Is a value bias part of the answer in navigating today’s low interest rates?

The Value Factor (value) offers the potential for additional returns relative to the broader sharemarket in the years ahead.

Exploring an array of different investment strategies and questioning the role of bonds in a portfolio are key to building a robust portfolio in the current low interest rate environment.

There will also be a need to be more dynamic and flexible to take advantage of market opportunities as they arise.

From this perspective, a value tilt within a portfolio is one investment strategy to consider in potentially boosting future investment returns.

The attraction of Value

Evidence supporting a value tilt within a robust portfolio is compelling, albeit opinion is split.

Nevertheless, longer-term, the “Rotating into Value stocks offers substantial upside in terms of return versus the broad market” according to GMO.

GMO presents the case for a value tilt to navigate today’s low interest rates in their Second Quarter 2020 Letter, which includes two insightful articles, one by Ben Inker and another by Matt Kadnar. 

Value is at cheapest relative to the broader market since 1999, based on GMO’s analysis.  Value is in the top decile of attractiveness around the world, as highlighted in the following figure.

Spread of Value for MSCI Regional Value Factors (GMO)

As of 6/30/2020 | Source: MSCI, Worldscope, GMO

Is Value Investing Dead

As mentioned, the opinion on value is split.

A research paper by AQR earlier in the year addressed the key criticisms of value, Is (Systematic) Value Investing Dead?

For a shorter read on the case for value Cliff Asness, of AQR, Blog Post of the same title is worth reading.

AQR’s analysis is consistent with GMO’s, as highlighted in the Graph and Table below.

The Graph below measures the Price-to-Book spread of the whole US sharemarket from December 1967 to March 2020.

This spread was at the 100th percentile versus 50+ years of history on the 31 March 2020 i.e. value is at it cheapest based on 50 years of data.

Price-to-Book Spread (AQR)

Asness’s Blog Post highlights “expensive stocks are sometimes only <4x as expensive as the cheap stocks, the median is that they are 5.4x more expensive, but today they are almost 12x more expensive.” (March 2020).

It is the same story when looking at different measures of value for the US sharemarket, as highlighted in the Table below.

Value is at its cheapest on many measures (AQR)

‘Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut’

This quote by Warren Buffett springs to mind when considering the analysis from GMO and AQR, both being value orientated investors.  As Asness states, AQR has a horse in the race.

However, as outlined in his Post, he undertakes the same analysis as above and controls for, just to name a few:

  • Excluding all Technology, Media, and Telcom Stocks
  • Excluding the largest stocks
  • Excluding the most expensive stocks
  • Industry bets
  • Industry neutrality
  • Quality of company

Analysis is also undertaken using other measures of value, Price-Sales, P/E, using trailing and forecast earnings (these are in addition to Price-Book).

The attraction of value remains based on different measures of value and when making the adjustments to market indices as outlined above.

Asness argues value is exceptionally cheap, probably the cheapest it has ever been in history (March 2020).

The AQR analysis shows this is not because of an outdated price-to-book nor because of the dominance of highly expensive mega-cap stocks.  Investors are paying more than usual for stocks they love versus the ones they hate.  There is a very large mispricing.

The AQR research paper mentioned above, looked at the common criticisms of value, such as:

  1. increased share repurchase activity;
  2. the changing nature of firm activities, the rise of ‘intangibles’ and the impact of conservative accounting systems;
  3. the changing nature of monetary policy and the potential impact of lower interest rates; and
  4. value measures are too simple to work.

 Across each criticism they find little evidence to support them.

Are we there yet?

We do not know when and how the valuation gap will be closed. 

Nevertheless, the evidence is compelling in favour of maintaining a value tilt within a portfolio, and certainly now is not the time to give up on value.

This is not a widely popular view, and quite likely a minority view, given the underperformance of value over the last ten years.  As clearly demonstrated in the Graph below provided by Top Down Charts.

However, from an investment management perspective, 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 ten years.

