The Traditional Diversified Fund is outdated – greater customisation of the client’s investment solution is required

Although it has been evident for several years, the current investment environment highlights the shortcomings of the one size fits all multi-asset portfolio (commonly known as Diversified Funds such as Conservative, Balanced, and Growth Funds, which maintain static Strategic Asset Allocations, arising to the reference of the “Policy Portfolio”).

The mass-produced Diversified Funds downplay the importance of customisation by assuming investment problems can be portrayed within a simple risk and return framework.

However, saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring tailoring of the investment solution.   Different investors have different goals and circumstances.  This cannot be easily achieved within a one size fits all Diversified Fund.

Modern-day investment solutions involve greater customisation.  This is particularly true for those near or in retirement.

A massive step toward offering increased customisation of the Wealth Management investment solution is the framework of two distinctive “reference” portfolios: A Return Seeking Portfolio; and Liability-Hedging (Capital Protected) Portfolio.

Details and implementation of this framework are provided in the next section.  The benefits of the framework include:

  • A better assessment of the risks needed to be taken to reach a client’s essential goals and how much more risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals;
  • An approach that will help facilitate more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved; and
  • A more efficient use of invested capital.  This is a very attractive attribute in the current low interest rate environment.  The framework will be more responsive to changing interest rates in the future.

These benefits cannot be efficiently and effectively achieved within the traditional Diversified Fund one size fits all framework; greater customisation of the investment solution is required.

With modern-day technology greater customisation of the investment solution can easily be achieved.

The technology solution is enhanced with an appropriate investment framework also in place.

Implementation of the Modern-Day Wealth Management Investment Solution

The reasons for the death of the Policy Portfolio (Diversified Fund) and rationale for the modern-day Wealth Management investment solution are provided below.

Modern-day investment solutions have two specific investment portfolios:  

  • Return seeking Portfolio that is a truly diversified growth portfolio, owning a wide array of different return seeking investment strategies; and
  • Capital Protected (Liability) Portfolio, is more complex, particularly in the current investment environment.  See comments below.

The allocations between the Return Seeking portfolio and Capital Protected portfolio would be different depending on the client’s individual circumstances.  Importantly, consideration is given to a greater array of client specific factors than just risk appetite and risk and return outcomes e.g. other sources of income, assets outside super.

Although the return seeking portfolio can be the same for all clients, the Capital Protected (Liability) portfolio should be tailored to the client’s needs and objectives, being very responsive to their future cashflow/income needs, it needs to be more “custom-made”.

The solution also involves a dynamic approach to allocate between the two portfolios depending on market conditions and the client’s situation in relation to the likelihood of them meeting their investment objectives.  This is a more practical and customer centric approach relative to undertaking tactical allocations in relation to a Policy Portfolio.

The framework easily allows for the inclusion of a diverse range of individual investment strategies.  Ideally a menu offering an array of investment strategies can be accessed allowing the customisation of the investment solution for the client by the investment adviser.

Implementation is key, which involves identifying and combining different investment strategies to build customised robust investment solutions for clients.

The death of the Policy Portfolio

Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), the bedrock of most current portfolios, including the Policy Portfolio, was developed in the 1950s.

Although key learnings can be taken from MPT, particularly the benefits of diversification, enhancements have been made based on the ongoing academic and practitioner research into building more robust investment solutions.  See here for a background discussion.

The Policy Portfolio is the strategic asset allocation (SAA) of a portfolio to several different asset classes deemed to be most appropriate for the investor e.g. Diversified Funds

It is a single Portfolio solution.

A key industry development, and the main driver of the move away from the old paradigm, is the realisation that investment solutions should not be framed in terms of one all-encompassing Policy Portfolio but instead should be framed in terms of two distinct reference Portfolios.

A very good example of the two portfolios framework is provided by EDHEC-Risk Institute and is explained in the context of a Wealth Management solution.  They describe the two reference portfolios framework involving:

  1. Liability-hedging portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks to match future income requirements of the individual in retirement, and
  2. Performance Seeking Portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks growth in asset value.

The concept of two separate portfolios is not new, it dates to finance studies from the 1950s on fund separation theorems (which is an area of research separate to the MPT).

The concept of two portfolios has also been endorsed by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.  Kahneman discusses the idea of a “regret-proof policy” here.

The death of the Policy Portfolio was first raised by Peter Bernstein in 2003.

Reasons for the death of Policy Portfolio include:

  • there is no such thing as a meaningful Policy Portfolio. Individual circumstances are different.
  • Investors should be dynamic; they need to react to changing market conditions and the likelihood of meeting their investment goals – a portfolio should not be held constant for a long period of time.

Many institutional investors have moved toward liability driven investment (LDI) solutions, separating out the hedging of future liabilities and building another portfolio component that is return seeking.  More can be found on LDI here.

These “institutional” investment approaches, LDI, portfolio separation, and being more dynamic are finding their way into Wealth Management solutions around the world.

Evolution of Wealth Management – Implementation of the new Paradigm

In relation to Wealth Management, the new paradigm has led to Goal-Based investing (GBI) for individuals. GBI focuses is on meeting investor’s goals along similar lines that LDI does for institutional investors.

As explained by EDHEC Risk Goal-Based Investing involves:

  1. Disaggregation of investor preferences into a hierarchical list of goals, with a key distinction between essential and aspirational goals, and the mapping of these groups to hedging portfolios possessing corresponding risk characteristics (Liability Hedging Portfolio).
  2. On the other hand, it involves an efficient dynamic allocation to these dedicated hedging portfolios and a common performance seeking portfolio.

GBI is consistent with the two portfolios approach, fund separation, LDI, and undertaking a dynamic investment approach.

The first portfolio is the Liability Hedging Portfolio to meet future income requirements, encompassing all essential goals.

The objective of this Portfolio is to secure with some certainty future retirement income requirements. It is typically dominated by longer dated high quality fixed income securities, including inflation linked securities.  It does not have a high exposure to cash. In the context of meeting future cashflow requirements in retirement Cash is the riskiest asset, unless the cashflows need are to be met in the immediate future.  For further discussion on the riskiness of cash in the context of retirement portfolios see here.

The second portfolio is the return seeking portfolio or growth portfolio. This is used to attain aspirational goals, objectives above essential goals. It is also required if the investor needs to take on more risk to achieve their essential goals in retirement i.e. a younger investor would have a higher allocation to the Return Seeking Portfolio.

The Growth Portfolio would be exposed to a diversified array of risk exposures, including equities, developed and emerging markets, factor exposures, and unlisted assets e.g. unlisted infrastructure, direct property, and Private Equity.

Allocations between the Hedging Portfolio and the Growth Portfolio would depend on an individual’s circumstances e.g. how far away they are from reaching their desired standard of living in retirement.

This provides a fantastic framework for determining the level of risk to take in meeting essential goals and how much risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals.

This will will lead to a more efficient use of invested capital and a better assessment of the investment risks involved.

Importantly, the framework will help facilitate a more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework also helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved.

For those wanting a greater appreciation of EDHEC’s framework please see their short paper: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How An Industrial Revolution is about to Take Place in Money Management and Why it Involves a Shift from Investment Products to Investment Solutions  (see: EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM)

A more technical review of these issues has also been undertaken by EDHEC.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The case against US equities

Extremely high valuations at a time of overwhelming uncertainty sits at the core of the case against US equities.  The US equity market appears to be priced for a perfect outcome. 

