Real Assets offer real diversification benefits

Real assets such as Farmland, Timberland, Infrastructure, Natural Resources, Real Estate, TIPS (Inflation Protected Fixed Income Securities), Commodities, Foreign Currencies, and Gold offer real diversification benefits relative to equities and fixed income.

They offer real diversification benefits to a Balanced portfolio (60% equities and 40% fixed income) in different macro-economic environments, such as low economic growth, high inflation, stagflation, and stagnation.

These are a conclusive findings of a recent study by PGIM. PGIM is one of the largest asset managers in the world, managing over US$1 trillion in assets, and can trace its heritage to Prudential Financial in 1875.

 

The comprehensive analysis undertaken by PGIM outlines the role Real Assets can play in an Investment Portfolio.

Initially they identify and provided a brief outline of the investment characteristics for a number of real assets (see detail below).

The analysis primarily focuses on the sensitivities of real assets to both macroeconomic variables (e.g. economic growth and inflation) and traditional financial markets (e.g., equities and fixed income returns). This analysis is undertaken for each of real assets identified.

Pertinent points of the analysis:

  • There is a wide diversity in real assets’ sensitivities to inflation and growth, and stocks and bonds.
  • These sensitivities vary over time.
  • The time varying nature of these sensitivities can be mitigated by holding a portfolio of real assets or actively managing the real assets exposures.

 

An important observation from the perspective of portfolio diversification, equities and fixed income have different sensitivities to inflation and growth than many of the real assets.

 

A summary of the sensitivity to economic growth and inflation, along with some specific investment characteristics, for some of the different real assets is provided in the Table below.

Asset

Growth

Sensitivity

Inflation

Sensitivity

Accessibility Data Availability & Quality Specific Risks Sector Difference
Real Estate Core

mid

mid high high mid

mid

Real Estate Debt

low

low mid low low mid

Natural Resources

high

high mid mid high

high

Infrastructure

mid

mid mid low mid

mid

Timberland

mid

mid mid mid high

mid

Farmland (annual crops)

mid

high mid mid mid

mid

Farmland (permanent crops)

low

mid low mid high

high

TIPS

low

high high high low

low

Commodity

high

high high high low

high

Gold

low

high high high low

low

Currency

low

mid high high mid

Mid

 

PGIM then constructed three real asset strategy portfolios – Diversification, Inflation-Protection and Stagnation-Protection, by including some of the real assets identified above.

While the real asset portfolios’ macro-economic and financial market sensitivities still varied over time they were more stable than holding individual real assets.

Furthermore, across various economic environments, the three strategies displayed lower risk (lower volatility of returns) compared to equities.

PGIM then showed how these strategies performed in different economic environments: ideal, overheating, stagflation and stagnation.

The following Table outlines what Real Asset Strategy Portfolio performs best in different inflation and economic growth environments, compared to Equities and Fixed Income. The frequency of the different likely economic environments is also provided.

Portfolio Strategy

Ideal Overheating Muddled Stagflation Stagnation
Inflation &/ Growth Low & High High & High Median/Median High & Low Low & Low
Diversification

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Inflation-Protection

Y

Y Y

Stagnation Protection

Y

Y

Y

Equities

Y

Y

Y

Fixed Income

Y

Scenario frequency

8.9%

11.4%

53.9%

10.2%

15.8%

 

The PGIM analysis concludes that an allocation to real assets can improve the investment outcomes for a traditional portfolio dominated by equities and fixed income. These benefits are noticeable in different economic environments, like stagflation and stagnation, and particularly for those investment portfolios where objectives are linked to inflation, cost of living adjustments.

This conclusion comes as no surprise given the demonstrated diversification benefits as outlined within the Report.

 

I provide more detail below by summarising the various sections of the PGIM Report.

The sections include:

    • The Real assets universe and their investment characteristics
    • Real Assets sensitivity to Macro-economic and financial market exposures
    • Real Asset Diversification Benefits relative to equities and fixed income
    • Analysis of Real Asset Strategy Portfolios
    • Diversification Benefits of the three Real Asset Portfolios, sensitivities to equities, fixed income, economic growth, and inflation.
    • Benefits of Real Asset Strategies in Investment Portfolios

 

Access to the PGIM Report is provided below.

 

The Real Assets Universe and their investment characteristics

PGIM identify the following real assets: Farmland, Timberland, Infrastructure, private equity and debt, Natural Resources, private and public equity, Real Estate, Private Equity, Core, Value-add, opportunistic, private debt, REITS, TIPS (Inflation Protected Fixed Income Securities), Commodities, Foreign Currencies, and Gold.

The PGIM paper provides a brief description of each real asset, including sources of return drivers and key investment attributes.

Investment return characteristics of the real assets over the period January 1996 – June 2017 are provided.  I have reproduced for some of the real assets in the following Table.

Asset

Annual p.a. returns

Risk annual volatility

Sharpe Ratio

Real Estate Core

8.3%

11.0%

0.55

Real Estate Debt

6.3%

4.8%

0.85

REIT

10.7%

19.8%

0.43

Natural Resources

15.9%

23.8%

0.58

Energy Equity

9.0%

19.7%

0.35

Infrastructure

4.0%

12.7%

0.14

MLP

12.6%

26.2%

0.39

Timberland

7.3%

6.9%

0.74

Farmland

12.2%

7.3%

1.37

TIPS

5.2%

6.0%

0.50

Commodity

-0.9%

28.2%

-0.11

Gold

5.6%

16.2%

0.21

Currency

-1.2%

8.5%

-0.40

US Cash

2.2%

2.2%

US 10 yr Treasury

5.2%

8.6%

0.35

US Equity (S&P 500)

8.6%

18.3%

0.35

 

Sensitivity to Macro-economic and financial market exposures

PGIM reviewed the sensitivity of Real Assets to several macro-economic variables over the period 1996-2017 and subperiods 1996-2007 and 2008-2017:

Inflation and growth

PGIM found an unstable return sensitivity profile to inflation and growth i.e. variation in return outcomes to different inflation and economic growth periods.

Of note, and an important observation from the perspective of portfolio diversification, equites and fixed income have different sensitivities to inflation and growth than many of the real assets.

Inflation Protection

PGIM found that many real assets had large positive sensitivities to inflation.

They found that commodity, currency, energy equity, gold, infrastructure, TIPS and natural resource real assets provided inflation protection, not only for the full period but generally (except for gold and currency) for both subperiods as well.

Stagnation Protection

Equities have a high sensitivity to economic growth, cash a low sensitivity.

Farmland, gold, real estate debt, TIPS, and currency had insignificant sensitivity to economic growth. Their sensitivity to growth surprises were also low and statistically insignificant i.e. their return outcomes are largely independent of economic growth.

The growth surprise sensitivity for farmland was negative and statistically significant.

PGIM define a real asset as offering “stagnation protection” if its full-period estimated growth and growth surprise sensitivity were approximately equal to or less than the corresponding growth sensitivity for cash.

Therefore, farmland, currency, gold, real estate debt, and TIPS provided stagnation protection for the full period and often for both subperiods.

 

A summary of the sensitivity to economic growth and inflation, along with some specific investment characteristics, for some of the different real assets is provided in the Table below.

