Thinking of the Upside – Dream a Little – Promoted New Zealand as a Tourist Destination – Tongariro Alpine Crossing

With the roll out of the covid-19 vaccine started around the world, it is time to think about the upside…… and to start dreaming a little.

Over the next few months, I will do my best to help promote New Zealand as a great destination to visit once international travel recommences.  We live in a wonderful, clean, and diverse country.

This is a departure from what is an Investment focused Blog (which I will do occasionally and have done in the past).

Investment related Posts will continue uninterrupted however.

For my offshore followers start planning a trip down under, dream a little.  It would be great to see you.

For those here in New Zealand, as you will know, it is a great to time to see New Zealand, as many of you have been this summer.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s, if not the worlds, most popular one day walks.

The landscape and scenery are very different to other parts of New Zealand, as you will see from future Posts.

For more information on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and the Tongariro National Park see below.

The crossing is a short, on average 6-8 hours, walk through a volcanic landscape, including crossing large craters and calderas, seeing emerald lakes, steam rising from mountain sides, and the smell of sulphur (luckily not for long!).  The track covers 19.4km (12 mile).

Photo below, starting out, looking up toward Mt Ngauruhoe, elevation 2,291m (7,516 ft).  Mount Ngauruhoe – Wikipedia

It may look familiar to Lord of the Rings fans, Mount Doom.

Photo below is looking back toward the start of the track at the Mangatepopo Carpark, which is at a 1,120m elevation. 

The track climes the Mangatepopo valley to the saddle between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.

The highest point on the track is at the Red Crater, see below, at 1,886m. The trek finishes at the Ketetahi carpark, 750m elevation – overall you do more down hill than up hill!

Below, views on the way up! Spectacular, an old lava field.

Views near the top, looking toward the South Island.

Can almost touch it and near the half way point, after crossing the south crater.

Landscape and views from near the top. Red Crater, big photo below.

Views of the Blue lake (in the distance) and first sighting of the Emerald Lakes (smaller photo on right below).

And the Emerald Lakes, strong smell of sulphur here.

Heading down, after crossing the central crater and walking alongside the Blue Lake.  In the photo below Lake Taupo is in the distance.  Lake Rotoaira is the small lake in the foreground.

Background Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As mentioned above, the Crossing is 19.4km trek.  

It is a point to point hike, there are several companies that provide shuttle services to make your day easier.

They will pick you up in National Park (small town nearby), dropping you off at Mangatepopo carpark, start of walk, collect you at the end of the days walk from the Ketetahi carpark, and return you to National Park. A very good service.

For further information on Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Tongariro Alpine Crossing Track | National Park | Walks & Hiking | Shuttle | World Heritage (tongarirocrossing.org.nz)

and

Tongariro Alpine Crossing Summer brochure (doc.govt.nz)

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is situated in the Tongariro National Park.

Tongariro became a National Park in 1887 and boasts dual World Heritage status.  It is New Zealand’s oldest National Park.

In 1990 the Park was recognised as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural values.

In 1993, Tongariro National Park became the first place in the world to be listed as a World Heritage Site for the spiritual and cultural values the landscape possesses for the indigenous people in the area.

The Park includes three active volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.

For more information: Tongariro National Park – Wikipedia

I hope you get to visit the Tongariro National Park, the surrounding towns, landmarks, attractions, and have time to complete the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Please read up on the crossing and prepare accordingly. It is an alpine crossing and caution should be taken, a watchful eye on the weather is particularly important.

My 13 year old son and I completed the crossing in 4hrs, 40 minutes, including the odd stop and a lunch break. Teenage boys tend to be in a hurry!

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Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Most read Kiwi Investor Blog Posts in 2020

The most read Kiwi Investor Blog Posts in 2020 have been relevant to the current environment facing investors.  They have also focused on building more robust portfolios.

The ultra-low interest rate environment and sobering low return forecasts present a bleak outlook for the Traditional Balanced Portfolio (60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income.)  This outlook for the Balanced Portfolio was a developing theme in 2020, which gained greater prominence as the year progressed.

In essence, there are two themes that present a challenge for the Traditional Balanced Portfolio in the years ahead:

  1. That fixed income and equities (mainly US equities) are expensive, so now may not be a great time to invest too heavily in these markets; and
  2. With interest rates at very low levels, there is increasing doubt that fixed income can still effectively protect equity portfolios in a severe market decline in ways they have done historically.

My highest read Posts address the second theme above.

The Balance Portfolio has served investors well in recent years.  Although equities and fixed income still have a role to play in the future, there is more that can be done.

The most read Kiwi Investor Blog Posts outline strategies that are “more that can be done”.

I have no doubt investors are going to have to look for alternative sources of returns and new asset classes outside equities and fixed income over the years ahead.  In addition, investors will need to prepare for a period of higher inflation. 

Not only will this help in increasing the odds of meeting investment return objectives; it will also help protect portfolios in periods of severe sharemarket declines, thus reducing portfolio volatility.

The best way to manage periods of severe sharemarket declines, as experienced in the first quarter of 2020, is to have a diversified portfolio.  It is impossible to time these episodes.

Arguably the most prudent course of action for an investor to pursue in the years ahead is to take advantage of modern investment strategies that deliver portfolio diversification benefits and to employ more advanced portfolio construction techniques.  Both of which have been successfully implemented by large institutional investors for many years.

From my perspective, maintaining an array of diversification strategies is preferred, investors should diversify their diversifiers.

The most read Kiwi Investor Blog Posts in 2020 were:

Posts closely following were Understanding the impact of Volatility on your Portfolio and Optimal Private Equity Allocation.

Thank you all for you continued support and all the best for the year ahead.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Monthly Financial Markets Commentary and Performance– December 2020

Cautious Optimism

  • Caution optimism prevailed across markets and economies as the global annus horribilis ended.  Wishing you all an annus mirabilis for 2021 (a wonderful year).
  • Global markets finished the year buoyed by the commencement of the Covid-19 vaccines roll out, ultra-low interest rates, and finally a new US government spending package.
  • Global equities climbed 4.9% in December and are 16.9% higher than at the end of 2019.  Who would have thought that was possible after the near 30% declines earlier in the year? 
  • The US sharemarket ended the year at historical highs.  The S&P500 returned 18.4% in 2020 and is almost 70.0% higher from its yearly lows in late March.
  • The New Zealand sharemarket also finished the year strongly, rising 5.5% in December, returning 14.7% in 2020.  This is the Index’s ninth consecutive year of positive returns.  The benchmark has more than quadrupled since the end of 2011, and more than doubled since 2015! (benchmark returns are based on S&P Dow Jones Index data).
  • The Australian sharemarket returned 1.2% in December, eking out 1.4% for the year.  The Information Technology sector posted a 9.5% gain in December and 57.8% for the twelve months period.  The energy sector lost 27.6% for the year, and utilities fell 16.7% over the same period. These sector relative performance outcomes have been experienced internationally, along with the momentum and growth factors outperforming value over the last twelve months.  Although growth and momentum outperformed value in December they have trailed value over the last three months of 2020.  In Australia, value returned 18.1% over the last quarter of 2020, momentum and growth returned 7.8% and 10.1% respectively.
  • The V shape economic recovery is well on track around the world.  The New Zealand economy expanded a stronger than expected 14% in the third quarter of 2020.  This follows a historical 11% contraction in the second quarter.  The economy is 2.2% smaller compared to a year ago.  Construction and retail trade led the recovery following the second quarter lockdown.  As the Kiwi Bank economics team highlighted, 95% of New Zealand’s economy is doing well, but the other 5%, primarily the tourism and education sectors, are not, and we should spare a thought for them.  The peak over the Kiwi summer period, December – March, will be a test for them. 
  • As mentioned above, the USA has instigated additional government spending to combat COVID-19.  The relief package is worth around $900 billion, 4% of the economy.  It was larger than many expected and includes $600 personal payments to most Americans, along with additional unemployment benefits, and further support for businesses.  This package should help to support US economic activity over the first quarter of 2021.
  • Japan also announced additional economic stimulus measures in early December, this includes around 30 trillion Yen in additional spending to prevent the spread of COVID-19, transform the economy post the pandemic, and enhance infrastructure.  The Japanese economy grew 5.3% in the July – September period, after declining 8.3% in the second quarter.
  • Chinese industrial profits have grown 15% over the last year and exports are booming.  Over the twelve months ending November Chinese exports have grown 21%, the highest level of annual growth in almost 10 years. 
  • European manufacturing activity has been stronger than expected, suggesting fourth quarter economic activity is going to be higher than anticipated. 
  • Likewise, US manufacturing has been resilient at a time of rising COVID-19 cases.
  • In Australia, Consumer sentiment has reached its highest level in 10 years.
  • The UK and Europe have agreed on a post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement that will result in zero tariffs and quotas on goods that comply with rules of origin.  Terms on trade in services have also been reached, which are flexible reflecting the closeness of business activities.