For those that demand a margin of safety, there is very little safety margin right now in US equities.

GMO’s James Montier recently outlined the reasons not to be cheerful toward US equities. 

This contrasts with Goldman Sachs 10 reasons why the US equity market will move higher from here, which I covered in my last Post.

In the GMO article it is argued the US sharemarket is priced with too much certainty for a positive outcome.  Nevertheless, with so much uncertainty, such as shape of the economic recovery and effectiveness of efforts in containing further outbreaks of the coronavirus, investors should demand a margin of safety, “wriggle room for bad outcomes if you like”. 

The article concludes there is no margin of safety in the pricing of US stocks today.

In his view, “The U.S. stock market looks increasingly like the hapless Wile E. Coyote, running off the edge of a cliff in pursuit of the pesky Roadrunner but not yet realizing the ground beneath his feet had run out some time ago”.

This view in part reflects that GMO does not fully support the narrative that has primarily driven the recovery in the US stock market over recent months and is expected to provide further support.

The centre of the positive market outlook narrative is the US Federal Reserves’ (Fed) Quantitative Easing program (QE).  QE involves the buying of market securities, leading to an expansion of the Fed’s Balance Sheet.

In short, Montier thinks it is tricky to argue any direct linkage from the Fed’s balance sheet expansion programs to equities.  In previous Fed QE periods longer-term interest rates rose, which is not supportive of equities.  It is also observed, in other parts of the world where interest rates are low, equity markets are not trading on extreme valuations like in the US.

On this he concludes the “Fed-based explanations are at best ex post justifications for the performance of the stock market; at worst they are part of a dangerously incorrect narrative driving sentiment (and prices higher).” 

Further detail is provided below on why he is skeptical of positive market outlook narrative centred around ongoing support for the Fed’s policy.

The article concludes:

“Investing is always about making decisions while under a cloud of uncertainty. It is how one deals with the uncertainty that distinguishes the long-term value-based investors from the rest. Rather than acting as if the uncertainty doesn’t exist (the current fad), the value investor embraces it and demands a margin of safety to reflect the unknown. There is no margin of safety in the pricing of U.S. stocks today. Voltaire observed, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” The U.S. stock market appears to be absurd.”

This view is consistent with a “long term value” based investor and has some validity.  From this perspective, the investment rationale provides a counterbalance to Goldman’s 10 reasons.

The counter argument to GMO’s interest rate view is that the fall in interest rates reflects higher private sector savings and easier monetary policy rather than pessimism about growth and corporate earnings.  Reflecting the expansionary polices of both governments and central banks corporate earnings will recover.  Although weaker, the temporary fall in corporate earnings are not in proportion to that implied by lower interest rates.  This means lower interest rates really do justify higher market valuations.

Also, the two contrasting views could be correct, the only difference being a matter of time.

Implementation of investment strategy is key at this juncture in the economic and market cycle, more so than at any time over the last 20 years.

Historical sharemarket movements and over valuation

Since reaching the lows of 23rd March 2020, the U.S. equity market has rallied almost 50% and other world markets nearly 40%.

The movements in markets have been historic from the perspective of both the speed and scale of the market declines and their rebound.

GMO provide the following graph to demonstrate how sharp the fall and rebound by comparing the Covid-19 decline to others in history, as outlined in the following graph they provide:

Source: Global Financial Data, GMO

The sharp rebound in markets has pushed the US markets back up to extreme valuation levels.

The article outlines the following observations:

  • In 1929 the U.S. market P/E was 37% above its long-term average, and earnings relative to 10-year earnings were 46% above their normal level
  • In 2000 the market P/E was 98% above its average, and earnings relative to 10-year average earnings were 37% above their normal level.
  •  

As displayed in the following graph provided, valuations are in the 95th percentile, “right up there in terms of one of the most expensive markets of all time”.

Source: Schiller, GMO

It is clear to see there is very little margin for safety with such high valuation levels set against an uncertainty economic environment.

Accommodative US Federal Reserve Policy

A portion of the GMO article addresses the notion that an expanding Fed Balance Sheet will continue to support US equities.  The notion being that QE lowers interest rates, reducing the discount rate, and therefore drives up stock markets.

James prefers to focus on fundamentals and therefore has several issues with this viewpoint:

  1. He is skeptical of a clear link between interest rates and equity valuations.  As noted, Japan and Europe both have exceptionally low interest rates, but their stock markets are not trading on extreme market valuation like the US.
  2. Interest rates are low because economic growth is low, this needs to be reflected in company valuations.  See the note below, Role of Interest Rates for a fuller explanation.
  3. QE hasn’t actually managed to lower interest rates.  As can be seen in the Graph below, all three of the completed cycles of QE have actually ended with interest rates higher than they were when the QE began.
Source: Global Financial Data, GMO

The graph also highlights how low US interest rates are!

A Note on the Role of Interest Rates

The following extract from the Article outlines James’ explanation as to the Role of Interest Rates:

“I am no longer unique in my questioning of the role of interest rates. The good people at AQR Capital released a paper in May 2020 entitled “Value and Interest Rates: Are Rates to Blame for Value’s Torments?” In it they say, “As the risk-free interest rate is one component of the discount rate, when interest rates go up, the discount rate increases and the asset price falls – if everything else stays constant. Hence, if expected cash flows are unchanged and if the risk premium associated with those cash flows is unchanged (where the risk premium is determined by both the amount of risk exposure the cash flows have and the price of aggregate risk to those exposures in the economy), then the formula tells us how prices will change when riskless interest rates change. However, in the case of stocks, these other components rarely stay constant. Changes in real or nominal interest rates are often accompanied by (or are often a response to) changes in expected inflation and/or changes in expected economic growth, and hence expected cashflows are often changing as well. There may also be a change in the required risk premium, which is the other (and often larger) component of the discount rate. All of these components have their own dynamics and are likely simultaneously being affected by macroeconomic conditions in possibly different ways.”

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The case for owning equities – 10 reasons why the current bull market has further to run by Goldman Sachs

In what has been an extraordinary year, and despite a sharp bounce back from the sharemarket lows in March 2020, Goldman Sachs (GS) provides 10 strong reasons why they think US equity markets can continue to move higher from here.

GS issued their report earlier this week, 7th September 2020, after last week’s sharp declines. 

Quite rightly they highlight markets are currently susceptible to a pull back given their strong run since earlier in the year.  Nevertheless, over the longer term they think there are good reasons for them to move higher.

GS provide context in relation to the current market environment.

Firstly, the current global recession is unusual, not only to how sudden, sharp, and widespread the recession has been, also that it was not triggered by economic or market factors.  The recession was caused by government actions to restrict economic activity to contain the coronavirus.

Secondly, GS provides analysis as to the characteristics of the bear market (sharemarket fall of greater than 20%) earlier in the year.  They note it was characteristic of an “event driven” bear market (other types include structural and cyclical).  GS note that event driven bear markets typically experience falls of ~30% and are generally shorter in nature.  A sharp fall is often followed by a quick rebound.  They estimate that on average event driven bear markets take 9 months to reach their lows and fully recover within 15 months.  This compares to a structural bear market which take 3-4 years to reach their lows and around 10 years to recover.