Asset

Growth

Sensitivity

Inflation

Sensitivity

Accessibility Data Availability & Quality Specific Risks

Sector Difference

Real Estate Core

mid

mid high high mid

mid

Real Estate Debt

low

low mid low low

mid

Natural Resources

high

high mid mid high

high

Infrastructure

mid

mid mid low mid

mid

Timberland

mid

mid mid mid high

mid

Farmland (annual crops)

mid

high mid mid mid

mid

Farmland (permanent crops)

low

mid low mid high

high

TIPS

low

high high high low

low

Commodity

high

high high high low

high

Gold

low

high high high low

low

Currency

low

mid high high mid

Mid

 

Real Asset Diversification Benefits relative to equities and fixed income

The different sensitivities of real assets to economic and inflation outcomes, on an absolute basis and relative to equities and fixed income, highlights the potential diversification benefits they could bring to a traditional portfolio of just equities and fixed income.

This is confirmed by the analysis undertaken by PGIM looking into the diversification benefits of real assets relative to equities and fixed income.

 

Diversifying Real Assets

Based on their criteria of sensitivity to equities and fixed income over the performance periods, PGIM found that currency, farmland, gold, natural resource, real estate, and timberland as diversifying real assets.

Not providing meaningful diversification benefits relative to equities was energy equity, listed property, and real estate.

Likewise, real estate debt and TIPS provided little diversification benefits relative to fixed income.

Although PGIM found diversification benefits from infrastructure, real estate debt and TIPS, they also found periods of time when there was limited diversification benefits relative to equities and fixed income.

 

Analysis of Real Asset Strategy Portfolios

PGIM used equal weights to the real assets to construct three Real Asset Strategy Portfolios. Each portfolio is a mix of public and private real assets.

A description of the three real asset Portfolios is provided below.

 

Diversification (80% private assets):

  • This portfolio is expected to have performance that has a low level of sensitivity with a traditional 60/40 Portfolio.
  • This ensures there will be diversification benefits regardless of the market cycle.
  • The Diversified Portfolio is made up of 20% Farmland, 20% Gold, 20% Natural Resource, 20% Real Estate, 20% Timberland

 

Inflation-Protection (33% private assets)

  • This strategy is designed to have better returns when inflation and inflation surprises are higher.
  • It is a strategy for investors with inflation-linked liabilities or a concern about overheating (high inflation and high growth) and stagflation (high inflation and low growth) economic scenarios.
  • Therefore, it includes real assets that have significant and positive exposure to both the inflation level and inflation surprise
  • The Inflation-Protection portfolio is made up of 17% Commodity, 17% Energy Equity, 17% Gold, 17% Infrastructure, 17% Natural Resource, 17% TIPS

 

Stagnation-Protection (50% private assets)

  • The Stagnation-Protection strategy portfolio is expected to perform better than cash in economic environments with below average growth.
  • This is a strategy for investors concerned about stagnation (low inflation and low growth) scenarios.
  • Included in this portfolio are real assets that have a sensitivity to both the real economic growth level and growth surprise that is lower than corresponding sensitivities for cash:
  • The Stagnation-Protection portfolio is made up of 25% Farmland, 25% Gold, 25% Real Estate Debt, and 25% TIPS.

 

Return Outcomes

PGIM measured the performance characteristic of these portfolios from January 1996 to December 2017. Including the sub-periods identified above.

The Diversification strategy produced the highest return (10.4%), with moderate risk (8.6%), and outperformed the 60/40 Portfolio (60% equities and 40% fixed income portfolio).

The Stagnation-Protection strategy offered similar absolute performance as the 60/40 portfolio, but due to its lower volatility produced much better risk-adjusted performance.

The Inflation-Protection strategy underperformed the 60/40 portfolio but generated slightly better risk adjusted returns. The Inflation-Protection strategy had the highest volatility of all three real asset strategies due to holdings of commodity and natural resource which have higher volatilities than stocks.

 

Diversification Benefits of the three Real Asset Portfolios

Sensitivity to Equities and Fixed Income

PGIM also found that the three Real Asset Portfolio strategies had low sensitivities to Equities.

The Inflation-Protection strategy tended to have the highest sensitivity to equities, while the Stagnation-Protection strategy had the lowest.

PGIM note the Stagnation-Protection portfolio had much lower sensitivity to equities than the 60/40 portfolio.

 

Relative to Fixed Income, the three strategies had on average a low and statistically insignificant sensitivity to Fixed Income. However, it was a game of two halves, all three strategies had negative sensitivity to Fixed Income in the first sub-period but positive sensitivity in the second sub-period.

 

Sensitivity to Economic variables

Economic Growth

The Inflation-Protection and Diversification strategies showed positive sensitivity to economic growth in both the full period and the second sub-period.

In contrast, the Stagnation-Protection strategy had negative sensitivity to economic growth for the full period, although not statistically significant.

While the Stagnation-Protection strategy had positive and statistically significant exposure to economic growth in the second sub-period, it was still the lowest growth exposure of all three real asset portfolio strategies.

Importantly, all three strategies display lower economic growth exposure relative to equities, this suggests they may provide investors protection at times of economic downturn (especially Stagnation-Protection and Diversification).

 

As PGIM note “To highlight the potential benefit, the Stagnation-Protection strategy offered positive exposure to inflation and negative exposure to growth, the opposite exposures for the 60/40 portfolio.”

 

Inflation Sensitivity

All three strategies had positive and significant sensitivity to inflation for the full period.

As was desired, the Inflation Protection strategy displayed the highest and statistically significant inflation sensitivity in both the full period and in both sub-periods “suggesting the strategy may provide inflation protection going forward. Notably, the Inflation-Protection strategy had much higher inflation sensitivity than stocks, bonds or the 60/40 portfolio.”

The Stagnation-Protection strategy had the lowest sensitivity to inflation.

 

Further in-depth analysis was undertaken into how the strategies would perform in different economic environments.

This analysis found:

  • All three real asset strategies perform well when inflation is high.
  • During stagflation the three strategies all have higher average returns than stocks or bonds.
  • In overheating environments stocks do well but the Diversification and Inflation-Protection strategies do even better.
  • Performance across the three real asset strategies diverges when inflation is low.
  • During periods of stagnation (low inflation/low growth) bonds do well, but so do the Stagnation-Protection and Diversification strategies.

 

The following Table outlines what Real Asset Strategy Portfolio performs best in different inflation and economic growth environments, compared to Equities and Fixed Income. The frequency of the different likely economic environments is also provided.

Portfolio Strategy

Ideal

Overheating Muddled Stagflation

Stagnation

Inflation &/ Growth

Low & High

High & High Median/Median High & Low

Low & Low

Diversification

Y

Y Y Y

Y

Inflation-Protection Y Y

Y

Stagnation Protection

Y

Y

Y

Equities

Y

Y Y
Fixed Income

Y

Scenario frequency

8.9%

11.4% 53.9% 10.2%

15.8%

 

Diversification Benefits of Real Asset Strategies in Pension Plans

The last section of the PGIM report seeks to determine if an allocation to real assets will improve the outcomes for US Pension Funds. PGIM note that this research can be applied to portfolios in other countries.

It should come as no surprise, given the results of the in-depth analysis undertaken by PGIM above, that an allocation to Real Assets improves the investment outcomes to a portfolio dominated by equities and fixed income.