It is too early to give up on value, news of its death are greatly exaggerated, on this, Asness makes the following point, value is “a strategy that’s “worked” through the 1920s – when a lot of stocks were railroads, steel, and steamship companies – through the Great Depression, WWII, the 1950s – which included some small technological changes like rural electrification, the space race and all the technology that it spanned – the internet age (remember these same stories for why value was broken back in 1999-2000?)………. Value certainly doesn’t depend on technological advancement being stagnant! But in a time when it’s failed for quite a while (again, that just happens sometimes even if it’s as good as we realistically think it is), it’s natural and proper that all the old questions get asked again. Is now different?”

I don’t think so.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The reality is that asset allocations can only do so much

It is estimated US public pension plans would need to leverage a Balance Portfolio of 60% equities and 40% fixed income by 47% to achieve their 7.25% actuarial return target in the years ahead. 

Such is the challenge facing all investors in the current low interest rate environment.

Investors face some very tough decisions in the future and may be forced to consider significant asset allocation shifts.  Increasing the tolerance for risk and illiquidity are likely actions required to boost future investment returns.

Investors are going to have consider something different, from a return perspective, buying bonds is not going to cut it.  Likely actions may include considering substitutes to fixed income to provide portfolio stability and some diversification during periods of equity market weakness.

The reality is that asset allocation decisions can only do so much.

These are the key conclusions from an article written by Rob Croce, PhD, of Mellon and Aaron Filbeck, that recently appeared in AllAboutAlpha.

The article covers three potential solutions for investors to consider in boosting future investment returns.

Meeting the Pension Fund Challenge

The above conclusions are determined in the context of the challenge facing US public pension plans.

On average US pension plans currently have target returns assumptions of 7.25% on average, this is down from 8% in 2000.

In the year 2000, US 10-year government bond interest rates were 6%.  Therefore there “was little headwind to meeting return objectives”….

However, with the dramatic fall in interest rates over the last 20 years, the “gap” between long-term interest rates and return assumptions has widened materially.  This is highlighted in Figure 1 below, from the article. 

The gap is currently around 6%, compared to 2% in 2000!

Figure 1: Difference Between Average Plan Actuarial Return Assumption and 10-Year US Treasury Yield

Source: NASRA, Bloomberg, CAIA calculations

What have US pension plans done over the last 20 years as the return gap has widened:

  • Reduced their allocations to fixed income;
  • Allocated more to equities; and
  • Allocated more to alternatives.

“ According to Public Plans Data, from 2001 to 2009, the average pension allocation to alternative investments increased from 8.7% to 15.7%, which only accelerated after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Over the next decade, allocations to alternatives nearly doubled, reaching nearly 27% by the end of 2019.”

The increased allocation to Equities and Alternatives at the expense of fixed income is highlighted in the following Figure also provided in the article.

Figure 2: Average Allocations for the 73 Largest State-Sponsored Pension Funds

Source: Pew Research. Data as of 2016

At the same time US pension plans remain underfunded. 

The challenge facing US pension plans has been known for some time, the article notes, “In general, pension trustees seem to be faced with two potential solutions – take on more (or differentiated) risks or improve funding statuses through higher taxation or slashing benefits.”

How big is the Pension Fund Return Challenge?

The article analyses potential solutions to “filling the gap” between current interest rates and the assumed target rate of return for US pension funds.

The first approach uses risk premia-based analysis, focusing on the amount of return that can be generated over and above holding just risk-free short-term US Government bonds.

Starting with a traditional Balanced Portfolio, 60% domestic stocks and 40% U.S. 10-year bonds, the analysis seeks to determine how much risk would need to be taken to reach the 7.25% return target. Assuming historical return premia, but with the current level of interest rates.

In relation to return assumptions, the Article notes “Since 1928, stocks have outperformed the risk free asset by 6.2% at 20% volatility and 10-year U.S. government bonds have outperformed the risk-free asset by 1.5%, for Sharpe ratios of 0.3 and 0.2, respectively. For cash, we have decided to use its current near-zero return, rather than its 3.3% average return during that period.”

The results, “there is effectively no unlevered portfolio of stocks and bonds that can reliably deliver many investors’ 7.25% target return over time. Because of the nature of the problem, the solution will likely force pension investors to consider taking on leverage.”