See this Post for the history and comprehensive analysis of previous bear markets by Goldman Sachs: What too expect, navigating the current bear market.

GS also see lower returns than historically in the current investment cycle, this is expected across all asset classes.

Reasons why the current bull market has further to run

Goldman Sachs provide 10 reason why the current bull market has further to run.

Below I cover some of their reasons:

  • The market is in the first phase of a new investment cycle.  GS outline four phases of a cycle, hope, growth, optimism, and despair.  They see markets in the phase of hope, the first part of a new cycle.  2019 had the hallmarks of optimism.  The hope phase usually begins when economies are in recession as investors start to anticipate an economic recovery. 
  • The outlook for a vaccine has become more likely.  This is a positive for economic growth.  This combined with the expansionary policies by governments and central banks suggest economies will recover. 
  • The Policy environment is supportive for risk assets, including sharemarkets.
  • GS economists have recently revised up their economic forecasts.  This will likely lead to upward revisions to corporate earnings, which will help drive share prices higher.
  • Their proprietary analysis indicates there is a low level of risk for a new bear market, despite current high valuations.
  • Equities look attractive relative to other assets.  Dividend yields are attractive relative to government bonds and in GS’s view cheap relative to corporate debt, particularly those companies with strong balance sheets.
  • Although higher levels of inflation are not likely in the short/medium term, Equities offer a reasonable hedge to higher inflation expectations.
  • They see the technology sector continuing to dominate as the digital revolution continues to gather pace. They also note that many of the large tech stocks have high levels of cash and strong balance sheets. 

This article by the Financial News provides a good review of Goldman Sachs’ 10 reasons why the current bull market has further to run.

In my last Post I looked at the investment case for holding government bonds and fixed income which might be of interest.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The Case for holding Government Bonds and fixed income

The case for holding Government Bonds is all about certainty.  The question isn’t why would you own bonds but, in the current environment, why wouldn’t you own bonds to deliver certainty in such uncertain times?

This is the central argument for holding government bonds within a portfolio.  The case for holding government bonds is well presented in a recent article by Darren Langer, from Nikko Asset Management, Why you can’t afford not to own government bonds.

As he argues, 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.

The article examines some of the reasons why owning government bonds makes good sense in today’s investment and economic climate. It is well worth reading.

Why you can’t afford not to own government bonds

The argument against holding government bonds are based on expectations of higher interest rates, higher inflation, and current extremely low yields.

As argued in the article, although these are all very valid reasons for not holding government bonds, they all require a world economy that is growing strongly.  This is far from the case currently.

They key point being made here, in my opinion, is that the future is unknown, and there are numerous likely economic and market outcomes.

Therefore, investors need to consider an array of likely scenarios and test their assumptions of what is “likely” to happen.  For example, what is the ‘normal’ level of interest rates? Are they likely to return to normal levels when the experience since the Global Financial Crisis has been a slow grind to zero?

Personally, although inflation is not an issue now, I do think we should be preparing portfolios for a period of higher inflation, as I outline here.  Albeit, this does not negate the role of fixed income in a portfolio.

The article argues that current conditions appear to be different and given this it is not unrealistic to expect that inflation and interest rates are likely to remain low for many years and significantly lower than the past 30 years.

In an uncertain world, government bonds provide certainty. Given multiple economic and market scenarios to consider, maintaining an allocation to government bonds in a genuinely diverse and robust portfolio does not appear unreasonable on this basis.

Return expectations

Investors should be prepared for lower rates of returns across all assets classes, not just fixed income.

A likely scenario is that governments and central banks will target an environment of stable and low interest rates for a prolonged period.

In this type of environment, government bonds have the potential to provide a reasonable return with some certainty. The article argues, the benefits to owning bonds under these conditions are two-fold:

  1. A positively sloped yield curve in a market where yields are at or near their ceiling levels. Investors can move out the curve (i.e. by buying longer maturity bonds) to pick up higher coupon income without taking on more risk.
  2. Investors can, over time, ride a position down the positively-sloped yield curve (i.e. over time the bond will gain in value from the passing of time because shorter rates are lower than longer rates). This is often described as roll-down return.

The article concludes, that although fixed income may lose money during times of strong economic growth, rising interest rates, and higher inflation, these losses can be offset by the gains on riskier assets in a portfolio.  Losses on fixed income are small compared to potential losses on other asset classes and are generally recovered more quickly.

No one would suggest a 100% allocation to government bonds is a balanced investment strategy; likewise, not having an allocation to bonds should also be considered unbalanced. 

“But a known return in an uncertain world, where returns on all asset classes are likely to be lower than the past, might just be a good thing to have in a portfolio.”

The future role of fixed income in a robust portfolio has been covered regularly by Kiwi Investor Blog, the latest Post can be found here: What do Investors need in the current environment? – Rethink the 40 in 60/40 Portfolios?

The article on the case for government bonds helps bring some balance to the discussion around fixed income and the points within should be considered when determining portfolio investment strategies in the current environment.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Optimism tempted by uncertainty

Every year Byron Wien, from Blackstone’s Private Wealth Solutions group, holds a series of Benchmark Lunches where he invites an assortment of hedge fund managers, private equity and real estate leaders, academics, former government officials and economy and market observers.

These meetings, along with his annual “Top Ten Surprises”, not only provide great insights into current economic and market conditions but also provide perspectives to challenge consensus thinking. Particularly his top ten surprises.

In a sign of the times, this year’s Benchmark lunches where held via Zoom. 

I briefly summarise some of the topics discussed below, access to the full discussion can be found here.

Economic Conditions

In general, the tone of the sessions was one of optimism tempered by uncertainty. 

Most of the participants thought we would be back to something like the normalcy of 2019 by 2022.

There was divergence of opinion what normal would look like, albeit, to get there, a vaccine will need to be developed, tested, manufactured, and administered. 

The economy would take some time to gain its own momentum and there will be some permanent changes.

There were some more specific comments in relation to the economy.  It was felt that US unemployment would remain high for some time. 

Not surprisingly, many expressed concerns for large portions of the economy which are in serious trouble: hotels, restaurants, resorts, cruise lines and airlines will take a long time to recover.

The strong bounce in manufacturing and housing was encouraging, reflecting very low interest rates.

Vaccine

There was considerable optimism amongst the group for a vaccine, reflecting there are many companies working to develop one. Several of these companies are conducting clinical trials and manufacturing doses in anticipation of regulatory approval. Efforts were being undertaken around the world, Europe, Asia, and the United States.

Many expected an effective vaccine to be available for essential workers by the end of this year, with the general public possibly receiving it by the second half of 2021, and by the middle of 2022 most people who wanted the vaccine could have it.

Nevertheless, there were a wider range of views on the details, such as how long the vaccine would last, whether booster shots would be required annually or more frequently to maintain immunity, and the willingness of people to get the shots.

My take from the commentary, the availability of the vaccine is not the end game, there will be lots of issues to work through once it becomes available.

Working remotely, property sectors, and social impacts

The pros and cons of working from home were discussed, which I think are well understood.

