Asset Allocations decisions for the conundrum of inflation or deflation?

One of the key questions facing investors at the moment is whether inflation or deflation represents the bigger risk in the coming years.

Now more than ever, given the likely economic environment in the years ahead, investors need to consider all their options when building a portfolio for their future.  This may mean a number of things, including: increasing diversification, investing in new or different markets, being active, and flexible to take advantage of unique opportunities as they arise.

Those portfolios overly reliant on traditional markets, such as equities and fixed income in particular, run the risk of failing to meet to their investment objectives over the next ten years.

Conundrum Facing Investors

A recent article by Alan Dunne, Managing Director, Abbey Capital, The Inflation-Deflation debate and its Implications for Asset Allocation, which recently appeared in AllAboutAlpha.com, clearly outlines the conundrum currently facing investors.

As the article highlights, one of the “key questions facing investors at the moment is whether inflation or deflation represents the bigger risk for the coming years. Economists are split on this….”

Following a detailed analysis of the current and likely future economic environment and potential influences on inflation or deflation (which is well worth reading) the article covers the Implications for Asset Allocations.

Inflation or Deflation: Implications for Asset Allocations

The article makes the following observations as far as asset class performance in different inflation environments, based on historical observations:

  • Deflation like in the 1930s, is negative for equities but positive for Bonds.
  • If inflation picks ups, or even stagflation, that would be negative for real returns on financial assets and real assets may be favoured.

They conclude: “the current uncertainty highlights the importance of holding diversified portfolios, with exposure to a range of traditional and alternative assets and strategies with the potential to deliver returns in different market environments.”

Current Environment

Abbey Capital anticipate greater co-ordination of policy between governments (fiscal policy) and central banks (monetary policy). 

As they note, “many economists draw a parallel between the current scenario and the substantial increase in government debt during World War II. One of the consequences of higher debt levels is that we may see pressure on central banks to maintain interest rates at low levels and maintain asset purchases to ensure higher bond issuance is not disruptive for bond markets i.e. coordination of monetary and fiscal policies.”

I think this will be the case.  The Bank of Japan has maintained a direct yield curve control policy for some time and the Reserve Bank of Australia has implemented a similar policy recently.  Direct yield curve control is where the central bank will target an interest rate level for the likes of the 3-year government bond.

In the environment after World War II debt levels were brought back to more manageable levels by keeping interest rates low (a process known as financial repression).

From a government policy perspective, financial repression reduces the real value of debt over time.  It is the most palatable of a number of options.

Financial repression is potentially negative for government bonds

With interest rates so low, and likely to remain low for some time given policies of financial repression the real return (after inflation) on many fixed income instruments and cash could be negative.

A higher level of inflation not only reduces the real return on bonds but potentially also reduces the diversification benefits of holding bonds in a portfolio with equities.

The diversification benefits of bonds in the traditional 60 / 40 equity-bond portfolio (Balanced Portfolio) has been a strong tail wind over the last 20 years.

The more recent low correlation between bonds and equities is evident in the Chart below, which was presented in the article.

The Chart also highlights that the relation of low correlation between equities and bonds, which benefits a Balanced Portfolio, has not always been present.

As can be seen in the Chart, in the 1980s, when inflation was a greater concern, inflation surprises were negative for both bonds and equities, they became positively correlated.

What should investors do?

“Investors are therefore left with the challenge of finding alternatives for government bonds, ideally with a low or negative correlation to equities and protection against possible inflation.”

The article runs through some possible investment solutions and approaches to meet the likely challenges ahead.  I have outlined some of them below.

I think duration (interest rate risk) and credit can still play a role within a broad and truly diversified portfolio.  Within credit this would likely involve expanding the universe to include the likes of high yield, securitised loans, private debt, inflation protections securities, and emerging market debt as examples.

The key and most important point is that a robust portfolio will be less reliant on tradition asset classes, traditional asset class betas, to drive investment return outcomes.  This is likely to be vitally important in the years ahead.

Accordingly, investors will need to be more active, opportunistic, and maintain very broad and truly diversified portfolios.  Not only within asset classes, such as the fixed income example provided above, but across the portfolio to include the likes of real assets and liquid alternatives.

Real assets

Abbey Capital comment that “Real assets such as property and infrastructure should provide protection against higher inflation for long-term investors but may not be attractive for investors valuing liquidity.”

Although the maintenance of portfolio liquidity is important, Real assets can play an important role within a robust portfolio.

For the different types of real assets, their investment characteristics, and likely performance and sensitivity to different economic environments, including economic growth, inflation, inflation protection, stagflation, and stagnation please see the Kiwi Investor Blog Post, Real Assets Offer Real Diversification.  The extensive analysis has been undertake by PGIM.  

Liquid Alternatives

Abbey Capital provide a brief discussion on liquid alternatives with a focus on managed futures.  Not surprisingly given their pedigree.

They provide the following Table which highlights the benefit of liquid alternatives and hedge funds at time of significant sharemarket declines (drawdowns).

Concluding Remarks

Being a managed futures manager, it is natural to be cautious of Abbey Capitals concluding remarks, being reminded of the Warren Buffet quote, “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.”

Nevertheless, the Abbey Capital’s economic analysis and investment recommendations are consistent with a growing chorus, all singing from a similar song sheet. (Perhaps we could call this a “Barbers Quartet”!)

Without having an axe to grind, and in all seriousness, I have covered similar analysis and comments in previous Posts, the conclusions of which have a high degree of validity and should be considered, if not a purely from portfolio risk management perspective so as to understand any gaps in current portfolios for a number of likely economic environments.

The key and most important point is that robust portfolios will be less reliant on traditional asset classes, traditional asset class betas, to drive investment return outcomes.

Accordingly, investors will need to be more active, opportunistic, and maintain very broad and truly diversified portfolios

Therefore, it is hard to disagree with one of the concluding remarks by Abbey Capital “To account for the competing requirements in a portfolio of returns, low correlation to equities, liquidity and possible inflation protection, investors may need to build robust portfolios with a broader mix of assets and strategies.”

Other Reading

For those interested, previous Kiwi Investor Blog posts of relevance to the Abbey Capital article include:

Preparing your Portfolio for a period of Higher Inflation, this is the Post of most relevance to the current Post, and covers a recent Man article which undertook an analysis of the current economic environment and historical episodes of inflation and deflation.

