RiverNorth Opportunities Fund, Inc. (RIV), February 2016

By David Snowball

Objective and strategy

The Fund’s investment objective is total return consisting of capital appreciation and current income. Like the open-end RiverNorth Core Opportunity Fund (RNCOX), this fund invests opportunistically in a changing mix of closed-end funds including business development companies and ETFs. In the normal course of events, at least 65% of the fund’s assets will be in CEFs.  RiverNorth will implement an opportunistic strategy designed to capitalize on the inefficiencies in the CEF space while simultaneously providing diversified exposure to several asset classes. The prospectus articulates a long series of investment guidelines:

  • Up to 80% of the fund might be invested in equity funds
  • No more than 30% will be invested in global equity funds
  • No more than 15% will be in emerging markets equities
  • Up to 60% might be invested in fixed income funds
  • No more than 30% in high yield bonds or senior loans
  • No more than 15% in emerging market income
  • No more than 15% in real estate
  • No more than 15% in energy MLPs
  • No more than 10% in new CEFs
  • No investments in leveraged or inverse CEFs
  • Up to 30% of the portfolio can be short positions in ETFs, a strategy that will be used defensively.
  • Fund leverage is limited to 15% with look-through leverage (that is, factoring in leverage that might be use in the funds they invest in) limited to 33%.

Adviser

ALPS Advisors, Inc.

Sub-Adviser

RiverNorth Capital Management, LLC. RiverNorth is an investment managementfirm founded in 2000 that specializes in opportunistic strategies in niche markets where the potential to exploit inefficiencies is greatest. RiverNorth is the sub-adviser to RiverNorth Opportunities Fund, Inc. RiverNorth also advises three limited partnerships and the four RiverNorth Funds: RiverNorth Core Opportunity (RNCOX), RiverNorth/Oaktree High Income (RNOTX), Equity Opportunity (RNEOX), RiverNorth/DoubleLine Strategic Income (RNDLX) and this one. As of December 31, 2015, they managed $3.3 billion.

Managers

Patrick Galley and Stephen O’Neill. Mr. Galley is RiverNorth’s Chief Investment Officer and President and Chairman of RiverNorth Funds. He also manages all or parts of seven strategies with Mr. O’Neill. Before joining RiverNorth in 2004, he was a Vice President at Bank of America in the Global Investment Bank’s Portfolio Management group. Mr. O’Neill co-manages the firm’s closed-end fund strategies and helps to oversee the closed-end fund investment team. Prior to joining RiverNorth in 2007, he was an Assistant Vice President at Bank of America in the Global Investment Bank’s Portfolio Management group.

Strategy capacity and closure

The Fund is a fixed pool of assets now that the IPO is complete, which means there are no issues with capacity going forward.

Management’s stake in the fund

Messrs. Galley and O’Neill each have between $100,000 – 500,000 in the fund. Three of the four independent trustees have relatively modest ($10,000-100,000) investments in the open-end version of the fund while one has no investments with RiverNorth. RiverNorth, “its affiliates and employees anticipate beneficially owning, as a group, approximately $10 million in shares of the Fund.” Mr. Galley also owns more than 25% of RiverNorth Holding Company, the adviser’s parent company.

Opening date

December 23, 2015

Minimum investment

Like stocks and ETFs, there is no minimum purchase established by the fund though you will need to pay a brokerage fee.

Expense ratio

Total Expense Ratio: 2.98%

Comments

The pricing of closed-end fund shares is famously irrational. Like a “normal” mutual fund, closed-end funds calculate daily net asset values by taking the value of all of the securities they own – an unambiguous figure based on the publicly-quoted prices for stocks – and divide it by the number of shares they’ve issued, another unambiguous figure. At the end of each day, a fund can say, with considerable confidence, “one share of our fund is worth $10.”

So, why can you buy that share for $9.60? Or $9.00 or $8.37? Or, as in the case of Boulder Growth & Income (BIF), $7.56?