By way of example, even a 10% allocation to a real asset strategy, depending on the investment objective, can lead to a noticeable improvement in both the final funded ratio and the risk of being further under-funded (i.e., surplus risk) of a Defined Benefit plan.  Resulting from lower levels of portfolio volatility.

In high inflation environments an allocation to real assets improves the outcomes Pension Plan, especially those with liabilities tied to inflation (cost of living adjustments).

Likewise, in low growth environments they found an allocation to real asset strategies made a big difference.

It is similar across different environments, stagflation and stagnation protection.

To conclude, the PGIM Portfolio analysis highlighted that a real asset allocation can help Defined Benefit providers improve outcomes in different economic environments of concern, like stagflation and stagnation, improving either surplus risk or the average funded ratio.

 

Access to the PGIM Report

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Time to move away from the Balanced Portfolio. They are riskier than you think.

GMO, a US based value investor, has concluded “now is the time to be moving away from 60/40” Portfolio.  Which is a Balanced Portfolio consisting of 60% US equities and 40% US fixed income.

Being a “contrarian investor”, recent market returns and GMO’s outlook for future market returns are driving their conclusions.

I covered their 7-year forecasts in an earlier Post. GMO provide a brief summary of their medium term returns in the recently published article: Now is the Time to be Contrarian

 

The GMO article makes the following key observations to back up their contrarian call:

  • The last time they saw such a wide “spread” in expected returns between a traditional 60/40 portfolio and a non-traditional one was back in the late 1990s, this was just prior to the Tech bubble bursting.
  • The traditional 60/40 portfolio went on to have a “Lost Decade” in the 2000s making essentially no money, in real terms, for ten years. Starting in late 1999, the 60/40 portfolio delivered a cumulative real return over the next ten years of -3.9%.

 

As outlined in the GMO chart below, Lost Decades for a Balanced Portfolio have happened with alarming and surprising frequency, all preceded by expensive stocks or expensive bonds.

GMO note that both US equities and fixed income are expensive today. As observed by the high CAPE and negative real yield at the bottom of the Chart.

They are of course not alone with this observation, as highlighted by a recent CFA Institute article. I summarised this article in the Post: Past Decade of strong returns are unlikely to be repeated.

lost-decades_12-31-19

 

 

The Balance Portfolio is riskier than you think.

The GMO chart is consistent with the analysis undertaken by Deutsche Bank in 2012, Rethinking Portfolio Construction and Risk Management.

This analysis highlights that the Balanced Portfolio is risker than many think. This is quite evident in the following Table. The Performance period is from 1900 – 2010.

Real Returns

(after inflation)

Compound Annual Return per annum 3.8%
Volatility (standard deviation of returns) 9.8%
Maximum Drawdown (peak to bottom) -66%
% up years 67%
Best Year 51%
Worst Year -31%
% time negative returns over 10 years 22%

The Deutsche Bank analysis highlights:

  • The, 60/40 Portfolio has generated negative real returns over a rolling 10 year period for almost a quarter of the time (22%).
  • In the worst year the Portfolio lost 31%.
  • On an annual basis, real negative returns occur 1 in three years, and returns worse than -10% 1 in every six years
  • Equities dominate risk of a 60/40 Portfolio, accounting for over 90% of the risk in most countries.

 

The 4% average return, comes with volatility, much higher than people appreciate, as outlined in the Table above. The losses (drawdowns) can be large and lengthy.

This is evident the following Table of Decade returns, which line up with the GMO Chart above.

Decade Per annum return
1900s 6.3%
1910s -4.7%
1920s 12.7%
1930s -2.3%
1940s 1.1%
1950s 9.1%
1960s 4.5%
1970s -0.3%
1980s 11.7%
1990s 11.7%
2000s 0.5%

 

We know the 2010s was a great decade for the Balanced Portfolio.  A 10 year period in which the US sharemarket did not experience a bear market (a decline of 20% or more). This is the first time in history this has occurred.

Interestingly, Deutsche Bank highlight the 1920s and 1950s where post war gains, while the 1980s and 1990s were wind-full gains.

The best 4 decades returned 11.3% p.a. and the 7 others 0.7% p.a.

 

As outlined in my last Post, the case for diversifying away from traditional equity and fixed income is arguably stronger than ever before.

 

Happy investing.

 Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Sobering low return estimates

AQR has updated their estimates of medium-term (5- to 10-year) expected returns for the major asset classes.

Their expected real return for the traditional U.S. 60/40 portfolio (60% Equities / 40% Bonds) is just 2.4%, around half its long-term average of nearly 5% (since 1900).

It is also down from 2.9% estimated last year.

 

AQR conclude that medium term expected returns are “sobering low”. Their return estimates are after inflation (real returns) and are compounded per annum returns.

“They suggest that over the next decade, many investors may struggle to meet return objectives anchored to a rosier past”.

“We again emphasize that our return estimates for all asset classes are highly uncertain. The estimates in this report do not in themselves warrant aggressive tactical allocation responses — but they may warrant other kinds of responses. For example, investment objectives may need to be reassessed, even if this necessitates higher contribution rates and lower expected payouts. And the case for diversifying away from traditional equity and term premia is arguably stronger than ever.”

 

The AQR estimate for a Balance Fund return are similar to those published recently in a CFA Institute article of 3.1%.

 

AQR update their estimates annually.  They manage over US$186 billion in investment assets.

 

Return Estimates

Reflecting the strong returns experienced in 2019 across all markets, particularly US equities, future returns estimates are now lower compared to last year.

This is Highlighted in the Table below.

Medium-Term Expected Real Returns

Market

2019 Estimate

2020 Estimate

US Equities

4.3%

4.0%

Non-US Developed Equities

5.1%

4.7%

Emerging Markets

5.4%

5.1%

US 10-year Government Bonds

0.8%

0.0%

Non US-10 Year Government Bonds

-0.3%

-0.6%

US Investment Grade Credit

1.6%

0.9%

 

Bloomberg have a nice summary of the key results:

  • Anticipated returns for U.S. equities dropped to 4% from 4.3% a year earlier.
  • U.S. Treasuries tracked the move, with AQR predicting buyers will merely break even.
  • Non-U.S. sovereigns slipped deeper into negative territory, with a projected loss of 0.6% a year.
  • Emerging-market equities will lead the way, the firm projects, with a return of 5.1%.

 

This article by Institutional Investor also provides a good run down of AQR’s latest return estimates.

More detail of return estimates can be found within the following document, which I accessed from LinkedIn.

 

Lastly, AQR provide the following guidance in relation to the market return estimates:

  • For shorter horizons, returns are largely unpredictable and any predictability has tended to mainly reflect momentum and the macro environment.
  • Our estimates are intended to assist investors with their strategic allocation and planning decisions, and, in particular, with setting appropriate medium-term expectations.
  • They are highly uncertain, and not intended for market timing.

 

In addition to the CFA Article mentioned above, AQRs estimates are consistent with consensus expected returns I covered in a previous Post.

 

Although AQR’s guidance to diversify away from traditional equity and fixed income might be like asking a barber whether you need a haircut, surely from a risk management perspective the diversification away from the traditional asset classes should be considered in line with the prudent management of investment portfolios and consistency with industry best practice?

In my Post, Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment, suggested changes to current investment approaches are covered.

