Could Buffett be wrong?

As has been widely reported Warren Buffett frequently comments on the benefits of investing in low-cost index funds.

He’s reportedly instructed the trustee of his estate to invest in index funds. “My advice to the trustee couldn’t be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund,” he noted in the Berkshire Hathaway’s 2013 annual letter to shareholders.

 

Not that I want to disagree with Buffett, I have enormous respect for him, incorporate many of his investment insights and philosophies into my own investment approaches. Albeit, I think he might be wrong on this account.

And this is not to say Index Funds do not have a part to play in a portfolio, nor that investment fees are not important. They are. I do think more portfolios should be invested along the lines of Endowments. Broad diversification is the key.

 

Following Buffett could be the right advice for a young person starting out with many years until retirement.  Such an investor would need to weather the volatility of being largely invested in equities, which is no mean achievement when equity markets can suffer falls of over 40%. A high equity strategy can become horribly undone.

Nevertheless, as one gets closer to retirement and is in retirement Buffett’s strategy is unsuitable.

Similarly Buffett’s strategy is not appropriate for a Pension Fund or Endowment. These Funds are in a similar position to those in retirement. Meanwhile, the equity allocation should be reduced as one gets closer to retirement.

The short comings of a higher equity allocation was highlighted in a recent article  by Charles E.F. Millard, who is a consultant to AQR Capital Management, LLC.

 

Once an investor needs to take capital or income from a portfolio volatility of the equity markets can wreak havoc on a Portfolio’s value, and ultimately the ability of a portfolio to meet its investment objectives.

The key point that Millard makes is that Pension Funds and Endowments are required to make periodic payment obligations. So do those in retirement, they either draw capital or income from the portfolio to sustain a desired standard of living.

 

Ultimately, it the drawing of an income or the payments by Endowments that consume most of the investment returns. “This is why assets don’t just mushroom over time.”

As Millard explains, “each year endowments usually pay out at least 5% of their holdings, and the institutions they support tend to count on those funds. That changes the situation an awful lot.”

Let’s look at the math. Millard explains”

and assume that each year the endowment pays out 5% of its assets. In that case, starting at $1 million, the endowment would not have the $5.3 billion Buffett imagines. Rather, after having paid out almost $145 million along the way, the endowment would have less than $150 million remaining”

Still a great result, but far from the billions assumed by Buffett.

It is also worth noting that a Pension’s obligation (liability) can continue to grow as employees retire and live longer. The Pension Fund has no ability to reduce its payouts and must manage this risk.

 

This is where market volatility comes into play, particularly drawdowns – a large fall in the value of the market.

“In a prolonged stock market drawdown, those growing benefit payments will consume a larger share of the shrunken plan assets.  So, they can’t take too much solace in long-run optimism when in the intermediate run they’re already paying out much of their capital.”

 

This is a key point. You can’t take comfort in the long-term returns from equities when you are running out of money!

Equity markets do fall in value and this is why institutions with meaningful annual pay-out obligations are not invested only in equities.

 

No argument that equities will not outperform over the longer term, this is highly likely. Yet this observation fails to recognise the volatility inherent in equities.

Millard:

“Over Buffett’s 77 years investing, the endowment CIO would see fund assets decline in 23 out of 77 years (when equity returns didn’t cover the 5% distribution), and in the average bad year, the fund would shrink by -12%. But at least an endowment may be able to reduce its spending; a pension fund can’t, so in a bad year, the fraction of pension assets that must be paid out increases substantially. This is why most institutional investors subscribe to a concept that Buffett seems to hate – diversification. He’s said it’s “a protection against ignorance.” We think it is more a protection against hubris.”

Diversification is key.

“It is worth noting that Institutions do not seek to maximize potential long-term returns, without regard to risks. They often seek to maximize the likelihood that they can meet their payout obligations. They seek to be reliable payers of those obligations. And in the case of pensions, they also seek to make it possible for the employer to have somewhat predictable and affordable contribution obligations. A portfolio of stocks alone doesn’t do that. That’s why asset class diversification is a bedrock principle of modern investing.

 

In short, institutional investors have different goals and obligations to Buffett.

For those in retirement, their goals and obligations are more closely aligned with the Pension Fund and Endowment, than Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. Those closer to retirement need to make sure that market volatility does not impact them and their ability to sustain the standard of level they wish to maintain in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

The balancing act of the least liked investment activity

A recent Research Affiliates article on rebalancing noted: “Regularly rebalancing a portfolio to its target asset mix is necessary to maintain desired risk exposure over the portfolio’s lifetime. But getting investors to do it is another matter entirely—many would rather sit in rush-hour traffic! “

“A systematic rebalancing approach can be effective in keeping investors on the road of timely rebalancing, headed toward their destination of achieving their financial goals and improving long-term risk-adjusted returns.”

Research Affiliates are referencing a Wells Fargo/ Gallup Survey, based on this survey “31% of investors would opt to spend an hour stuck in traffic rather than spend that time rebalancing their portfolios. Why would we subject ourselves to gridlock instead of performing a simple task such as rebalancing a portfolio?

 

I can’t understand why rebalancing of an investment portfolio is one of least liked investment activity, it adds value to a portfolio overtime, is a simple risk management exercise, and is easy to implement.

It is important to regularly rebalance a Portfolio so that it continues to be invested as intended to be.