Several real estate investors attend the various sessions.  They provided the following key insights:

  • Properties that were well financed could wait out the recession.
  • Some saw opportunities in the current environment.
  • Retail was most at risk, and that some damage to the sector would be permanent. It was highlighted that the US is over-stored and has nearly three times the retail space per capita than the next highest country, Canada.
  • There will be increased costs as people return to the office e.g. increased cleaning costs and perhaps the need to upgrade ventilation systems.

Another interesting statistic provided was that according to a June 2020 BLS study, around 40% of American workers have the ability to work remotely, but the other 60% have to be present physically to perform their duties, whether in hospitals, factories, service businesses or transportation.

It will be these people who will spend less on non-essential items. 

An important issue to consider is the social impacts of higher unemployment and uncertainty arising from covid-19.

From a societal perspective the impacts are wide ranging, discussions included the impact on young children and their development, along with university graduates looking to enter the work force at a time of economic recession. 

Effects of the enormous government and central bank policy response

Most participants expected interest rates and inflation to remain low for the next several years. 

There was a level of scepticism toward Modern Monetary Theory and the ability of governments to print money indefinitely.

For the time being, the policy approach remains appropriate, so long as real growth is higher than the rate of inflation.

The recent weakness in the US dollar was noted.  There could be several reasons for this, including Europe and Asia have done a better job of controlling the virus and are recovering more favourably.

Likewise, US factors could be playing a role, such as social unrest, poor discipline in limiting the spread of the virus, and gridlock in Washington.  In addition, “The prospect of a sweep in November with both the presidency and the Senate moving to the Democrats and a less business-friendly environment in Congress may also have had an influence on the dollar.”

US Elections

Not everyone thought a Biden victory was a sure thing.  There are a lot of issues to consider, albeit Biden has a considerable lead and he will be hard to beat.

The group felt the US as a country overall had shifted to the left.

US China relationship

The growing tensions between China and US is seen as an inevitable outgrowth of the long-term shift towards nationalism and away from globalization.

There was concern in relation to China’s policy towards Hong Kong and its military operations in the South China Sea.

On the positive side, Phase One trade negotiations were moving forward and imports from and exports to China continue. A Phase Two deal seems to be off the table for now.

Although bringing production home or relocating will be difficult, costly, and time-consuming, this trend is partially underway.

Energy Sector

A wide-ranging discussion on the energy sector was undertaken.

For a period of time the drop in oil demand this year was four times greater than during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).  The situation has improved, and it was noted China is consuming more oil currently compared to a year ago.

The US has accumulated excess inventory and US production will remain depressed for some time.  At the current oil price shale oil production is unprofitable.

The expectation was that the Oil price will not exceed $50 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate until 2022 when the economy gets back to something close to normal.  Political conditions in the Middle East will be more unstable until the price of crude recovers.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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



Understanding the Impact of Volatility on your Portfolio

A key investment concept is volatility drag. Volatility drag provides a framework for considering the trade-off between the “cost” and “benefit” of reducing portfolio volatility.

The volatility of your portfolio matters. Reducing portfolio volatility helps deliver higher compound returns over the longer-term. This leads to a greater accumulation of wealth over time.

When introducing volatility reduction strategies into a Portfolio a cost benefit analysis should be undertaken.

The cost of reducing portfolio volatility cannot be considered in isolation.

The importance of volatility and its impact on an investment portfolio is captured in a recent article by Aberdeen Standard Investment (ASI), The long-term benefits of finding the right hedging strategy.

The ASI article is summarised below.  Access to article via LinkedIn is here.

It is widely accept that avoiding large market losses and reducing portfolio volatility is vital in accumulating wealth and reaching your investment objectives, whether that is attaining a desired standard of living in retirement, an ongoing and uninterrupted endowment, or meeting Pension liabilities.

Understanding Volatility Drag

Volatility Drag is a key concept from the paper: if you lose 50% one year, and make 50% the next, your average return may be zero but you’re still down 25%. This is commonly referred to as the “volatility drag.”

The main disconnect some investors have is they look at returns over a discrete period, such as a year, or the simple average return over two years (zero in the case above).

Instead, investors should focus on the realised compound rate.  The compound annualised return in the above example is -13.97% versus simple average return of zero.

ASI make the following point: “The compound (geometric) rate of return will only equal the arithmetic average rate of return if volatility is zero. As soon as you introduce volatility to the return series, the geometric IRR will start falling, relative to the average return.”

This is a key concept to understand.  Volatility reduces compounded returns over time, therefore it impacts on accumulated wealth.  The focus should be on the actual return investors receive, rather than discrete period returns.  Most investment professionals understand this.

Cashflows, into and out of a Portfolio, also impact on actual returns and therefore accumulated wealth.  This is why a 100% equities portfolio is unlikely to be appropriate for the vast majority of investors. The short comings of a high equity allocations is outlined in one of my previous Posts: Could Buffett be wrong?

Thought Experiment

In the article ASI offers a thought experiment to make their point, a choice between two hypothetical investments:

  1. Investment A, has an average annual return of 1% with 5% volatility.
  2. Investment B, has twice the average return (2%) but with four times the volatility (20%).

An investor with a long term horizon might allocate to the higher expected return investment and not worry about the higher levels of volatility.  The view could be taken because you have a longer term investment horizon more risk can be taken to be rewarded with higher returns.

In the article ASI provides simulated track records of the two investments over 50 years (the graph is well worth looking at).

As would be expected, Investment B with the 20% volatility has a much wider range of possible paths than the lower-volatility Investment A.

What is most interesting “despite having double the average annual return, the more volatile strategy generally underperforms over the long term.”

This is evident in the Table below from the ASI article, based on simulated investment returns:

 Average Annual ReturnStandard Deviation of Annual ReturnsAverage total return after 50 yearsAverage realised internal rate of return (IRR)
A1%5%+53%0.88%
B2%20%-3.0%-0.07%

Note, how the IRR is lower than the average annual return e.g. Investment A, IRR is 0.88% versus average annual return of 1.0%.  As noted above, they are only the same if volatility is zero. 

The performance drag, or “cost”, is due to volatility.

Implications and recognising the importance of volatility

The concept of Volatility Drag provides a framework for considering the trade-off between the “cost” and benefit of reducing portfolio volatility.

The ASI article presents this specifically in relation to the benefits of portfolio hedges, as part of a risk mitigation strategy, and their costs with the following points:

  1. The annual cost can be considered in the context of the potential benefits that come from lowering volatility and more effectively compounding returns.
  2. Putting on exposures with flat or even negative expected returns can still increase your total portfolio return over time if they lower your volatility profile sufficiently.
  3. It is meaningless, therefore, to look at the costs of hedges in isolation.

These points are relevant when considering introducing any volatility reduction strategies into an Investment Portfolio i.e. not just in relation to tail risk hedging. A cost benefit analysis should be undertaken, investment costs cannot be considered in isolation.

As ASI note, investors need to consider the overall portfolio impact of introducing new investment strategies, specifically the impact on the downside volatility of a portfolio is critical.

There are a number of ways of reducing portfolios volatility as outlined below, including the risk mitigation strategies of the ASI article.

Modern Portfolios

The key point is that the volatility of your portfolio matters.  Reducing portfolio volatility helps in delivering better compound returns over the longer-term.

Therefore, exploring ways to reduce portfolio volatility is important.