Finally, Global Economic and Market outlook provides a shorter term outlook for those interested.

 

Happy Investing

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

More needs to be done to address the post-retirement challenges

The next generation to retire is likely to have much lower retirement savings. Those aged 40 to 55 are effectively a lost generation.

They have limited defined benefit (DB) pensions as many occupational schemes closed early on in their careers and it took the government many years to develop and implement auto-enrolment.

These are some of the underlying themes of the 2019 UK Defined Contribution (DC) Investment Forum (DCIF) report.  A summary and discussion of this report was recently published in an IPE Article.

The key findings of the DCIF Report:

  • Members are sleepwalking into retirement and choosing the path of least resistance
  • The industry has been slow to address the challenges posed by pension freedoms
  • The best approach is seen as income drawdown in earlier years and longevity protection later in retirement
  • Further policy initiatives are required to build consensus and provide clarity

 

In summary, “The DC industry needs to do more to address post-retirement challenges”.

 

There are obviously issues specific to the UK market e.g. it has been five years since pensioners in the UK gained greater freedom to use their defined contribution (DC) pots.

Nevertheless, retirement issues are universal and key learnings can be gained from individual markets.

 

The IPE article outlined the key challenge facing providers: “how do you ensure members retain flexibility and choice, while ensuring those members can manage both the investment and longevity risk over decades of retirement?”

 

Overall, the UK industry response has been slow. It appears “Pension providers have been focused on designing the best default fund with little energy spent on the post-retirement phase.”

Interestingly, research in the UK by Nest, a €8.3bn auto-enrolment provider, found most members expect their pension pot to pay an income automatically on retirement.

Members are also surprised by the level of complexity involved in draw down products.

 

Post Retirement Investment Solution Framework

Despite the lack of innovation to date there appears to be a consensus about the shape of the post-retirement investment solution.

An appropriate Post-Retirement Investment Strategy would allow retirees to have decent levels of income during the first two active decades of retirement and longevity protection for after 80.

“Not only does this remove the burden of an unskilled person having to manage both investment and longevity risk, but it also prevents members from either underspending or overspending their pots”.

The idea is to turn a DC pension pot into an income stream with minimal interaction from the scheme member.

 

This is consistent with the vision expressed by Professor Robert Merton in 2012, see this Kiwi Investor Blog Post: Designing a new Retirement System for more detail.

 

As the IPE article highlights, it is important retirees are provided guidance to ensure they understand their choices.

Albeit, a core offering will deliver a sustainable income.  This is potentially a default solution which can be opted out of at any stage.

Some even argue that the “trustees would then make a judgement about what a sustainable income level would be for each member and then devise a product to pay this out.”

“In addition, this product could also provide a small pot of cash for members to take tax-free on retirement as well buying later-life protection. This could take the form of deferred annuities or even a mortality pool.”

 

Early Product Development in the UK

The IPE article outlines several approaches to assist those entering retirement.

By way of example, Legal & General Investment Management have developed a retirement framework which they call ‘four pots for your retirement’.”

  • First pot is to fund the early years of retirement – assuming retirees will spend the first 15 years wanting to enjoy no longer working; they will travel and be active.
  • Second pot provides a level of certainty to ensure retirees do not outlive their savings, this may include an annuity type product.
  • Third pot is a rainy-day pot for one-off expenses.
  • Final pot is for inheritance.

 

Greater Policy Direction

Unsurprisingly, there is a call for clearer policy direction from Government. Particularly in relation to adequacy, and the relation between adequacy and retirement products.

Unlike a greater consensus around what an investment solution might look like, consensus around the regulatory environment will be harder to achieve.

This may slow investment solution innovation to the detriment of retirees.

 

Concluding remarks

The following point is made within the IPE article: “While pension providers in both the US and Australia have come to the same conclusions as the UK about the way to address the retirement market, no-one in these markets has yet developed a viable product.”

As the IPE article note “It is likely the industry will be pushing at an open door if it develops a product that provides an income in retirement.”

This is a significant opportunity for the industry.

 

Interestingly, the investment knowledge is available now to meet the Post Retirement challenge. Also, Post-Retirement Investment solutions are increasingly being developed and are available. It is going to take a change in industry mind-set before they are universally accepted.

 

The foundations of the investment knowledge for the Post-Retirement Investment solution as outlined above have regularly been posted on Kiwi Investor Blog.

For those wanting more information, see the following links:

 

There will be change, a paradigm shift is already occurring internationally, and those savings for retirement need a greater awareness of these developments and the likely Investment Solution options available, so that they are not “sleepwalking into retirement and choosing the path of least resistance”.

 

I don’t see enough of the Post Retirement Challenges being addressed in New Zealand by solution providers. More needs to be done, the focus in New Zealand has been on accumulation products and the default option as occurred in the UK.

The approach to date has been on building as big as possible retirement pot, this may work well for some, for others not so well.

Investment strategies can be developed that more efficiently uses the pool of capital accumulated – avoiding the dual risks of overspending or underspending in the early years of retirement and providing a greater level of flexibility compared to an annuity.

These strategies are better than Rules of Thumb, such as the 4% rule which has been found to fail in most markets.

More robust and innovative retirement solutions are required.

 

In New Zealand there needs to be a greater focus on decumulation, Post Retirement solutions, including a focus on generating a secure and stable level of income throughout retirement.

The investment knowledge is available now and being implemented overseas.

Let’s not leave it until it is too late before the longevity issues arise for those retiring today and the next generation, who are most at risk, begin to retire.

 

Happy investing.

 Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Why is the Multi-Asset Portfolio so Popular?

The rise of the Multi-Asset Portfolio can be traced back to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, when many investors “grew disenchanted with the long-time investment mantra that equities were the one true way to wealth. That smug bromide rang hollow when the financial crisis slashed many stock portfolios in half”, according to recent Chief Investment Office (CIO) article, How Multi-Asset Investing Became So Popular.

Following the GFC, the mantra became diversify your holdings. As a result, Multi-Asset Portfolios, which combine equities, fixed income, and an array of other assets, gained greater prominence.

Multi-Asset Portfolios grew more popular on promises of greater capital preservation and sometimes the delivery of superior returns.

As CIO note, the increased prominence of the Multi-Asset Portfolio can be attributed to David Swensen, Yale’s investment chief since 1986. Yale has generated an impressive performance record by investing outside of just equities and fixed income. Their portfolio has included high allocations to private equity, real estate, and other non-traditional assets. (For more on the success of the Endowment model and the fee debate please see this Post.)

 

The CIO article also noted that Multi-Asset Portfolios are most prominent among target-date funds (TDFs), which have become the default offering among 401(k) plans (e.g. US superannuation schemes such as KiwiSaver in New Zealand).

“TDFs have grown five-fold since the financial crisis, reaching $1.09 trillion in 2018, a Morningstar report concluded, with an estimated $40 billion added last year.”

 

The Concept: Absolute returns and better risk management

The Multi-Asset Portfolio is based on the concept of absolute returns, where the focus is on generating a more targeted and less volatile investment return outcome. There is a greater focus on risk management relative to that undertaken within a traditional portfolio. The intensity and sophistication of risk management employed depends on the type of absolute return strategy.

The absolute return universe is very broad, ranging from Multi-Asset Portfolios to those with a much greater focus on absolute returns such as the plethora of Hedge Fund strategies, including Risk Parity as discussed in the CIO article.