The Year ahead

  • Although economic activity is expected to moderate in the fourth quarter of 2020, given rising COVID-19 cases, complicated by the northern hemisphere winter, consensus expectations are for just over 5% global economic growth in 2021, led higher by Europe, UK, China, and India.
  • After a sluggish start to the year the global economy should accelerate due to the rollout of the vaccines, and mass immunisation reduces the virus threat, the continued accommodative central bank policy settings of ultra-low interest rates, and government spending packages.
  • More than 12 million vaccine doses have been administrated in 30 countries so far.  Israel is leading with 10.5% of their population vaccinated.  America has given out 4.3 million doses, 1.3% of their population.  A World Health Organisation linked plan is in place to administer 2 billion vaccine doses globally in the first half of 2021.
  • The US Federal Reserve’s (Fed) adoption of a flexible average inflation targeting will see global interest rates remain low for some time.  The Fed is not expected to raise interest rates until 2025.
  • In this environment, global equities are more than likely to outperform in the year ahead, global bond yields rise moderately, and the US dollar weakens further.  Emerging markets are well placed in this environment, the value factor will benefit from greater economic certainty in 2021, and commodities such as oil may also find greater support.
  • In America, Georgia Senate run-off elections in mid-January provide a short-term focal point for markets.  The result will determine control of the US Senate.  A switch to a Democratic party-controlled Senate will likely see changes to US tax policies in the months ahead.
  • Inflation, although anticipated not to be an issue over the next few years, will become more of a threat in later years. 
  • Investors should prepare themselves for the risk of higher inflation as outlined in these Kiwi Investor Blog Posts: Preparing your Portfolio for a period of higher inflation and Asset Allocations decisions for the conundrum of inflation or deflation

 

Source: Man

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Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Investment strategies for the year(s) ahead – how to add value to a portfolio

At this time of the year there are a plethora of economic and market forecasts for next year.  This Post is not one of them.

Outlined below are several investment strategies investors should consider in building more robust portfolios for the years ahead and to increase the odds of meeting their investment objectives.

These strategies directly address the current investment environment and the developing theme over 2020 that the traditional Balanced portfolio, of 60% equities and 40% fixed income, is facing several head winds, and likely to disappoint from a return perspective in the decade ahead.

A recent FT article captures this mood, titled: Investors wonder if the 60/40 portfolio has a future | Financial Times

In the article they make the following comment “The traditional 60/40 portfolio — the mix of equities and bonds that has been a mainstay of investment strategy for decades — is at risk of becoming obsolete as some investors predict years of underperformance by both its component parts.”

I first Posted about the potential demise of the Balanced Portfolio in 2019, see here, and again in early 2020, see here.   These Posts provide background as too why many investment professionals are questioning the likely robustness of the Balance Portfolio in the years ahead given the current investment environment.

In essence, there are two themes presented for the bleak outlook for the Balanced Portfolio.

The first is that fixed income and equities (mainly US equities) are expensive, so now may not be a great time to invest in these markets.

The second theme is that with interest rates at very low levels, there is doubt that fixed income can still effectively protect equity portfolios in a severe market decline in ways they have done historically.

For more on the low expected return environment, first Theme, see these Posts here and here.  This Post also outlines that although markets fell sharply in March 2020, forecast future returns remain disappointing.

The strategies discussed below address the second theme, the expected reduced effectiveness of fixed income to protect the Balance Portfolio at the time of severe sharemarket declines.

The Balance Portfolio has served investors well.  Although equities and fixed income still have a role to play in the future, there is more that can be done.

The strategies outlined below are “the more that can be done“, they aim to improve the risk and return outcomes for the Balance Portfolio in the years ahead.

For the record, I anticipate the global economy to continue to repair next year, experiencing above average growth fuelled by the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccines and underpinned by extraordinary low interest rates and generous government spending programs.  Global equities will continue to perform well in this environment, the US dollar will weaken further, commodity prices will move higher, value and emerging markets to outperform.

The Case for holding Government Bonds

Before looking at some of the strategies to improve on the Balance Portfolio, it goes without saying there is a role for equities in most portfolios.  The case for and against US equities are found here and here respectively.

There is also a role for holding Fixed Income securities, primarily government bonds.

This Post reviews some of the reasons why owning government bonds makes good sense in today’s investment and economic climate. It also brings some balance to present discussions around fixed income and the points within should be considered when determining portfolio allocations in the current market environment.

The central argument for holding government bonds within a portfolio: Government bonds are the only asset where you know with absolute certainty the amount of income you will get over its life and how much it will be worth on maturity. For most other assets, you will only ever know the true return in arrears.

In a recent Financial Times article PIMCO argues the case for the 60/40 portfolio in equities and fixed income.   

In relation to fixed income they argue, that although “returns over the horizon may be harder to achieve, but bonds will still play a very important role in portfolios”.  The benefits being diversification and moderation of portfolio volatility.

However, they argue in relation to fixed income investors must target specific regions and parts of the yield curve (different maturity dates) to maximise return and diversification potential.

PIMCO see opportunities in high-quality assets such as mortgage-backed securities from US government agencies, areas of AA and AAA rated investment-grade corporate bonds, and emerging market debt that is currency hedged.

They conclude: “One answer for 60/40 portfolio investors is to divide fixed-income investments into two subcomponents — hedging and yield assets.”

Rethinking the “40” in the 60/40 Portfolio

This Post outlines a thinkadvisor.com article which provides a framework to consider potential investment ideas in the current extremely low interest rate environment, by examining the 40% fixed income allocation within the 60/40 Portfolio (Balanced Portfolio).

The basis of the article is that investors seeking to generate higher returns are going to have to look for new sources of income, allocate to new asset classes, and potentially take on more risk. This likely involves investing into a broader array of fixed income securities, dividend-paying equities, and alternatives, such as real assets and private credit.

The Role of Liquid Alternatives and Hedge Funds

I have no doubt investors are going to have to look for alternative sources of returns and new asset classes outside equities and fixed income over the next decade.

Not only will this help in increasing the odds of meeting investment objectives, but it will also help protect portfolios in periods of severe sharemarket declines, thus reducing portfolio volatility, a role traditionally played by fixed income within a multi-asset portfolio.

The best way to manage periods of severe sharemarket declines, as experienced in the first quarter of 2020, is to have a diversified portfolio.  It is impossible to time these episodes.

AQR has evaluated the effectiveness of diversifying investments during market drawdowns.

They recommend adding investments that make money on average and have a low correlation to equities i.e. liquid alternatives and hedge fund type strategies. 

AQR argue diversification should be true in both normal times and when most needed: during tough periods for equities.  Although “hedges”, e.g. Gold, may make money at times of sharemarket crashes, there is a cost, they tend to do worse on average over the longer term.

