Frequently Asked Questions

The Basics

1. Does Elm provide investment management services?

Yes, we do. US investors can invest either in a private fund or in their own individual Separately Managed Account at Fidelity. We can handle both taxable investments and tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs. If you are not sure whether the fund or an SMA would be more appropriate for you, please click here for the relative benefits of each.

Non-US investors from certain jurisdictions can invest in our private off-shore fund. For all our products, we charge a 0.12% per annum management fee, which is inclusive of all operating expenses, and we charge no incentive or other fees.

2. Can I invest with Elm?

For our US private fund, investors must be Qualified Purchasers, which generally means they need to have at least $5mm of investment assets (we can send you a copy of the full SEC definition). Our Separately Managed Accounts are open to all US investors. For our private offshore fund, non-US investors from only certain jurisdictions are eligible to invest. Please contact us to discuss further.

3. Who is a typical investor in Elm?

The majority of our investors are active or retired financial industry professionals, from 45 to 60 years of age, and who have accumulated substantial savings. Many of our investors have graduate degrees, and at least 7 of our investors have taught finance at the graduate level in such universities as UPenn, Stanford, NYU and Harvard.

5. How much investor assets does Elm manage?

As of April 28th 2018, more than 250 investors have trusted us with over $690mm of their savings.

6. How much has the Management Team invested with Elm?

Elm Partners manages a substantial fraction (>80%) of the liquid, non-real estate assets of the Management Team, i.e. Victor Haghani, James White, and their immediate families.


Account Details

7. What is the minimum investment size that Elm will accept to manage?

For Individual and IRA accounts, the minimum investment is $300k. For Trust, Corporation, and Partnership accounts, the minimum is $1mm. The minimum investment required for the Cayman private fund is also $1mm, while the minimum for our US private fund is $2mm.

8. Why is there a minimum investment for a Separately Managed Account?

The primary reason for our $300,000 SMA minimum is for us to be able to keep your costs low, both in terms of us being able to deliver our services for our annual fee of 0.12% per year, and also keeping the effect of commissions to a level so low that it can almost be ignored. Commissions charged on your account (to be clear, paid to the broker and not to us) are $4.95 on some ETFs, while others are free. For account sizes of $300,000, the expected cost of commissions incurred in the nine times we rebalance your portfolio each year is about 0.03% per year. The actual percentage cost will vary each year, depending on (among other factors) the path the market takes.

9. Can I have multiple accounts managed by Elm?

Yes, you can have multiple taxable accounts and multiple IRA accounts managed by Elm.

10. Can I contribute ETFs and index funds I already own into a separately managed account?

We are happy to consider accepting ETFs and Index funds you already own into Elm’s investment program for your Separately Managed Account. If the instruments are part of Elm’s current program or can reasonably be mapped into Elm’s program, we will typically accept them. For taxable accounts, on a case-by-case basis, we will also normally help you evaluate the costs and benefits of holding the legacy instrument versus switching to a lower-cost or better-structured similar instrument (if available). Once these assets are accepted into your account, we will routinely evaluate whether to continue to hold them based on all our usual criteria, including but not limited to Elm’s target asset allocation, transactions costs, expenses and tax considerations (for taxable accounts).

11. Where are investors’ assets held?

We hold assets with the following institutions for each of our products:

For US investors:

  • Our private fund – Vanguard, Morgan Stanley and Northern Trust
  • Separately Managed Accounts at Fidelity

For non-US investors:

  • Our private fund – Morgan Stanley, Interactive Brokers and Northern Trust

How Elm Works

12. How does Elm deliver returns in a tax-efficient manner?

We’ve put a great deal of effort into making each taxable SMA as tax-efficient for a US investor as possible.

In our core SMA product for taxable investors, we re-balance each investor’s portfolio every 40 days (i.e. 9 times per year), and our systematic rebalance algorithm attempts to optimize between minimizing realized short-term taxable gains, maximizing realized short-term taxable losses, keeping the portfolio within certain bounds of our target risk allocations, and minimizing transaction costs. We also try to minimize realized long-term capital gains, but we place significantly less emphasis on this relative to the focus we put on short-term gains. Because many of the dozen-or-so core risk markets we invest in are related, and several instruments are generally available per market, we can often achieve a much better tax result for our investors than if we just naively re-balanced each market without thinking about taxes.

Despite the higher expected turnover of our dynamic approach compared to a static approach that re-balances back to fixed weights, there are several subtle but significant effects that, together, yield high expected tax efficiency. First, the momentum overlay is what generates most of the additional turnover compared to a static approach, and its nature is to generate frequent but small short-term capital losses punctuated by less frequent but large long-term capital gains. Second, our portfolio turnover generally takes the form of buying and selling a small ‘top’ slice of the portfolio, which typically has relatively low built-up gains or losses. Beneath this ‘top’ slice, there will tend to be a more static base layer of the portfolio that can hold a buildup of unrealized long-term capital gains.

By default, all taxable SMA investors benefit from automated tax-loss harvesting, and our system automatically works to prevent tax-adverse wash sales between groups of linked accounts. We also try to earn as much income as possible in the tax-preferred form of Qualified Dividends.

Please be aware that tax performance in a particular instance will strongly depend on the specific path of the market and the investor’s entry point (or points, in the case of multiple investments), and also that tax law will change over time in ways that are impossible to predict. We discuss how tax considerations impact portfolio re-balancing in more detail in this note here, and we discuss in detail the tax efficiency of a historical Elm investment in this note here.