Man conclude that although inflation is not an immediate threat, the likelihood of a period of higher inflation is likely in the future, and the time to prepare for this is now.  Man recommends several investment strategies they think will outperform in a higher inflation environment.

Protecting your portfolio from different market environments – including tail risk hedging debate, compares the contrasting approaches of broad portfolio diversification and tail risk hedging to manage through difficult market environments. 

It also includes analysis by PIMCO, where it is suggested to “diversify your diversifiers”.

Lastly, Sharemarket crashes – what works best in minimising losses, market timing or diversification, covers a research article by AQR, which concludes the best way to manage periods of severe sharemarket decline is to have a diversified portfolio, it is impossible to time these episodes.  AQR evaluates the effectiveness of diversifying investments during sharemarket drawdowns using nearly 100 years of market data.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

When Alternatives to Passive Index Investing are Appropriate

There are a wide range of reasons for choosing an alternative to passive investing over and above the traditional industry debate that focuses on whether active management can outperform an index.

Reasons for considering alternatives include no readily replicable market index exists, available indices are unsuitable in meeting an investor’s objectives, and/or there are some imbedded inefficiency within the Index.

Under these circumstances a passive approach no longer becomes optimal nor appropriate.

Or quite simply, an active manager with skill can be identified, this alone is sufficient to consider an alternative to passive indexing.

Importantly, the decision to choose an alternative to passive investing is likely to vary across asset classes, investors, and time.

Also, the active versus passive debate needs to be broadened, which to date seems too narrowly focused on comparing passive investments with the average returns from active equity managers.

Framework for choosing an Alternative to Passive Investing

This article by Warren and Ezra, When Should Investors Consider an Alternative to Passive Investing?, seeks to reconfigure and broaden the active versus passive debate.

They do this by presenting a framework for a more comprehensive consideration of alternatives to passively replicating a standard capitalisation-weighted index in any particular asset class.  

In doing so they provide examples of circumstances under which a particular alternative to passive management might be preferred.

They offer no conclusions as to whether any specific approach is intrinsically superior. “Indeed, the overarching message is that best choices can vary across asset classes, investor circumstances, and perhaps even time.”

Warren and Ezra provide the following Framework for choosing an Alternative to Passive Investing:

Their framework appreciably widens the range of reasons for choosing an alternative to passive investing.

As can be seen in the Table above, they have identify five potential reasons investors should seek an alternative to passive index.

The first three reflect situations where a passive index is either unavailable or unsuitable, and two relate to investor expectations that active management can outperform passive benchmarks.

Below I have provided a description of the five reasons investors should seek an alternative to passive index.

Back ground Comments

Warren and Ezra provide some general comments on the state of the industry debate:

  • They think it is unreasonable to base broad conclusions about the relative efficacy of passive indexing on active managers’ average results in a single asset class or subclass, such as U.S. equities. They note, “What holds true in one market segment may not hold in another.”
  • They also object to the “implicit assumption that in the absence of demonstrable stock-selection skills among managers, passive index replication provides optimal exposure for investors.” This assumption does not take into account differences in investor objectives and circumstances. This is one of the core points of their article.

They maintain, what is missing in the industry debate is “recognition that appropriate structuring and management of investments may well depend on investors’ relative situations.”

Some Context

The default position for passive investing is a capitalisation-weighted (cap-weighting) index, such as the New Zealand NZSX 50 Index and US S&P 500.

Although somewhat technical, the application of a cap-weighting index rests on the three assumptions outlined below.

A breach in any of the following assumptions could justify giving consideration to an alternative approach to passive indexing.

Market efficiency.

Cap-weighting should be chosen under an assumption of perfectly efficient markets, where prices are always correct. Investors may consider alternatives if they believe markets are not fully efficient and that the repercussions of any inefficiencies can be either avoided or exploited.

Cap-weighting is aligned with investor objectives.

It is assumed that cap-weighting indices are aligned with investor objectives. However, this is not always the case. As we see below, a Defined Benefit plan most likely has different objectives relative to a cap-weighted fixed income index.

The same is true for an endowment, insurance company, or foundation.

Index efficacy.

The view of passive indexing as the default assumes that an index is available for the intended purpose. The theoretical view calls for indexes that effectively embody the market portfolio. The industry view requires indexes that deliver the desired type of asset class exposure. In practice, it is possible that for a given asset class no market index exists, or that available indexes have shortcomings in their construction.

The five reasons below for when investors might prefer an alternative to a passive approach are in situations where these three critical assumptions for passive indexing are broken. In such situations passive index is likely to be inappropriate.

The reasons below, also highlight the point that the active versus passive debate often fails to take into account differences in investor objectives and circumstances. The debate needs to be broadened.

Reason #1: No Readily Replicable Index is Available

Passive investing assumes an effective index exists that can be easily and readily replicated.

In some instances, an appropriate index to replicate is simply not available, for example:

  • Unlisted assets such as Private Equity, unlisted infrastructure and direct property
  • Within listed markets were a lack of liquidity exists it becomes difficult to replicate the index, such as small caps, emerging market equities, and high-yield debt.

In these incidences, although a passive product may be available, they “might not deliver a faithful replication of the asset class at low cost.” Accordingly passive investing is not appropriate.

Reason #2: The Passive Index Is at Odds with the Investor’s Objectives

Often a passive index is badly aligned with an investor’s objectives. In such cases an alternative approach may better meet these objectives, often requiring active management to deliver a more tailored investment solution.

By way of example:

Defined Benefit Pension Plan and tailored fixed-income mandates.

Best practice for a Defined Benefit (DB) plan is to implement a tailored fixed income mandate that closely matches expected liabilities.

In such a case a passive index approach is not appropriate given the duration and cashflows of the DB plan are unique and highly unlikely to be replicated by an investment into a passive index based on market capitalisation weights.

DB plan managers may also likely prefer more control over other exposures, such as credit quality relative to a passive index.

Such situations also exits for insurance companies, endowments, and foundations.

Notably, an individual investor has a unique set of future liabilities, represented by their own cashflows and duration. Accordingly, investing into a passive market index product may not be appropriate relative to their investment objectives. A more active decision should be made to meet cashflow, interest rate risk, and credit exposure objectives.

