Forecasted investment returns remain disappointing – despite recent market movements

Long-term expected returns from global sharemarkets have not materially changed despite recent sharemarket declines.

The longer term outlook for fixed income returns has deteriorated materially.

There is no doubt the investment environment is going to be challenging, not just in the months ahead, over the medium to longer term as well.

This should prompt some introspection as to the robustness of current portfolios.

From a risk management perspective an assessment should be undertaken to determine if current portfolio allocations are appropriate in meeting client investment objectives over the longer term.

A set and forget strategy does not look appropriate at this time. Serious thought should be given to where expected returns are going to come from over the medium to longer term.

By way of example, the expected long-term return from a traditional Balanced Portfolio, of 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income, is going to be very challenging.

Arguably, the environment for the Balanced Portfolio has worsened, given return forecasts for fixed income and that they are not expected to provide the same level of portfolio diversification as displayed historically.

The strong performance of fixed income is a key contributing factor to the success of the Balanced Fund over the last 20 years. This portfolio plank has been severely weakened.

 

Asset Class expected forecasted Returns

A clue to future expected returns is outlined in the following Table generated by GMO, which they update on a regular basis.

The Table presents GMO’s 7-Year Asset Class Real Return Forecasts (after inflation of around 2%), as at 31 March 2020.

GMO 7-YEAR ASSET CLASS REAL RETURN FORECASTSGMO 7-Year Asset Class Real Return Forecasts March 2020

 

An indication of the impact of recent market performance on future market forecasts can be gained by comparing current asset class forecast returns to those undertaken previously.

The following Table compares GMO’s 7-Year Asset Class Real Returns as 31 March 2020 to those published for 31 December 2019.

The first column provides the 7-Year return forecasts updated as at 31 March 2020. These are compared to GMO’s return forecast at the beginning of the year.

The last column in the Table below outlines the change in asset class forecasted returns over the quarter.

31-Mar-20

31-Dec-19

Change

US Large

-1.5%

-4.9%

3.4%

US Small

1.4%

-2.2%

3.6%

International Equities

1.9%

-0.8%

2.7%

Emerging Markets

4.9%

3.5%

1.4%

US Fixed Income

-3.8%

-1.8%

-2.0%

International Fixed Income Hedged

-4.3%

-3.5%

-0.8%

Emerging Market Debt

3.0%

-0.6%

3.6%

US Cash

-0.2%

0.2%

-0.4%

       
US Balanced (60% Equities / 40% Fixed Income)

-2.4%

-3.7%

1.2%

International Balanced

-0.6%

-1.9%

1.3%

The following observations can be made from the Table above:

  • Although the return outcomes for equities have improved, they remain low, under 2% p.a. after inflation;
  • Emerging markets equities offer the most value amongst global sharemarkets, generally returns outside of the US are more attractive;
  • Expected returns from developed market fixed income markets have deteriorated, particularly for the US;
  • The expected outlook for Emerging Market debt has improved materially over the last three months; and
  • The return outlook for the Balanced Fund remains disappointing despite an improvement.

 

Impact of recent market movements on expected returns

The degree to which forecast sharemarket returns have increased may disappoint, particular given the extreme levels of market volatility experienced over the first quarter of 2020.

This in part reflects that global sharemarkets as a group “only” fell 11.5% over the first three months of the year. It probably felt like more.

Furthermore, although declining sharemarkets now translates to higher expected returns in the future, it is not a one for one relationship.

 

The relationship between current market performance and the impact on forecast returns is well captured by a recent Research Affiliates article.

As they note “When a market corrects dramatically, say, 30%, long-term expected returns do not rise by the same 30%.”

They illustrate this point using the US market (S&P 500 Index).

 

Research Affiliates estimate that a 30% pullback (drawdown) in the US sharemarket implies an increase in expected return of 1.7% a year for the next decade.

This is based on their assumptions for average real earnings per share over a rolling 10-year period for US companies and their estimate of fair value for the US sharemarket over the longer term. For an estimation of fair value they apply a cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio.

The return estimate is based on the level and valuation of the US sharemarket on the 19th February, when the US market reached a historical high level (Peak).

The interrelationship between current market value, expected earnings, and the estimate of longer term value and their impact on expected returns is captured in the following diagram.

Based on market valuation, as measured by CAPE on 19th February 2020, the right-hand side displays the estimated change in expected returns from a decline in the US sharemarket from the peak in February e.g. a 30% drop in the S&P 500 Index from the Peak translates to a 1.7% change in Expected Return from valuation (change in CAPE).

The central point remains, a drop in the sharemarket today translates into higher expected returns.

Research Affiliates CAPE and Expected Return Estimates at Different Market Prices

The diagram above also captures the changing valuation of the market, as measured by CAPE, to a decline in the US sharemarket, as outlined on the left-hand side.

 

Research Affiliates long-term expected returns for a wide range of markets can be found on their homepage.

 

Caution in using Longer-term market forecasts

Forecasting the expected return for sharemarkets is extremely tricky, to say the least, with the likely variation in potential outcomes very widely dispersed.

Forecasting fixed income returns has a higher level of certainty.  The current level of interest rates provides a good indication of future returns. Given the dramatic fall in interest rates over the last three months, the expected returns from fixed income has deteriorated.

 

Nevertheless, caution should be taken when considering longer-term market forecasts.

This is emphasised in the Research Affiliates article, their “expected return forecasts also come with a warning label: Long-term expected returns, unto themselves, are not sufficient for short-term decision making. Ignoring this warning will most likely lead to impaired wealth.

Ten-year return forecasts offer valuable guidance to a buy-and-hold investor about the return they are likely to earn over the next decade. They provide no information, however, about when to buy or sell and do not identify a market top or bottom.”

 

Challenging Investment Environment

From a risk management perspective an assessment should be undertaken to determine if current portfolio allocations are appropriate in meeting client investment objectives over the longer term.

A set and forget strategy does not look appropriate at this time. Serious thought should be given to where expected returns are going to come from over the medium to longer term

There is no doubt the investment environment is going to be challenging, not just in the months ahead, over the medium to longer term as well.

 

This should prompt some introspection as to the robustness of current portfolios.

For example, the low expected return environment led GMO to declare earlier in the year it is time to move away from the Balanced Portfolio. The Balanced Portfolio is riskier than many people think.

The low expected return environment and reduced portfolio diversification benefits of fixed income is why the Balanced Fund is expected to underperform.

 

It is also partly driving institutional investors to develop more robust portfolios by investing outside of the traditional asset classes of equities and fixed income by increasing their allocations to alternative investments.

As highlighted by a recent CAIA survey investments into alternatives, such as private equity, real assets, and liquid alternatives, are set to grow over the next five years, becoming a bigger proportion of the global investment universe.

 

Research by AQR highlights that diversifying outside of the traditional asset is the best way to manage through severe sharemarket declines. Furthermore, diversification should work in good and bad times

 

For those interested, posts on the optimal private equity allocation and characteristics and portfolio benefits of real assets may be of interest.  Real assets offer real portfolio diversification benefits, particularly in different economic environments.

My Post Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment outlines suggested changes to current investment approaches that could be considered.

 

Good luck, stay healthy and safe.

 

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

One thought on “Forecasted investment returns remain disappointing – despite recent market movements

  1. Pingback: They psychology of Portfolio Diversification | Kiwi Investor Blog

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