13. Why does Elm charge such a low fee as compared to others?

First of all, we don’t think we charge a low fee, but rather a fair fee. Others charge substantially higher fees, at least partially because they have to pay for expensive experts to manage their clients investments in a discretionary manner. The structure of our product, being primarily systematic and rules-based, allows us to charge the fee we do.

14. Does Elm Partners earn any other income from investors other than the 0.12% annual management fee?

No. We only charge the 12bp management fee. We do not charge an incentive fee, and our management fee is inclusive of operating costs, such as administration, audit and legal. There are no hidden fees.

15. How much will trading commissions add up to?

When trading ETFs we pay $0/trade commission on some and $4.95/trade on others. When trading mutual funds we pay $45/trade in and $25/trade out. For a $300,000 account equal to our minimum account size, we expect trading commissions to average about $90/year or 0.03% of the account, though there is likely to be a good bit of variability from year to year. Larger accounts will generally see a lower level of trading commissions as a percentage of the account balance. Our portfolio management system is designed to minimize trading commissions by trading instruments appropriate to the account size – e.g. for $300k accounts we will only use ETFs, while for much larger accounts we will use a mix of ETFs and mutual funds – and also by minimizing the number of commission-paying trades done on each rebalance date, subject also to optimizing for tax and risk considerations.

16. How much turnover does the strategy typically generate?

We expect the strategy to generate annual gross trades equal to approximately 50-100% of the account balance, but with a large degree of variability year to year.

Most of the trades are generated by our momentum overlay and reflect incremental increases and decreases in holdings – together with our tax-aware rebalancing algorithms, this results in a much lower potential tax impact than would be experienced by a typical equity fund with a comparable level of turnover.

17. What is the weighted average expense ratio of the vehicles used to build the portfolios?

The weighted average expense ratios change depending on the asset allocation. For our various products it has ranged from 0.12% to 0.19% so far. We carefully select the vehicles we use to build our portfolios, and cost is one of the factors that we think is important.

18. What are the mechanics of Elm’s asset allocation?

Each of our strategies follows our rules-based asset allocation methodology, an approach we call Active Index Investing®. Please click here for a note that describes in detail the three main components of this approach: the construction of the Baseline portfolio and the value and momentum overlays to that Baseline portfolio which make the portfolio responsive to changing market conditions.

19. How do we choose the asset classes in which Elm invests?

For an asset class to be included in our Baseline portfolio it needs to be:

  • Big and producing undiversifiable risk
  • Investible via low cost and liquid vehicles
  • Likely to carry a risk premium which ideally should be observable prospectively
  • Accessible without requiring specialized selection skill

Asset classes that meet these criteria for our SMA portfolios are public market equities, public market real estate vehicles and government and corporate bonds. Among the many investments that don’t meet these criteria are hedge funds, private equity, venture capital investments, bank loans, volatility indexes, convertible bonds, soft commodities, fine art and other collectibles, and cryptocurrencies. We also do not invest in individual industry sectors or individual equities.

20. Does Elm hedge the Foreign Exchange (FX) risk that arises from investing in global equity markets?

Our policy is that we do not hedge the FX exposure. For example, when we buy Japanese equities through index funds or ETFs, we hold them without any associated short positions in the Yen/$ exchange rate. So, if the price of Japanese equities in Yen stays constant, but the Yen weakens against the dollar, then Japanese equities will reduce the return of our fund, which we report in dollars. We made this decision for the following reasons:

1) Simplicity: we invest in the equity markets of over 60 countries with most of them having their own local currencies. Not all of them have liquid and open FX markets. Furthermore, certain FX markets won’t be well described by Elm’s value and momentum framework, making us cautious in introducing this extra complexity into our approach.

2) FX hedging is not clearly risk reducing for countries whose stock markets tend to go down when their currencies strengthen (e.g. those with significant international trade).

3) If investors consider themselves global citizens, as many of our investors do, and choose to measure the value of their investments in a global currency unit (albeit with a home bias), FX hedging can also increase risk.

4) Negative correlation reduces returns: An FX hedge needs to be adjusted so that it stays in line with the value of the equity market it is hedging. If an equity market tends to go up when its currency weakens (and vice versa), then each rebalancing adjustment will be done at an expected loss to the hedger, as it will be necessary to go short more of the currency when it has weakened and to buy it back when it has appreciated, resulting in a significant drag on returns. Of course, the associated transaction costs are a further drag on returns as well.

5) It is very disturbing that a FX-hedged equity investment can lose more than 100% of its value – sounds too much like leverage for us.

Fidelity Investments is an independent company, unaffiliated with Elm Partners. Fidelity Investments is a service provider to Elm Partners. There is no form of legal partnership, agency affiliation, or similar relationship between your financial advisor and Fidelity Investments, nor is such a relationship created or implied by the information herein. Fidelity Investments has not been involved with the preparation of the content supplied by Elm Partners and does not guarantee, or assume any responsibility for, its content. Fidelity Investments is a registered trademark of FMR LLC. Fidelity Clearing & Custody SolutionsSM provides clearing, custody, and other brokerage services through National Financial Services LLC or Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Members NYSE, SIPC. [eReview number 830247.2.0]