renewables and heightened ESG focus as one of the reasons why they remain bullish on commodities as a hedge against inflation and tail risk.
At a regional level, China has long been the focus for investors deploying capital in Asia, but that is beginning to change. Going forward, investors expected an increasing share of new investment to go ex-China, and that Vietnam and India stand to be among the beneficiaries. Companies are thinking about their sourcing strategy and contemplating relocation, but there has yet to be a dramatic change based on the flows of foreign direct investment.
– Scott Lebovitz, Co-Head CIO of Infrastructure, Asset Management, Goldman Sachs
– Ashok Varadhan, Global Co-Head of Global Markets, Goldman Sachs
The last decade has provided strong beta tailwinds for all asset classes, leading many investors to de-emphasize risk management. After years of accommodative fiscal and monetary policy, investors now face an unfamiliar environment, where traditional approaches and conventional pattern recognition may be of limited value. Amidst broad global headwinds, Europe has unique challenges that seem to have already led to a recession—albeit an expectedly mild one. In this environment, alpha generation should focus on three key areas: portfolio construction, deep conviction, and value creation.
Panelists at the Summit noted that today, more than ever, historical track records are incomplete signals as predictors of future performance. They are clues, not conclusions. The perils ahead are different than the ones investors have faced recently, requiring an evolution in risk management and a rethinking of portfolio exposures—not only across regions and sectors, but also the underlying drivers of returns. Investors discussed the unique risks that need to be considered and underscored that there is not a definitive approach to risk management that works for all strategies and circumstances. In an ever-changing world, however, risk management must also be an ongoing process. Many investors attempt to reduce exposure to risks that have already presented themselves, but tomorrow’s risks are rarely apparent today, requiring forward thinking.
As investors seek to fortify their portfolios, income-generating strategies have come to the forefront. The risk/reward profile in private credit was widely viewed by Summit panelists as the best since 2008, with private equity sponsors turning to direct lenders for acquisition financing of high-quality companies that would previously have exclusively used the public syndicated markets; but lenders need to be able to provide a breadth of solutions from first lien to mezz to hybrid capital. Terms are quickly shifting in both public and private credit markets with more borrowers exploring both options; investors at the Summit expected that even investment-grade credit is likely to have a large alternative private component going forward.
– Greg Olafson, Co-President of Alternatives, Asset Management, Goldman Sachs
– Peter Oppenheimer, Head of Macro Research in Europe, Global Investment Research, Goldman Sachs
While today’s risks constantly demand attention, many of our panelists emphasized that investors also need to imagine tomorrow’s solutions to long-term challenges. The world is rapidly changing, and people are often still anchored to paradigms and heuristics that are decades old and no longer relevant. People across the globe—even in what are often perceived as underdeveloped areas—generally have higher levels of education, internet access, and technological abilities than is assumed. Today, 90% of the world’s population lives in range of high-quality mobile networks, and the proportion of people living in economically “poor” countries has declined significantly over the last several decades. While there is still much work to do, and current geopolitical and economic headwinds are having an impact, there has been a lot of progress over the longer-term.
ESG and impact investing were also spotlighted at the event. Although those themes have inspired debate on many fronts, as investors the objective is to eliminate noise and focus on sustainable opportunities that are mission-critical and can be linked to profitability and returns. In general, companies want to understand how their sustainability strategy can make sense in the long run and compound returns—it’s no longer just a footnote. Investors across strategies pointed to the importance of ESG principles in driving long-term value creation.
As we enter a post-pandemic world with shifting economic, geopolitical, and demographic forces, investors remarked that new technology and approaches will be needed to connect companies, people, and ideas globally. With pricing pressure across economies, technology has proven to be one of the few truly deflationary forces throughout market cycles. Innovation is compounding over time, leading to exponential gains in several areas. We are experiencing an unprecedented period of innovation in life sciences, with the pandemic accelerating development on numerous fronts. Healthcare and biotech experts at the Summit highlighted how the COVID vaccines are a prime example of how new technologies are accelerating the drug discovery process, while collaboration is increasing between the private sector and regulatory agencies.
– Stephanie Hui, Head of Private Equity in Asia and Global Co-Head of Growth Equity within Goldman Sachs Asset Management
– Amit Sinha, Head of Life Sciences Investing, Asset Management, Goldman Sachs
Operating through complexity requires a clear strategy and strong leadership, as well as a breadth of context and information. We heard useful lessons from leaders in the public sector, sciences, and even sports that can be applied to investing – the skills required to adapt to and overcome challenges, motivate teams and individuals, and think around corners are applicable to nearly every role and occupation, and investors should keep an open mind as to where those insights could come from.
As the world changes, the needs of businesses are evolving as well. Investors and business leaders across sectors now need deep expertise in operations and engineering to effectively harness new opportunities. While technology is growing in importance, leaders need to remember that people are at the center of an organization and need to be prioritized; peoples’ need for culture, mentorship, autonomy, and continual improvement cannot be ignored.
Incentive structures are rapidly changing, with nations reconsidering strategic priorities and their relationship with capital markets. As the public and private sectors seek to navigate changing global relationships, different styles of leadership will be required. The challenge today is striking the right balance between establishing a consistent, long-term strategy while allowing for the flexibility required to adapt in a dynamic market.
– Suzanne Gauron, Global Head of Private Equity Client Solutions and Product Strategy, Asset Management, Goldman Sachs
– Ken Pontarelli, Head of Sustainability Investing, Asset Management, Goldman Sachs
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