This contrasts with the traditional balanced fund, which are generally less diversified, portfolio risk is dominated by the equity exposures, and returns are much more subject to the vagaries of investment markets. The management of risk is more focused on relative returns i.e. how performance goes relative to a market benchmark, rather than returns relative to an absolute return outcome.

A Multi-Asset Portfolio generally has more of an absolute return focus than a Traditional Portfolio. It achieves this by having a more truly diversified portfolio, moving beyond the traditional Balanced Portfolio (60% equities and 40% Fixed Income), to incorporate a greater array of different investment strategies and risk management approaches within the portfolio.

As the CIO article comments, “There’s a strong argument for Swensen-like multi-asset funds that range beyond stocks and bonds, adding solid helpings of commodities, real estate and all kinds of other asset classes. With such an array, the thinking goes, you’re best protected when recessions thunder in.”

 

Return Expectations

The CIO article made the following observation, Multi-Assets Portfolios are “expected to return 4.5% annually through 2024, according to Casey Quirk, an arm of Deloitte Consulting. That isn’t a daunting growth rate, but the figure should have a decent chance of holding steady, while public markets lurch around, especially in the next recession.”

To put this into perspective, a recent CFA Institute article estimated that a Balanced Portfolio will return 3.1% over the next 10 years.

It is highly likely we are heading into a “Low Return Environment”.

 

As a result, a different investment approach to that which has been successful over the last 20-30 years is likely needed to invest successfully in what is expected to be a Challenging Investment Environment.

As the CIO article notes, “But multi-asset now goes far beyond the simple stock-bond duality, which seems insufficient to deliver the best diversification. The most salient problem with the basic pairing nowadays is that bonds are paying low interest rates. Their ability to score capital gains is limited because rates don’t have much left to fall before they hit zero. “These don’t work as well as they used to,” observed Deepak Puri, CIO Americas for Deutsche Bank Wealth Management.”

 

I fear the lessons from the GFC and 2000 Tech Bubble are fading from the collective memory, as equity markets reach historical highs and investors chase income from within equity-income sectors of the sharemarket.

In addition, more advanced portfolio management approaches have been developed over the last 20 – 30 years.

It would seem crazy that these learnings are not reflected in modern day investment portfolios. In a previous Post: A Short History of Portfolio Diversification, it is not hard to see how the Multi-Asset Portfolio has developed over time and is preferred by many large institutional investors.

Meanwhile, this Post: What Portfolio Diversification looks like, compares a range of investment portfolios, including the KiwiSaver universe, to emphasis what a Multi-Asset Portfolio does look like.

 

Growth in Multi-Asset Portfolios to continue

Increasingly the Multi-Asset Portfolios are taking market share from traditional portfolios.

Institutional investors are increasingly adopting a more absolute return investing approach. This has witnessed an increased allocation, and growth in Funds Under Management, in underlying strategies, “such as private equity, hedge funds, real estate, natural resources, and other strategies whose assets aren’t publicly traded.”

 

An underlying theme of the CIO article is the Death of the Balance Portfolio, which I covered in a previous Post.

Personally, I think the death of 60/40 Portfolio is occurring for more fundamental reasons. The construction of portfolios has evolved, as noted above, more advanced approaches can be implemented. For those interested I covered this in more detail in a recent Post: Evolution within the Wealth Management Industry, the death of the Policy Portfolio. (The Policy Portfolio is the 60/40 Portfolio).

 

Concluding Remarks

The current market environment, of low expected returns, might quicken the evolution in portfolio construction toward greater adoption of Multi-Asset Portfolios and a more absolute return focus.

Therefore, the value is in implementation, identifying the suitable underlying investment strategies to construct a truly diversified portfolio, within an appropriate fee budget.

Wealth management practices need to be suitably aligned with this value adding activity.

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Developing ETF Trends and Innovations – EDHEC Risk Research

The most recent EDHEC Risk Institute’s European Exchange Trade Funds (ETF) survey* provides valuable insights into the developing trends and innovation in relation to the use of ETF in a diversified and robust portfolio.

The following Post outlines the key findings of the EDHEC ETF survey, which is well worth reading.

 

The changing Purpose of using ETFS

Increasingly ETFs are being used for tactical allocation purposes. Historically the dominant purpose of ETF usage has been to gain a truly passive investment, a long-term buy-and hold investment to gain broad market exposures via the major market indices.

Results by EDHEC indicate there is now a greater usage of ETFs for tactical allocations rather than their role for long-term positions (53% and 51% respectively).

The survey also noted:

  • Gaining broad market exposure remains the focus of ETF for 73% of users, compared with 52% of respondents using ETFs to obtain specific sub-segment exposure.

 

As EDHEC note, the increasing focus on sub-segment exposures can be linked to product development, “which has led to the introduction of new products for a multitude of sub-segments of the markets (sectors, styles etc.). It also correlates with the growing use of ETFs for tactical allocations, which tend to favour a more granular investment approach over broad exposures.”

 

ETF Use continues to Grow**

The adoption of ETF continues to grow, particularly for the traditional asset classes. “In 2019 91% of respondents used ETFs to invest in equities, compared with 45% in 2006. As for governments and corporate bonds, the result went from 13% and 6% in 2006, to 66% and 68%, respectively, in 2019…”

“Investors prefer ETFs for traditional asset classes over alternative asset classes in line with this expression of conservatism in their use of ETFs, which is mainly focused on gaining access to broad market exposure”….

The Survey recorded a high level of satisfaction by investors with ETF in the traditional asset classes.

The survey also notes:

  • A high percentage of investors (46%) still plan to increase their use of ETFs in the future, despite the already high maturity of this market and high current adoption rates
  • Lowering investment cost is the primary driver behind investors’ future adoption of ETFs (74% of respondents in 2019).
  • ETF investors are planning to increase their ETF allocation to replace active managers (71% of respondents in 2019) and replace other passive investing products through ETFs (42% of respondents in 2019)

 

Future Growth and ETF Innovation Drivers

“Ethical/SRI and smart beta equity / factor indices are the main expectations for further development of ETF products”

Further developments where called for in the following market segments:

  • 31% of respondents wished for further development of Ethical/Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) ETFs.
  • ETFs related to advanced forms of equity indices – namely those based on multi-factor and smart beta indices – 30% and 28% of respondents

 

In aggregate 45% of respondents would like further development in one of the following areas of either smart beta indices, single-factor indices, and multi-factor indices.

 

More specifically, the EDHEC Survey found that “respondents would like to see further development of smart beta and factor investing products in the area of fixed income”……“The integration of ESG into smart beta and factor investing, and strategies in alternative asset classes (currencies, commodities, etc.), closely follow.”

 

EDHEC conclude, “It is likely that the development of new products corresponding to these demands may lead to an even higher take-up of smart beta and factor investing solutions.”

 

Criteria for selecting ETF Providers

The two main drivers of selecting an ETF provider are Cost and the quality of Cost and Quality of Replication. These two criteria dominate the survey results.

The long-term commitment of the provider, range of solutions, and level of innovation also rank highly.

 

Smart Beta and Factor Investing

The EDHEC Risk Survey has a large section on the drivers of using Smart Beta and Factor Investing Strategies.