 

A recent article in Plansponsor highlighted the importance of rebalancing. This article also noted the reluctance of investors to rebalance their portfolio.

As the article noted, once an appropriate asset allocation (investment strategy) has been determined, based on achieving certain investment goals, the portfolio needs to be regularly rebalanced to remain aligned with these goals.

By not rebalancing, risks within the Portfolio will develop that may not be consistent with achieving desired investment goals. As expressed in the article “Participants need to make sure the risk they want to take is actually the risk they are taking,” …………..“Certain asset classes can become over- or under-weight over time.”

Based on research undertaken by BCA Research and presented in the article “Rebalancing is definitely recommended for all investors, perhaps more so for retirement plan participants than others, as they are more likely to be concerned with capital preservation than capital appreciation.”

The following observation is also made “While a portfolio that is not rebalanced will have a greater allocation to equities during a bull market and, therefore, outperform a rebalanced portfolio, all rebalanced portfolios outperformed an unbalanced portfolio during periods leading up to market corrections and recessions,” Hanafy says, citing a BCA Research study which looked at three main rebalancing scenarios of a simple 60/40 portfolio since 1973.

The potential risks outlined above is very relevant for New Zealand and USA investors currently given the great run in the respective sharemarkets over the last 10 years.

When was last time your investment fiduciary rebalanced your investment portfolio?

 

Rebalancing becomes more important as you get closer to retirement and once in retirement:

“There are two main components to retirement plans: returns and the risk you take,” …… “When you do not rebalance your portfolio, a participant could inadvertently take on too much risk, which would expose them to a market correction. This is important because, statistically, as participants reach age 40 to 45, how much risk they take on is far more important than how much they save. When you are young, the most important thing is how much you save.”

Rebalancing Policy

As the article notes, you can systematically set up a Portfolio rebalancing approach based on time e.g. rebalance the portfolio every Quarter, six-months or yearly intervals.

It is not difficult!

Alternatively, investment ranges could be set up which trigger a rebalancing of the portfolio e.g. +/- 3% of a target portfolio allocation.

Higher level issues to consider when developing a rebalancing policy include:

  • Cost, the more regularly the portfolio is rebalanced the higher the cost on the portfolio and the drag on performance. This especially needs to be considered where less liquid markets are involved;
  • Tax may also be a consideration;
  • The volatility of the asset involved;
  • Rebalancing Policy allows for market momentum. This is about letting the winners run and not buying into falling markets too soon. To be clear this is not about market timing. For example, it could include a mechanism such as not rebalancing all the way back to target when trimming market exposures.

 

My preference is to use rebalancing ranges and develop an approach that takes into consideration the above higher level issues. As with many activities in investing, trade-offs will need to be made, this requires judgement.

 

As noted above, it appears that rebalancing is an un-liked investment activity, if not an over looked and underappreciated investment activity. This seems crazy to me as there is plenty of evidence that a rebalancing policy can add value to a naïve monitoring and “wait and see” approach.

I think the key point is to have a documented Rebalancing Policy and be disciplined in implementing the Policy.

 

This also means that those implementing the Rebalancing Policy have the correct systems in place to efficiently carry out the Portfolio rebalancing so as to minimise transaction costs involved.

Be sure, that those responsible for your investment portfolio can efficiently and easily rebalance your portfolio. Importantly, make sure the rebalancing process is not a big expense on your portfolio e.g. trading commissions and the crossing of market spreads (e.g. difference between buy and sell price), and how close to the “market price” are the trades being undertaken?

These are all hidden costs to the unsuspecting.

 

A couple of last points:

  • It was noted in the recent Kiwi Investor Blog on Behaviour Finance that rebalancing of the portfolio was an import tool in the kit in helping to reduce the negative impact on our decision making from behavioural bias. It is difficult to implement a rebalancing policy when markets are behaving badly, discipline is required.
  • The automatic rebalancing nature of Target Date Funds is an attractive feature of these investment solutions.

 

To conclude, as Research Affiliates sums up:

  1. Systemic rebalancing raises the likelihood of improving longer-term risk-adjusted investment returns
  2. The benefits of rebalancing result from opportunistically capitalising on human behavioural tendencies and long-horizon mean reversion in asset class prices.
  3. Investors who “institutionalise contrarian investment behaviour” by relying on a systematic rebalancing approach increase their odds of reaping the rewards of rebalancing.

 

It is not hard to do.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Recessions, inverted yield curves, and Sharemarket returns

Fears of economic recession, particularly in the US, peaked over the final three months of 2018.

Nevertheless, talk of economic recession has now faded into the background after the US Federal Reserve hit the pause button to further interest rate increases in January of 2019. The Fed is not expected to raise interest rates again in 2019.

This is not to say that a recession will not occur, it will at some stage, just as night follows day. The economic/business cycle has not been conquered.

Nevertheless, the timing of the next recession is unknown. Take Australia for example, their last recession was over 28 years ago. New Zealand is over 9 years since their last recession.

With regards to the US, in July of this year the US economy will enter its longest period in history without incurring a recession. Their economy remains on a sound footing: interest rates remain low, the US consumer is confident, businesses are investing, the Government is increasing spending, and forward looking indicators of economic activity remain positive. Lastly, housing activity is likely to pick up over the second half of 2019.

 

What is a Recession?

A recession is defined as at least two consecutive quarters of declining economic growth. The US National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real gross domestic product (GDP), real income, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail sales.”