ASI outline the expectation that volatility is likely to pick up in the years ahead, “especially considering the current extreme settings for fiscal and monetary policy combined with rising geopolitical tensions.”

They also make the following pertinent comment, “Uncertainty and volatility aren’t signals for investors to exit the market, but while they persist, we expect investors will benefit over the medium term from having strategies available to them that can help manage downside volatility.”

ASI also note that investors have access to a wide range of tools and strategies to manage volatility.  This is particularly relevant in relation to the risk mitigation hedging strategies that manage downside volatility and are the focus of the ASI article.

Therefore, a modern day portfolio will implement several strategies and approaches to reduce portfolio volatility, primarily as a means to generate higher compound returns over time. This is evident when looking at industry leading sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, superannuation funds, endowments, and foundations around the world.

Strategies and Approaches to reducing Portfolio Volatility

There are a number of strategies and approaches to reducing portfolio volatility, Kiwi Investor Blog has recently covered the following:

  1. Real Assets offer real diversification: this Post outlines the investment risk and return characteristics of the different types of Real Assets and the diversification benefits they can bring to a Portfolio under different economic scenarios, e.g. inflation, stagflation.  Thus reducing portfolio volatility and enhancing long-term accumulated returns.
  2. Sharemarket Crashes – what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification: This Post outlines the rationale for broad portfolio diversification to manage sharp sharemarket declines rather than trying to time markets.  The Post presents the reasoning and portfolio benefits of investing into Alternative Assets.
  3. Is it an outdated Investment Strategy? If so, what should you do? Tail Risk Hedging?: This Post outlines the case for Tail Risk Hedging.  A potential strategy is to maintain a higher allocation to equities and to protect the risk of large losses through implementing a tail risk hedge.
  4. Protecting your portfolio from different market environments – including tail risk hedging debate: This Post compares the approach of broad portfolio diversification and tail risk hedging, highlighting that not one strategy can be effective in all market environments.  Therefore, investors should diversify their diversifiers.
  5. What do investors need in the current environment? – Rethink the ‘40’ in the 60/40 Portfolios?: With extremely low interest rates and the likelihood fixed income will not provide the level of portfolio diversification as experienced historically this Post concludes Investors will need to rethink their fixed income allocations and to think more broadly in diversifying their investment portfolio.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Image from CFA Institute Blog: When does Volatility Equal Risk?

What do Investors need in the current environment? – Rethink the ‘40’ in 60/40 Portfolios?

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.

Investing into a broader array of fixed income securities, dividend-paying equities, and alternatives such as real assets and private credit is likely required.

Investors will need to build more diversified portfolios.

These are key conclusions from a recent article written by Tony Rodriquez, of Nuveen, Rethinking the ‘40’ in 60/40 Portfolios, which appeared recently in thinkadvisor.com.

The 60/40 Portfolio being 60% equities and 40% fixed income, the Balanced Portfolio. The ‘40’ is the Balanced Portfolio’s 40% allocation to fixed income.

In my mind, the most value will be added in implementation of investment strategies and manager selection.

In addition, the opportunity for Investment Advisors and Consultants to add value to client investment outcomes over the coming years has probably never been more evident now than in recent history.

The value of good investment advice at this juncture will be invaluable.

Putting It All Together

The thinkadvisor.com article provides the following Table.

Source: Nuveen

This Table is useful in considering potential investment ideas.  Actions taken will depend on the individual’s circumstances, including investment objectives, and risk tolerance.

The Table provides a framework across three dimensions to consider how to tackle the current investment challenge of very low interest rates.

Those dimensions are:

  1. The trade-off between level of income generated and risk tolerance (measured by portfolio volatility), e.g. lower income and reduced equity risk
  2. “How to do it” in meeting the trade-off identified above e.g. increase credit and equity exposures to seek higher income
  3. “Where to find it”, types of investments to implement How to do it e.g. active core fixed income, real assets (e.g. infrastructure and real estate), higher yielding credit assets.

Current Investment Environment

These insights reflect the current investment environment of extremely low interest rates.

More specifically the article starts with the following comments: “For decades, the 40% in the traditional 60/40 portfolio construction model was supposed to provide stable income with reduced volatility. But these days, finding income in the usual areas is as hard for me as a professional investor as it is for our clients.”

Tony calls for action, “With yields at historic lows, we’re forced to choose between accepting lower income or expanding into higher risk asset classes. We need to work together to change the definition of the 40 in the 60/40 split. So what do we do?”

This would be a worthy discussion for Investment Advisers and Consultants to have with their clients.

Returns from fixed income are relatively predictable, unlike equity market returns.  Current fixed income yields are the best predictor of future returns.  With global government bond yields around zero and global investment grade credit providing not much more, a return of greater than 1% p.a. from traditional global bond markets over the next 10 years is unlikely.

Fixed income returns over the next 10 years are highly likely to be below the rate of inflation.  Therefore, the risk of the erosion of purchasing power from fixed income is very high.  This is a portfolio risk that needs to be managed. 

Although forecasted returns from equities are also low compared to history, they are higher than those expected from traditional fixed income markets.

What should Investors do?

The article provides some specific guidance in relation to fixed income investments and a view on the outlook for the global economy.

The key point from the article, in my mind, is that for investors to meet the current investment challenges over the next decade they are going to need a more broadly diversified portfolio than the traditional 60/40 portfolio.

I also think it is going to require greater levels of active management.

This will involve a rethink of the ‘40’ fixed income allocation.  Specifically, the focus will be on generating higher returns and that fixed income is likely to provide less protection to a Balanced Portfolio at times of sharemarket declines than has been experienced historically.

Ultimately, a broader view of the 60/40 Portfolio’s construction will need to be undertaken. 

This is likely to require thinking outside of the fixed income universe and implementing a more robust and truly diversified portfolio.

Implementation will be key, including strategy and manager selection.

There will still be a role for fixed income within a Portfolio, particularly duration.  Depending on individual circumstances, higher yielding securities, emerging market debt, and active management of the entire fixed income universe, including duration, is something to consider.  More of an absolute return focus may need to be contemplated.

Outside of fixed income, thought should be given to thinking broadly in implementing a more robust and truly diversified portfolio. 

Kiwi Investor Blog has highlighted the following areas in previous Posts as a means to diversify a portfolio and address the current investment challenge:

  1. Real Assets offer real diversification: this Post outlines the investment risk and return characteristics of the different types of Real Assets and the diversification benefits they can bring to a Portfolio under different economic scenarios, e.g. inflation, stagflation.
  2. Sharemarket Crashes – what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification: This Post outlines the rationale for broad portfolio diversification to manage sharp sharemarket declines rather than trying to time markets.  The Post presents the reasoning and benefits of investing into Alternative Assets.
  3. Is it an outdated Investment Strategy? If so, what should you do? Tail Risk Hedging: This Post outlines the case for Tail Risk Hedging.  A potential strategy is to maintain a higher allocation to equities and to protect the risk of large losses through implementing a tail risk hedge.
  4. Protecting your portfolio from different market environments – including tail risk hedging debate: This Post compares the approach of broad portfolio diversification and tail risk hedging.  Highlighting that that not one strategy can be effective in all market environments.  Therefore, investors should diversify their diversifiers.

