The Cost of timing markets and moving to a more conservative investment option

Missing the sharemarket’s five best days in 2020 would have led to a 30% loss compared to doing nothing.

The 2020 covid-19 sharemarket crash provides a timely example of the difficulty and cost of trying to time markets.

The volatility from global sharemarkets has been extreme this year, nevertheless, the best thing would had been to sit back and enjoy the ride, as is often the case.

By way of example, the US S&P 500 sharemarket index reached a historical high on 19th February 2020.  The market then fell into bear market territory (a decline of 20% or more) in record time, taking just 16 trading days, beating the previous record of 44 days set in 1929. 

After falling 33% from the 19th February high global equity markets bounced back strongly over the following weeks, recording their best 50-day advance.

The benchmark dropped more than 5% on five days, four of which occurred in March. The same month also accounted for four of the five biggest gains.

Within the sharp bounce from the 23rd March lows, the US sharemarkets had two 9% single-day increases.  Putting this into perspective, this is about equal to an average expected yearly return within one day!

For all the volatility, the US markets are nearly flat for the period since early February.

A recent Bloomberg article provides a good account of the cost of trying to time markets.

The Bloomberg article provides “One stark statistic highlighting the risk focuses on the penalty an investor incurs by sitting out the biggest single-day gains. Without the best five, for instance, a tepid 2020 becomes a horrendous one: a loss of 30%.”

As highlighted in the Bloomberg article, we all want to be active, we may even panic and sit on the side line, the key point is often the decision to get out can be made easily, however, the decision to get back in is a lot harder.

The cost of being wrong can be high.

Furthermore, there are better ways to manage market volatility, even as extreme as we have encountered this year.

For those interested, the following Kiwi Investor Blog Posts are relevant:

Navigating through a bear market – what should I do?

One of the best discussions I have seen on why to remain invested is provided by FutureSafe in a letter to their client’s 15th March 2020.

FutureSafe provide one reason why it might be the right thing for someone to reduce their sharemarket exposure and three reasons why they might not.

As they emphasis, consult your advisor or an investment professional before making any investment decisions.

I have summarised the main points of the FutureSafe letter to clients in this Post.

The key points to consider are:

  • Risk Appetite should primarily drive your allocation to sharemarkets, not the current market environment;
  • We can’t time markets, not even the professionals;
  • Be disciplined and maintain a well-diversified investment portfolio, this is the best way to limit market declines, rather than trying to time market
  • Take a longer-term view; and
  • Seek out professional investment advice before making any investment decisions

Protecting your portfolio from different market environments

Avoiding large market losses is vital to accumulating wealth and reaching your investment objectives, whether that is attaining a desired standard of living in retirement or a lasting endowment.

The complexity and different approaches to providing portfolio protection has been highlighted by a recent twitter spat between Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Cliff Asness.

The differences in perspectives and approaches is very well captured by Bloomberg’s Aaron Brown article, Taleb-Asness Black Swan Spat Is a Teaching Moment.

I provide a summary of this debate in Table format in this Post.  

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

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

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

Sharemarket crashes, what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification?

The best way to manage periods of severe sharemarket declines is to have a diversified portfolio, it is impossible to time these episodes.

AQR has evaluated the effectiveness of diversifying investments during market drawdowns, which I cover in this Post.

They recommend adding investments that make money on average and have a low correlation to equities.

Although “hedges”, e.g. Gold, may make money at times of sharemarket crashes, there is a cost, they tend to do worse on average over the longer term.

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

Portfolio diversification involves adding new “risks” to a portfolio, this can be hard to comprehend.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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




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.

Sharemarket crashes – what works best in minimising losses, market timing or diversification?

The best way to manage periods of severe sharemarket declines, as recently experienced, is to have a diversified portfolio, it is impossible to time these episodes.

A 2018 paper by AQR evaluated the effectiveness of diversifying investments during sharemarket drawdowns using nearly 100 years of market data.

They analysed the potential benefits and costs of shifting away from equities, including into investments that are diversifying (i.e. are lowly correlated to equities) and investments that provide a market hedge (i.e. expected to outperform in bad times).

To diversify a portfolio AQR recommends adding return sources that make money on average and have a low correlation to equities i.e. their returns are largely independent of the performance of sharemarkets.

They argue that diversification should be true both in normal times and when most needed: during tough periods for equities.

Furthermore, as AQR emphasis, “diversification is not the same thing as a hedge.” Although “hedges”, e.g. Gold, may make money at times of sharemarket crashes, there is a cost, investments with better hedging characteristics tend to do worse on average over the longer term.

Therefore, alternative investments are more compelling relative to the traditional asset classes in diversifying a portfolio, they provide the benefits of diversification and on average over time their returns tend to keep up with sharemarket returns.

 

The analysis highlights that the funding source can matter just as much as the new diversifying investment. Funding from equities reduces drawdown losses, however, longer term returns are on average lower when compared to funding the allocation proportionally from the 60/40 equity/fixed income split.