 

A recent article by the Capital Group: Preparing for the next recession: 9 things you need to know provides a good overview of the ins-and-outs of economic recession.

 

The good news, as Capital highlight, recessions generally aren’t very long.

Capital undertook analysis of 10 US economic cycles since 1950. This analysis showed that recessions have lasted between eight and 18 months, with the average spanning about 11 months. Unfortunately New Zealand’s history is a little more chequered than the US.

Investors with a long-term investment horizon, should expect to experience a number recession over their investment horizon and therefore look through the full economic cycle. Fortunately, for most of us, we spend more time in economic expansion than in recession.

Capital note, “over the last 65 years, the U.S. has been in an official recession less than 15% of all months.”

The following graph highlights the average length, total growth, and returns from the average stock market return over the average recession and economic expansion.

Notably, “equity returns can even be positive over the full length of a contraction, since some of the strongest stock rallies have occurred during the late stages of a recession.”

The human cost of economic recession is provided in the form of jobs lost and this should not be forgotten.

 

Economic cycles Capital.jpg

 

From a sharemarket perspective, a bear market, defined as a 20% or more fall in value, usually overlaps with recessions.

Share markets tend to lead the economic cycle, given they are forward looking. Sharemarkets on average peak six months prior to the onset of a recession. They continue to fall during the early stages of a recession.

The recovery in sharemarkets often takes hold while the economy is still in recession (economic growth is still contracting).

The initial bounce in sharemarkets is often a period of strong performance and occurs before there is any hard evidence of a pickup in economic activity.

The following graph presents the above sequencing and overlapping nature of sharemarket returns and recessions.

Sharemarket returns and recession cycles.png

 

Having said all that, stock markets are not good predictors of economic recession i.e. a sharp fall in global sharemarket does not mean there will be an onset of global economic recession.

This is captured by the well know quote from Paul Samuelson: “The stock market has predicted nine of the last five recessions.”

 

Sharemarket Returns and Inverted Yield Curves

There has been a lot of discussion over the last twelve months about the implications of an inverted US yield curve. (An inverted yield curve is when longer-term interest rates (e.g. 10 years) are lower than shorter-term interest rates (e.g. 2 years or 3 months). A normal yield curve is when longer-term-interest rates are higher than shorter-term-interest rates.

Parts of the US yield curve are currently inverted, and this inversion has increased over recent days.

The significance of this is that prior to the last 7 US recessions the yield curve has inverted prior each time. An inverted yield curve has by and large been a good predictor of recession.

Nevertheless, not every time the yield curve inverts does a recession follow and on average the inversion of the yield curve occurs 12 months prior to a recession.

 

The following analysis undertaken by Wellington Management looks at the performance of the US sharemarket in relation to yield curves inversions.

The period of analysis is from the 1950s at which time the US Federal Reserve gained full, independent control over interest rates from the US Treasury. As Wellington note, “it was after this transition that the yield curve became an effective tool for gauging the impact of monetary policy on the economy and the prospect of a recession.”

Wellington present the following analysis and the Table below:

  • “As shown in the third column (of Table below), the S&P 500 peaked ahead of a yield-curve inversion only twice (1959 and 1973).
  • “The median time between inversion and peak equity returns was 17 months, and in several cases the market peaked almost two years or more after inversion.”
  • “Aggregate equity returns post-inversion have been partly dependent on the length of time between the initial inversion and the start of the recession.”
  • “Since returns tend to be negative right around the time a recession begins, the instances in which there was a shorter period between the initial inversion and the start of the recession were more likely to have a negative return.”

 

Just like there is a period of time between economic recession and an inverted yield curve, the sharemarket often peaks after the yield curves inverts.

Sharemarket returns and inverted yield curves.png

 

Back to the Capital article, for it also runs through a number of other recession related questions.

Of interest are:

What economic indicators can warn of a recession?

  • Capital outline some generally reliable signals worth watching closely, such as an inverted yield curve, corporate profits, unemployment, and leading economic indices.
  • Importantly it is appropriate to look at and consider several different economic indicators.

 

What Causes Recessions?

  • There are many reasons for a recession, chief amongst them are rising interest rates, particularly by Central Banks such as the US Federal Reserve and Reserve Bank of New Zealand, imbalances within an economy e.g. excess housing prices, high debt levels
  • Every economic cycle is unique, but anything that impacts on corporate profits or consumer spending, such as rising unemployment, are factors to consider.

 

Just remember is it notoriously difficult to predict economic recession and they are normally the result of a number of factors that have a cascading effect leading to an economic downturn.

 

The following Kiwi Investor Blog Posts maybe of interest to those wanting a better understanding of inverted yield curves, leading economic indicators, and historical performance of equity market corrections.

Recession predictability of inverted yield curves and other economic indicators to considered:

 

Analysis of Sharemarket corrections and market declines

 

Lastly the Capital article provides some suggestions as to how to position your portfolio for a recession. I think it is exceedingly difficult to finesse a portfolio in the expectations of a recession.