Alternative investments are more compelling relative to the traditional asset classes in diversifying a portfolio, they provide the benefits of diversification and have higher returns.

Lastly, Portfolio diversification involves adding new “risks” to a portfolio, this can be hard to comprehend.  Diversification can be harder to achieve in practice than in theory.

This Post provides a full summary and access to the AQR article.

The case for Trend (momentum) Strategies

A sub-set of Alternatives and hedge funds is Trend/Momentum.

In this recent article MAN present the benefits of introducing Trend following strategies to the traditional Balanced Portfolio. Man note, “Another element that we believe can be of great help to bond-equity portfolios in the future is time-series momentum, or trend-following.”

Their analysis highlights that adding trend-following results in a significant improvement relation to the Balanced Portfolio, by improving returns, decreases volatility, and reducing the degree of losses when experienced (lower downside risk – drawdowns).

The case for Tail Risk Hedging

The expected reduced diversification benefits of fixed income in a Portfolio is a growing view among many investment professionals.

This presents a very important portfolio construction challenge to address, particularly for those portfolios with high allocations to fixed income.

There are many ways to approach this challenge,

This Post focuses on the case for Tail Risk Hedging.  It also outlines other approaches.

In my mind, investment strategies to address the current portfolio challenge need to be considered. The path taken is likely to be determined by individual circumstances.

Comparing a diversified approach versus Tail Risk Hedging

On this note, the complexity, and different approaches to providing portfolio protection, was highlighted by a twitter spat between Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Tail Risk Hedging) and Cliff Asness (broad Portfolio Diversification) from earlier in the year.

I provide a summary of this debate in Table format accessed in this Post, based on a Bloomberg article. 

Several learnings can be gained from their “discussion”.

Also covered the Post was an article by PIMCO on Hedging for Different Market Scenarios. This provides another perspective and a summary of different strategies and their trade-offs in different market environments.

Not every type of risk-mitigating strategy can be expected to work in every type of market environment.

Therefore, maintaining an array of diversification strategies is preferred “investors should diversify their diversifiers”.

Hedge Funds vs Liquid Alternatives – both bring diversification benefits to a traditional portfolio say Vanguard

Vanguard recently concluded that investors should carefully consider liquid alternatives and hedge funds.

This is a very good article presenting the benefits Alternatives would bring to a Balanced Portfolio.

Their research highlighted that Hedge Funds and Liquid Alternatives both bring portfolio diversification benefits to a traditional portfolio of equities and fixed income.

They suggest that liquid alternatives are often viable options for investors compared to hedge funds.

Although hedge funds and liquid alternatives deliver valuable portfolio diversification benefits, “it is crucial that investors assess funds on a standalone basis, as the benefits from any alternative investment allocation will be dictated by the specific strategy of the manager(s).”

The most important feature in gaining the benefits of hedge funds and liquid alternatives is manager selection.  Implementation is key.

Access to this research can be found here.

Private Equity Characteristics and benefits to a Portfolio

For those investors that can invest into illiquid investments, Private Equity (PE) is an option.

Portfolio analysis, also undertaken by Vanguard, demonstrates that PE can play a significant role in strategic, long-term, diversified portfolios.

PE is illiquid and so must be actively managed, introducing both illiquidity and manager specific risk to a multi-asset portfolio. Conventional asset allocation approaches often omit illiquidity and active risk dimensions from the risk-return trade-off. Therefore, these models do not reflect the unique aspects of PE and tend to over allocate to PE.

Vanguard addresses these issues: outlining four key reasons why the economic returns of private equity are different to those of public equities; highlighting the key risks that need to be accounted for when undertaking portfolio modelling including illiquid assets such as PE; and presenting the adjustments they make to portfolio modelling to address the illiquid features of PE and smoothed nature of historical returns.

This results in more realistic characteristics for PE that can be used for portfolio modelling purposes, reflected in the portfolio allocations generated in the article and the conclusion that PE can play a significant role in strategic, long-term, diversified portfolios.

A review of Vanguard’s analysis and their results can be found in this Post.

Real Assets Offer Real diversification benefits

Real assets such as Farmland, Timberland, Infrastructure, Natural Resources, Real Estate, Inflation-linked Bonds, Commodities, and Foreign Currencies offer real diversification benefits to a portfolio of just equities and fixed income.

The benefits of Real Assets are noticeable in different economic environments, like stagflation and stagnation, and particularly for those investment portfolios where objectives are linked to inflation.

These are the conclusions of a recent study by PGIM.

PGIM provide a brief outline of the investment characteristics for several real assets. They then look at the sensitivity of the real assets to economic growth, inflation, equity markets, and fixed income.

They note there is wide diversity in real assets’ sensitivities to inflation and growth, and stocks and bonds. These sensitivities vary over time and are best mitigated by holding a portfolio of real assets.

Therefore, PGIM construct and analyse three real asset strategy portfolios – Diversification, Inflation-Protection and Stagnation-Protection to reach their conclusions.

I provide a detailed summary of the PGIM Report in this Post.

Portfolio Tilts

Adding Emerging Markets and Value tilts to a Portfolio are potential areas to boost future investment returns in what is likely to be a low return environment over the next decade.

Value of Emerging Markets

Emerging markets bring the benefits of diversification into different geographies and asset classes for investors, including both public and private markets.

The case for investing into emerging markets is well documented: a growing share of global economic activity in the years ahead and current attractive valuations underpin the case for considering a higher weighting to emerging markets within portfolios. Particularly considering the low interest rate environment and stretched valuation of the US sharemarket. This is evident in market return forecasts.

Is a Value bias part of the answer in navigating today’s low interest rate environment

Value offers the potential for additional returns relative to the broader sharemarket in the years ahead.

Value is exceptionally cheap, probably the cheapest it has ever been in history, based on several valuation measures and after making adjustments to market indices to try and prove otherwise, such as excluding all Technology, Media, and Telecom Stocks, excluding the largest stocks, and the most expensive stocks.

There is also little evidence to support the common criticisms of value, such as increased share repurchase activity, low interest rates, and rise of intangible assets.

This is not a popular view, and quite likely minority view, given the underperformance of value over the last ten years.

However, the longer-term odds are in favour of maintaining a value tilt and thereby providing a boost to future investment returns in what is likely to be a low return environment over the next decade.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Private Equity characteristics – considerations for Portfolio inclusion

Portfolio analysis undertaken by Vanguard demonstrates that private equity (PE) can play a significant role in strategic, long-term, diversified portfolios.

Vanguard highlight:

  • Although private equity and public equity share some risk and return characteristics, there are key structural differences. (Both have a role to play in a well-diversified and robust portfolio.)
  • Private equity investments are illiquid and so must be actively managed, introducing both illiquidity and manager specific risk to the multi-asset portfolio.
  • Conventional asset allocation approaches such as mean-variance efficient frontiers omit illiquidity and active risk dimensions from the risk-return trade-off.
  • Asset allocation models that do not reflect the unique aspects of PE tend to over allocate to PE and therefore introduce unintended risks into a multi-asset portfolio.

In this Research Paper Vanguard introduce a new portfolio construction framework that accounts for private equity’s risk and return characteristics, Vanguard Asset Allocation Model (VAAM). 

They conclude that there is no single recommended allocation for all investors.  “Private equity allocations depend on each investor’s specific set of circumstances, such as the degree of risk tolerance, including active risk tolerance, and the ability to find and access high-quality managers.”

In allocating to PE investors must carefully consider their willingness and ability to handle a long-term lack of liquidity, constraints on rebalancing, and uncertainty around the timing and size of cash inflows and outflows.

Below is a summary of the Vanguard Research Paper, which also draws on this All About Alpha article by Vanguard.