Listed infrastructure provides another example where the passive index may be at odds with the investor’s goals. Some investors may want to target certain sectors of the universe that provides greater inflation protection, thus requiring a different portfolio relative to that provided by a passive market index exposure.

The article also provides example in relation to Sustainable and ethical investing and Tax effectiveness.

Reason #3: The Standard Passive Index is Inefficiently Constructed

Where alternatives are available, it makes no sense to invest in an inefficient index. This represents a suboptimal approach, particularly if an alternative can deliver a better outcome.

The article presents two potential reasons an index might be inefficient and proves three examples.

They comment that an index might be inefficient for the following reasons:

  • the index is built on a narrow or unrepresentative universe; and
  • the index is constructed in a way that builds in some inefficiency.

As they highlight, these issues are best outlined through the discussion of examples. I briefly cover two.

Equities

Alternative indexing/passive approaches such as factor investing and fundamental investing are “active” decision relative to a market-capitalised index.

The basis for these alternative approaches is that equity capital market indices are flawed (Fundamental Investing) and inefficient (e.g. factor investing such as value and small caps outperform the broader market over time).

Fixed income

There are many shortcomings of fixed-income indices, the article focuses on two:

  • Fixed income indices do not fully represent the asset class. Therefore, more efficient portfolios may be built by including off-benchmark securities.
  • The largest issuers dominate fixed income indices and it can be argued these are the less attractive governments/companies to invest in, because they are most in need of funding (and hence of lower quality), or are issuing debt to take advantage of low interest rates, which are unattractive to the investor.

Reasons #4 and #5 The final two reasons are more aligned with the traditional question of whether investors can access managers that can be expected to outperform the index.

Reason #4 features that could lead to active investment managers outperforming the passive alternative in aggregate.

Active management is often defined as a zero-sum game before transaction costs, and a negative-sum game after transaction costs. Therefore, active management as a whole cannot outperform.

However, this dynamic need not apply to all investors and it is quite likely that there is a subsector of investors that can consistently outperform the index.

Therefore, a review of the environment in which managers operate might establish if they are able to maintain a competitive advantage.

The following features are outlined in the article to support such a situation:

Market inefficiency situations

Market inefficiencies offer the potential for active managers to outperform the index, nevertheless managers need to be appropriately placed to capture any excess rewards of these inefficiencies.

The following situations may provide a manager with a competitive advantage:

  • Information advantage: An active manager could have an advantage where the market is “widely populated by less-informed investors” e.g. emerging markets and small caps.
  • Preferential access to desirable assets: e.g. where active managers have better access to initial public offerings and sourcing lines of stock. In unlisted markets private equity manager has well established relationships and ability to provide capital and/or appropriate skills.
  • Economic value-add: e.g. in unlisted assets active management can add value to the underlying asset.

Opportunities arising from differing investor objectives

Opportunities for active management to benefit may exist when:

  • Some investors are comfortable with earning below-market returns e.g. investors who place greater weight on liquidity or are not willing to accept certain risk exposures
  • Investors have differing time horizons e.g. value investors exploit short-term focus of markets

Index fails to cover the opportunity set

The article makes the following points under this heading:

  • There is the potential to outperform by investing outside the index whenever the index does not provide a comprehensive coverage of the available market
  • The intensity of competition is also a factor in success or otherwise of an active manager. For example, the results on manager skill of the highly institutionalise US market may not translate into other markets and asset class where competition is less fierce.
  • Cyclicality of markets needs to be considered, with managers likely to perform in different market environments i.e. they tend to underperform when cross-sectional volatility is low, or markets are driven more by thematic forces. As they note, this has limited relevance in the long run, but may add a “timing element to any evaluation of active versus passive investment.”

Reason #5: Skilled Managers Can Be Identified

Where a skilled manager can be identified, this is a sufficient condition to adopt an alternative to passive management alone.

Nevertheless, the ability and capacity to identify a skilled manager is necessary where an alternative to passive management is to be contemplated.

The discussion makes the following points:

  • At the very least bad managers should be avoided
  • Markets can never be perfectly efficient, therefore some room exists for outperformance through skill
  • Not all fund managers are created equal, some are good and some are bad
  • The research capability and skill to identify and select a manager is an important consideration.

Implementation and Costs

It is important to note, the framework aims first to work out whether there is a case for rejecting a passive index default. The next step is then to ask how much an investor is willing to pay and how the alternative can be accessed.

“In most cases this alternative will be what is traditionally known as “actively managed investing.” In other circumstances this need not be the case, or the skills-based component may be minor.”

The cost versus the benefit and accessing the preferred alternative approach to passive index are key implementation issues.

Concluding Comments

Warren and Ezra make the point that too much of the debate on active versus Passive relies on the analysis of US equities, they think it is unreasonable to base broad conclusions about the efficiency of passive indexing on a single asset class or subclass.

They are not alone on this, as outlined on this previous Kiwi Investor Blog Post, there are many studies that challenge the conventional wisdom of active management.

For the record, please see this Post, Kiwi Wealth caught in an active storm, on my thoughts on the active vs passive debate, we really need to move on and broaden the discussion. The debate is not black vs White, as highlighted in this article, there are large grey areas.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Preparing your Portfolio for a period of higher inflation

Although inflation is not a threat currently the case for a period of higher than average inflation can be easily made.

From an investment perspective:

  1. A period of high inflation is the most challenging period for traditional assets e.g. equities and Fixed Income;
  2. Before the inflation period, as we move from the current period of deflation there is a period of reflation, during which things will feel okay for a while; and
  3. During the higher inflation period the leadership of investment returns are likely to change.

These are some of the key insights from a recent Man article, Inflation Regime Roadmap.

Following an extensive review of previous inflation/deflationary episodes Man clearly articulate the case for a period of higher inflation is ahead.

As Man note the timing of moving to a higher inflation environment is uncertain.

As outlined below, they provide a check list of factors to monitor in anticipation of higher inflation.

Nevertheless, although the timing of a higher inflation environment is uncertain, Man argue the need for preparation is not and should commence now.

Investors need to be assessing the robust of their portfolios for a higher than average inflation environment now.

Man identify several strategies they expect will outperform during a period of higher inflation.

Investment Implications

The level and direction of inflation is important.