From my perspective, the following is most critical:

  • Maintain a long-term perspective;
  • Implement a balanced and broadly diversified portfolio. Portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits. True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration (movements in interest rate), economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth. Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks;
  • Know you risk tolerance: what level of volatility in capital are you prepared to handle without changing your mind;
  • Understand your risk capacity: the amount of risk you need to take in order to reach your financial goals;
  • Implement a goals-based investment approach, where success is measured on how you are tracking relative to your investment goals, rather than market index performances; and
  • Always maintain a high quality portfolio, with plenty of liquidity, and limit the level of turnover across the portfolio e.g. amount of trading (buying and selling)

 

A good advisor should be able to help you with the above and see you through bouts of sharemarket volatility, including a recession environment.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

cropped-title-picture-enhanced.jpg

Pioneering work on yield-curve inversions and risk of economic recession

There is no doubt that global economic growth has slowed over the last six months. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) highlighted rising global economic risks in its recent Policy statement. The RBNZ noted that economic growth has slowed in our major trading partners of Australia, China, and Europe.

Economic growth has also slowed in the US. Although US financial conditions have eased in recent months, they did tightened over the course of 2018.

The risk of a US recession has risen in recent months. Albeit calls of a US recession have been around for some time.

A recent article by Gary Shilling in Think Advisor captures the type of the analysis undertaken on the US economy over the last 18 months.

Leading economic indicators for the US have weakened. Nevertheless, they are not consistent with forecasting a looming recession, except perhaps one, an inverted yield curve which is discussed below.

Overall the US economy is in good health, with record low unemployment, growing incomes, high saving rates, strong household balance sheets, business investment is set to increase, as is Government spending.

 

As Shilling notes in his article, the US economy could go several ways e.g. economic growth rebounds over 2019, the US experiences a period of prolonged moderate economic growth without a recession, or the US experiences a classic economic cycle and tips into a recession at a later date due to the US Federal Reserve raising interest rates.

By Shilling’s count, there have been 12 occasions since World War 2 that the Fed raising interest rates has resulted in a recession. Presently, this would appear some time away  given the Fed has indicated it is unlikely to undertake further interest rate increases in 2019.

The later scenario is most consistent with the consensus view – it is a little early to call a US recession, yet the risks of a recession within the next 2-3 years are growing. For the time being the US continues to expand and will enter its longest period of economic expansion in modern history in July 2019. Recession will eventually be triggered by the Fed increasing interest rates resulting in a more “garden variety” recession.

 

And this leads to a key point in Shilling’s article, the word recession invokes images of a Global Financial Crisis (GFC) type outcome – not surprising given this was our last experience.

His expectations are that the next US recession will not be as severe as the GFC.

He has a similar view with respect to the next US “Bear” market (i.e. fall in value of greater than 20%).

I’ll leave it to him to explain:

“Recession” conjures up specters of 2007-2009, the most severe business downturn since the 1930s in which the S&P 500 Index plunged 57 percent from its peak to its trough. The Fed raised its target rate from 1 percent in June 2004 to 5.25 percent in June 2006, but the main event was the financial crisis spawned by the collapse in the vastly-inflated subprime mortgage market.

 Similarly, the central bank increased its policy rate from 4.75 percent in June 1999 to 6.5 percent in May 2000.  Still, the mild 2001 recession that followed was principally driven by the collapse in the late 1990s dot-com bubble that pushed the tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index down by a whopping 78 percent.

The 1973-1975 recession, the second deepest since the 1930s, resulted from the collapse in the early 1970s inflation hedge buying of excess inventories. That deflated the S&P 500 by 48.2 percent. The federal funds rate hike from 9 percent in February 1974 to 13 percent in July of that year was a minor contributor.

The remaining eight post-World War II recessions were not the result of major financial or economic excesses, but just the normal late economic cycle business and investor overconfidence. The average drop in the S&P 500 was 21.2 percent.

 

In short, history shows that US sharemarkets drop by about 21% when the economy falls into recession, remembering the S&P 500 fell almost 20% during the last three months of 2018.

 

Inverted Yield Curve

As you will know, the slower economic growth has resulted in several Central Banks, with the RBNZ the latest, to turn more cautious on the outlook for economic growth and inflation. This list includes the US Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, and Reserve Bank of Australia.

This sudden change in direction of interest rate policy (Monetary Policy) has witnessed a flattening of yield curves (when longer-dated interest rates are at similar level to shorter-term interest rates).

In the US, the yield curve has become inverted, where longer-term interest rates are lower than shorter-term interest rates.

The inversion has primarily been due to the significant reduction in longer-term interest rates rather than the increase in shorter-term interest rates (inversions normally occur when short term interest rates are increased rapidly by Central Banks).

The significance of this is that prior to the last 7 US recessions the yield curve has inverted each time.

Nevertheless, not every time the yield curve inverts does a recession follow and on average the inversion of the yield curve occurs 12 months prior to a recession.

 

As you can imagine a lot has been written in recent weeks on the implications of a negative yield curve, I would like to highlight the following three articles, which pretty much sums up the current debate:

  1. A very recent interview with the person who undertook in 1986 the pioneering work on yield-curve inversions and their foreshadowing of economic downturns (RA-Conversations)
  2. Mohamed A. El Erain’s article of “Beware of Misreading Inverting Yield Curve “
  3. BCA LinkedIn Post, Yield Curve Inversions and S&P 500 Peaks, don’t get bogged down in the noise.

 

It would appear, that when it comes to the current inversion of the US yield curve, we have “Nothing to fear but fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt). This is certainly the view of Mohamed A. El Erain.

 

I have blogged previously on the history of inverted yield curves and their predictive ability. Similar there is also a previous post on the anatomy of equity Bear markets.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

The Regret Proof Portfolio

Based on analysis involving the input of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.