The Vanguard paper addresses the following three main issues:

  • Complexity in the structure and mechanics of PE that lead to unique sources of risk and return versus public equity investments.
  • Data limitations due to lack of standardized publicly available marked-to-market performance reporting.
  • Lack of portfolio construction frameworks that can appropriately account for PE’s unique characteristics.

Why returns from Private Equity are different to those from Public Equities

For those new to PE the Vanguard paper provides an excellent introduction, including topics such as what is a PE investment, the growth in PE over the last two decades, and how to access PE.

Their discussions on identifying the drivers of PE returns is very good.

Vanguard outline four key reasons why the economic returns of private equity should be different than those of public equity benchmarks:

Liquidity premium.

“Investors in private equity have less ability to trade their investment and do not control the timing or size of cash flows if invested in funds; therefore, they should require compensation in the form of a liquidity premium.”  Returns from the “Liquidity Premium” vary over time.

An important point in relation to liquidity, is that most long-term investors do not need a 100% liquid portfolio.  Most investors over-estimate their liquidity needs (this is not to minimise the importance of portfolio liquidity).

Vanguard note there are two different but related forms of liquidity risk:

  • Market liquidity risk – the ease with which an investment can be traded.
  • Funding liquidity risk – investors must be flexible enough to make contributions quickly and to deal with potential material delays in distributions from the PE funds

Other risk factors

“The average characteristics of private equity companies may be different than those of public companies (for example, industry, size, financial leverage, geography, and valuation).”

There is a large body of research that attempts to estimate the common risk factors of PE, such as size and value.

Vanguard provides results from a sample of academic studies which suggests PE Funds tend to have above market risk (high betas) and a small size tilt.  The research also suggests that buyout funds have a value bias, whereas venture capital funds display a negative value bias.

These are important considerations to contemplate when evaluating the inclusion of PE into a diversified and robust portfolio to minimise unintended risk exposures.

Manager-specific alpha

“Investors accept idiosyncratic manager-specific risk in exchange for the opportunity to generate alpha.”

Vanguard outlined that PE managers look to add value in the following ways:

  • Company selection. In addition to their company selection skills, some managers may have access to certain deals or parts of the market that others may not because of their reputation or skill set.
  • Thematic bets. Managers can choose to focus on secular or structural changes (such as technological, regulatory, and consumer preference) that may not be fully reflected in company valuations today.
  • Governance. PE firms can provide the oversight to help portfolio companies with the likes of strategic planning, conflicts of interest, and remaining focused on competitive advantages.
  • Finance. PE firms provide guidance in optimising capital structures of portfolio companies.
  • Operations. PE firms may have specific sector or industry expertise that can help portfolio companies make key decisions, reduce costs, and identify growth opportunities.

Manager due diligence is always important, in relation to PE investors should understand how a manager seeks to add value, why the manager believes they will be successful, and what success will look like.

Always have a set of expectations as to a manager’s expected performance, these can be both quantitative and qualitative.  Undertake ongoing monitoring and review of the manager relative to these expectations.

As the Vanguard article highlights “David Swensen, the long-time chief investment officer of the Yale University endowment who may be the most well-known evaluator of private equity managers in the world, stresses that qualitative factors (such as people and process) play a central role in manager evaluations.”

All-in costs

Vanguard make the very significant point “Investors care most about performance net of all costs.”

The size and structure of PE fees/costs are materially different to investing into Public markets.  Investors will need to understand these and most importantly assess the likely performance outcome after all fees and charges.

Private Equity Portfolio modelling challenges

Most asset allocation models are built with liquid public assets in mind (e.g. public equities, fixed income, and cash) and assume the portfolio can be rebalanced periodically and with minimum cost.

However, with the introduction of illiquid asset classes, such as PE, there are some fundamental differences that need to be accounted for when undertaking portfolio modelling.

As outlined by Vanguard, these include:

  1. Smoothed (appraisal-based) private equity return estimates: Private equity historical return data have limited holdings transparency and are based on subjective appraisal-based valuations rather than observable, transaction-based prices on a public exchange. Relying solely on appraisal-based values to calculate returns can lead to significant underestimation of the volatility of returns.
  2. Illiquidity and frictionless rebalancing: Investors in private equity have less ability to trade their investment and rebalance their portfolio back to the intended target allocation. For this reason, they should require compensation in the form of a liquidity premium.
  3. Uncertainty in timing and magnitude of cash flows: Because private equity investors cannot control the timing or size of private equity fund cash flows, they incur an additional type of risk.
  4. Illiquidity and valuation adjustment: Private equity fund investments cannot easily be accessed and liquidated unless at a discount to NAV in most cases. This implies that liquid asset prices and private equity fund NAVs are not directly comparable.

Therefore, there are three distinct sources of risk when investing into PE:

  1. Market Risk (Systematic risk) which Public Equities also have, and is best measured via decomposition of risk factors (e.g. value and small cap) that are present in the public markets.  This risk is more accurately estimated after unsmoothing the returns from PE.
  2. Illiquidity factor risk that is unique to private equity and not observed in public markets.
  3. Manager (Idiosyncratic to the manager and unsystematic risk of individual companies) risk for the specific manager(s) selected. This is effectively active risk, with the potential to generate excess returns for the risk taken (which is alpha, a great portfolio diversifier).

Portfolio modelling with the inclusion of Private Equity

One of the key issues to consider when incorporating unlisted assets, such as PE, into a portfolio is the smoothed nature of the historical return data, which reflects appraisal-based valuations.

The use of smoothed historical returns results in an underestimation of return volatility.  The underestimation of volatility could lead to an overallocation to PE when undertaking portfolio modelling.

For portfolio modelling purposes, the true underlying risk profile of PE needs to be understood to make a better assessment when comparing and combining with public market assets.

As Vanguard highlight, several “statistical methods have been proposed in the academic literature over the last few decades to try to better understand historical performance. None of them are without shortcomings, which is why there remains no universally agreed-upon approach among academics or practitioners.”

Vanguard follow a time-series technique to “unsmooth” historically reported PE returns.  For a more in-depth discussion please see the Research Paper.

The adjustment to PE returns is presented in the Table below.  Note how Private Equity (adjusted) volatility is 22.6%, up from 10.7% calculated using reported historical PE returns.

The adjusted PE returns results in a more realistic return profile for PE which can be used for portfolio modelling purposes, resulting in more sensible volatility and covariance estimations.  Note historical PE returns have been preserved, only volatility measures have been adjusted.

In addition to estimating unbiased PE return estimates, as above, Vanguard also undertake the following adjustments to the standard portfolio modelling approach to address the issues identified above:

Account for the illiquidity of PE

Vanguard’s portfolio model, VAAM, drops the assumption of low cost and regular rebalancing assumed in standard portfolio modelling frameworks.  Therefore, they assume that PE can not be fully rebalanced.  As they note, “This illiquidity-constrained rebalance feature provides a more accurate representation of the risk-return trade-offs between liquidity premium and risks associated with private equity assessed within the portfolio optimization.”

Explicitly modelling private equity cash flows

Accounting for the uncertainty in timing and magnitude of PE cashflows Vanguard explicitly model cashflows in a multi-asset portfolio.  As noted above, cash needs to put aside for future committed investments (contributions) and timing of distributions (capital returned) also needs to be accounted for.

It is important to note, this nature of PE leads to additional decision making in the management of a multi-asset portfolio that includes PE i.e. where cash tagged for future PE investment should be invested in the interim and decisions around portfolio rebalancing.

Optional valuation adjustment of the illiquid wealth of the portfolio

Vanguard also make an adjustment for the disparity in market value of liquid and illiquid assets.  This reflects that illiquid assets, such as PE, can at times be sold in a secondary market, which more often than not trades at a discount (i.e. lower price) to asset values.