This reflects the low interest rate environment, returns on equities will be lower on an absolute return basis.  Although equities are still expected to earn a “premium” above cash, the absolute return will be lower given the cash rate is so low (0%). The 6% equity premium is earnt on 0%, not the average 3.3% cash rate since 1928. 

The article estimates, for the Balance Portfolio to achieve the 7.25% return objective it would need to be levered by 47%.  This would increase the Portfolio’s volatility to 17.75% from 12%.

As they note, this is not a sustainable solution.  Nevertheless, it provides an indication of how much more risk needs to be taken to achieve the 7.25% return target in the current low interest rate environment.

Therefore, the article highlights the return challenge all investors face.  The leveraging of portfolios is not going to be a viable option for most investors.

The Potential Role of Alternatives

The article looks at two “hypothetical alternative allocations as potential solutions for U.S. pension funds to hit their 7.25% return, one illiquid and the other liquid.”

  1. Private Equity (illiquid).
  2. Hedge Funds or Diversified Assets (liquid)

Their analysis seeks to achieve the return outcome of 7.25% with less volatility than the levered Balance Portfolio above of 17.75% with an allocation to Private Equity and Liquid Alternatives separately.

Based on their analysis, and assumptions, they conclude the inclusion of Private Equity and Liquid Alterative strategies could help in reaching the 7.25% return assumption.

They note that Private Equity and Liquid Alternatives are “two examples provide different solutions for the same problem”.

The article also notes that there are many strategies that do not make sense e.g. anything that takes them further from their return target for the sake of diversification or anything illiquid with an expected return below their target portfolio return.

Key insights

The article wraps up with some key insights, including “buying bonds isn’t going to cut it from a return target perspective today,”…..

They also demonstrated that to meet return targets US pension plans are going to have consider something different.  “And while each pension fund is different, risk tolerance and liquidity needs will need to be managed.”

“We think that the current, low yield environment could potentially open institutions up to the idea of using low-risk liquid absolute return strategies as substitutes for fixed income investments. We believe they will increasingly look for investments that provide portfolio stability values and some diversification during risk-off environments, similar to that of traditional fixed income, but potentially provide the return of fixed income two decades ago.”

Reading this article made me think of the following John Maynard Keynes quotes:

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

“It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.”

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Kiwi Investor Blog has published 150 Posts….. so far

Kiwi Investor Blog has published over 150 Posts, so far! 

Thank you to those who have provided support, encouragement, and feedback. It has been greatly appreciated. Kiwi Investor Blog achieved 100 Posts in October 2019.

Consistent with the current investment environment and the outlook for future investment returns, the key themes of the Kiwi Investor Blog Posts over the last twelve months have been:

  1. Future returns are unlikely to be as strong as those experienced over the last decade
  2. Investment strategies for the next decade likely to include real assets, tail risk hedging, and a greater allocation to alternatives e.g. Private Equity
  3. What portfolio diversification is, and looks like
  4. Positioning portfolios for the likelihood of higher levels of inflation in the future
  5. Time to move away from the traditional Diversified Balanced Portfolio
  6. Occasions when active Management is appropriate and where to find the more consistently performing managers – who outperform
  7. Investing for Endowments, Charities, and Foundations
  8. Navigating a Bear market, including the benefits of disciplined portfolio rebalancing

Links to the key Posts to each of these themes is provided below.

Kiwi Investor Blog’s primary objective is to make available insights into Institutional investment strategies, practices, and processes to a wider audience in simple language.

The Posts are written in the spirit of encouraging industry debate, challenging the status quo and “conventional wisdoms”, and striving to improve investment outcomes for clients.

Future returns are unlikely to be as strong as those experienced over the last decade

The year started with a sobering outlook for long-term investment returns as outlined in this article by AQR.  The long-term outlook for investment markets has been a dominant theme this year, where the strong returns experienced over the Past Decade are unlikely to be repeated in the next 10 years.  Also see a related Bloomberg article here.

Interestingly, even after the strong declines in March and April of this year, Forecasted investment returns remain disappointing, given the nature of longer-term market returns.

If anything, the outlook for fixed income returns has deteriorated over the course of 2020.