This is evident in the diagram below, which Man refer to as the Fire and Ice Framework.

The performance of investment strategies differs depending on the inflation environment.

As can be seen in the diagram, the traditional assets of equities and bonds (fixed income securities) have on average performed poorly in the inflation periods (Fire).

Also, of note is that the benefits of Bonds in providing portfolio diversification benefits are diminished during these periods, as signified by the positive stock-bond correlation relationship.

As Man note, and evident in the diagram above, the path to inflation is via reflation, so things will feel good for a while.

Importantly, there will be a regime change, those investment strategies that have flourished over the last 10 years are likely to struggle in the decade ahead.

The expected new winners in a higher inflation environment are succinctly captured in the following diagram.

As can been seen in the Table above, Man argue new investment strategies are needed within portfolios.

These include:

  • Alternative risk premia and long-short (L/S) type strategies, rather than traditional market exposures (long only, L/O) of equities and fixed income which are likely to generate real negative returns (See Fire and Ice Framework).
  • Real Assets, such inflation-linked bonds, precious metals, commodities, and real estate.

Man also expect leadership within equity markets to change toward value and away from growth and quality. Those companies with Pricing Power are also expected to benefit.

Several pitfalls to introducing the new strategies to a portfolio are outlined in the article.

Time for Preparation is now

As mentioned the timing of a transition to a higher inflation environment is uncertain. Certainly markets are not pricing one in now.

Nevertheless, the preparation for such an environment is now. Man highlight:

  • the likelihood of an inflationary regime is much higher than it has been in recent times;
  • the investment implications of this new regime would be so large that all the things that have worked are at risk of stopping to work; and
  • given that markets are not priced for higher inflation at all, the market inflationary regime may well start well before inflation actually kicks in, given the starting point.

Man believe investors have some time to prepare for the regime shift. Nevertheless, those preparations should start now.

In addition, Man provide a check list to monitor to determine progress toward a higher than average inflation environment.

Inflation Check List to Monitor

The paper undertakes a thorough review of different inflation regimes and the drivers of them. The review and analysis on inflation makes up a large share of the report and is well worth reviewing.

Man identify five significant regime changes to support their analysis:

  1. Hoover’s Depression and Roosevelt’s New Deal (Deflation to Reflation)
  2. WW2-1951 Debt Work-down (Inflation to Disinflation).
  3. The Twin Oil Shocks of the 1970s (Inflation).
  4. Paul Volcker (Disinflation).
  5. The Global Financial Crisis (Deflation to Reflation and back again).

As noted in the list above, we are currently in a deflationary environment (again) – Thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Man expect the deflationary forces over the last decade are likely to fade in the years ahead. As a result inflation is likely to pick up. Central banks are also likely to allow an overshoot relative to inflation targets. Their independence could also be at risk.

They argue the current deflationary status quo is unsustainable, high debt levels leading to underinvestment in product assets resulting in lower levels of spare capacity and rising levels of inequality around the world will lead to policy responses by both governments and central banks that will result in a period of higher than average inflation.

They provide a checklist of factors to monitor, which includes:

  1. Inflation Momentum, which is broadly neutral currently
  2. Measures of inflation in the pipeline, which are currently deflationary
  3. Economic slack, which is large and heavily deflationary at present
  4. Labour market tightness, which is loose and heavily deflationary presently
  5. Wage inflation, currently neutral to inflationary
  6. Inflation Expectations, sending mixed signals at this time

Man conclude their dashboard is more deflationary than inflationary. They also believe this could change quite rapidly if demand picks up faster than expected.

Concluding Remarks

Man’s view on the outlook for inflation are not alone, a number of other organisations hold similar views.

Although inflation is not a problem now, it is highly likely to become of a greater concern to investors than recent history.

This will likely lead to a change in investment return leadership. Those investment strategies that have worked well over the last 10 years are unlikely to work so well in the decade ahead. Man propose some they think will perform better in such an environment, there are likely others.

A review of current portfolio holdings should be undertaken to determine the robustness to a different inflation regime. This is a key point.

The performance of real assets in different economic environments was covered in a previous Post, Real Assets offer real diversification benefits, this Post covered analysis undertaken by PGIM.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Hedged Funds vs Equities – lessons from the Warren Buffet Bet Revisited

“The Bet” received considerable media attention following the 2017 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letter in 2018.

To recap, the bet was between Warren Buffet and Protégé Partners, who picked five “funds of fund” hedge funds they expected would outperform the S&P 500 Index over the 10-year period ending December 2017. Buffet took the S&P 500 to outperform.

The bet was made in December 2007, when the market was reasonably expensive and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was just around the corner.

Buffet won.  The S&P 500 easily outperformed the Hedge Fund selection over the 10-year period.

There are some astute investment lessons to be learnt from this bet, which are very clearly presented in this AllAboutAlpha article, A Rhetorical Oracle, by Bill Kelly.

Before reviewing these lessons, I’d like to make three points:

  1. I’d never bet against Buffet!
  2. I would not expect a Funds of Funds Hedge Fund to consistently outperform the S&P 500, let alone a combination of five Funds of Funds.
  3. Most if not all, investor’s investment objective(s) is not to beat the S&P 500. Investment Objectives are personal and targeted e.g. Goal Based Investing to meet future retirement income or endowments

This is not to say Hedged Funds should not form part of a truly diversified investment portfolio.  They should, as should other alternative investments.

Nevertheless, I am unconvinced Hedge Fund’s role is to provide equity plus like returns. 

By and large, alternatives, including Hedge Funds, offer a less expensive way of providing portfolio protection as their returns “keep up” with equities, see the previous Kiwi Investor Blog Sharemarket crashes – what works best in minimising losses, market timing or diversification

One objective in allocating to alternatives is to add return sources that make money on average and have low correlation to equities.  Importantly, diversification is not the same thing as “hedging” a portfolio

Now, I have no barrow to push here, except advocating for the building of robust investment portfolios consistent with meeting your investment objectives. The level of fees also needs to be managed appropriately across a portfolio.

In this regard and consistent with the points in the AllAboutAlpha article:

  1. Having a well-diversified portfolio is paramount and results in better risk-adjusted returns over time.

Being diversified across non-correlated or low correlated investments is important, leading to better risk-adjusted outcomes. 