The discount function they implement “effectively converts illiquid wealth into its liquid equivalent.”

The Results

Compared to a multi-asset portfolio of 70% Equities and 30% Fixed Income (70/30) the key results include:

  • Portfolio modelling that ignores private equity’s illiquid characteristics as covered above leads to a higher allocation in PE compared with Vanguard’s enhanced framework (VAAM)
  • VAAM results in the PE allocation within “Equities” to fall from 50% to 30%
  • The sensitivity to key risk parameters include: expectations the manager will generate lower excess returns results in a lower allocation (12% vs 23%); a “lower risk” manager results in a higher PE allocation (36% vs. 23%)
  • For more conservative portfolios, such as a 30/70, although the total equity allocation decreases, the target PE share of total equity does not change materially relative to that of the 70/30 investor.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Drivers of Unexpected Portfolio Return Outcomes – that should be controlled for.

Six reasons could largely explain manager underperformance or the delivery of investment return outcomes different from what is expected.

Conversely, controlling for these “risks” might be the reason why a Manager is consistently adding value.

How a manager controls for the following risks should be considered as part of the due diligence process and in the construction of a multi-manager portfolio:

  1. Levels of uncompensated vs compensated risk
  2. Incidence of underlying portfolio holdings cancelling each other out
  3. Hidden portfolio risks resulting in unintended outcomes
  4. Conventional style-box investing, which leads to index-like performance with higher fees
  5. Over-diversification
  6. Possible attempts to “time” manager changes may prove costly.

The above six risks where identified by Northern Trust following the analysis of $200 billion of assets on more than 200 equity portfolios from 64 institutional investors around the world.  The results surprised many of the institutions involved. 

Northern Trust expressed the above risks as “six common drivers of unexpected Portfolio Results.”

These risks largely explained manager underperformance in single manager portfolios and also multi-manager portfolios.

The analysis highlights, in my opinion, that implementation and portfolio construction are fundamental to capturing value and in delivering excess returns. Although the investment theory and development of investment strategy are important, implementation and portfolio construction are fundamental.  This is an important area to focus on in undertaking manager/strategy due diligence.

To the point, implementation is vital in capturing the desired investment outcomes of any proposed investment strategy.  This is where a lot of value is added, primarily by not detracted value in implementing the desired strategy!

As Northern Trust emphasis, finding a manager that consistently delivers on their investment objectives is certainly important, but it should not be the only area of focus.  Knowing how a manager, or strategy, interacts with the rest of your portfolio can have much more impact over time.

Institutions had nearly 2x more uncompensated vs compensated risk

Northern Trust found that portfolios which became “overcrowded” with uncompensated risks tended to underperform.

Risk needs to be taken to outperform.  Nevertheless, some risks are compensated for over the longer term and others are not.  Norther Trust outlines that some styles are not compensated for over the longer term, e.g. low quality.  They also include currency, and some countries and sectors have also not historically compensated for the risk taken.

From my own experience, managers who control for some of these risks, tend to outperform, primarily because intended risks, such as company specific risks or compensated styles, end up driving investment outcomes.

Norther Trust found a high level of uncompensated risk across all institutional investment segments, including Super Funds, Endowments, Insurance, Corporate Pensions, and Family Offices.

They conclude: “The result of uncompensated risks comprising nearly 50% of total portfolio active risk was generally benchmark-like returns or underperformance.  While sometimes these risks were taken intentionally, we found that many institutions were surprised when they saw the actual numbers.”

Underlying portfolio holdings cancelled each other out – and hurt performance

This risk particularly impacts multi-manager portfolios.

The cancellation effect occurs when managers within a portfolio take opposing positions that offsets each other e.g. one manager goes overweight a stock another manager is underweight, a manager might have a growth bias which offsets a manager with a value bias.

As Northern Trust note, on a standalone basis many managers individually offer high active risk, once combined with other managers a lot of this active risk is cancelled out.

This needs to be considered in the construction of a multi-manager portfolio. 

Northern Trust conclude: “Our analysis uncovered a shocking amount of this cancellation effect.  Nearly 50% of manager active risk was lost.  Capturing just 50% of targeted active risk, while paying 100% of the manager fees, effectively translates into paying 2x more for each realized basis point of active risk than originally thought.”

Hidden Portfolio risks cause unintended outcomes

Northern Trust found that style tilts contributed 29% of active risk on average.  However, other bets where often introduced into a portfolio unintentionally and led to “unpredictable portfolio outcomes.”

Although some styles are a consistent source of excess returns over time, it was unintended style risks that negatively impacted portfolio performance.

Often, these unintended style risks are included when trying to capture a known rewarded risk e.g. value comes with common unintended style risk exposures of low quality and low momentum.

This means meaningful style exposure is lost.

They conclude: “Our research uncovered that 55% of the portfolios had material style conflicts – caused by the cancellation effect – that introduced exposures different from the managers stated objective.  This introduction of conflicting and unintended style exposures left many portfolios with no material exposure to their intended style tilts.”

Conventional style investing led to index like performance with higher fees

This is probably self-evident to many, particularly given the above research conclusions.

Northern Trust found that those portfolios based on conventional style analysis, and those of a core-satellite approach, tended to suffer more from the cancellation effect.

The “style box” approach portfolio was more likely to have managers who took opposing views or two managers where hired to generate an exposure one manager alone could achieve.

As a result, “conventional style investing, whether intentional or not, created a mix of managers that closely mimicked the benchmark and left little chance to outperform.”

Over-diversification diluted performance

The Northern Trust research highlights than “hiring too many managers or building equity portfolios with thousand of securities took a significant toll on performance.”

Obviously, adding managers and combination of strategies can reduce overall portfolio risk, Northern Trust research showed that often the risks reduced where different to what was intended.

Norther Trust conclude: “While there are many approaches to generating excess returns, our research suggests that a greater focus on eliminating uncompensated risks is a critical first step toward potentially increasing a portfolio’s ability to outperform.”

Possible attempts to “time” manager changes may prove costly

Do not chase manager performance.  The Northern Trust research highlighted that historically poor active management performance had resulted in lower allocations to active managers in the following year.  When performance was better, a higher allocation to active managers resulted.

As they conclude: “Finding a manager that consistently delivers on their investment objectives is certainly important, but it should not be the only area of focus.  As evidenced through the preceding discoveries of this report, knowing how a manager will interact with the rest of your portfolio can ultimately be much more impactful over time.”

Access to the Northern Trust Risk Report can be found here.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Monthly Financial Markets Commentary – November 2020

The latest monthly commentary, for December 2020, can be found here.