The short answer is: people are nuts. CEFs trade like stocks throughout the day and, at any given moment, one share is worth precisely what you convince somebody to pay for that one share. When investors get panicked, people want to dump their shares. If they’re sufficiently panicked they’ll sell at a loss, accepting dimes on the dollar just to be free again. To be clear: during a panic, you can often buy $10 worth of securities for $8. If you simply hold those shares until the panic subsidies, you might reasonably expect to sell them for $9 or $9.50. Even if the market is falling, when the panic selling passes, the discounts contract and you might pocket market-neutral arbitrage gains of 10 or 20%.

It’s a fascinating game, but one which very few of us can successfully play. There are two reasons for that:

  1. You need to know a ridiculous lot about every potential CEF investment: not just current discount but its typical discount, its price movement history, its maximum discount but also the structural factors that might make its current discount continue or deepen.
  2. You need to know when to move and you need to be ready to: remember, these discounts are at their greatest during panics. Just as the market collapses and it appears the world really is ending this time, you need to reach for your checkbook. The discounts are evidence that normal investors do the exact opposite: the desire to escape leads us to sell for the sake of selling.

RiverNorth’s primary expertise is CEF investing; in particular, in investing opportunistically when things look their worst. That strategy is primarily manifested in RiverNorth Core Opportunity (RNCOX), an open-ended tactical allocation fund that uses this strategy. This long-awaited fund embodies the same strategy with a couple twists: it can make modest use of leverage and it’s more devoted to CEFs than is RNCOX. RIV will have at least 65% in CEFs while RNCOX might average 50-70%.

And, too, RIV itself can sell at a discount. A sophisticated investor might monitor the fund and find herself able to buy RIV at a 10% discount at the very moment that RIV is buying other funds at a 20% discount. That would translate to the opportunity to buy $10 worth of stock for $7.20.

Investing in RIV carries clearly demonstrable risks:

  1. It costs a lot. The fund invests in, and passes costs through from, an expensive asset class. The aforementioned Boulder Growth & Income fund charges 1.83%, if RiverNorth buys it, that expense gets passed through to its shareholders as a normal cost of the strategy. The adviser estimates that the fund’s current expenses, assuming they’re using the leverage available to them and including the acquired fund fees and expenses, is 3.72%.
  2. It’s apt to be extremely volatile at times. Put bluntly, the strategy here is to catch falling knives. Ideally you catch them when they don’t have much farther to fall but there’s no guarantee of that.
  3. Its Morningstar rating will periodically suck. If CEF discounts widen after the fund acquires shares, those widened discounts reduce RiverNorth’s return and increase its volatility. Persistently high discounts will make for persistently low Morningstar ratings, which is what we see with RNCOX right now.

That said, this fund is apt to deliver on its promises. The CEF structure, which frees the managers from needing to worry about redemptions or hot money flows, seems well-suited for the mission.

Bottom Line

CEF discounts are now the greatest they’ve been since the depth of the 2008 market meltdown. By RiverNorth’s calculation, discounts are greater now than they’ve been 99% of the time. If panic subsidies, that will provide a substantial tailwind to boost returns for RiverNorth’s shareholders. If the panic persists just long enough for investors to buy RIV at a discount, as the managers are apt to, then the potential gains are multiplied. Investors interested in a more-complete picture of the strategy might want to read our November 2015 profile of RiverNorth Core Opportunity.

Fund website

www.rivernorthcef.com

© Mutual Fund Observer, 2016. All rights reserved. The information here reflects publicly available information current at the time of publication. For reprint/e-rights contact us.
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About David Snowball

David Snowball, PhD (Massachusetts). Cofounder, lead writer. David is a Professor of Communication Studies at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, a nationally-recognized college of the liberal arts and sciences, founded in 1860. For a quarter century, David competed in academic debate and coached college debate teams to over 1500 individual victories and 50 tournament championships. When he retired from that research-intensive endeavor, his interest turned to researching fund investing and fund communication strategies. He served as the closing moderator of Brill’s Mutual Funds Interactive (a Forbes “Best of the Web” site), was the Senior Fund Analyst at FundAlarm and author of over 120 fund profiles. David lives in Davenport, Iowa, and spends an amazing amount of time ferrying his son, Will, to baseball tryouts, baseball lessons, baseball practices, baseball games … and social gatherings with young ladies who seem unnervingly interested in him.