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Stephen Fisher

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Stephen Fisher takes a non-traditional view on investment.

What’s your story?
I am currently Principal and CIO of First Degree Global Asset Management Pte Ltd in Singapore. Prior to that I worked for JP Morgan Asset Management for 18 years where I was Regional Head for Fixed Income Product Asia-Pacific. I completed a PhD in Finance in 1992 and have been in research and portfolio management ever since

What is your involvement with Investment?
Finance is in my blood. I started investing at the age of 7 years, spent my school vacations at the Stock Exchange trading for my personal account and decided to study the science of investing in order to know as much about the field as I could. I spent my time at JPMorgan Asset Management trying to introduce modern methods into a traditional investment process. In 2011, my partners and I decided to start our own firm to pursue a non-traditional strategy that is truly unique.

How did that come about?
Non-traditional investing is quantitatively rigorous and I have been researching what determines the ‘risk premium’ for 30 years. The Global Financial Crisis was misinterpreted by traditional investors as driven by default risk. Our non-traditional view focused on investors’ attitude towards taking risk – this is called ‘risk-aversion.’ Traditional investors during the GFC sold out cheaply since they feared economic collapse. Our non-traditional approach bought cheap assets instead by providing liquidity to an increasingly risk-averse market. Hindsight favours our interpretation.

We set up First Degree in 2011 to offer this strategy to the broader investment market.

What are some of the key things you have learnt about Investing?
The PhD taught me that most of what we observe in financial markets, perhaps 90%, we don’t really understand. I am constantly amused by the newspapers and commentators who try to explain every market move somehow rather than just admitting that ‘…we don’t know…’ Noise, or market randomness, is all around us which makes investing extremely difficult. The corollary is, that if you can find a systematic, structural pattern within the markets then you can make a lot of money.

What mistakes do you see less experienced investors making?
Inexperienced investors often think that investing is easy and just start buying or selling stuff without a plan. Would you build a house without a plan? Inexperienced investors have a gung-ho attitude that inevitably gets them into a small number of concentrated positions, taking unnecessary risks for no return.

By plan I mean you need to start with an overall strategic objective and then allow limited tactical deviations. The strategic allocation to the various asset classes is critical since this determines 95% of the long run return. Tactical trading attempts to identify ‘alpha’. Alpha is uncorrelated sources of return which are very difficult to find. I would recommend most investors not to try to make alpha.

Experienced investors understand that making alpha is hard, that it requires patience and a niche, and that every little basis point earned is sacred.

What mistakes do you see Entrepreneurs making?
Entrepreneurs underestimate the value of distribution. It’s one thing to have a great product but it’s another thing to find customers and sell it. Distribution strategies need to be factored in and pursued from day one. Generating cash asap will keep you in the game.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My first boss at JPMorgan in New York dispatched me off to Australia with the advice “…take a few risks.”

What advice would you give to those seeking funding?
Focus on what you have done rather than what you want to do. Proof statements are worth much more than business plans and wish-lists.

Who inspires you?
Shane Warne – the greatest spin bowler of all time and a radical, rebellious, anti-establishmentarian.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Apparently, the most commonly used technique in Artificial Intelligence is linear regression!!! This method has been around for centuries and it means I have been using AI all my life without even knowing it! It’s great to see that statistical methods are now achieving broad acceptance and adoption in our everyday life.

It also means that the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is a great misnomer – there is nothing ‘artificial’ nor ‘intelligent’ about linear regression (nor any of the other techniques used in AI). The AI-craze is largely marketing hype.

What business book do you recommend the most?
“A non-random walk down Wall Street” by Lo and MacKinlay is my favourite finance book since it sets out the foundations for active decision making. This is a modern response to Bert Malkiel’s “A random walk down Wall Street” that was critical of all active strategies. The point of Lo and MacKinlays’ work is that financial markets display a much richer statistical structure than the simple tests undertaken by the pioneers of modern finance would have us believe. This can be exploited for profit.

Shameless plug for your business/organisation:
First Degree Global Asset Management offers a truly unique, long-horizon investment strategy which has performed consistently for over 8 years. We exploit the well established phenomenon that forecasts power for the risk-premium using observable market variables is increasing in the time horizon.

First Degree also holds a Capital Markets Services licence issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and offers a licensing platform for fund managers who seek to locate their operations in Singapore.

How can people connect with you?
Website: www.firstdegree.asia
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +65 9841 2002

Social Media profiles?
My blog: http://www.firstdegree.asia/the-first-degree-view
Investing videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFsYzq3Oq9VYHr2-YI76W6Q
Google search “stephen fisher first degree”

This article is part of the World Business Angel Forum media partnership with AsianEntrepreneur.org

If you would like more information about WBAF, please contact Callum Laing WBAF High Commissioner for Singapore. [email protected]

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Easy to invest. Impossible to exit?

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Investors are living through the most exciting time in 400 years!

Is Entrepreneurship about Invention or Innovation?  If you watch any of the Dragons Den type shows on TV you would be forgiven for thinking that the way to become an entrepreneur is to invent a new product.  Look through history and it is littered with inventions that have changed the world.  As Emerson is reputed to have said ‘Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’.   Yet not only do we no longer live in the sellers market that Emerson did in the in late nineteenth century, the reality is that just like a ‘better mousetrap’ entrepreneurship is about refining what has gone before to create even more value for others.  Any investor that is waiting for the perfect invention, is in for a long wait.