Vaccine Recovery

  • Risk assets (e.g. equities and commodities) performed strongly in November following encouraging Covid-19 vaccine trial results from Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.
  • Global equities returned 13.3% in November, many markets had one of their best monthly returns in several years. Some markets reached historical highs, including New Zealand and the US. European markets outperformed, Spain and Italy returned 28.3% and 26.3% respectively.
  • US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a Covid-19 vaccine could be as early as 10th December 2020.  Europe is likely to approve a vaccine(s) by the end of the year.
  • A great way to finish a very challenging year.
  • Expectations are for widespread vaccinations in the US by April 2021, high-risk individuals will receive the vaccine earlier, as early as mid-December 2020.
  • Likewise, it is anticipated large proportions of the population in the UK, European Union, Japan, and Australia will be vaccinated by May 2021.  It is estimated New Zealand will get their first doses of the vaccine in March 2021.
  • In addition to the widespread public health benefits, global economic activity is expected to pick up in the second quarter of 2021, underpinning the V(accine)-Shaped Recovery, as expressed by Goldman Sachs.  They forecast 5% growth in the US over 2021, and 6% for the global economy.
  • In the interim, global economic activity is expected to weaken over the last quarter of 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021 due to the rise in Covid-19 cases over the last couple of months in Europe and the US, and as the northern hemisphere heads into the winter months (a high risk period). 
  • There has been a softening of European high-frequency data recently, such as truck milage data in Germany, UK retail sales, and cinemas and restaurants have witnessed declining revenues due to the tightening of lockdown measures.  Although less severe than actions undertaken in Europe, State and Local restrictions have increased in the USA.
  • The outcome of the US elections buoyed markets at the beginning of the month.  Although Biden has been elected the 46th President of the United States of America, congress will likely remain divided.  A divided government means regulatory risks have decline, taxes are likely to remain lower, some pro-business policies will remain in place, and government spending to be less relative to the Blue wave outcome.  A $1 trillion dollar US Government stimulus package is now expected, less than half of what was previously anticipated.
  • Recent US earnings have also surprised on the upside, supporting markets, as US companies managed to maintain profit margins better than expected despite the large hit to revenues.
  • November was characterised by a “pro-cyclical” trade, where those stocks that have lagged the market for some time and will benefit more from an opening of economies outperformed.  From a sector perspective Energy, Financials, and Consumer Discretionary performed well.  The “Covid” trade sectors, Consumer Staples, Healthcare, and Utilities lagged the broader market.  Likewise, value and high beta stocks outperformed, low volatility, momentum, and growth underperformed – this will be reflected in relative manager performance in November.
  • In other asset classes, commodities returned 8.6% in November, crude oil was up 25.7%, surpassing pre-covid-19 highs, and gold fell -5.6%.
  • Fixed income performed well, particularly corporate credit and high yield, both returning over 3% in the US.
  • Emerging markets equities underperformed developed markets, returning 8.9%.  (above returns based on S&P Index data.)
  • The US dollar continued to weaken over the month.  This saw the New Zealand dollar (Kiwi) trade at a two and half year high versus the Greenback, rising from 66.25 cents to 70.41 cents (+6.3%).  
  • The strength in the Kiwi partly reflects a scaling back of expectations the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) will move the Official Cash Rate (OCR) into negative territory, given rising house prices e.g. house prices in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, have risen 10.8% since June averages based on sales by New Zealand’s biggest real estate business, Barfoot and Thompson.
  • Key risks include ongoing uncertainty over transition of power in the US, global economic activity slows more than expected due to recent rise in covid-19 cases, US government stimulus package disappoints, and vaccine roll out is slower than anticipated.
  • Albeit the medium-term outlook for equities is well supported by an eventual roll out of a vaccine and ultra-low interest rates.  Low interest rates are expected to remain in place for some time, the US Federal Reserve is not expected to raise interest rates until 2025.
  • Equities remain attractive relative to bonds.  Although longer-term interest rates are likely to drift higher over the next few years, a significant move higher is unlikely given an absence of inflation.  Therefore, higher interest rates are not expected to be a threat to global equity markets for some time. 

Please read my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

The benefits of behavioral finance in the investment planning process

Investment advisors who stay active across their client base in times of market volatility are more likely to add new clients from a variety of sources.

Clients and prospects want to know that their advisor is looking out for them, even when the advice they are delivering is to stay the course or focus on the long term.

Laying a foundation for communications based on behavioral finance allows advisors to better set expectations early on in client relationships, while also offering an opportunity to maintain an open dialogue when markets become turbulent.

When properly employed, behavioral finance allows advisors to pursue the twin goals of helping investors feel less financial stress while making better decisions in pursuit of their long-term goals.

A recent study found those advisors who employed behavioral finance in their approach:

  1. Gained a better understanding of clients’ risk appetite and kept them invested during the market turbulence in early 2020;
  2. Reported elevated client acquisition activity earlier in the year; and
  3. Developed deeper relations with clients.

As market volatility escalated, advisors increasingly turned to behavioral finance to help keep clients invested and focused on their long-term goals.

These are the key conclusions of a White Paper by Cerulli Associates, in partnership with Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc., and the Investments & Wealth Institute: The Evolving Role of Behavioral Finance in 2020.    The Evolving Role of Behavioral Finance in 2020 | Schwab Funds

These findings will not be surprising to most investment advisors.  Nevertheless, the evidence supporting including elements of behavioral finance in the planning process is growing, and it is becoming more widely accepted.

It goes without saying, that advisors truly need to get to know their clients and use these insights to create personalised action plans to help them achieve their goals.  Clients prefer this too. 

Incorporating elements of behavioral finance in the planning process will help achieve this, benefiting both the client and advisor.

We all have behavioral biases and are prone to making poor decisions, investment related or otherwise. Therefore, it is important to understand our behavioral biases. From this perspective, behavioral finance can help us make better investment decisions.

For a further discussion on how investment decisions can be improved by employing behavior finance see this Kiwi Investor Blog Post, which includes access to a Behavioral Finance Toolkit.

Behavioral Biases

The following Table outlines the Top 5 behavioral biases identified by advisors in the Cerulli Associates study.

Recency biasBeing easily influenced by recent news events or experiences
Loss aversionOpting for less risk in portfolio than is recommended
Familiarity/home biasPreferring to invest in familiar (U.S. domiciled) companies
FramingMaking decisions based on the way the information is presented
Mental accountingSeparating wealth into different buckets based on financial goals

Not unexpectedly Recency bias was found by advisors to be the most common behavioral bias amongst clients this year.  This was also the most common behavioral bias in 2019, on both occasions 35% of Advisors indicated that Recency bias was a significant contributor to their clients’ decision making.

Loss aversion held the number two spot in both years.  The Paper provides a full list of Client behavioral biases identified, comparing 2020 results with those in 2019.

Clients are more than likely affected by several behavioral biases.

Source: Staib Financial Planning, LLC

Advisors can help clients improve their investment outcomes by influencing the behavioral bias in a positive way.  By way of example in the paper, Framing (easily influenced by recent events), “an advisor can emphasize how rebalancing a portfolio during an equity market decline allows investors to accumulate more shares of their favorite stock or funds at a reduced price.”

They conclude: “by embracing the principles of behavioral finance, advisors can nudge clients toward more constructive ways to think about their portfolios.”

Survey Results – the benefits of Behavioral Finance

The paper defines Behavioral finance as the study of the emotional and intellectual processes that combine to drive investors’ decision making, with the goal of helping clients optimize financial outcomes and emotional satisfaction.

As the White Paper outlines “Advisors must help investors create and maintain a mental framework to help ease their concerns about the fluctuations of the market. Behavioral finance can be a crucial element of advisors’ efforts to help investors overcome their emotional reactions in pursuit of their longterm financial goals.”

There has been an increase in advisors adopting the principles of behavioral finance in America, particularly in relation to client communications.

In 2020 81% of advisors indicated adopting the principles of behavioral finance, up from 71% in 2019.

The increase is likely in response by advisors to provide a “mental framework to deal with the adversity presented by increased uncertainty in the market and in life overall in 2020.”

Benefits of Behavioral Finance

Keeping clients invested was found to be a key benefit of incorporating behavioral finance in the advice process, 55% of advisors indicated this as a benefit, up from 30% in 2019.

The benefit of developing a better understanding of client’s comfort level with risk also grew in 2020, from 20% in 2019 to 44% in 2020 (probably not surprisingly given events in March and April of this year).

In 2019, the benefits of incorporating behavioral finance most cited by advisors was: strengthening relationships (50%), improving decisions (49%), and better managing client expectations (45%).  These benefits also scored highly in 2020. 

The paper provides a full list of the benefits of incorporating behavioral finance, comparing the results of 2020 with 2019.

To summarise, the results highlighted the dual role of behavioral finance in client relationships as:

  1. serving as a framework for deeper engagement to strengthen communications and prioritize goals during good times; and
  2. to help minimize clients’ instinctual adverse reactions during periods of acute volatility.