Insurance companies regularly implement a two-portfolio approach as part of their Liability Driven Investment (LDI) program: a liability matching portfolio and a return seeking portfolio.

It is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for an individual: Goal-hedging portfolio and a performance seeking portfolio. #EDHEC

Although there is much more to it than outlined by the article below, I find it interesting the solution of two portfolios came from the angle of behavioural economics.

I also think it is an interesting concept given recent market volatility, but also for the longer-term.

 

Background Discussion

Kahneman, discussed the idea of a “regret-proof policy” at a recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

“The idea that we had was to develop what we called a ‘regret-proof policy,’” Kahneman explained. “Even when things go badly, they are not going to rush to change their mind or change and to start over,”.

According to Kahneman, the optimal allocation for someone that is prone to regret and the optimal allocation for somebody that is not prone to regret are “really not the same.”

In developing a “regret-proof policy” or “regret minimization” Portfolio allows advisors to bring up “things that people may not be thinking of, including the possibility of regret, including the possibility of them wanting to change their mind, which is a bad idea generally.”

 

In developing a regret proof portfolio, they asked people to imagine various scenarios, generally bad scenarios, and asked at what point do you want to bail out or change your mind.

Kahneman, noted that most people — even the very wealthy people — are extremely loss averse.

“There is a limit to how much money they’re willing to put at risk,” Kahneman said. “You ask, ‘How much fortune are you willing to lose?’ Quite frequently you get something on the order of 10%.”

 

Investment Solution

The investment solution is for people to “have two portfolios — one is the risky portfolio and one is a much safer portfolio,” Kahneman explained. The two portfolios are managed separately, and people get results on each of the portfolios separately.

“That was a way that we thought we could help people be comfortable with the amount of risk that they are taking,” he said.

In effect this places a barrier between the money that the client wants to protect and the money the client is willing to take risk on.

Kahneman added that one of the portfolios will always be doing better than market — either the safer one or the risky one.

“[That] gives some people sense of accomplishment there,” he said. “But mainly it’s this idea of using risk to the level you’re comfortable. That turns out to not be a lot, even for very wealthy people.”

 

I would note a few important points:

  1. The allocation between the safe and return seeking portfolio should not be determined by risk profile and age alone. By way of example, the allocation should be based primarily on investment goals and the client’s other assets/source of income.
  2. The allocation over time between the two portfolios should not be changed based on a naïve glide path.
  3. There is an ability to tactically allocate between the two portfolios. This should be done to take advantage of market conditions and within a framework of increasing the probability of meeting a Client’s investment objectives / goals.
  4. The “safer portfolio” should look more like an annuity. This means it should be invested along the lines that it will likely meet an individual’s cashflow / income replacement objectives in retirement e.g. a portfolio of cash is not a safe portfolio in the context of delivering sufficient replacement income in retirement.

 

Robust investment solutions, particularly those designed as retirement solutions need to display Flexicurity.   They need to provide security in generating sufficient replacement income in retirement and yet offer flexibility in meeting other investment objectives e.g. bequests.  They also need to be cost effective.

The concepts and approaches outlined above need to be considered and implemented in any modern-day investment solution that assists clients in achieving their investment goals.

Such consideration will assist in reducing the risk of clients adjusting their investment strategies at inappropriate times because of regret and the increased fear that comes with market volatility.

Being more goal focussed, rather than return focused, will help in getting investors through the ups and downs of market cycles. A two-portfolio investment approach may well assist in this regard as well.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

2018 was a shocking Year

Well its official, 2018 was a shocking year in which to make money. Not for some time, 1972, has so many asset classes failed to deliver 5% or more in value.

In terms of absolute loses, e.g. Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns than 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, 2018 is historical.

 

Here is a run through the numbers:

International Equities were down around 7.4% in local currency terms in 2018:

  • The US was one of the “better” performing markets, yet despite reaching historical highs in January and then again in September, had its worst year since the GFC, December was is its worst December return outcome since the 1930s.
  • The US market entered 2018 on a record run, experiencing it longest period in history without incurring a 5% or more fall in value.  This was abruptly ended in February.
  • During the year the US market reached its longest period in history without incurring a Bear market, defined as a fall in value of more than 20%. Albeit, it has come very close to ending this record in recent months.
  • Elsewhere, many global equity markets are down over 20% from their 2018 peaks and almost all are down over 10%.
  • Markets across Europe and Japan fell by over 12% – 14% in 2018
  • The US outperformed the rest of the world given its better economic performance.
  • The New Zealand sharemarket outperformed, up 4.9%!

Commodities, as measured by the Bloomberg Index, fell over 2018. Oil had its first negative year since 2015, falling 20% in November from 4 year highs reached in October. Even Gold fell in value.

Hedge Fund indices delivered negative returns.

Global credit indices also delivered negative returns, as did High Yield

Emerging Market equities where negative, underperforming developed markets.

Global listed Property and Infrastructure indices also returned negative returns.

Fixed Interest was more mixed, Global Market Indices returned around 1.7%:

  • US fixed interest delivered negative returns for the year, as did US Inflation Protected fixed interest securities. US Longer-term securities underperformed shorter-term securities.
  • NZ fixed interest managed around +4.7% for the year.

The US dollar was stronger over 2018, this provided some relief for those investing outside of their home currency and maintained a low level of currency hedging.