There have been a number of articles over recent months calling into question the robustness of the Balanced Portfolio of 60% Equities / 40% Fixed Income going forward.  I have covered this issue in previous Posts, here and here.

Why the Balanced Portfolio is expected to underperform is outlined in this Post.

Lastly, also relevant to the above discussion, please see this Post on preparing Portfolios for higher levels of inflation.

Call to Action

In appealing to Tony’s call for action, there has probably never been a more important time in realising the value of good investment advice and honest conversations of investment objectives and portfolio allocations. 

Perhaps it is time to push against some outdated conventions, seek new investments and asset classes.

The opportunity for Investment Advisors and Consultants to add value to client investment outcomes over the coming years has probably never been more evident now than in recent history.

The value of good investment advice at this juncture will be invaluable.

Addendum

For a perspective on the current market environment this podcast by Goldman Sachs may be of interest.

In the podcast, Goldman Sachs discuss their asset allocation strategy in the current environment, noting both fixed income and equities look expensive, this points to lower returns and higher risks for a Balanced Portfolio.  They anticipate an environment of below average returns and above average volatility.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Is it an outdated Investment Strategy? If so, what should you do? Tail Risk Hedging?

Those saving for retirement face the reality that fixed income may no longer serve as an effective portfolio diversifier and source of meaningful returns.

In future fixed income is unlikely to provide the same level of offset in a portfolio as has transpired historically when the inevitable sharp decline in sharemarkets occur – which tend to happen more often than anticipated.

The expected reduced diversification benefit of fixed income is a growing view among many investment professionals.  In addition, forecast returns from fixed income, and cash, are extremely low.  Both are likely to deliver returns around, if not below, the rate of inflation over the next 5 – 10 years.

Notwithstanding this, there is still a role for fixed income within a portfolio.

However, there is still a very important portfolio construction issue to address.  It is a major challenge for retirement savings portfolios, particularly those portfolios with high allocations to cash and fixed income. 

In effect, this challenge is about exploring alternatives to traditional portfolio diversification, as expressed by the Balanced Portfolio of 60% Equities / 40% Fixed Income. I have covered this issue in previous Posts, here and here.

Outdated Investment Strategy

There are many ways to approach the current challenge, which investment committees, Trustees, and Plan Sponsors world-wide must surely be considering, at the very least analysing and reviewing, and hopefully addressing.

One way to approach this issue, and the focus of this Post, is Tail Risk Hedging. (I comment on other approaches below.)

The case for Tail Risk Hedging is well presented in this opinion piece, Investors Are Clinging to an Outdated Strategy At the Worst Possible Time, which appeared in Institutional Investor.com

The article is written by Ron Lagnado, who is a director at Universa Investments.  Universa Investments is an investment management firm that specialises in risk mitigation e.g. tail risk hedging.

The article makes several interesting observations and lays out the case for Tail Risk Hedging in the context of the underfunding of US Pension Plans.  Albeit, there are other situations in which the consideration of Tail Risk Hedging would also be applicable.

The framework for Equity Tail Risk Hedging, recognises “that management of portfolio risk and equity tail risk, in particular, was the key driver of long-term compound returns.”

By way of positioning, the article argues that a reduction in Portfolio volatility leads to better investment outcomes overtime, as measured by the Compound Annual Growth Return (CAGR).  There is validity to this argument, the reduction in portfolio volatility is paramount to successful investment outcomes over the longer-term.

The traditional Balance Portfolio, 60/40 mix of equities and fixed income, is supposed to mitigate the effects of extreme market volatility and deliver on return expectations.

Nevertheless, it is argued in the article that the Balanced Portfolio “limits portfolio volatility in benign market environments over the short term while making huge sacrifices in long-run performance.”

In other words, “It offers scant protection against tail risk and, at the same time, achieves an under-allocation to riskier assets with higher returns in long periods of economic expansion, such as the past decade.”

The article provides some evidence of this, highlighting that “large allocation to bonds still failed to provide enough protection to add value over the cycle — reducing the CAGR by 170 basis points.” 

Essentially, the argument is made that the Balanced Portfolio has not delivered on its promise historically and is an outdated strategy, particularly considering the current market environment and the outlook for investment returns.

Meeting the Challenge – Tail Risk Hedging

The article calls for the consideration of different approaches to the traditional Balance Portfolio.  Naturally, they call for Tail Risk Hedging.

In effect, the strategy is to maintain a higher allocation to equities and to protect the risk of large losses through implementing a tail risk hedge (protection of large equity loses).

It is argued that this will result in a higher CAGR over the longer term given a higher allocation to equities and without the drag on performance from fixed income.

The Tail Risk Hedge strategy is implemented via an options strategy.

As they note, there is no free lunch with this strategy, an “options strategies trade small losses over extended periods when equities are rising for extremely large gains during the less frequent but devastating drawdowns.”

This is the inverse to some investment strategies, which provide incremental gains over extended periods and then short sharp losses.  There is indeed no free lunch.

My View

The article concludes, “diversification for its own sake is not a strategy for success.”

I would have to disagree.  True portfolio diversification is the closest thing to a free lunch in Portfolio Management. 

However, this does not discount the use of Tail Risk Hedging.

The implementation of any investment strategy needs to be consistent with client’s investment philosophy, objectives, fee budgets, ability to implement, and risk appetite, including the level of comfort with strategies employed. 

Broad portfolio diversification versus Tail Risk Hedging has been an area of hot debate recently.  It is good to take in and consider a wide range of views.

The debate between providing portfolio protection (Tail Risk Hedging vs greater Portfolio Diversification) hit colossal proportions earlier in the year with a twitter spat between Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan and involved in Universa Investments, and Cliff Asness, a pioneer in quant investing and founder of AQR.

I provide a summary of their contrasting perspectives to portfolio protection as outlined in a Bloomberg article in this Post.  There are certainly some important learnings and insights in contrasting their different approaches.

The Post also covered a PIMCO article, Hedging for Different Market Environments.

A key point from the PIMCO article is that not one strategy can be effective in all market environments.  This is an important observation.

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

They provide the following Table, which outlines an array of “Portfolio Protection” strategies.

In Short, and in general, Asness is supportive of correlation based like hedging strategies (Trend and Alternative Risk Premia) and Taleb the Direct Hedging approach.

From the Table above we can see in what type of market environment each “hedging” strategy is Most Effective and Least Effective.

For balance, more on the AQR perspective can be found here.

You could say I have a foot in both camps and are pleased I do not have a twitter account, as I would likely be in the firing line from both Asness and Taleb!

To conclude

I think we can all agree that fixed income is going to be less of a portfolio diversifier in future and produce lower returns in the future relative to the last 10-20 years. 

This is an investment portfolio challenge that must be addressed.

We should also agree that avoiding large market losses is vital in accumulating wealth and reaching your investment objectives, whether that is attaining a desired standard of living in retirement, ongoing and uninterrupted endowment, or meeting future Pension liabilities.

In my mind, staying still is not going to work over the next 5-10 years and the issues raised by the Institutional Investor.com article do need to be addressed. The path taken is likely to be determined by individual circumstances.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Is ESG an Investment Factor? Can ESG be easily harvested?

“ESG is not an equity return factor in the traditional, academic sense”.…… “Nevertheless, ESG can be a very powerful theme in the portfolio management process in the years ahead.” 