The paper then focused on two areas:

  • Growing the client base
  • Deepening client connections

Behavioral Finance Advisors experienced greater growth of their client base in 2020

In 2020 55% of advisor respondents indicated they had added new clients since the first quarter of 2020.  4% indicated they had experienced net client losses.

However, the results differed materially between advisors who adopted elements of behavioral finance compared to those who do not.

“Two-thirds (66%) of behavioral finance users reported adding to their client base, compared to just 36% of advisors who are not incorporating behavioral finance in their practices.”

The source of these new clients?:

  • “Approximately two-thirds of new clients were sourced from other advisors with whom clients had become dissatisfied, or as an outcome of investors seeking to consolidate their accounts and maintain fewer advisor relationships. This is frequently attributable to satisfied clients referring friends and family who are discontented with their current advisory relationship.”
  • “The other third of new client relationships was attributable to the conversion of formerly selfdirected investors who found the current conditions an opportune time to seek professional advice for the first time.“

Therefore, “behavioral finance adherents are more likely to not only educate clients regarding the potential for volatility, but also to urge clients to expect it. This scenario reinforces many of the key benefits of leveraging behavioral finance in advisory relationships, especially with regard to managing expectations and remaining invested during periods of volatility.”

Behavioral Finance Advisors develop deeper connections with their client base

Cerulli’s research has found that the level of an advisor’s proactive communication during periods of market volatility is the most reliable indicator of the degree to which the advisor will add new clients during the period.

In the study that they undertook, for example, they found that 72% of those advisors who employed elements of behavioral finance and increased their outgoing calls added new clients, compared to 42% of non-users of behavioral finance.

They conclude “The unifying element in these results is that proactive personal communication was valued by investors and was especially effective for advisors who have made behavioral finance a part of their client engagement strategy.“

A key point here, is that “Instead of having to pivot from touting their investment returns to focusing on explaining volatility, behavioral finance users were able to frame current conditions as expected developments within the context of the long-term plans they had previously developed and discussed.”

From this perspective, it is important to understand what type of communications clients and prospects prefer.

It goes without saying, that advisors truly need to get to know their clients and use these insights to create personalized action plans to help them achieve their goals.

Clients prefer this too. 

Incorporating elements of behavioral finance in the planning process will deliver this, benefiting both the client and advisor. 

Please read my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Behavioral Biases

Recency biasBeing easily influenced by recent news events or experiences
Loss aversionOpting for less risk in portfolio than is recommended
Familiarity/home biasPreferring to invest in familiar (U.S. domiciled) companies
FramingMaking decisions based on the way the information is presented
Mental accountingSeparating wealth into different buckets based on financial goals
Confirmation biasSeeking information that reinforces existing perceptions
AnchoringFocusing on a specific reference point when making decisions
HerdingFollowing the crowd or latest investment trends
Endowment effectAssigning a greater value to investments or assets already owned
Inertia/status quoFailing to take action or avoiding changes to a portfolio
Selective memoryRecalling only positive experiences or outcomes
Regret aversionFearing to take action due to previous mistakes or regret avoidance
Availability biasBasing decisions only on readily available information
OverconfidenceBeing overly confident in one’s own ability
Self-controlSpending excessively today at expense of the future

Sources: Cerulli Associates, in partnership with Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc., and the Investments & Wealth Institute. Analyst Note: Advisors were asked, “To what degree do you believe the following biases may be affecting your clients’ investment decision making?”

Coronavirus – Financial Planning Challenges

For those near retirement this year’s global pandemic has thrown up new challenges for them and their Financial Advisor.

Early retirement due to losing a job, the running down of emergency funds, and a low interest rate environment are new challenges facing those about to retire.

Events this year are likely to have significant repercussions for how individuals conduct their financial planning.  Specifically, how they approach spending and saving goals.

The pandemic will likely have lasting implications for how people think about creating their financial and investment plans, and therefore raises new challenges for the Advisors who assist them.

These are the key issues and conclusions outlined by Christine Benz, director of personal finance for Morningstar, in her article, What the Coronavirus Means for the Future of Financial Planning.

In relation to the key issues identified above, Benz writes “All of these trends have implications for the way households—and the advisors who assist them—manage their finances. While the COVID-19 crisis has brought these topics to the forefront, their importance is likely to persist post-pandemic as well.”

Although the article is US centric, there are some key learnings, which are covered below.

How the Pandemic Has Impacted Financial Planning for Emergencies

The Pandemic has highlighted the importance of emergency funds as part of a sound financial plan and the difficulties that many individuals and households face in amassing these “rainy-day funds.”

Lower income families are more at-risk during times of financial emergencies.  Research in the US found that only 23% of lower-income households had emergency funds sufficient to see them through three months of unemployment.  This rises to 52% for middle income households.

It is advisable to have emergency funds outside of super.

The Morningstar article highlights “Withdrawing from retirement accounts is suboptimal because those withdrawn funds can’t benefit from market appreciation—imagine, for example, the worker who liquidated stocks from a retirement account in late March 2020, only to miss the subsequent recovery.”

An emergency fund helps boost peace of mind and provides a buffer and the confidence to maintain longer-term retirement goals.

Financial Advisors can assist clients in setting saving goals to amass an emergency fund, which is specific to their employment situation, and how best to invest these funds so they are there for a rainy day.

From an industry and Policymaker perspective, and reflecting many households struggle to accumulate emergency reserves, Morningstar raised the prospect of “sidecar” funds as potentially part of the solution.

Sidecars “would be for employees to contribute aftertax dollars automatically to an emergency fund. Once cash builds up to the employee’s own target, he could direct future pretax contributions to long-term retirement savings. Automating these contributions through payroll deductions may make it easier for individuals to save than when they’re saving on a purely discretionary basis.”

The concept of sidecar funds has recently been discussed in New Zealand.

Financial Planning for Early Retirement

The prospect of premature retirement will pose an urgent challenge for some clients. 

Although those newly unemployed will consider looking for a new job some may also consider whether early retirement is an option.

The US experience, to date, has been that those workers 55 and older have been one of groups most impacted by job losses.

Morningstar highlight that early retirement is not always in an individual’s best interest, actually, working a few years longer than age 65 can be “hugely beneficial to the health of a retirement plan,”….

They note the following challenges in early retirement:

  • Lost opportunity of additional retirement fund contributions and potential for further compound returns; and
  • Earlier withdrawals could result in a lower withdrawal rate or reduce the probability the funds lasting through the retirement period. 

Financial Advisors can help clients understand the trade-offs associated with early retirement and the impacts on their financial plans.  Often the decision to retire is about more than money.

Individual circumstances in relation to access to benefits, pensions, health insurance, and tax need to be taken into consideration.  Given this, a tailored financial plan, including the modelling of retirement cashflows on a year-to-year basis would be of considerable value.

Accommodating Low Yields in a Financial Plan

The low interest rate (yield) environment is a challenge for all investors. 

Nevertheless, for those in retirement or nearing retirement is it a more immediate challenge.

Return expectations from fixed income securities (longer dated (maturity) securities) are very low.  Amongst the best predictor of future returns from longer dated fixed income securities, such as a 10-year Government Bonds, is the current yield.

In the US, the current yield on the US Government 10-year Treasury Bond is not much over 1%, in New Zealand the 10-Year Government Bond yields less than 1%.  Expected returns on higher quality corporate bonds are not that much more enticing.

As Morningstar note, “These low yields constrain the return potential of portfolios that have an allocation to bonds and cash, at least for the next decade.“

The low yield and return environment have implications as to the sustainability of investment portfolios to support clients throughout their retirement.

The impact of low interest rates on “withdrawal rates” is highlighted in the graph below, which was provided by Morningstar in a separate article, The Math for Retirement Income Keeps Getting Worse, Revisiting the 4% withdrawal rule

The 4% withdrawal rate equals the amount of capital that can be safely and sustainably withdrawn from a portfolio over time to provide as much retirement income as possible without exhausting savings.

