Sometimes it seems as if it would be easier to pin Jello to a wall-or trap a unicorn-than it would be to capture alpha, the return that comes only from an investment manager's Midas touch. It's that extra oomph that can only be identified accurately in hindsight. Even veteran investors and market strategists, including individuals who have spent their professional lives trying to track alpha and isolate it from myriad other sources of investment returns, describe it as "mushy" and "elusive." And yet, in today's volatile and directionless financial markets, more advisors are likely to seek alpha.

With investment strategists and pundits predicting a long period of sluggish returns that may not make it out of the single digits, there is every reason for advisors to intensify their quest. But alpha is both hard to define and harder to find.

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