 

Portfolio diversification is harder to achieve in practice than in theory. It involves adding new “risks” to a portfolio. Risks that have their own return profile largely independent of other investment strategies within a Portfolio.

Unfortunately, portfolio diversification does not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment losses.

 

Any new lowly correlated investment should be vigorously assessed and well understood before added to a portfolio.

The success of which largely rests with manager selection.

 

A summary of the AQR analysis is provided below, first, the following section discusses the challenges and characteristics of achieving portfolio diversification.

 

The challenges and characteristics of Portfolio Diversification

AQR advocate that diversification is a better solution to mitigating the pain of severe sharemarket falls than trying to time markets.

Specifically, they recommend adding return sources that make money on average and have a low correlation to equities.

 

Lowly correlated assets can be tremendously valuable additions to a portfolio.

Lowly correlated means returns that are not influenced by the other risks in the portfolio e.g. hedge funds and liquid alternative strategy returns are largely driven by factors other than sharemarket and fixed income returns.

Therefore, although diversifying strategies can lose money in large sharemarket drawdowns, this does not mean they are not portfolio diversifiers. The point being, is that on “average” they do not suffer when equities do.

Unfortunately, portfolio diversification does not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment losses.

 

In contrast, a hedge is something you would expect to do better than average exactly when other parts of the portfolio are suffering. Although this sounds attractive, hedges come with a cost. This is discussed further below.

 

Adding diversifying strategies to any portfolio means adding new risks.

The diversifying strategies will have their own risk and return profile and will suffer periods of underperformance – like any investment.

Therefore, as AQR note, implementing and maintaining portfolio diversification is harder in practice than in theory.

Portfolio diversification in effect results in adding new risks to a portfolio to make it less risky.  Somewhat of a paradox.

This can be challenging for some to implement, particularly if they only view the risk of an investment in isolation and not the benefits it brings to the total portfolio.

Furthermore, adding more asset classes does not equal more diversification, as outlined in this Post.

 

Background

Most portfolios are dominated by sharemarket risk. Even a seemingly diversified balanced portfolio of 60% equities and 40% fixed income is dominated by equity risk, since equities tend to be a much higher-risk asset class. Although equities have had high average returns historically, they are subject to major drawdowns such that the overall “balanced” portfolio will suffer too.   The Balance Portfolio is riskier than many appreciated, as outlined in this Post.

 

A major sharemarket drawdown is characterised as a cumulative fall in value of 20% or more. Recent examples include the first quarter of 2020, the Global Financial Crisis (2008/09) and Tech Bust (1999/2000). Based on the AQR analysis of almost 100 year of data, drawdowns worse than 20% have happened 11 times since 1926 — a little over once per decade on average. The average peak-to-trough has been -33%, and on average it took 27 months to get back to pre-drawdown levels (assuming investors stayed invested throughout – there is considerable research that indicates they don’t stay the course and earn less than market returns over the investment cycle).

 

AQR’s analysis highlights that using market valuations as a signal to time market drawdowns has not always been fruitful. Market valuations has rarely been a good signal to tactically change a portfolio to avoid a market drawdowns.

However, it is worth noting AQR are not against the concept of small tactical tilts within portfolios based on value or other signals such as momentum, best expressed as “if market timing is a sin, we have advocated to “sin a little””.

Nevertheless, market timing is not a “panacea” for large sharemarket drawdowns.

 

Diversification Benefits

The AQR analysis highlights that diversification outside of equities and fixed income can benefit portfolios, for example the inclusion of Style strategies (long/short risk premium across several different asset classes) and Trend following. Both of which are found to be lowly correlated to equities and provide comparable returns over market cycles.

Interestingly, the benefits of diversification vary from where the source of funds is taken to invest into the diversifying strategies.

AQR look at the impact on the portfolio of making an allocation from a 60/40 portfolio to the diversifying strategies. They consider two approaches:

  1. Funding the allocation all equities; and
  2. Funding from a combination of equities and fixed income, at a 60/40 ratio.

They evaluate a 10% allocation from the funding source to the new investments and consider both the impact on returns during equity drawdowns as well as the impact on returns on average over the entire 1926–2017 period.

The analysis highlights that the funding source can matter just as much as the new diversifying investment.

Funding from equities reduces the drawdown losses, however there is a trade-off, longer term returns are on average lower when compared to funding the allocation proportionally to the 60/40 equity / fixed income split.

When allocating to other traditional asset classes as a means of diversification e.g. Cash and Fixed Income, there is also a trade-off between a lower portfolio drawdown and lower average returns over time.

 

Therefore, alternatives offer a more compelling case relative to the traditional asset classes in diversifying a portfolio, given they provide the benefits of diversification and on average over time their returns tend to keep up with sharemarket returns.