In February 2018, over a thousand of the top entrepreneurs and investment professionals from around the world are going to be gathering in Istanbul, Turkey for the annual World Business Angel Forum.  This years topic is Innovation.  While innovation is most definitely at the core of entrepreneurship it is an area that has been sadly lacking in finance and investing.

Fortunately that is changing and we are in the middle of probably the most exciting changes in investment and funding since the Dutch East India company decided to sell shares to the public in the 1600’s.  This means that listening to and learning from the best thought leaders in this area from around the world will be critical to seeing where the market is going next.

Innovation typically takes 3 forms.  Incremental, Disruptive and Radical.  As far as investment for startups and early stage companies, the last few years has most definitely touched all three of those areas.  Whether it is crowdfunding, the rise of Angel investing, or the recent flood of money into Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s), the world of early stage investing has changed beyond recognition in the last 10-20 years.

Yet there is also change at the other end of the equation.  No longer are companies in a hurry to go public.  IPO’s are down 50% from 20 years ago meaning it has never been easier to invest in a company, yet conversely it has also never been harder to exit.  Secondary markets and innovations like Agglomeration have popped up to serve both the entrepreneur and the investors who wish to support and profit from them.

Governments, policymakers, and key players of the equity markets will gather for WBAF 2018 and will be focusing on building partnerships, fostering connections, and discussion of democratising access to finance.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an Investor it is time to get innovative and get yourself to Istanbul.

Where:  Istanbul, Turkey
When:  18 – 20th February 2018
How:  Tickets at http://wbaf2018.istanbul/

World Business Angel Forum is an official partner of AsianEntrepreneur and supports Entrepreneurs around the world.

This article is part of the World Business Angel Forum media partnership with AsianEntrepreneur.org

If you would like more information about WBAF, please contact Callum Laing WBAF High Commissioner for Singapore. [email protected]

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Are ICO’s the death of Angels?

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Killing Angels. Are Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s) the death of early stage investing?

Imagine a startup that aims to build a decentralised cloud storage network, essentially disrupting platforms such as Dropbox and Box. The startup, not having a working product or any traction yet, decides to raise funding.  It does this very successfully raising $257 million. In the past year, this and stories like it have dominated the funding discussions thanks to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Yet most traditional Venture Capitalists (VC’s) and Angels missed out on these ‘opportunities’ and have started questioning where their role sits moving forward.

At the annual World Business Angel Forum coming up in February, you can be sure that amongst the normal topics of macro trends, impact investing and philanthropy, that ICO’s are going to be the amongst the hottest conversations both at the conference and in the hallways and bars afterwards.

With ICO’s overtaking early stage Venture Capital it is a topic that everyone is keen to understand

As opposed to equity/debt financing, ICOs are events where a startup raises funding through issuing tokens to the public. These tokens do not represent a stake in the company; rather, it primarily serves either as a securities or utility token. Securities tokens attempt to provide investors with returns for holding them while utility tokens act as “gas” for using the system the startup builds. Either way, investors aim to profit off these tokens on the various crypto exchanges. According to data from ICObench, ICO proceeds increased 141-fold, from $9.7million in Feb 2017 to $1.3billion in Dec 2017.

With more than 180 new ICOs scheduled to launch in 2018  it is easy to see why it is dominating conversations.

Of course, it is not just just early stage investors that are watching this space closely,  governments too are beginning to notice. Late last year, South Korea joined China in banning all forms of ICOs.

But for every South Korea and China, there is Switzerland or Estonia, the former known as Crypto Valley for its political stability and support for ICOs , the latter recently announcing to launch est-coin in its bid to be the global ICO hub.

The question for investors and for governments is whether this is another unsustainable bubble or whether it is some much needed innovation in a sector screaming out to get more funding into the hands of those creating value.  The lack of regulation certainly presents potential investors with another risk factor.

For those looking for a safer way to get involved, one option might be funds such as Polychain Capital and Fenbushi Capital. They specialise in blockchain vertical only portfolios. These funds also do invest in pre-sales, enjoying discounts on token prices and occupying an advisory seat on a startup’s board. This in turn provides the startup with more credibility, boosting demand and eventually prices of the tokens. It doesn’t hurt to diversify into blockchain startups if it falls within an angel’s or a fund’s thesis.

Proper Governance Models; Angels and VCs may look to invest in startups before they raise ICOs once milestones are met or come in at a later stage post-ICO when traction is gained. Alternatively, funds may be locked up in a cold wallet and voted to be released as milestones are reached. This model has not been explored yet but it could offer stability and trust.  However, looking beyond the core business and seeing who is on the Board, or what partnerships are already in place is also very important.

Either way this is a fascinating time to be involved in the scene.  If you want to be involved in the conversation then it is well worth heading to Istanbul to join the World Business Angel Forum 2018

Where:  Istanbul, Turkey
When:  18 – 20th February 2018
How:  Tickets at http://wbaf2018.istanbul/

World Business Angel Forum is an official partner of AsianEntrepreneur and supports Entrepreneurs around the world.

This article is part of the World Business Angel Forum media partnership with AsianEntrepreneur.org

If you would like more information about WBAF, please contact Callum Laing WBAF High Commissioner for Singapore. [email protected]

Continue Reading

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