Motivation for Smart Beta and Factor investing strategies include improving performance and managing risk

Albeit, the adoption of these strategies is a small fraction of portfolio holdings.

 

Concluding Comments

EDHEC found that there was a preference for passive for open-ended passive funds to invest in equity products, and active solutions to invest in fixed income products.

In relation for smart beta and factor investing the “take-up remains partial despite more than a decade of discussion in the industry, with the vast majority of adopters investing less than 20 per cent of their portfolio in such approaches.”

They find that this is partly due to a lack of ‘transparency and difficulty in accessing information about such strategies”….“In the case of fixed income strategies, investors express doubts over the maturity of research results at this stage. They also see a need for further development of long/short equity strategies based on factors, strategies that address client-specific risk objectives, and strategies that integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.”

Personally, I see an increasing demand for smart beta and factor investing within fixed income strategies. Whether this is within an ETF structure, time will tell.

 

Therefore, for product provides to capture the growth and innovation outlined above, as EDHEC highlight, there is work to be done “to improve their solutions for smart beta and factor investing strategies if they are to make it into the mainstream.”

This is an area of opportunity for ETF providers, particularly if it includes an ESG overlay.

 

Happy Investing

 

Please read my Disclosure Statement

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

 

* The 2019 EDHEC survey gathered information from 182 European investment professionals concerning their practices, perceptions and future plans. Respondents are high-ranking professionals within their organisations (34% belong to executive management and 42% are portfolio managers), with large assets under management (42% of respondents represent firms with assets under management exceeding €10bn). Respondents are distributed across different European countries, with 12% from the United Kingdom, 70% from other European Union member states, 14% from Switzerland and 4% from other countries outside the European Union.

* *  At the end of December 2018, the assets under management (AUM) within the 1,704 ETFs constituting the European industry stood at $726bn, compared with 273 ETFs amounting to $94bn at the end of December 2006 (ETFGI, 2018b).

Past Decade of strong returns unlikely to be repeated

The current return assumption for the average US public pension fund is 7.25%, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA), highlighted in a recent CFA Institute Blog: Global Pension Funds the Coming Storm.

This compares to the CFA Institute’s (CFA) article expected return for a Balanced Portfolio of 3.1% over the next 10 years.  A Balanced Portfolio is defined as 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income.

Therefore, the article concludes that a 7.25% return assumption is “overly optimistic in a low return interest rate environment”.

The expected low return environment will place increasing pressure on growing pension liabilities and funding deficits. This is over and above the pressures of an aging population and the shift toward Defined Contribution (DC) superannuation schemes e.g. KiwiSaver.

This environment will likely require a different approach to the traditional portfolio in meeting the growing liabilities of Define Benefit (DB) Plans and in meeting investment return objectives for DC superannuation Funds such as KiwiSaver in New Zealand.

The value will be in identifying and implementing the appropriate underlying investment strategies.

 

Past Returns

For comparison purposes an International Balanced Portfolio, as defined above, has returned around 7.8% over the last 10 years, based on international fixed income and global sharemarket indices.

A New Zealand Balanced Portfolio has returned 10.3%, based on NZ capital market indices only.

New Zealand has had one of the best performing sharemarkets in the world over the last 10 years, returning 13.5% per annum (p.a.), this compares to the US +11.3% p.a. and China -0.7% p.a.. Collectively, global sharemarkets returned 10.2% p.a. in the 2010s.

Similarly, the NZ fixed income markets, Government Bonds, returned 5.4% p.a. last decade. The NZ 5-year Government Bond fell 4.1% over the 10-year period, boosting the returns from fixed income. Interestingly, the US 5-year Bond is only 1% lower compared to what it was at the beginning of 2010.

 

It is worth noting that the US economy has not experienced a recession for over ten years and the last decade was the only decade in which the US sharemarket has not experienced a 20% or more decline. How good the last decade has been for the US sharemarket was covered in a previous Post.

 

In New Zealand, as with the rest of the world, a Balanced Portfolio has served investors well over the last ten or more years. This reflects the strong returns from both components of the portfolio, but more particularly, the fixed income component has benefited from the continue decline in interest rates over the last 30 years to historically low levels (5000 year lows on some measures!).

 

Future Return Expectations

Future returns from fixed income are unlikely to be as strong as experienced over the last decade. New Zealand interest rates are unlikely to fall another 4% over the next 10-years!

Likewise, returns from equities may struggle to deliver the same level of returns as generated over the last 10-years. Particularly the US and New Zealand, which on several measures look expensive. As a result, lower expected returns should be expected.

The lower expected return environment is highlighted in the CFA article, they provide market forecasts and consensus return expectations for a number of asset classes.

 

As the article rightly points out, one of the best estimates of future returns from fixed income is the current interest rate.

As the graph below from the article highlights, “the starting bond yield largely determines the nominal total return over the next decade. So what you see is what you get.”

 

US Bond Returns vs. US Starting Bond Yields

US Bond Returns vs US Starting Bond Yields

 

In fact, this relation has a score of 97% out of 100%, it is a pretty good predictor.

The current NZ 10 Government Bond yield is ~1.65%, the US 10-Year ~1.90%.

 

Predicting returns from equity markets is more difficult and comes with far less predictability.

Albeit, the article concludes “low returns for US equities over the next 10 years.”

 

Expected Returns from a Balanced Portfolio

The CFA Article determines the future returns from a Balance Portfolio “By combining the expected returns from equities and bonds based on historical data, we can create a return matrix for a traditional 60/40 portfolio. Our model anticipates an annualized return of 3.1% for the next 10 years. That is well below the 7.25% assumed rate of return and is awful news for US public pension funds.”

Subsequent 10-Year Annualized Return for Traditional 60/40 Equity/Bond Portfolio

Subsequent 10 years annualized Return for Traditional 60 40 Equity Bond Portfolio.png

 

This is a sobering outlook as we head into the new decade.

Over the last decade portfolio returns have primarily been driven by traditional market returns, equity and fixed income “beta“. This may not be the case when we look back in ten-years’ time.

 

This is a time to be cautious. Portfolio strategy will be important, nevertheless, implementation of the underlying strategies and manager selection will be vitally important, more so than the last decade. The management of portfolio costs will also be an essential consideration.

It is certainly not a set and forget environment. The challenging of current convention will likely not go unrewarded.

Forewarned is forearmed.

 

Global Pension Crisis

The Global Pension crisis is well documented. It has been described as a Financial Climate Crisis, the risks are increasingly with you, the individual, as I covered in a previous Post.

As the CFA article notes, the expected low return environment adds to this crisis, as a result deeper cuts to government pensions and greater increases in the retirement age are likely. This will led to greater in-equality.

 

This is a serious issue for society, luckily there is the investment knowledge available now to help increase the probability of attaining a desired standard of living in retirement.

However, it does require a shift in paradigm and a fresh approach to planning for retirement, but not a radical departure from current thinking and practices.

For those interested, I cover this topic in more depth in my post: Designing a New Retirement System. This post has been the most read Kiwi Investor Blog post. It covers a retirement system framework as proposed by Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Merton in his 2012 article: Funding Retirement: Next Generation Design.

 

Lastly, the above analysis is consistent with recent calls for the Death of the Balanced Portfolio, which I have also Blogged on.