Adding low correlated investments to an equities portfolio, combined with a disciplined rebalancing policy, will likely add value above equities over time.

The investment focus should be on reducing portfolio volatility through true portfolio diversification so that wealth can be accumulate overtime. 

Minimising loses results in higher returns over time.  A portfolio that falls 50%, needs to gain 100% to get back to the starting capital.  This means as equity markets take off a well-diversified multi-asset portfolio will not keep up.  Nevertheless, the well diversified portfolio will not fall as much when the inevitable crash comes along.

It is true that equities are less risky over the longer term.  Nevertheless, not many people can maintain a fully invested equities portfolio, given the wild swings in value (as highlighted by Buffett in his Shareholder Letter, Berkshire can fall 50% in value).

100% in equities is often not consistent with meeting one’s investment objectives.  Buffet himself has recommended the 60/40 equities/bond allocation, with allocations adjusted around this target based on market valuations.

I am unlikely to ever suggest to be 100% invested in equities for the very reason of the second point in the article, as outlined below.

  1. Investment Behavioural aspects.

How many clients would have held on to a 100% equity position during the high level of volatility experienced over the last 10-12 years, particularly in the 2008 – 2014 period.  Not many I suspect.  This would also be true of the most recent market collapse in 2020.

The research is very clear, on average investors do not capture the full value of equity market returns over the full market cycle, largely because of behavioural reasons.

A well-diversified portfolio, that lowers portfolio volatility, will assist an investor in staying the course in meeting their investment objectives.

An allocation to alternative strategies, including a well-chosen selection of Hedge Funds, will result in a truly diversified Portfolio, lowering portfolio volatility.  See an earlier Post, the inclusion of Alternatives has been an evolutionary process, not a revolution.

Staying the course is the biggest battle for most investors.  Therefore, take a longer-term view, focus on customised investment objectives, and maintain a truly diversified portfolio.

This will help the psychological battle as much as anything else.

I like this analogy of using standard deviation of returns as a measure of risk. It captures the risks associated with a very high volatile investment strategy such as being 100% invested in equities:

“A stream may have an average depth of five feet, but a traveler wading through it will not make it to the other side if its mid-point is 10 feet deep. Similarly, an overly volatile investing strategy may sink an investor before she gets to reap its anticipated rewards.”

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Protecting your Portfolio from different market environments – including tail risk hedging

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 an ongoing and uninterrupted endowment.

 

The complexity and different approaches to providing portfolio protection (tail-risk hedging) has been highlighted by a recent twitter spat between Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan, and Cliff Asness, a pioneer in quant investing.

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 the contrasting perspectives in the Table below as outlined by Brown’s article, who considers both men as his friends.

There are certainly some important learnings and insights in contrasting the different approaches.

 

PIMCO recently published an article Hedging for Different Market Scenarios. This provides another perspective.

PIMCO provide a brief summary of different strategies and their trade-offs in diversifying a Portfolio.

They outline four approaches to diversify the risk from investing in sharemarkets (equity risk).

In addition to tail risk hedging, the subject of the twitter spat above between Taleb and Asness, and outlined below, PIMCO consider three other strategies to increase portfolio diversification: Long-term Fixed Income securities (Bonds), managed futures, and alternative risk premia.

PIMCO provide the following Graph to illustrate the effectiveness of the different “hedging” strategies varies by market scenario.PIMCO_Hedging_for_Different_Market_Scenarios_1100_Chart1_58109

As PIMCO note “it’s important for investors to know in what types of environments each strategy is more likely to work and in what environments each are likely to be less effective.”

As they emphasise “not every type of risk-mitigating strategy can be expected to work in every type of market sell-off.”

A brief description of the diversifying strategies is provided below:

  • Long Bonds – holding long term (duration) high quality government bonds (e.g. US and NZ 10-year or long Government Bonds) have been effective when there are sudden declines in sharemarkets. They are less effective when interest rates are rising. (Although not covered in the PIMCO article, there are some questions as to their effectiveness in the future given extremely low interest rates currently.)
  • Managed Futures, or trend following strategies, have historically performed well when markets trend i.e. there is are consistent drawn-out decline in sharemarkets e.g. tech market bust of 2000-2001. These strategies work less well when markets are very volatile, short sharp movements up and down.
  • Alternative risk premia strategies have the potential to add value to a portfolio when sharemarkets are non-trending. Although they generally provide a return outcome independent of broad market movements they struggle to provide effective portfolio diversification benefits when there are major market disruptions. Alternative risk premia is an extension of Factor investing.
  • Tail risk hedging, is often explained as providing a higher degree of reliability at time of significant market declines, this is often at the expense of short-term returns i.e. there is a cost for market protection.

 

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

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

 

It is well accepted you cannot time markets and the best means to protect portfolios from large market declines is via a well-diversified portfolio, as outlined in this Kiwi Investor Blog Post found here, which coincidentally covers an AQR paper. (The business Cliff Asness is a Founding Partner.)

 

A summary of the key differences in perspectives and approaches between Taleb and Asness as outlined in Aaron Brown’s Bloomberg’s article, Taleb-Asness Black Swan Spat Is a Teaching Moment.

My categorisations Asness Taleb
Defining a tail event Asness refers to the worst events in history for investors, such as the 5% worst one-month returns for the S&P 500 Index.

Research by AQR shows that steep declines that last three months or less do little or no damage to 10-year returns.

It is the long periods of mediocre returns, particularly three years or longer, that damages longer term performance.

Taleb defines “tail events” not by frequency of occurrence in the past, but by unexpectedness. (Black Swan)

Therefore, he is scathing of strategies designed to do well in past disasters, or based on models about likely future scenarios.

 

 

 

Different Emphasis

The emphasis is not only on surviving the tail event but to design portfolios that have the highest probability of generating acceptable long-term returns.   These portfolios will give an unpleasant experience during bad times.

 

Taleb prefers tail-risk hedges that deliver lots of cash in the worst times. Cash provides a more pleasant outcome and greater options at times of a crisis.

Investors are likely facing a host of challenges at the time of market crisis, both financial and nonfinancial, and cash is better.

Different approaches AQR strategies usually involve leverage and unlimited-loss derivatives.