 

The Cost of Hedging

As noted above Hedging is different to adding diversifying strategies to a portfolio.

Hedges may include assets such as Gold, defensive strategies – which hedge against market falls, and Put Option strategies.

The AQR analysis found that over the past 30 years the defensive strategies provided positive returns on average during sharemarket drawdowns and almost no periods with meaningful negative performance.

This is attractive for investors who are purely focused on lessening the negative impacts of sharemarket drawdowns.

However, there is a trade-off – “the strategies that are more defensively orientated tend to have lower average returns.”

The cost of avoiding the sharemarket drawdown is lower portfolio performance over time.

 

AQR Conclude

AQR conclude “As with everything in investing, there is no perfect solution to addressing the risk of large equity market drawdowns. However, we find using nearly a century of data that diversification is probably (still) investors’ best bet. This is not to say that diversification is easy.”

“Investors should analyze the return and correlation profiles of their diversifying investments to prepare themselves for the range of outcomes that they should expect during drawdowns and also over the long term.”

 

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

We will get through this – coronavirus

One of the better discussions available on the coronavirus is the CFA Institute interview between Laurence B. Siegel and Andrew “Drew” Senyei, MD.

The most important point to take away is the concluding remark “the advances in medical knowledge and molecular biology, especially in the last decade, and with the full focus of the world on this one challenge — we will get through this.”

The discussion is wide ranging and will help in providing clarity on several issues e.g. the importance of testing, how the virus impacts on the body, and the trade-off between preventing or slowing the spread of the disease at all costs versus the cost on the economy and people’s mental health, including what testing is required to get people back to work.

 

The interview begins by acknowledging that although our knowledge of the virus is increasing there is still lots to learn about it. It is evident that this coronavirus is different from previous coronaviruses.

One important unknown is how lethal it is. This relates to the case fatality rate (CFR). This is the number of people who die of the disease, expressed as a percentage of the number of people who have it.

As you may be aware, there are a number of problems in measuring this currently:

  • More testing is needed to know how many people who have had it, especially asymptomatic patients – tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms.
  • The reporting of deaths has also been problematic, did they die because of the virus or was there an underlying ailment e.g. cancer or heart disease. The difference between died with and died from.

The best estimate currently is that the CFR of the coronavirus is higher than the flu, but it is unlikely to be as high as SARS.

Also, the CFR for the coronavirus is likely to fall as further testing is undertaken, this was the experience with SARS.

The experience on the cruise ship, The Diamond Princess, provides an insight into the likely CFR, and interestingly, over half those tested were asymptomatic. This is discussed in more detail in the article.

The issue of incomplete statistics is highlighted in comparing the outcomes between Italy and South Korea. This comes down to the level of testing and the variations in the way different countries are testing.

Social distancing is having a positive impact. Particularly from protecting the health care system. Ideally, we want “the density of new cases presenting in any geographic area at any given time to be as low as possible and over as long a time period as possible to prevent a surge on the health care system.”

There is a great discussion around the issues with testing. There are a lot of variables.  At the risk of sounding repetitive we need lots of testing, “We need to know how much of the disease is out there so we can have the health care resources and physicians to respond to that surge, where and if it occurs.”

 

Economic Trade-off

The latter half of the article covers the issue of the trade-off between preventing or slowing the spread of the disease at all costs versus the cost on the economy and people’s mental health.

The argument being, should we ease up relatively quickly on policies that discourage work and income and social interaction, otherwise we will severely injure the economic life.

Is there an optimum or balance between the two extremes?

 

Initially, given the unknows, erring on the side of caution would appear appropriate.

Nevertheless, there is an argument for considering “a rational middle ground and that is: We have to first understand if this is peaking. And remember when you look at new case rates, you’re actually lagging by two weeks.”

Understanding more about the virus will help in getting the economy back up and running.  More testing is needed.

“I would look at those [new case rates], and then at hospitalizations and intensive care utilization, and see if that’s peaking because that is the most pressing problem. Then I would look at the rates by population density and see where the wave is happening more locally and usher resources there.”

The discussion comes back to more but different testing, to get a better sense of who’s had the infection, who’s over it, and who’s protected at least for a while.

This is an interesting discussion and highlights a likely path to getting people back to work. .

The key is to identify those individuals already immune and not likely to get infected or infect others back to work.

Protecting the elderly is important, therefore it is suggested “to look at the density of the elderly and make sure resources are adequate for that particular region — not just equipment and supplies, but personnel.”

Senyei concludes “I would invest really heavily in the basic biology and in vaccine development which is two years out. I think you’re going to need a vaccine and you’ll probably need a new vaccine like you do for the flu every year. This virus will mutate.”

“Now all that takes money, time, and coordination — but people are working on it and I think, if we did that, we could sort of get back to the economy being an economy.”

As highlighted above, they conclude by acknowledging that we will get through this.

 

Stay safe and healthy.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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