Nevertheless, I think the Balanced Portfolio is being replaced due to the evolution within the wealth management industry globally, which I covered in a previous Post: Evolution within Wealth Management, the death of the Policy Portfolio. This covers the work by the EDHEC-Risk Institute on Goals-Based Investing.

 

In another Posts I have covered consensus expected returns, which are in line with those outlined in the CFA article and a low expected return environment.

In my Post, Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment, suggested changes to current investment approaches are covered.

Finally, Global Economic and Market outlook provides a shorter-to-medium term outlook for those interested.

 

Please note, I do not receive any payment or financial benefit from Kiwi Investor Blog, and a link to my Discloser Statement is provided below.

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Target Date Funds – 25 Years of US Learnings

Launched in 1994, target-date funds now boast assets of more than $2 trillion in the US, according to a recent Wealth Management.com article, Target-Date Funds Aging Gracefully

The article concludes: “Naturally it is difficult to foresee how target date funds will evolve over coming decades, as the list of potential innovations is endless, but one thing is certain: the benefits target-date funds present both to plan participants and sponsors ensure they will play a dominant role in building comfortable retirements for years to come.”

The growth Target-Date Funds (TDF) has significantly changed the Defined Contribution (DC), superannuation, industry in the US.

TDF are also referred to as Life Stages or Life Cycle strategies.

 

Since their launch in 1994 TDF have become to dominate DC plans. According to the Wealth Management.com article total assets in TDF mutual funds alone have grown from about $278 million at the end of 1994 to more than $1.2 trillion in the second quarter of 2019.

Considering other investments, it is estimated that $2 trillion or about 25% of total DC assets today are invested TDF.

 

Why the Growth?

The growth in TDF can be attributed to their appeal to those saving for retirement (Participants) and those offering investment solutions e.g. Sponsors such KiwiSaver Providers.

For the Participant, TDF remove the “burden of creating an asset allocation strategy and choosing the investments through which they would execute it.” Participants do not need to make complicated investment decisions.

For Sponsors, they can “streamline their investment offering (reducing complexity and administrative costs), while meeting their fiduciary responsibility to participants.”

Also, and of particular interest given New Zealand is currently reviewing the Default option for KiwiSaver, TDF have also experienced a significant boost from the enactment of the Pension Protection Act (PPA) in 2006.

As noted by the Wealth Management.com article “The PPA relieved plan sponsors from fiduciary responsibility for investment outcomes if they provided a suitable Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA), such as TDFs, to anyone auto-enrolled in their plans. The combination of auto enrollment and safe harbor relief for plan sponsors paved the way for the wide adoption of TDFs.”

 

Future Growth and Innovation

The growth of funds invested into TDF is expected to grow, primarily from the ongoing innovation of the vehicle.

It is likely that the TDF will evolve into the key investment vehicle over the complete lifecycle of an investor, not only by accumulating capital for retirement (Defined Contribution Fund) but also helping generate a stable and secure income once in retirement (Defined Benefit Fund).

A recent enhancement to TDF is the addition of Guaranteed-income options. These Funds convert into a personalised investment plan for those seeking the security of a guaranteed income for life.

TDF offering guaranteed income are available now in the US, but they have not been widely embraced by either participants or plan sponsors. They do face a higher fee hurdle to be adopted. Albeit, the Wealth Management.com article notes “TDFs offering guaranteed income are likely to gain traction in the DC space. Participants contemplating decades in retirement naturally have concerns about outliving their savings, and guaranteed-income TDFs address that anxiety.”

 

The innovation and focus of these Funds is consistent with the framework proposed by EDHEC Risk Institute, as I outlined in the Post: A more Robust Investment Solution

They are also consistent with the Next Generation of Retirement solutions promoted by Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Merton: Funding Retirement: Next Generation Design, which was written in 2012. I summarise Professor Merton’s Paper in this Post: Designing a new Retirement System, which is the most read Kiwi Investor Blog Post.

 

Such considerations will greatly increase the efficiency of TDF.

These solutions are about making Finance great Again (Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance great again)

 

New Zealand Perspective

TDF would make more sense as a Default KiwiSaver solution, and stack up better relative to a Balanced Fund option (Balanced Funds not the Solution for Default Kiwi Saver Investors).

Lastly, the criticism of TDF is often due to poor design (In Defence of Target Date Funds).

An example is a large Kiwi Saver provider promoting a 65+ Life Stages Fund which is 100% investment in Cash. This is scandalous as outlined in this research by Dimensional, this research is summarised in the Post High Cash holdings a scandalous investment for someone in retirement.

 

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

How good will the next decade be for Investing?

“Adjusted for risk—or, more precisely, the volatility stock investors had to bear—gains in the S&P 500 index since Dec. 31, 2009, are poised to be the highest of any decade since at least the 1950s.” as outlined in a recent Bloomberg article, The Bull Market Almost No One Saw Coming.

Who would had thought that back in 2009?

 

As the Bloomberg article highlights, it has been a relatively smooth ride of late; equity market volatility has fallen in line with the sharp decline in interest rates over the last ten years.

Also assisting the smoother ride in US equity markets has been the lower volatility in US economic activity. The US economy has expanded by 1.6% to 2.9% in each of the previous nine years, a similar level of economic activity is expected in 2019. According to Bloomberg, based on standard deviation, that’s the smallest fluctuation over any 10-year stretch in data going back to 1930.

 

In fact, the 2010s were the first decade without a bear market, defined as a 20% drop from any peak.

For the record, US equities:

  • experienced six separate 10% corrections over the 2010s (to date!); and
  • In total have returned 249% in the past 10 years, about 1.2 times the historical average.

The US is amid the longest bull market ever (longest period in history without a bear market).

These gains have come when least expected.

 

They also follow a -20% decline over the previous decade (2000 – 2009). Which includes a -52% decline of the Great Recessions (Global Financial Crisis (GFC) – measured over the period October 2007 – February 2009. As at October 2007 the S&P 500 Index had only climbed 11% since the beginning of the decade.

 

How Good has it been?

As Bloomberg note, based on the Sharpe ratio, which tracks the performance of equity markets relative to Government Bonds, adjusted for the volatility of equity markets, the current Sharpe Ratio of the S&P500 is the best among any decade since at least Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency.

The last decade has not been all plain sailing and includes the following market events: May 2010 flash crash, Europe’s sovereign debt crisis in 2011 and ’12, and China’s currency devaluation in 2015.

A previous Post covered these market declines: Equity Market Declines in Perspective

More recently global markets have had to endure an ongoing trade and technology dispute between the US and China.

Central Bank actions, including the lowering of interest rates and quantitative easing (i.e. buying of market securities, mainly fixed income) has helped ease markets anxiety. This is reflected in the decline of market volatility indices, such as the VIX Index.

 

What does the next decade look like?

The sharemarket and economy are linked.

Generally a bear market (i.e. 20% or more fall in value) does not occur without a recession (a recession is often defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth).

Currently there are no excesses within the US economy, that normally precede a recession e.g. elevate inflation, excessive house prices, and high household debt levels.

This would tend to indicate that global equity markets can move higher.

 

Nevertheless, US equity market valuations are high, as are those of global Fixed Income markets.  This environment has resulted in many reporting the death of the traditional Balanced Portfolio (60% listed equities / 40% fixed income).