 

Taleb believes this approach just adds new risks to a portfolio. The potential downsides are greater than the upside.
Costs AQR responds that Taleb’s preferred approaches are expensive that they don’t reduce risk.

Also, the more successful the strategy, the more expensive it becomes to implement, that you give up your gains over time e.g. put options on stocks

Taleb argues he has developed methods to deliver cash in crises that are cheap enough that they actually add to long-term returns while reducing risk.

 

 

Investor behaviours Asness argues that investors often adopt Taleb’s like strategies after a severe market decline. Therefore, they pay the high premiums as outlined above. Eventually, they get tire of the paying the premiums during the good times, exit the strategy, and therefore miss the payout on the next crash. Taleb emphasises the bad decisions investors make during a market crisis/panic, in contrast to AQR’s emphasis on bad decisions people make after the market crisis.

 

 

 

 

Good luck, stay healthy and safe.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Investment leadership is needed now

Investment leadership needs to step up. It needs to project confidence that it can crack through this crisis. It then needs to re-group with the benefits of extraordinary lessons learned through extraordinary times and morph into something better. While this crisis is rightly producing stories of heroes in scrubs and gowns, the investment industry will be discovering its own heroes. They are likely to be T-shaped leaders: both sure-footed in strategy and steeped in humanity.

This is the conclusion of Roger Irwin in his recent article, the hour for leadership is now, appearing on Top1000funds.com.

 

T-shaped leadership involves having deep expertise in your field and a greater awareness of societal and business issues.

As he notes, investment leaders have the opportunity to make life-changing differences for people’s savings and investments. “They will do so by drawing from the widest range of leadership skills to manoeuvre through the epic challenges this crisis presents and by emerging with stronger, fairer and more sustainable businesses.”

I couldn’t agree more.

 

The article has a wide ranging discussion on leadership, and what will be valued in the current situation. A mix of leadership approaches is required, it is not a case of either / or but and.

 

As he quite rightly points out, in the current environment, safety will be high on everyone’s needs.

“This suggests that the empathy shown to workers through this period of vulnerability will be preciously valued. For example, in the choice of what’s right to do now when family issues arise while working from home; this is the time to choose to do the family thing. For the best organisations, it’s not even close.” Quite right.

 

There is no doubt the current environment presents a unique set of challenges.

Irwin suggests the best stories will come from “organisations where leadership and culture are strongest. They will have a few things in common: a balance in the craft of exercising dominant and serving leadership styles; a purposeful culture as a north star; clarity that profit play a supporting role in that purpose; and a culture that accommodates this ‘it’s all about the people’ moment.”

 

He expects a number of disruptions to organisations, the following observations are made:

  • Good leaders always manage to stay in touch.
  • There will be a growing need for emotional intelligence among investment leadership. “Employees increasingly expect work and life to be integrated and this is central to good employee experiences where well-being, purpose and personal growth rank highly and intrinsic motivations are more lasting than extrinsic forms like pay.”
  • There needs to be a culture of openness in the workplace. The hoarding of information is old school. “Now the open-cultured organisations can create the positive state of psychological safety at all levels with everyone feeling included. This plays to better decision making all round and helps people with their resilience during tough times.”

 

As mentioned above, the current environment requires leaders to be T-shaped.

The vertical bar in the T constitutes deep expertise in their field.

The horizontal bar is about having greater awareness of societal and business issues. Being more in touch. The article provides a number of examples, including: a greater understanding of stress and fight or flight responses in brain science; and the balancing of dominant and serving leadership in management science.

He suggests, we build the vertical bar in the T through being in-touch with a wider network and other disciplines.

 

Good luck, stay healthy and safe.

 

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

 

The psychology of Portfolio Diversification

In a well-diversified portfolio, when one asset class is performing extremely well (like global equity markets), the diversified portfolio is unlikely to keep pace.

In these instances, the investor is likely to regret that they had reduced their exposure to that asset class in favour of greater portfolio diversification.

This is a key characteristic of having a well-diversified portfolio. On many occasions, some part of the portfolio will be “underperforming” (particularly relative to the asset class that is performing strongly).

Nevertheless, stay the course, over any given period, diversification will have won or lost but as that period gets longer diversification is more and more likely to win.

True diversification comes from introducing new risks into a portfolio. This can appear counter-intuitive. These new risks have their own risk and return profile that is largely independent of other investment strategies within the Portfolio. These new risks will perform well in some market environments and poorly in others.

Nevertheless, overtime the sum is greater than the parts.

 

The majority of the above insights are from a recent Willis Tower Watson (WTW) article on Diversification, Keep Calm and Diversify.

The article provides a clear and precise account of portfolio diversification.  It is a great resource for those new to the topic and for those more familiar.

 

WTW conclude with the view “that true diversification is the best way to achieve strong risk adjusted returns and that portfolios with these characteristics will fare better than equities and diversified growth funds with high exposures to traditional asset classes in the years to come.”

 

Playing with our minds – Recent History

As the WTW article highlights the last ten-twenty years has been very unusual for both equity and bond markets have delivered excellent returns.

This is illustrated in the following chart they provide, the last two rolling 10-year periods have been periods of exceptional performance for a Balanced Portfolio (60%/40% equity/fixed income portfolio).

WTW Balance Fund Performance

 

WTW made the following observations:

  • The last ten years has tested the patience of investors when it comes to diversification;
  • For those running truly diversified portfolios, this may be the worst time to change approach (the death of portfolio diversification is greatly exaggerated);
  • Diversification offers ‘insurance’ against getting it wrong e.g. market timing; and
  • Diversification has a positive return outcome, unlike most insurance.

 

WTW are not alone on their view of diversification, for example a AQR article from 2018 highlighted that diversification was the best way to manage periods of severe sharemarket declines, as recently experienced.  I covered this paper in a recent Post: Sharemarket crashes – what works best in minimising losses, market timing or diversification.

 

WTW also note that it is difficult to believe that the next 10-year period will look like the period that has just gone.

There is no doubt we are in for a challenging investment environment based on many forecasted investment returns.

 

What is diversification?

WTW believe investors will be better served going forwards by building robust portfolios that exploit a range of return drivers such that no single risk dominates performance. (In a Balanced Portfolio of 60% equities, equities account for over 90% of portfolio risk.)

They argue true portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in a range of strategies that have low and varying levels of sensitivity (correlation) to traditional asset classes and in some instances have none at all.