Investment strategies for the next decade likely to include real assets, tail risk hedging, and a greater allocation to Alternatives

The challenging return environment led to a series of Posts on potential investment strategies to protect your Portfolio from different market environments in the future.

This includes the potential benefits of Tail Risk Hedging and an allocation to Real Assets.

A primary focus of many investment professions currently is what to do with the fixed income allocations of portfolios, as outlined in this article.

This series of Posts also included the case against investing in US equities and the case for investing in US equities (based on 10 reasons by Goldman Sachs that the current US Bull market has further to run).

The investment case for a continued allocation to Government Bonds was also provided.

Theses Post are consistent with the global trend toward the increasing allocations toward alternatives within investment portfolios.  This survey by CAIA highlights the attraction of alternatives to investors and likely future trends of this growing investment universe, including greater allocations to Private Equity and Venture Capital.

One of the most read Post this year has been a comparison between Hedge Funds and Liquid Alternatives by Vanguard, with their paper concluded both bring diversification benefits to a traditional portfolio.

What Portfolio Diversification is, and looks like

Reflecting the current investment environment and outlook for investment returns, recent Posts have focused on the topic of Portfolio Diversification. These Posts have complemented the Posts above on particular investment strategies.

A different perspective was provided with a look at the psychology of Portfolio Diversification.  Diversification is hard in practice, easy in theory, it often involves the introduction of new risks into a Portfolio and there is always something “underperforming” in a truly diversified portfolio.  This was one of the most read Posts over the last six months.

A Post covered what does portfolio diversification look like.  A beginner’s guide to Portfolio diversification and why portfolios fail was also provided.

On a lighter note, the diversification of the New Zealand Super Fund was compared to the Australian Future Fund (both nation’s Sovereign Wealth Funds).

A short history of portfolio diversification was also provided, and was read widely.

The final Post in this series provided an understanding of the impact of market volatility on a Portfolio.

Positioning Portfolios for the likelihood of higher levels of inflation in the future

Investors face the prospects of higher inflation in the future.  Although inflation may not be an immediate threat, this article by Man strongly suggests investors should start preparing their Portfolio for a period of higher inflation.

The challenge of the current environment is also covered in this Post, which provides suggestions for Asset Allocations decisions for the conundrum of inflation or deflation.

Time to move away from the traditional Diversified Portfolio

A key theme underpinning some of the Posts above is the move away from the traditional Diversified Portfolio (the 60/40 Portfolio, being 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income, referred to as the Balance Portfolio).

Posts of interest include why the Balanced Portfolio is expected to underperform and why it is time to move away from the Balanced Portfolio.  They are likely riskier than you think.

There has been a growing theme over the last nine months of the Reported death of the 60/40 Portfolio.

My most recent Post (#152) highlights that the Traditional Diversified Fund is outdated as it lacks the ability to customise to the client’s individual needs.  Modern day investment solutions need to be more customised, particularly for those near and in retirement.

Occasions when active Management is appropriate and where to find the more consistently performing managers

Recent Posts have also covered the role of active management.

They started with a Post with my “colour” on the active vs passive debate (50 shades of Grey), after Kiwi Wealth got caught up in an active storm.

RBC Global Active Management provided a strong case for the opportunities of active management and its role within a truly diversified portfolio.

While this Post covered several situations when passive management is not appropriate and different approaches should be considered.

Another popular Post was on where investment managers who consistently outperform can be found.

Investing for Endowments, Charities, and Foundations

I have written several Posts on investing for Endowments, Charities, and Foundations.

This included a Post on the key learnings from the successful management of the Yale Endowment.

How smaller Foundations and Charities are increasingly investing like larger endowments.  See here and here.

Navigating a Bear market, including the benefits of disciplined Portfolio rebalancing

Not surprisingly, there have been several Posts on navigating the Bear Market experienced in March and April of this year.

Posts on navigating the event driven Bear Market can be found here and here.

The following Post outlined what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification at the time of sharemarket crashes.

This Post highlighted the benefits of remaining disciplined during periods of market volatility, even as extreme as experienced this year, particularly the benefits of Rebalancing Portfolios.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

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.