These are two key conclusions from a recent Research Affiliates article, Is ESG a Factor?

ESG investing is incorporating Environment, Social and Governance considerations into investment portfolios.

Research Affiliates conclude “that ESG does not need to be a factor for investors to achieve their ESG and performance goals.”

They also call for greater clarity around exactly what ESG is and what it is not. 

“Currently, various stakeholders are sending a whole host of mixed messages. Investors, particularly fiduciaries, need education and alignment. If ESG remains a heterogeneous basket of claims, we will likely never see it fulfill its vast promise.”

Lastly, they believe ESG is likely to be a powerful theme for the new owners of capital, in particular woman and millennials.  Increasingly investors will prioritise ESG in their portfolios in the years ahead.

In my view, it is a stretch to say ESG is an investment factor in the context of Factor Investing.  Nevertheless, the active management of ESG considerations into the investment process has the potential to add value.

You can’t capture the benefits of ESG by just being an ESG investor.  Capturing the benefits from ESG are harder to attain relative to implementing an equity factor strategy such as value or low volatility. 

The risks, and therefore the rewards of ESG, are more company specific.

Therefore, it is not good enough to say one incorporates ESG into the investment management process to gain the benefits from ESG. 

There is no specific ESG factor that can be “harvested” passively.  The ESG value add comes from implementing successfully and having the ability to identify company specific ESG risks. 

What Is a Factor?

Before we can determine if ESG is an investment factor we first need to establish what an investment factor is.

In short, factors are characteristics associated with long-term risk and return outcomes associated with investing into a group of securities. 

The “market”, sharemarkets and fixed income markets are factors themselves (Market Factors).  We know that over time we can expect to generate a return over cash, a premia over cash (premia), from investing in sharemarkets, credit markets (corporate debt), and longer-term fixed income securities (interest rate duration).

Within markets there are also investment factors, which have been shown to deliver a premia (excess return adjusted for risk) over the “market factors” identified above.

The most common of these investment factors, and one receiving a lot of media attention currently, is the value factor.  There are other well know and academically supported factors, including momentum, carry, quality, and low volatility. Investment factors are also known as Premias or Style Premia.

To be considered a robust investment factor, it is generally considered their needs to be support from an economic perspective or there is a behavioural-based explanation for the factor.

For those interested, I have previously Posted on Factor Investing, and this article on Andrew Ang discussing Factor Investment might also be of interest.

Research Affiliates have their own framework on determining the robustness of a Factor, which can be found here.

The Evidence – Is ESG an investment Factor?

To determine if ESG is a factor, Research Affiliates maintain it should satisfy the following three critical requirements, it should be:

  1. grounded in a long and deep academic literature;
  2. robust across definitions; and
  3. robust across geographies.

Academic Literature

The common factors of value, momentum, and low beta have been thoroughly researched and have a track record spanning several decades, as Research Affiliates conclude “very little debate currently exists regarding their robustness.”

In reviewing the academic literature on ESG, Research Affiliates find little agreement on the robust of generating excess returns.  (Their article provides a good source of academic ESG research for those interested.)

In their view ESG is not an equity return factor in the traditional academic sense.

I have posted previously on the Research spanning Responsible Investing, see: Unscrambling the Sustainable Investing Return Puzzle

In my mind there is value in undertaking a Responsible Investing approach, including the incorporation of ESG into the investment management process.  This can be the case yet ESG not be a Factor as defined in academia.  The research covered in the above Post provides support for this view.

Factors should be robust across definitions. 

This is an interesting observation.  Research Affiliates argue that “even slight variations in the definition of a factor should still produce similar performance results.”

They use value as an example, using different valuation metrics for value results in similar results over the longer-term.  The value factor is robust across different definitions of value.

Unfortunately, ESG does not have a common definition and is a broad continuum of philosophies, approaches, and strategies.

See a previous Post discussing the continuum of Responsible Investing, which includes ESG: Sustainable Responsible Investing Spectrum

The broad spectrum is highlighted in the following Table presented in the Research Affiliates article to emphasise “ESG has no common standard definition and is a broad term that encapsulates a range of themes and subthemes.” 

As they note, the strategies align more with investor preferences rather than a particular investment factor.  

In the article Research Affiliates present the findings of their research to display how variations in the definition of ESG results in different performance outcomes.

From this analysis, they conclude:

  1. None of the ESG strategies as defined displayed material excess returns;
  2. There was a lack of historical track record, which is a significant impediment to conducting research in ESG investing; and
  3. Only after decades of quality data will it be possible to accurately test the claim that EG is a robust factor.

Research Affiliates also highlight there is an issue with the lack of consistency among ESG rating providers which hinders the ability to determine if ESG is a robust factor.  They provide an example of this in the Article.

With regards to the last requirement, Research Affiliates find that ESG performance results are not robust across regions.

ESG Is Not a Factor, but Could Be a Powerful Theme

“ESG does not need to be a factor for investors to achieve their ESG and performance goals.”

Encouragingly, Research Affiliates see a role for the incorporation of ESG within an investment portfolio. I Agree!

They highlight that there are companies with poor ESG characteristics and that these risks should be incorporated into the stock selection process.

These risks are company specific risks, idiosyncratic risks technically speaking.

Research Affiliates consider carbon as an example, particularly coal.  Notably there has been a move away from coal in the US.  Therefore, “Investment managers who do not consider and integrate the ESG risk of, in this case, climate change may be blindsided.”

The successful implementation of ESG is a key determinant in capturing the value from company specific characteristics.  Specifically, having the ability to identify mispricing of securities due to ESG risk.

It is not good enough to say one incorporates ESG into the investment management process and therefore the portfolios will benefit. 

There is no a specific ESG factor that can be “harvested” passively, the value add comes from implementing successfully and having the ability to identify company specific risks. 

Increasing Adoption of ESG Investing

Lastly, and quickly, Research Affiliates note that there is a “large shift in investor preference toward ESG is occurring as two distinct groups—women and millennials—take greater control of household assets.”  This is backed up by third party research which notes that there will be a wave of assets ready to invest in highly rated ESG companies.

A regulatory push globally is also likely to accelerate this trend.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Endowments, Foundations, and Charities – learning from the best

The achievements of the Yale Endowment are significant and well documented. 

Their achievements can largely be attributed to the successful and bold management of their Endowment Funds.

They have been pioneers in Investment Management.  Many US Universities and global institutions have followed suit or implemented a variation of the Yale’s “Endowment Model”.

Without a shadow of a doubt, those involved with Endowments, Foundations, Charities, and saving for retirement can learn some valuable investment lessons by reviewing the investment approach undertaken by Yale.

I think these learnings are particularly relevant given where we are currently in the economic cycle and the outlook for returns from the traditional asset classes of cash, fixed income, and selected equity markets.

A growing Endowment

In fiscal 2019 the Yale Endowment provided $1.4 billion, or 32%, of the University’s $4.2 billion operating income.

To put this into context, the Yale Endowment 2019 Annual Report notes that the other major sources of revenues for the University were medical services of $1.1 billion (26%); grants and contracts of $824 million (20%); net tuition, room and board of $392 million (9%); gifts of $162 million (4%); and other income and transfers of $368 million (9%).