For illustrative purposes, the Morningstar article compares a 100% fixed income portfolio from 2013 and 2020 to reflect the impact of changes in interest rates on the sustainability of investment portfolios assuming a 4% withdrawal rate. 

As Morningstar note, since 2013 investment conditions have changed dramatically. When they published a study in 2013 the 30-year Treasury yield was 3.61% and expected inflation was 2.32%. Investors therefore received a real expected payout of 1.29%.

When they refreshed the study in 2020, those figures are 1.42% and 1.76%, respectively.  This implies a negative expected return after inflation.

The graph below tracks the projected value of $1 million dollars invested in 2013 and 2020.  The prevailing 30-year Treasury yields for July 2013 and October 2020, as outlined above, are used to estimate income for each portfolio, respectively, over time.  A “real” 4% withdrawal rate is assumed i.e. the first years $40k withdrawal grows with the inflation rates outlined above.

As can be seen, the 2013 Portfolio lasts up to 30 years, the 2020 Portfolio only 24 years, highlighting the impact of lower interest rates on the sustainability of an investment portfolio.

Financial Advisors can help in determining the appropriate withdrawal rates from an investment portfolio and the trade-offs involved.  They may also be able to suggest different investment strategies to maintain a higher withdrawal rate and the risks associated with this.

This may also include the purchase of annuities, to manage longevity risk (the risk of running out of money in retirement) rather than from the perspective of boosting current portfolio income.

Morningstar suggests that new retirees “should be conservative on the withdrawal rate front, especially because the much-cited “4% guideline” for portfolio withdrawal rates is based on market history that has never featured the current combination of low yields and not-inexpensive equity valuations.”

The 4% withdrawal rate is an industry “rule of thumb”.  Further discussion on the sustainability of the 4% withdrawal rate can be found here.

I have posted extensively about the low expected return environment and the challenges this creates for the Traditional Portfolio of 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income.

The following Post on what investors should consider doing in the current market environment may be of interest. This Post outlines some investment strategies which may help in maintaining a higher withdrawal rate from an investment portfolio.

Likewise, this Post on how greater customisation of the client’s invest solution is required and who would benefit most from targeted investment advice may also be of interest.

Lastly, Wealth Management.com covers Benz’ article in Retirement Planning in a Pandemic.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Who would benefit most from targeted investment advice?

Those in the Retirement Risk Zone would benefit most from targeted investment advice.

The Retirement Risk Zone is the 10-year period before and after retirement (assumed to retire at age 65 years).

It is the 20-year period when the greatest amount of retirement savings is in play, and subsequently, risk is at its highest.  It is a very important period for retirement planning.

The Retirement Risk Zone is the worst possible time to experience a large negative return.  How much you lose during a bear market (20% or more fall in value of sharemarkets) may not be anywhere near as important as the timing of that loss.

Therefore, the value of good advice and a well-constructed portfolio aligned with one’s investment objectives is of most value during the Retirement Risk Zone.

Impact on timing of market losses

If a large loss occurs during the Retirement Risk Zone it will result in less money in retirement and raise longevity risk (the risk of running out of money in retirement).

The risk that the order of investment returns is unfavourable is referred to as sequencing risk. 

Sequencing risk can be viewed as the interaction of market volatility and cashflows. The timing of returns and cashflows matters during both the accumulation of retirement savings and in retirement.

Once an investor needs to take capital or income from a portfolio volatility of equity markets can wreak havoc on a Portfolio’s value, and ultimately the ability of a portfolio to meet its investment objectives.

It is untrue to say that volatility does not matter for the long term when cashflows are involved.  For further discussion on this issue see this Post, Could Buffett be wrong?

Longevity Risk

The portfolio size effect and sequencing risk have a direct relationship to longevity risk.

For individuals, longevity risk is the risk of outliving ones’ assets, resulting in a lower standard of living, reduced care, or a return to employment.

One-way longevity risk manifests itself is when an investor’s superannuation savings is subject to a major negative market event within the Retirement Risk Zone.

Materiality of Market Volatility in Retirement Risk Zone

Research by Griffith University finds “that sequencing risk can deplete terminal wealth by almost a quarter, at the same time increasing the probability of portfolio ruin at age 85 from a probability of one-in three, to one-in-two.“

Based on their extensive modelling, investors have a 33.3% chance of not having enough money to last to aged 85, this raises to a 50% chance due to a large negative return during the Retirement Risk Zone.

They also note “It is our conjecture that, for someone in their 20s, the impact of sequencing risk is minimal: younger investors have small account balances, and plenty of time to recover …… However, for someone in their late 50s/early 60s, the interplay between portfolio size and sequencing risk can cause a potentially catastrophic financial loss that has serious consequences for individuals, families and broader society.”

This is consistent with other international studies.

Managing Sequencing Risk

Sequencing risk is largely a retirement planning issue. Albeit a robust portfolio and a suitably appropriate investment approach to investing will help mitigate the impact of sequencing risk.

Two key areas from an investment perspective to focus on in managing sequencing risk include:

The Retirement Goal is Income

The OECD’s Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation emphasis that the objective is to generate retirement income.  This is different to the focus on accumulated value.  A key learning from the Australian Superannuation industry is that there has been too greater focus on the size of the accumulated balance and that the purpose of superannuation should be about income in retirement.

An important point to consider, without a greater focus on generating income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement as recommended by the OECD.

The OECD recommends the greater use of asset-liability matching (LDI) investment techniques.   

This is not just about increasing the cash and fixed income allocations within the portfolio but implementing more advanced funds management techniques to position the portfolio to deliver a more stable and secure level of income in retirement.

This is aligned with a Goals Based Investment approach.

A greater focus on reducing downside risk in a portfolio (Capital Preservation)

This is beyond just reducing the equity allocation within the retirement portfolio on approaching retirement, albeit this is fundamentally important in most cases.

A robust portfolio must display true portfolio diversification, that helps manage downside risk i.e. reduce degree of losses within a portfolio.

This may include the inclusion of alternative investments, tail risk hedging, and low volatility equities may also be option.

The current ultra-low interest rate environment presents a challenging environment for preserving portfolio capital, historically the role of Fixed Income.  Further discussion on this issue can be found in this Post, which includes a discussion on Tail Risk Hedging.

This article in smstrusteenews highlights the growing issue of capital preservation within the Australian Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF) space given the current investment environment.

Meanwhile, this article from Forbes is on managing sequence of returns in retirement, and recommends amongst other things in having some flexibility around spending, maintaining reserve assets so you don’t have to sell assets after they fall in value, and the use of Annuities.

Many argue that sequencing risk can be managed by Product use alone. 

My preference is for a robust portfolio, truly diversified that is based on the principles of Goals-Based Investing.  Longevity annuities could be used to complement the Goals-Based approach, to manage longevity risk.

This is more aligned with a Robust Investment solution and the focus on generating retirement income as the essential investment goal.

Further Reading 

For a more technical read please see the following papers:

  1. Griffith University = The Retirement Risk Zone: A Baseline Study poorly-timed negative return event
  2. Retirement income and the sequence of-returns By: Moshe A. Milevsky, Ph.D., and Anna Abaimova, for MetLife

The case for a greater focus on generating retirement income is provided in this Post, summarising an article by Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Merton.  He argues strongly we should move away from the goal of amassing a lump sum at the time of retirement to one of achieving a retirement income for life.

The concepts in Merton’s article are consistent with the work by the EDHEC Risk Institute in building more robust retirement income solutions.

Lastly, a recent Kiwi Investor Blog Post, The Traditional Diversified Fund is outdated – greater customisation of the client’s investment solution is required, provides a framework for generating greater tailoring of investment solutions for clients.

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Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.