Other sources of return, and risks, include investing in investment strategies with low levels of liquidity, accessing manager skill e.g. active returns above a market benchmark are a source of return diversification, and diversifying strategies that access return sources independent of traditional equity and fixed income returns. These strategies are also lowly correlated to traditional market returns.

 

Sources of Portfolio Diversification

Hedge Funds and Liquid Alternatives

Hedge Funds and Liquid Alternatives are an example of diversifying strategies mentioned above. As outlined in this Post, covering a paper by Vanguard, they both bring diversifying benefits to a traditional portfolio.

Access to the Vanguard paper can be found here.

 

It is worth highlighting that hedge fund and liquid alternative strategies do not provide a “hedge” to equity and fixed income markets.

Therefore they do not always provide a positive return when equity markets fall. Albeit, they do not decline as much at times of market crisis, as we have recently witnesses. Technically speaking their drawdowns (losses) are smaller relative to equity markets.

As evidenced in the Graph below provided by Mercer.

Mercer drawdown graph

 

Private Markets

TWT also note there are opportunities within Private Markets to increase portfolio diversification.

There will be increasing opportunities in Private markets because fewer companies are choosing to list and there are greater restrictions on the banking sector’s ability to lend.

This is consistent with key findings of the recently published CAIA Association report, The Next Decade of Alternative Investments: From Adolescence to Responsible Citizenship.

The factors mentioned above, along with the low interest rate environment, the expected shortfall in superannuation accounts to meet future retirement obligations, and the maturing of emerging markets are expected to drive the growth in alternative investments over the decade ahead.

A copy of the CAIA report can be found here. I covered the report in a recent Post: CAIA Survey Results – The attraction of Alternative Investments and future trends.

 

TWT expect to see increasing opportunities across private markets, including a “range from investments in the acquisition, development, and operation of natural resources, infrastructure and real estate assets, fast-growing companies in overlooked parts of capital markets, and innovative early-stage ventures that can benefit from long-term megatrends.”

Continuing the theme of lending where the banks cannot, they also see the opportunity for increasing portfolios with allocations to Private Debt.

WTW provided the following graph, source data from Preqin

WTW Private Market Performance

 

Real Assets

In addition to Hedge Funds, Liquid Alternatives, and Private markets (debt and equity), Real Assets are worthy of special mention.

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 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. The PGIM report on Real Assets can be found here. I provided a summary of their analysis in this Post: Real Assets offer real diversification benefits.

 

Conclusion

To diversify a portfolio it is recommended to add risk and return sources that make money on average and have a low correlation to equities.

Diversification should be true both in normal times and when most needed: during tough periods for sharemarkets.

Diversification is not the same thing as a hedge. Although “hedges” 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. Think of this as the cost of “insurance”.

Therefore, alternatives investments, as outlined above, 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.

Importantly, investing in more and more traditional asset classes does not equal more diversification e.g. listed property.  As outlined in this Post.

 

As outlined above, we want to invest in a combination of lowly correlated asset classes, where returns are largely independent of each other. A combination of investment strategies that have largely different risk and return drivers.

 

Good luck, stay healthy and safe.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

 

 

Tailored Investment solutions boost superannuation outcomes – Lifecycle Funds outperform Balanced Funds

A greater level of customisation leads to better investment outcomes for investors.

For example, Multifactor Lifecycle Funds that focus on age and size of account balances are best placed to last the distance as we live for longer in retirement, compared to a Balanced Fund and Lifecycle Funds that focus on age alone.

Multifactor Lifecycle Funds:

  1. Generate higher expected lifetime income relative to a Balanced Fund (70% equities and 30% Fixed Income and Cash); and
  2. Outperform a Balanced Fund over 90% of the time based on a numerous number of different market and economic scenarios.

These are the key findings of the Rice Warner’s research paper: Lifecycle Design – To and Through Retirement.

Lifecycle Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds, Target Date Funds, or Lifestages Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor approaches retirement.

 

Rice Warner found that somebody aged 30 with an opening balance of $26,000 and invested in a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund had a 91.8% chance of outperforming a Balanced Fund by the time of retirement at age 63.

Their research also found that by investing in a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund the expected retirement income is up to 35% higher than that expected from a Balanced Fund (Source: Australian AFR The product that can boost super by 35pc).

For somebody aged 60 with an account balance of $118,300, a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund had a 72.4 per cent chance of outperforming a Balanced Fund.

Lastly, Second Generation Lifecycle Funds, which reduce their growth allocation later, outperformed a Balanced Fund 91.2% of the time. A Multifactor Lifecycle Fund outperforms a Second Generation Lifecycle Fund 84.6% of the time.

 

A key conclusion from the Rice Warner research is that Lifecycle strategies that use factors in addition to age, such as superannuation account balance size, provide the ability to better tailor a portfolio to enhance outcomes for those saving for retirement. Therefore, they often outperform other investment strategies.

 

They achieve this by adopting a more growth-oriented stance while an investor has a long investment horizon and shifting to defensive assets when the investor’s investment horizon grows short.

Importantly, an individual’s investment horizon is a function of not only age but also the size of their superannuation account. This is an important concept, the rationale is provided in the section below – The Benefits of a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund.

 

A summary of the Rice Warner analysis is provided below, along with key Conclusions and Implications for those aged 30 and 60.

A copy of the Rice Warner analysis can be found here.

 

To my mind, there is going to be an increased customisation of investment solutions available for those saving for retirement that will consider factors beyond age e.g. account size, salary, and assets outside of Super.  Some are available already.

Technology will enable this, Microsoft and BlackRock are well advanced in collaborating, BlackRock and Microsoft want to make retirement investing as easy as ordering an Uber.

 

In relation to Lifecycle Funds, they are subject to wide spread criticism.

Some of this criticism is warranted, nevertheless, often the criticism is the result of the poor design of the Fund itself, rather than concept of a Lifecycle Fund itself. This is highlighted in the Rice Warner research, where the first Generation of Lifecycle Funds de-risk to early.

I covered the criticism of Lifecycle Funds in a previous Post, in the defence of Lifecycle Funds.

 

Lifecycle Funds can be improved upon. For example a more sophisticated approach to the management of the Cash and Fixed Interest allocation, this is well documented by the research undertaken by Dimensional Funds Advisors which I covered in a previous Post.