The above analysis does not include the unlisted asset classes such as Private Equity, Unlisted Infrastructure, and Direct Property investments.

 

Two last points:

  • Balance Bear, under normal circumstances, fixed interest, particularly longer-term securities, would perform strongly when equity markets deliver such negative returns as experienced in 2018. This certainly occurred over the last quarter of 2018 when concerns over the outlook for global economic growth became a key driver of market performance. Nevertheless, over the year, fixed interest has failed to provide the usual diversification benefits to a Balanced Portfolio (60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income). Many Balanced Portfolios around the world delivered negative returns in 2018 and failed to beat Cash.
  • Volatility has increased. Research by Goldman Sachs highlights this. In 2018 the US S&P 500 Index experienced 110 days of 1%+ movements in value, this compares to only 10 days in 2017.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Recent Market volatility and end of year market and economic forecasts

There are lots of economic and market forecasts at this time of the year. Many are easily accessed on the internet.

Does anyone care about these forecasts? Or do we place too much emphasis on these forecast? These topics are covered in a recent Institutional Investor article. Some good points are made.

 

The current market volatility is likely to be front of mind presently for many investors. Others may be seeing it as an opportunity.  What ever your view of 2019, a longer term perspective should always be maintained.

Either way, it has been a tough year to make money .

 

Most likely, your view of the current market volatility is closely tied to your forecast for 2019.

On this note, there are number of reasons to be “relaxed” about the current market volatility as outlined in the recent Think Advisor article.

 

Why should we be relaxed about the current bout of volatility? The most pertinent reasons from the article are as follows:

The US economy is still strong

US Economic growth accelerated in 2018 while the rest of world slowed. Global growth is expected to moderate in 2019 from the current pace in 2018.

Albeit, the US economy is still strong with unemployment at its lowest level since 1969, consumer and business confidence remains healthy, forward looking indicators are supportive of ongoing economic growth.

Although growth is slowing in Europe and China the environment remains supportive of ongoing economic expansion.

Global sharemarkets appear to have already adjusted for a more moderate level of global economic growth in 2019.

 

Stock Fundamentals are okay

Global corporate earnings are forecast grow over the next twelve months, supported by the economic backdrop outlined above.

As alluded to above, value has appeared in many global markets given recent declines.

 

Yield curve inversion

Markets are pre-occupied with the possibility of a US inverted yield curve. This appears overdone. Yield curve Inversion is when the yield (rate of interest) is lower on longer dated fixed interest securities compared to shorter dated securities. Under normal circumstance longer dated securities have a higher yield than shorter dated securities.

As highlighted previously  an inverted yield curve is a necessary but not sufficient pre-condition to recession. Not every yield curve inversion is followed by a recession .

There is also a considerable time lag between yield curve inversion and economic recession. A period of time in which sharemarkets have on average performed strongly.

Lastly, the traditional measure of yield curve inversion, 3 month yield vs 10 year yield, is not inverted!

 

Of the reasons provided in the article, the above are the most relevant and worthy of taking note of.

Nevertheless, global trade is a key source of the current market volatility and is likely to remain so for sometime.  Likewise it may take time for markets to gain comfort that global economic growth has stabilised at a lower rate of expansion. Therefore, continued market volatility is likely.

Alternatively, a pause in the US Federal Reserve raising short term interest rates would also likely provide a boost to global sharemarkets.

 

PIMCO, as recently reported, highlight that the risk of a recession in the US has climbed in 2019.

This prediction is made in the context that the US is nearing a decade long period of economic expansion, the longest period in its history without experiencing an economic recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth).

PIMCO note “The probability of a U.S. recession over the next 12 months has risen to about 30 percent recently and is thus higher than at any point in this nine-year-old expansion, Even so, the models are flashing orange rather than red.”

“The last few months have given us a sense of the types of risks that are out there, that both the economy and markets are going to face in 2019,” ….. “At a minimum, like we have seen this year, expect ongoing volatility and that’s true across all segments of the financial markets.”

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

  

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

It has been a tough Year to make Money

2018 has been a tough year in which to make money.

2018 is “The worst time to make money in the markets since 1972” according to a recent Bloomberg article.

“Things have not been this bad since Richard Nixon’s presidency”.

Research undertake by Ned Davis Research, who places markets into eight big asset classes, everything from bonds (Fixed Interest) to US and international stocks and commodities, not one of them is “on track to post a return this year of more than 5%, a phenomenon last observed in 1972”….

As they note, in terms of absolute loses, think Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns in 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, “2018 is starting to look historic.”

Nothing has worked this year.  Year to date: global equities are down, as are emerging markets, hedge fund indices, global commodities (even oil), International Credit, Global High Yield, US Fixed Interest, US Inflation Protected Bonds, while Global Aggregate Fixed Interest have eked out a small gain.  Investments into unlisted assets have been more rewarding.

 

“That’s all but unique in history. Normally when something falls, something else gains. Amid the financial catastrophe of 2008, Treasuries rallied (increased in value). In 1974, commodities were a bright spot. In 2002, it was REITs. In 2018, there’s nowhere to run.”

 

Outcomes are a little better if you are a New Zealand (NZ) based investor, Cash is on track to return around 2%, 6 month Term Deposits 3.5%, NZ Fixed Interest is up around 4%, and the NZ Sharemarket is currently up 3%.  Still they are all short of 5%.  Meanwhile the recent strength in the NZ dollar has detracted from offshore returns.