Spending from the Endowment has grown during the last decade from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion, an annual growth rate of 1.5%.

The Endowment Fund’s payments have gone far and wide, including scholarships, Professorships, maintenance, and books.

Yale’s spending and investment policies provide substantial levels of cash flow to the operating budget for current scholars, while preserving Endowment purchasing power for future generations.

What a wonderful contribution to society, just think of the social good the Yale Endowment has delivered.

Yale’s Investment Policy

As highlighted in their 2019 Annual Report:

  • Over the past ten years the Endowment grew from $16.3 billion to $30.3 billion;
  • The Fund has generated annual returns of 11.1% during the ten-year period; and
  • The Endowment’s performance exceeded its benchmark and outpaced institutional fund indices.

In relation to Investment Objectives the Endowment Funds seek to provide resources for current operations and preserving purchasing power (generating returns greater than the rate of inflation).

This dictates the Endowment has a bias toward equity like investments.  Yale note: 

“The University’s vulnerability to inflation further directs the Endowment away from fixed income and toward equity instruments. Hence, more than 90% of the Endowment is targeted for investment in assets expected to produce equity-like returns, through holdings of domestic and international equities, absolute return strategies, real estate, natural resources, leveraged buyouts and venture capital.”

Accordingly, Yale seeks to allocate over the longer term approximately one-half of the portfolio to illiquid asset classes of leverage buyouts, venture capital, real estate, and natural resources.

This is very evident in the Table below, which presents Yale’s asset allocation as at 30 June 2019 and the US Educational Institutional Mean allocation.

This Table appeared in the 2019 Yale Annual Report, I added the last column Yale vs the Educational Institutional Mean.

 Yale UniversityEducational Institution MeanYale vs Mean
Absolute Return23.2%20.6%2.6%
Domestic Equity2.7%20.8%-18.1%
Foreign Equity13.7%21.9%-8.2%
Leverage Buyouts15.9%7.1%8.8%
Natural Resources4.9%7.7%-2.8%
Real Estate10.1%3.4%6.7%
Venture Capital21.1%6.6%14.5%
Cash and Fixed Income8.4%11.9%-3.5%
 100%100% 
    
Non-Traditional Assets75.2%45.4%29.8%
Traditional Assets24.8%54.6% 

The Annual Report provides a comment on each asset class and their expected risk and return profile, an overview of how Yale manage the asset classes, historical performance, and future longer-term risk and return outlook.

High Allocation to Non-Traditional Assets

As can be seen in the Table above Yale has a very low allocation to traditional asset classes (domestic equities, foreign equities, cash and fixed income), and a very high allocation to non-traditional assets classes, absolute returns, leverage buyouts, venture capital, real estate, and natural resources.

This is true not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to other US Educational Institutions.  Who in their own right have a high allocation to non-traditional asset classes, 45.4%, but almost 30% lower than Yale.

“Over the last 30 years Yale has reduced their dependence on domestic markable securities by relocating assets to non-traditional assets classes.  In 1989 65% of investments were in US equities and fixed income, this compares to 9.8% today.”

By way of comparison, NZ Kiwi Saver Funds on average have less than 5% of their assets invested in non-traditional asset classes.

A cursory view of NZ university’s endowments also highlights a very low allocations to non-traditional asset classes.

There can be good reasons why other investment portfolios may not have such high allocations to non-traditional asset classes, including liquidity requirements (which are less of an issue for an Endowment, Charity, or Foundation) and investment objectives.

Rationale for High Allocation to Non-Traditional Assets

Although it is well known that Yale has high allocations to non-traditional assets, the rationale for this approach is less well known.

The 2019 Yale Annual Report provides insights as to the rationale of the investment approach.

Three specific comments capture Yale’s rationale:

“The higher allocation to non-traditional asset classes stems from their return potential and diversifying power”

Yale is active in the management of their portfolios and they allocate to those asset classes they believe offer the best long-term value.  Yale determine the mix to asset class based on their expected return outcomes and diversification benefits to the Endowment Funds.

“Alternative assets, by their very nature, tend to be less efficiently priced than traditional marketable securities, providing an opportunity to exploit market inefficiencies through active management.”

Yale invest in asset classes they see offering greater opportunities to add value. For example, they see greater opportunity to add value in the alternative asset classes rather than in Cash and Fixed Income.

“The Endowment’s long time horizon is well suited to exploit illiquid and the less efficient markets such as real estate, natural resources, leveraged buyouts, and venture capital.”

This is often cited as the reason for their higher allocation to non-traditional assets.  As an endowment, with a longer-term investment horizon, they can undertake greater allocations to less liquid asset classes. 

Sovereign wealth Funds, such as the New Zealand Super Fund, often highlight the benefit of their endowment characteristics and how this is critical in shaping their investment policy. 

Given their longer-term nature Endowments are able to invest in less liquid investment opportunities. They will likely benefit from these allocations over the longer-term.

Nevertheless, other investment funds, such as the Australian Superannuation Funds, have material allocations to less liquid asset classes.

Therefore, an endowment is not a necessary condition to invest in non-traditional and less liquid asset classes, the acknowledgement of the return potential and diversification benefits are sufficient reasons to allocate to alternatives and less liquid asset classes.

In relation to the return outlook, the Yale 2019 Annual report commented the “Today’s actual and target portfolios have significantly higher expected returns than the 1989 portfolio with similar volatility.”

Smaller Endowments and Foundations are following Yale

In the US smaller Endowments and Foundations are adopting the investment strategies of the Yale Endowment model.

They have adopted an investment strategy that is more align with an endowment more than twice their size.

Portfolio size should not be an impediment to investing in more advanced and diversified investment strategies.

There is the opportunity to capture the key benefits of the Endowment model, including less risk being taken, by implementing a more diversified investment strategy. Thus, delivering a more stable return profile.

This is attractive to donors.

The adoption of a more diversified portfolio not only makes sense on a longer-term basis, but also given where we are in the economic and market cycle.

The value is in implementation and sourcing appropriate investment strategies.

In this Post, I outline how The Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) runs its $400m investments portfolio like a multi-billion-dollar Endowment.

Diversification and Its Long-Term Benefits

For those interested, the annual report has an in-depth section on portfolio diversification.

This section makes the following key following points while discussing the benefits of diversification in a historical context:

  • “Portfolio diversification can be painful in the midst of a bull market. When investing in a single asset class produces great returns, market observers wonder about the benefits of creating a well-structured portfolio.”
  • “The fact that diversification among a variety of equity-oriented alternative investments sometimes fails to protect portfolios in the short run does not negate the value of diversification in the long run.”
  • “The University’s discipline of sticking with a diversified portfolio has contributed to the Endowment’s market leading long-term record. For the thirty years ending June 30, 2019, Yale’s portfolio generated an annualized return of 12.6% with a standard deviation of 6.8%. Over the same period, the undiversified institutional standard of 60% stocks and 40% bonds produced an annualized return of 8.7% with a standard deviation of 9.0%. “
  • “Yale’s diversified portfolio produced significantly higher returns with lower risk.”

There are also sections on Spending Policy and Investment Performance.

Lastly, I have previously discussed the “Endowment Model” in relation to the fee debate, for those interested please see this Post: Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

Happy investing.

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