 

In my opinion, all investments strategies would benefit from a greater focus on tangible investment goals, this will lead to a more robust investment solution.

A Goals based investing approach is more robust than the application of “rule of thumbs”, such as the 4% rule and adjusting the growth allocation based purely as a function of age.

Goals based investing approaches provide a better framework in which to assess the risk of not meeting your retirement goals.

Greater levels of customisation are required, which is more relevant in the current investment environment.

 

 

Rice Warner – The benefits of Multifactor Lifecycle Funds

Investment literature indicates that an investor’s investment horizon is a key determinant of an appropriate investment strategy.

The consequence of longer investment horizons allows an investor to take on more risk because even if there is a severe market decline there is time to recover the losses.

Furthermore, and an important observation, Rice Warner’s analysis suggests that as we enter retirement investment horizon is a function of age and size of the superannuation account balance.

A retiree with a larger account balance has in effect a longer investment horizon. They are in a better position to weather any market volatility.

This reflects, that those with a small account size typically withdraw a greater proportion of their total assets each year, indicative of largely fixed minimum cost of living, resulting in a shorter investment horizon.

 

A very big implication of this analysis is that an investor’s investment horizon is “not bounded by the date that they choose to retire (though this point is relevant). This is as a member is likely to hold a substantial proportion of their superannuation well into the retirement phase, unless their balance is low.”

“One consequence of this is that investment strategies which consider this retirement investment horizon may deliver better outcomes for members – both to and through retirement. This is because as a member’s account balance grows, sequencing risk becomes less relevant allowing higher allocations to growth assets.”

For those wanting a better understanding of sequencing risk, please see my earlier Post.

 

Rice Warner conclude, Lifecycle strategies that use factors in addition to age, such as superannuation account balance size, provide the ability to better tailor a portfolio to provide enhanced outcomes for those saving for retirement. Therefore, they often outperform other investment strategies.

Thus, the title of their research Paper, Lifecycle Design – To and Through Retirement, more often than not investors should still hold a relatively high allocation to growth assets in retirement.  They should be held to the day of retirement and throughout retirement.

The research clearly supports this, a higher growth asset allocations should be held to and through retirement.  In my mind this is going to be an increasingly topically issue given the current market environment.

 

 

Rice Warner Analysis

Rice Warner considered several investment strategies applied to various hypothetical members throughout their lifetime.

They assess the distribution of outcomes of the investment strategies to establish whether adjustments can be made to provide members with better outcomes overtime.

Rice Warner considered:

  1. Balanced Strategy which adopts a fixed 70% allocation to Growth assets.
  2. High Growth strategy which adopts a fixed 85% allocation to Growth assets.
  3. First-generation Lifecycle (Lifecycle 1 (Age)) with a focus on defensive assets and de-risking at young ages.
  4. Second-generation Lifecycle (Lifecycle 2 (Age)) with a focus on growth assets and de-risking at older ages.
  5. Multi-dimensional Lifecycle (Lifecycle (Age and Balance)) which adopts a high allocation to growth assets unless a member is at an advanced age and has a low balance.

Six member profiles selected to capture low, moderate, and high wealth members at ages 30 and 60.

Rice Warner then considered the distribution of expected lifetime income under a range of investment scenarios using a stochastic model.

This allowed for a comparison of the income provided to members under each strategy in a range of investment situations for comparative purposes.

 

Conclusions

Rice Warner Conclude:

  • Investment horizon is a critical driver in setting an appropriate investment strategy. Investment strategies should take into consideration a range of investment horizon, both before and after retirement.
  • Adopting high allocations to growth assets is not inherently a poor strategy, even in cases where members are approaching retirement. These portfolios will typically provide:
    • Improved outcomes in cases where members are young, or investment performance is strong;
    • Marginally weaker outcomes where members are older and investment performance is weak.
  • Second-generation Lifecycle investment strategies (focused on growth assets and late de-risking) will typically outperform first generation strategies (which are focused on defensive assets and de-risking when a member is young).
  • Growth-oriented constant strategies will typically outperform First-generation Lifecycle strategies, except where investment performance is poor.
  • Designing Lifecycle strategies that use further factors in addition to age (such as balance) provide the ability to better tailor a portfolio to provide enhanced outcomes by:
    • Adopting a more growth-oriented stance while a member has a long investment horizon.
    • Shifting to defensive assets when a member’s investment horizon grows short.

 

Implications

Overall the results, aged 30:

  • High Growth strategies can provide significant scope for outperformance with minimal risk of underperformance relative to a Balanced Fund due to the members’ long investment horizon.
  • First-generation Lifecycle strategies will typically underperform each of the other strategies considered except where investment outcomes are poor for a protracted period. This underperformance is a result of the defensive allocation of these strategies being compounded over the member’s long investment horizon.
  • Second-generation Lifecycle can mitigate the risk faced by the members over their lifetime, albeit at the cost of a reduced expected return on their portfolio relative to a portfolio with a higher constant allocation to growth assets.
  • Lifecycle strategies which adjust based on multiple factors are able to manage the risk and return trade-off inherent to investments in a more effective way than single strategies or Lifecycle strategies only based on age. This is a result of the increased tailoring allowing the portfolio to adopt a more aggressive stance when members are young and thereby accumulate a high balance and extend their investment horizon further. This leads to this portfolio often outperforming the other strategies considered.

 

For those aged 60

  • High Growth strategies can provide significant outperformance in strong investment conditions. This comes at the cost of a modest level of underperformance in a poor investment scenario (a reduction in total lifetime income for members ranging between 2% and 5% relative to a Balanced fund).
  • First-generation Lifecycle strategies will underperform in neutral or strong market conditions due to their lack of growth assets. In cases where investment performance is poor these strategies outperform the other strategies considered particularly for those with low levels of wealth (due to their short investment horizons).
  • Two-dimensional Lifecycles provide enhanced risk management (but not necessarily better expected performance) by providing:
    • Protection for members who are vulnerable to sequencing risk with short investment horizons (low and moderate wealth profiles) by adopting a Balanced stance.
    • High allocations to growth for members whose investment horizon is long (high wealth profiles).

 

Good luck, stay healthy and safe.

 

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.