 

It has been a tough year, global equities reached all-time highs in January, fell heavily in February and March, only to recover up to October, with the US Sharemarket reaching a new historical high.

Since October yearly gains have been erased due to a number of factors, some, but not all, of these factors are briefly outlined below.

 

In short, as highlighted by a recent Barron’s article markets appear to be panicking over everything.

Recent market drivers in brief:

  • Primarily concern for Sharemarkets has been a reduction in global economic growth expectations. Global investor sentiment toward the pace of global economic growth in 2019 has become more cautious over recent months. Global sharemarkets have adjusted accordingly. Albeit, the sharmarket adjustment does appear to be overdone relative to the likely moderating in global growth in 2019, which has also  largely been anticipated.
  • Global Trade concerns continue to negatively impact global markets e.g. Australia and commodities, primarily the ongoing negotiations between the US and China are a source of market volatility and uncertainty.
  • Brexit more recently. The UK are going to have to pay a price for leaving the EU, why? too stop other countries ever considering leaving the EU as a viable option. Unfortunately, while Brexit is an important issue and will be a source of volatility, the negative consequences will largely sit with the UK rather than the rest of the world.
  • There has been considerable oil price volatility, the price of oil fell by over 20% in November.
  • There has also been uncertainty as to likely pace of increases in the Federal Funds Rate by the US Federal Reserve (US Central Bank).

 

Inverted Yield Curve

Lastly, markets have also latched onto the inversion of the US Yield curve.

Inversion is when the yield (rate of interest) is lower on longer dated fixed interest securities compared to shorter dated securities. Under normal circumstance longer dated securities have a higher yield than shorter dated securities.

An “inverted” yield curve has been useful, though not perfect, in predicting economic recession and equity bear markets (when sharemarkets fall in value of over 20%),

 

On this occasion the market has focused on the three year security versus the five year security.

Normally, the market focuses on the three month versus the 10 year security as the best predictor of economic recession.  For a further discussion see Risk of Economic Recession and Inverted Yield Curve and US Recession warning. An inverted yield curve is a necessary but not sufficient condition in predicting a recession, and there is often a lag.

 

As the Barron article highlights: “Since 1965, the three-year yield has been higher than the five-year on seven different occasions. In 1973, the stock market had already sunk into a recession. In the other six instances, the median distance to a recession was 25 months—or more than two years. The S&P 500 went on to gain a median 20% over the 24 months following such an inversion. “Historically, not only have returns tended to be very strong, but the bear market has generally been years away,”

 

Happy investing.

 

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

 

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

 

Balanced Bear Market

A “Balanced Bear” is when both equities and bonds sell off together.

As a result, a Balanced Fund, 60% invested in the stockmarket (equities) and 40% invested in fixed income (bonds), has a larger than normally expected period of underperformance – a Balanced Fund Bear Market.

During these periods the diversification benefits of bonds relative to equities disappears.

As you will know, historically if the stock market is selling off sharply, money is moving into fixed income. This drives up the price of fixed income securities helping to partially offset the negative returns from the stock market.  A Balance Fund can come through these periods of equity market uncertainty relatively unscathed.

In a Balance Bear, equities are falling in value and fixed income is also falling in value given interest rates are rising (noting as interest rates rise the price, and therefore value, of a fixed income security falls).

This type of market environment was evident in early 2018 and was a prominent feature of the market volatility in early October 2018.

 

The thesis of the Balanced Bear has been promoted by Goldman Sachs and their equity analyst Christian Mueller-Glissmann raised the idea on CNBC in February of this year.

Goldman Sachs have written extensively on the Balance bear using historical US financial market data.

Importantly, a Balanced Fund is now into its longest period of outperformance, reflecting the very strong record run in US equities since 2009 and that interest rates, albeit they have risen from their June 2016 lows, are still at historical lows and have provided solid returns over the longer time frames.  The same can be said about New Zealand “Balanced Funds”.

 

The Anatomy of equity bear markets is well documented, not so for a Balanced Fund bear market.

In this regards Goldman Sachs (GS) has undertaken a wealth of analysis.

 

Requirements for a Balanced Bear – usually a Balance Bear requires a material economic growth or inflation shock.

In this regard, the largest Balance Fund declines over the last 100 years have been in or around US recessions (economic growth shock).

Nevertheless, Goldman Sachs also found that the Balance Fund can have long periods of low real returns (i.e. after inflation) without a recession e.g. mid 40s and late 70s. These periods are associated with accelerating inflation.

 

Naturally, equities dominate the risk within a Balanced Fund, therefore large equity market declines e.g. Black Monday 1987 are associated with periods of underperformance of Balanced Funds.

Not surprisingly, most of the largest Balanced Fund falls in value have been during US recessions, but not all e.g. 1994 Bond market bubble collapsing, stagflation of 1970 (low economic growth and high inflation), 1970’s oil shock.  It is worth noting that the 1987 sharemarket crash was not associated with a US recession.

 

Also of note, the stagflation periods of the 1970’’s and 80’s are periods in which there were large falls in both equities and bonds.

 

Bond market bears – are usually triggered by Central Banks, such as the US Federal Reserve, raising short term interest rates in response to strong growth and an overheating of the economy.  Bond market bears have been less common in modern history given the introduction of inflation targets anchoring inflation expectations.

