Duncan Glassey: Leverage – a powerful investment tool or a vehicle to squander your fortune?

Duncan Glassey

Leverage, often referred to in investing as a ‘double-edged sword’, is another word for borrowing money to own more of an asset. Much like a mortgage on a house, it enables individuals to own a higher-value asset than they would otherwise be able to afford. However, there is the risk that the value may fall such that the investor ends up owing more than they own (coined ‘negative equity’ in the housing world). This is never a good place to be.

At WealthFlow, our investment philosophy is centred around long-term focus and an absence of borrowing or levering. This means that the investments are owned without inherent borrowing within the funds themselves.

Of course, we do believe debt is a powerful tool that corporate finance departments and governments can use to raise capital to fund future growth and we recognise the importance of borrowing in capital markets, but we don’t generally believe that this is a risk worth taking at a fund or portfolio level. Markets can be worrying enough, Q1 of 2020 being a recent example, without further magnifying the downside through leverage.

Although the potential upside of highly leveraged strategies can be extremely favourable returns, hence the initial attraction of doing so, the downside can be 100 per cent or more. A recent example that illustrates the dangers of leveraging is the family office Archegos Capital Management. They took large risks in a bid to reap huge returns, but the recent unwinding of their leveraged bets has left some banks, which provided the capital to Archegos, nursing multi-billion pound losses as well as the family itself.

This is a prime example of poor risk management. By only considering the short-term and borrowing money to try and achieve quick returns, it was not so much investment but rather gambling.

WealthFlow instead looks to achieve unleveraged, long-term, consistent growth which still produces favourable returns without squandering large sums of money, Our risk-focused approach to portfolio construction means that we regularly review the risk exposures of portfolios and seek to mitigate or avoid those that are unwanted. Generally speaking, leverage is one of those risks.

Duncan Glassey is the founder of Wealthflow