There are growing expectations that returns over the next decade will be lower than those experienced over the last ten years, as highlight in a previous Post: Low Return Environment Forecasted.

That Post has the following Table, GMO’s expected 7 year returns as at 31 July 2019. They estimated the real returns (returns after 2.2% inflation) for the following asset classes as follows:

Share Markets Annual Real Return Forecasts
US Large Capitalised Shares -3.7%
International Shares 0.6%
Emerging Markets 5.3%
Fixed Income Markets
US Fixed Income -1.7%
International Fixed Income Hedged -3.7%
Emerging Debt 0.7%
US Cash 0.2%

As GMO highlight, these are forward looking based on their reasonable beliefs and they are no guarantee of future performance.   Actual results may differ materially from those anticipated in forward looking statements.

 

It is very rare for decade of strong returns to be followed by a similar like decade.  Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that a challenging investment environment is likely in the not too distant future. This Post outlines how to prepare and consider investing for such a challenging environment: Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment.

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

For a historical perspective of previous sharemarket corrections and bear markets please see my previous Post: History of Sharemarket corrections – An Anatomy of equity market corrections

Meanwhile, this Post, Recessions, Inverted Yield Curves and Sharemarket Returns, outlines the inter-play between the economic cycle and sharemarket returns.

 

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

 

The opportunity and role of active management

RBC Global Asset Management provides a strong case for the opportunity of active management and its role within a truly diversified portfolio.

As they note, there are considerable opportunities within markets for active managers to turn into reliable excess returns.

RBC’s analysis highlights that a large proportion of active share price movements, up to 75%, cannot be explained by market factors.

This is a large opportunity set for active managers. An opportunity set that is found to remain reasonably consistent over time.

The scale of the opportunity as demonstrated by RBC, if successfully captured, provides a potential source of excess returns and a true portfolio diversifier – which is a return outcome largely sourced from company/stock specific risks.

Nevertheless, active managers do need to evolve from historical practices and processes. From this perspective, the paper also provides great insights into the evaluation of a modern day active manager.

With regards to the success of active management, the Conventional Wisdom toward active management is changing. Specifically, the conventional wisdom is too negative on the value of active management.

The RBC article is well worth reading.

 

RBC emphasis “An active manager’s task is to capitalise on the fact that the market or index return is an average, and to use analysis and skill to identify those stocks that produce an above-average return and to avoid those that don’t.”

 

To capture the opportunity identified by RBC, they believe active managers need to find a way to turn share price movements into reliable excess returns.

To do this they believe that active managers must get two things right:

  1. Alpha generation: devise means of explaining and predicting the share price movements that are not explained by factors.
  2. Alpha capture: devise means of efficiently capturing alpha and turning it into reliable portfolio excess returns.

The RBC paper provides a lengthy discussion on what it likely takes to achieve this, including analysing the unique features associated with each business, including ESG factors, taking an active ownership role, and maintaining a long-term perspective.

Each company (security) has a unique performance history, which cannot all be explained by broad market factors.  Financial outcomes are partly dependent on management teams, brand, location, reputation, non-financial factors, and Culture. Analysis needs to be undertaken on the unique factors associated with each business.

Furthermore, accounting data is a poor measure of business value, there are extra financial factors, Governance, employee engagement, Health and Safety, ESG etc etc

 

RBC conclude “that the critical skill for stock pickers is understanding and evaluating extra-financial factors as well as assessing their impact on financial returns. Skill and expertise need to be developed to assess nuanced factors such as corporate culture, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, the business’s social licence to operate, maintenance and safety procedures, R&D effectiveness, brand and reputation, and these will vary from industry to industry and will also shift over time.”

See the article for fuller discussion on their perspective and type of analysis required by a modern day active manager.

 

Portfolio construction is also key, the size of portfolio positions matters.

Equity investments can be held in fractional holdings so it is possible to construct an almost infinite number of portfolios from a relatively modest number of securities.

Different combinations of securities will create portfolios with different factor exposures.   Which will cause variation in portfolio returns.

Therefore, Portfolio construction becomes the framework within which portfolio managers can assess the trade-off between “two often conflicting objectives: maximising exposure to their best investments vs. minimising exposure to unintended factor returns.“

 

My personal view is that many managers under estimate the value added from a solid portfolio construction approach, often it distracts value from a sound stock selection process.

 

One final point, the paper provides a good account of how active management has been disrupted by technology and the information revolution – computing power and access to company information. This has resulted in the rise of passive investing and factor-based investing. This has driven down fees.

The active management industry has changed dramatically, and active management has had to evolve. This is touched on within the Article.

Therefore, the Article provides insight from the perspective of manager selection and a potential lens with which to consider in evaluating modern day active managers.

 

The Role of Active management within a portfolio

From a Kiwi Investor Blog perspective, the active management described by RBC in the Paper “seeks to generate outperformance from stock-specific risk that lies outside the realms of factors. This is a different alpha source, hence it creates a return stream that is not correlated to factor returns.”, highlights the role active management can play within a truly diversified and robust portfolio.

Consistent with RBC, active managers can co-exist with passive and factor based strategies. Active management has a role to play within a Portfolio.

Why? Investors seek to access a wide range of investment risks and returns, seeking true portfolio diversification.

The source of risks and returns from active management that seeks to outperform from stock specific risks is a true portfolio diversifier, if done successfully.

This is consistent with many Posts on Kiwi Investor Blog around the disaggregation of investment returns.

Understanding the disaggregation of investment returns can assist in building a truly diversified and robust portfolio.

It can also help determine the appropriateness of fees being paid and if a manager is adding value.

 

Many institutional investors understand that true portfolio diversification does not come from investing in many different asset classes but comes from investing in different risk and return sources.  See earlier post More Asset Classes Does not Equal More Diversification.

The objective is to implement a portfolio with exposures to a broad set of different return and risk outcomes.  For example, the increasing allocation to alternative investment strategies by institutional investors globally, such as hedge fund strategies, to complement more traditional investments is evidence of this.

Essentially, and from a very broad view, investment returns can be disaggregated in to the following three parts:

  1. Market beta. Think equity market exposure NZX50 or S&P 500 indices (New Zealand and America equity market exposures respectively).
  2. Factor and Alternative hedge fund beta exposures.  See the Disaggregation of Investment Returns Post for a fuller discussion.
  3. Alpha. Alpha is what is left after beta and factors. It is the manager skill to capture the stock specific risks as outlined in RBC paper. Alpha is a risk adjusted return source.

 

With regards to the success of active management, the Conventional Wisdom toward active management is changing, as highlighted in this Post. The linked article in this Post is the most read from Kiwi Investor Blog.

The article undertakes a review of the most recent academic literature on active equity management and concludes by challenging the conventional wisdom of active management, “taken as a whole, our review of current academic literature suggests that the conventional wisdom is too negative on the value of active management.

 

Finally, the disaggregation of investment returns busts opens the active vs passive debate, the debate has moved on. It is no longer an emotive black vs white debate, risk and return sources come in many different shades. A truly diversified portfolio has as many different risk and return exposure as possible. It is from poor portfolio construction that portfolios fail.  The value is in implementation of a truly diversified portfolio.

 

It is evident that New Zealand portfolios need to become more diversified and that Kiwi Saver Investors are missing out.

 

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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