 

Equity markets can absorb rising interest rates up to the point that higher interest rates are beginning to restrict economic activity. An unanticipated increase in interest rates is negative for sharemarkets and will lead to higher levels of volatility e.g. 1994 or recent tapper tantrum of May 2013.

 

As noted in previous blogs, most equity bear markets have been during recessions…but not all.

Goldman Sachs makes this point as well, noting the majority of 60/40 drawdowns of more than 10% have been due to equity bear markets, often around recessions. They note it is very seldom the case that equities deliver positive returns during a 60/40 drawdown (they estimate only in c.5% of cases).

With regards to recessions, Goldman Sachs note that there have been 22 recessions since 1900 and 22 S&P 500 bear markets. However, not every bear market automatically coincided with a recession in the last 100 years – out of the 22 since 1900, 15 were around a recession – 7 due to other factors.

 

Also, high equity valuations don’t signal a bear market. Nevertheless, they do signal below average returns over the medium to longer term. Albeit, sharemarket bear markets are not associated with low valuations!

 

Therefore, assessing the risk of a US recession is critical at this juncture.  As covered in a recent Post the “warning signs” of recession are not present currently based on a number of US Recession warning indicators.

 

Lastly, as also noted in a previous Post it is very difficult to predict bear markets and the costs of trying to time markets is very expensive.  The maintenance of a truly diversified portfolio and portfolio tilting will likely deliver superior return outcomes over the longer term.

A more robust and truly diversified portfolio reduces portfolio volatility increasing the likelihood of investors reaching their investment goals.

 

It is a good time to reflect on the diversification of your portfolio at this time in the market cycle. As Goldman Sachs note, both equities and bonds appear expensive relative to the last 100 years.

In a Balanced Bear scenario there are very few places to hide.

  

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

US Recession Warning Indicators

As you will know the US economy is into its second longest period of economic expansion which commenced in June 2009.

Should the US economy continue to perform until July 2019, which appears likely, the US will enter its longest period of economic expansion. The longest expansion was 10 years, occurring during the tech expansion of the 1990s, the current expansion is nine years.

Similarly, the US sharemarket is into its longest bull market run, having not experienced a drop-in value of greater than 20% (bear market) since March 2009.

As a rule, sharemarkets generally enter bear markets in the event of a recession.

 

Nevertheless, while a recession is necessary, it is not sufficient for a sharemarket to enter a bear market.

Since 1957, the S&P 500, a measure of the US sharemarket:

  • three bear markets where “not” associated with a recession; and
  • three recessions happened without a bear market.

 

Statistically:

  • The average Bull Market period has lasted 8.8 years with an average cumulated total return of 461%.
  • The average Bear Market period lasted 1.3 years with an average loss of -41
  • Historically, and on average, equity markets tend not to peak until six – twelve months before the start of a recession.

 

Therefore, let’s look at some of the Recession indicators.

In a recent article by Brandywine, they ran through some of the key indicators for a US recession.

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDP Nowcast.

This measure is forecasting annualised economic growth of 4.4% in the third quarter of 2018. This follows actual annualised growth of 4.2% in the second quarter of 2018.

Actual US economic data is strong currently. Based on the following list:

  • US unemployment is 3.7%, its lowest since 1969
  • Consumer Confidence is at an 18 year high
  • US wages are growing at around 3%, the savings rate is close to 6%, leaving plenty of room for consumers to increase spending
  • Small business confidence is at all-time highs
  • Manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys are at their best levels for some time (cycle highs)

 

Leading Indicators

The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Indicators, an index of 10 components that includes the likes of the ISM New Order Index, building permits, stock prices, and the Treasury yield curve.

The Conference Board’s Index is supportive of ongoing economic activity in the US.

 

Yield Curve

The shape of the yield curve, which is normally upward sloping, meaning longer term interest rates are higher than short term interest rates, has come in for close attention over the last six months. I wrote a about the prospect of a negative yield curve earlier in the year.

An inverted yield curve, where shorter term interest rates (e.g. 2 years) are higher than longer term interest rates (e.g. 10 years) has a pretty good record in predicting a recession, in 18 months’ time on average.

With the recent rise of longer dated interest rates the prospect of an inverted yield curve now looks less likely.

Albeit, with the US Federal Reserve is likely to raise short term interest rates again this year and another 3-4 times next year the shape of the yield curve requires on going monitoring.

Having said that, an inverted yield curve alone is not sufficient as a predictor of economic recession and needs to be considered in conjunction with a number of other factors.

 

Brandywine conclude, “what does a review of some well-known recession indicators tell us about the current—and future—state of the U.S. expansion? The information provided by the indicators is mixed, but favors the continuation of the current expansion. The leading indicators are telling us the economy should continue to expand well into next year—at least.”

In favour of ongoing economic expansion is low unemployment, rising wages, simulative financial conditions (e.g. low interest rates are supportive of ongoing growth, as are high equity prices), high savings rate of consumer and their low levels of debt. Lastly government spending and solid corporate profitability is supportive of economic activity over the medium term.

As a word of caution, ongoing US – China trade dispute could derail global growth. Other factors to consider are higher interest rates in combination with a higher oil price.

Noting, Equity markets generally don’t contract until interest rates have gone into restrictive territory. This also appears some time away but is a key factor to monitor.

Lastly, a combination of higher oil prices and higher interest rates is negative for economic growth.

 

I have used on average a lot in this Post, just remember: “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.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement