The Traditional Diversified Fund is outdated – greater customisation of the client’s investment solution is required

Although it has been evident for several years, the current investment environment highlights the shortcomings of the one size fits all multi-asset portfolio (commonly known as Diversified Funds such as Conservative, Balanced, and Growth Funds, which maintain static Strategic Asset Allocations, arising to the reference of the “Policy Portfolio”).

The mass-produced Diversified Funds downplay the importance of customisation by assuming investment problems can be portrayed within a simple risk and return framework.

However, saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring tailoring of the investment solution.   Different investors have different goals and circumstances.  This cannot be easily achieved within a one size fits all Diversified Fund.

Modern-day investment solutions involve greater customisation.  This is particularly true for those near or in retirement.

A massive step toward offering increased customisation of the Wealth Management investment solution is the framework of two distinctive “reference” portfolios: A Return Seeking Portfolio; and Liability-Hedging (Capital Protected) Portfolio.

Details and implementation of this framework are provided in the next section.  The benefits of the framework include:

  • A better assessment of the risks needed to be taken to reach a client’s essential goals and how much more risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals;
  • An approach that will help facilitate more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved; and
  • A more efficient use of invested capital.  This is a very attractive attribute in the current low interest rate environment.  The framework will be more responsive to changing interest rates in the future.

These benefits cannot be efficiently and effectively achieved within the traditional Diversified Fund one size fits all framework; greater customisation of the investment solution is required.

With modern-day technology greater customisation of the investment solution can easily be achieved.

The technology solution is enhanced with an appropriate investment framework also in place.

Implementation of the Modern-Day Wealth Management Investment Solution

The reasons for the death of the Policy Portfolio (Diversified Fund) and rationale for the modern-day Wealth Management investment solution are provided below.

Modern-day investment solutions have two specific investment portfolios:  

  • Return seeking Portfolio that is a truly diversified growth portfolio, owning a wide array of different return seeking investment strategies; and
  • Capital Protected (Liability) Portfolio, is more complex, particularly in the current investment environment.  See comments below.

The allocations between the Return Seeking portfolio and Capital Protected portfolio would be different depending on the client’s individual circumstances.  Importantly, consideration is given to a greater array of client specific factors than just risk appetite and risk and return outcomes e.g. other sources of income, assets outside super.

Although the return seeking portfolio can be the same for all clients, the Capital Protected (Liability) portfolio should be tailored to the client’s needs and objectives, being very responsive to their future cashflow/income needs, it needs to be more “custom-made”.

The solution also involves a dynamic approach to allocate between the two portfolios depending on market conditions and the client’s situation in relation to the likelihood of them meeting their investment objectives.  This is a more practical and customer centric approach relative to undertaking tactical allocations in relation to a Policy Portfolio.

The framework easily allows for the inclusion of a diverse range of individual investment strategies.  Ideally a menu offering an array of investment strategies can be accessed allowing the customisation of the investment solution for the client by the investment adviser.

Implementation is key, which involves identifying and combining different investment strategies to build customised robust investment solutions for clients.

The death of the Policy Portfolio

Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), the bedrock of most current portfolios, including the Policy Portfolio, was developed in the 1950s.

Although key learnings can be taken from MPT, particularly the benefits of diversification, enhancements have been made based on the ongoing academic and practitioner research into building more robust investment solutions.  See here for a background discussion.

The Policy Portfolio is the strategic asset allocation (SAA) of a portfolio to several different asset classes deemed to be most appropriate for the investor e.g. Diversified Funds

It is a single Portfolio solution.

A key industry development, and the main driver of the move away from the old paradigm, is the realisation that investment solutions should not be framed in terms of one all-encompassing Policy Portfolio but instead should be framed in terms of two distinct reference Portfolios.

A very good example of the two portfolios framework is provided by EDHEC-Risk Institute and is explained in the context of a Wealth Management solution.  They describe the two reference portfolios framework involving:

  1. Liability-hedging portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks to match future income requirements of the individual in retirement, and
  2. Performance Seeking Portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks growth in asset value.

The concept of two separate portfolios is not new, it dates to finance studies from the 1950s on fund separation theorems (which is an area of research separate to the MPT).

The concept of two portfolios has also been endorsed by 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.  Kahneman discusses the idea of a “regret-proof policy” here.

The death of the Policy Portfolio was first raised by Peter Bernstein in 2003.

Reasons for the death of Policy Portfolio include:

  • there is no such thing as a meaningful Policy Portfolio. Individual circumstances are different.
  • Investors should be dynamic; they need to react to changing market conditions and the likelihood of meeting their investment goals – a portfolio should not be held constant for a long period of time.

Many institutional investors have moved toward liability driven investment (LDI) solutions, separating out the hedging of future liabilities and building another portfolio component that is return seeking.  More can be found on LDI here.

These “institutional” investment approaches, LDI, portfolio separation, and being more dynamic are finding their way into Wealth Management solutions around the world.

Evolution of Wealth Management – Implementation of the new Paradigm

In relation to Wealth Management, the new paradigm has led to Goal-Based investing (GBI) for individuals. GBI focuses is on meeting investor’s goals along similar lines that LDI does for institutional investors.

As explained by EDHEC Risk Goal-Based Investing involves:

  1. Disaggregation of investor preferences into a hierarchical list of goals, with a key distinction between essential and aspirational goals, and the mapping of these groups to hedging portfolios possessing corresponding risk characteristics (Liability Hedging Portfolio).
  2. On the other hand, it involves an efficient dynamic allocation to these dedicated hedging portfolios and a common performance seeking portfolio.

GBI is consistent with the two portfolios approach, fund separation, LDI, and undertaking a dynamic investment approach.

The first portfolio is the Liability Hedging Portfolio to meet future income requirements, encompassing all essential goals.

The objective of this Portfolio is to secure with some certainty future retirement income requirements. It is typically dominated by longer dated high quality fixed income securities, including inflation linked securities.  It does not have a high exposure to cash. In the context of meeting future cashflow requirements in retirement Cash is the riskiest asset, unless the cashflows need are to be met in the immediate future.  For further discussion on the riskiness of cash in the context of retirement portfolios see here.

The second portfolio is the return seeking portfolio or growth portfolio. This is used to attain aspirational goals, objectives above essential goals. It is also required if the investor needs to take on more risk to achieve their essential goals in retirement i.e. a younger investor would have a higher allocation to the Return Seeking Portfolio.

The Growth Portfolio would be exposed to a diversified array of risk exposures, including equities, developed and emerging markets, factor exposures, and unlisted assets e.g. unlisted infrastructure, direct property, and Private Equity.

Allocations between the Hedging Portfolio and the Growth Portfolio would depend on an individual’s circumstances e.g. how far away they are from reaching their desired standard of living in retirement.

This provides a fantastic framework for determining the level of risk to take in meeting essential goals and how much risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals.

This will will lead to a more efficient use of invested capital and a better assessment of the investment risks involved.

Importantly, the framework will help facilitate a more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework also helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved.

For those wanting a greater appreciation of EDHEC’s framework please see their short paper: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How An Industrial Revolution is about to Take Place in Money Management and Why it Involves a Shift from Investment Products to Investment Solutions  (see: EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM)

A more technical review of these issues has also been undertaken by EDHEC.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The Case for holding Government Bonds and fixed income

The case for holding Government Bonds is all about certainty.  The question isn’t why would you own bonds but, in the current environment, why wouldn’t you own bonds to deliver certainty in such uncertain times?

This is the central argument for holding government bonds within a portfolio.  The case for holding government bonds is well presented in a recent article by Darren Langer, from Nikko Asset Management, Why you can’t afford not to own government bonds.

As he argues, government bonds are the only asset where you know with absolute certainty the amount of income you will get over its life and how much it will be worth on maturity. For most other assets, you will only ever know the true return in arrears.

The article examines some of the reasons why owning government bonds makes good sense in today’s investment and economic climate. It is well worth reading.

Why you can’t afford not to own government bonds

The argument against holding government bonds are based on expectations of higher interest rates, higher inflation, and current extremely low yields.

As argued in the article, although these are all very valid reasons for not holding government bonds, they all require a world economy that is growing strongly.  This is far from the case currently.

They key point being made here, in my opinion, is that the future is unknown, and there are numerous likely economic and market outcomes.

Therefore, investors need to consider an array of likely scenarios and test their assumptions of what is “likely” to happen.  For example, what is the ‘normal’ level of interest rates? Are they likely to return to normal levels when the experience since the Global Financial Crisis has been a slow grind to zero?

Personally, although inflation is not an issue now, I do think we should be preparing portfolios for a period of higher inflation, as I outline here.  Albeit, this does not negate the role of fixed income in a portfolio.

The article argues that current conditions appear to be different and given this it is not unrealistic to expect that inflation and interest rates are likely to remain low for many years and significantly lower than the past 30 years.

In an uncertain world, government bonds provide certainty. Given multiple economic and market scenarios to consider, maintaining an allocation to government bonds in a genuinely diverse and robust portfolio does not appear unreasonable on this basis.

Return expectations

Investors should be prepared for lower rates of returns across all assets classes, not just fixed income.

A likely scenario is that governments and central banks will target an environment of stable and low interest rates for a prolonged period.

In this type of environment, government bonds have the potential to provide a reasonable return with some certainty. The article argues, the benefits to owning bonds under these conditions are two-fold:

  1. A positively sloped yield curve in a market where yields are at or near their ceiling levels. Investors can move out the curve (i.e. by buying longer maturity bonds) to pick up higher coupon income without taking on more risk.
  2. Investors can, over time, ride a position down the positively-sloped yield curve (i.e. over time the bond will gain in value from the passing of time because shorter rates are lower than longer rates). This is often described as roll-down return.

The article concludes, that although fixed income may lose money during times of strong economic growth, rising interest rates, and higher inflation, these losses can be offset by the gains on riskier assets in a portfolio.  Losses on fixed income are small compared to potential losses on other asset classes and are generally recovered more quickly.

No one would suggest a 100% allocation to government bonds is a balanced investment strategy; likewise, not having an allocation to bonds should also be considered unbalanced. 

“But a known return in an uncertain world, where returns on all asset classes are likely to be lower than the past, might just be a good thing to have in a portfolio.”

The future role of fixed income in a robust portfolio has been covered regularly by Kiwi Investor Blog, the latest Post can be found here: What do Investors need in the current environment? – Rethink the 40 in 60/40 Portfolios?

The article on the case for government bonds helps bring some balance to the discussion around fixed income and the points within should be considered when determining portfolio investment strategies in the current environment.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

CAIA Survey Results – The attraction of Alternative Investments and future trends

Alternative Investments have doubled as a share of global asset markets since 2003.

They have moved from 6% or $4.8 trillion of the global investment universe in 2003 to over $13.4 trillion, or 12% of the global investment universe in 2018.

 

CAIA Association members expect alternatives to grow to between 18% and 24% of the global investible universe by 2025.

Further growth is expected, based on the combination of very low interest rates, the shortfall in superannuation accounts to meet future retirement obligations, the maturing of emerging markets, and structural shifts in capital formation e.g. companies are remaining private for longer.

Private equity and venture capital are expected to benefit most from the future growth in alternative investments.

Private debt and real asset allocations are also expected to grow.

Although future growth in liquid alternatives is expected, hedge fund growth is anticipated to trail.

 

Manager selection is key to success within the alternatives universe given the dispersion in manager performance.

 

These are the key findings of the recently published CAIA Association report, The Next Decade of Alternative Investments: From Adolescence to Responsible Citizenship.

The assessments and predictions of the survey are based on the results of a comprehensives survey of over 1,000 CAIA members.

CAIA = Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst, the Association website can be accessed here.

 

The Attraction of Alternatives

CAIA members expect alternatives to grow to between 18 – 24% of the global investible universe by 2025, as highlighted in the following graph from the CAIA report.

Percentage of Global Investible Market CAIA

Of note, Retail investors have around 5% of their investments in alternatives, institutional investors have substantially higher allocations.

This is significant, it is increasingly becoming apparent that continuing to invest in cash, fixed income, and developed market sharemarket alone is unlikely to generate the returns necessary to meet future retirement obligations.

Those saving for retirement have several options, including:

  1. Reducing their expectations as to the standard of living they wish to have in retirement;
  2. Increase their level of savings = work longer and/or forgo current consumption for a higher level of consumption in retirement; and
  3. Find new sources of returns.

 

From a portfolio perspective, the introduction of alternative investments, including hedge funds, liquid alternatives, private equities, and real assets can provide new sources of returns.

Investing outside of the developed markets, with appropriate exposures to emerging market currencies, fixed income, and equities can also provide new sources of return for many portfolios. The current environment offers several potential opportunities outside the developed and traditional fixed income markets.

 

In relation to alternatives, they are generally added to portfolios for two primary reasons:

  • Enhance Returns e.g. private equity and venture capital
  • Diversification – e.g. hedge funds and liquid alternative to reduce portfolio declines at time of severe sharemarket market fails as currently experienced.

Inflation hedging and yield enhancements are other reasons for allocated toward alternatives.

The following graph presents the rationale for investing in alternatives based on the CAIA Members surveyed.

Rationale for investing in Alternatives CAIA

 

As an indication to how much institutional investors have invested in alternatives, US Pension Funds increased their allocation to alternatives from 8.7% to 15.7% over the period 2001 and 2009.

Since 2009 they have increased their alternative allocations to 27%. The largest allocations include Private Equity, Real Estate, and hedged funds.

 

Interestingly, more than 50% of CAIA Association Members expect to have a greater allocation to private equity and venture capital in 2025 than they current hold.

According to CAIA, this is consistent with a Prequin survey that most investors are likely to continue to grow allocations to private equity and private debt over the next five years.

 

Manager Selection

As the Graph below from the CAIA report highlights there is a wide dispersion of manager performance in a number of strategies, particularly private equity, venture capital, infrastructure, and hedge funds.

By contrast, manager performance dispersion within public equities (listed markets) and global fixed income managers is relatively tight.

Therefore, avoiding underperforming managers is a key success factor when investing in alternatives.

Manager Performance Dispersion CAIA

 

Future Trends

Hedge Funds and Liquid Alternatives

Portfolio diversification was the key rationale for including hedge funds, managed futures, and liquid alternatives in a portfolio amongst more than half the CAIA members surveyed.

Lessening the impact of severe equity markets declines on portfolios was a motivating factor “over 92% believe that hedge funds will outperform global equity during times of weakening stock prices.”

As the report emphasises, “This script played out dramatically in the first quarter of 2020 and is reinforced through history: volatility of returns on hedge fund indices is approximately half that of global stock market indices.”

Assets managed by hedge funds has plateaued over recent years. “Among CAIA Members, two-thirds of those who allocate to hedge funds have an allocation of less than 10%, while more than one-quarter have an allocation exceeding 15%………….. only 37% of CAIA Members who currently allocate to hedge funds expect to have a higher allocation in 2025 than they do today.”

Growth has been experienced across liquid alternatives. Assets allocated to liquid alternatives have grown to $900 billion, up from $200 billion in 2008. Liquid alternatives have grown from 12% of hedge fund assets in 2008 to over 22% today.

With the growth in liquid alternatives, which tend to be more transparent, provide greater levels of liquidity, and cheaper fees compared to hedged funds, it is of little surprise that hedge fund fees have declined as noted in the CAIA report.

 

A comparison of the performance and characteristics of liquid alternatives compared to hedged funds, undertaken by Vanguard, can be found here.

 

Private Equity and Venture Capital

As noted above, more than 50% of CAIA Association Members expect to have a greater allocation to private equity and venture capital in 2025.

The change in capital markets, with companies remaining private for longer, and the increased globalisation of capital are underlying trends expected to boost the investment into these types of strategies.

By way of example, the CAIA report highlight that in “2012 over two-thirds of venture capital investments were made in North American companies. By the end of 2016, over 45% of portfolio companies were in Asia, while only one-third of investments were made in North American firms.”

The growing trend of Emerging Market company’s requirements for capital will see an increased asset allocation to these regions by private equity and venture capital.

Considerations in determining an optimal private equity portfolio allocation are covered in this Kiwi Investor Blog Post.

 

Real Assets

The survey highlighted that there are several reasons for investing in real assets. By way of example, Real estate and infrastructure are invested in for the following reasons, offering diversification, an inflation hedge, and as a source of income.

The report noted that investments in real assets has increased from $2.7 trillion to $4.3 trillion from 2004 to 20188.

Those CAIA Members who invest in real estate and infrastructure, the majority have an allocation of less than 10% of assets. However, nearly one-third have an allocation above 10% and nearly 90% expect to have an allocation in 2025 that is greater than or equal to what they currently hold.

 

The benefits of real assets are noticeable in different economic environments, like stagflation and stagnation, and particularly for those investments where objectives are linked to inflation. In a previous Post I provide an outline of the characteristics of different real assets and the benefits they bring to a Portfolio.

 

The CAIA Report has a very good case study on climate change and real assets, highlighting the impact of increased Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) integration within investor portfolio will in their view be transformative for the real asset classes e.g. Real Estate and Infrastructure carbon-neutrality and stranded assets within the Natural Resources sector.

 

There is also an interesting section on Private Debt, which has experienced a dramatic increase in assets, reflecting historically low interest rates and regulatory changes that have caused banks to reduce lending to risker parts of the economy. Allocations to private debt are expected to grow.

 

The CAIA also unveil a four-point call to action for the industry:

  1. Commit to Education
  2. Embrace Transparency
  3. Advocate Diversification
  4. Democratise but protect

 

The CAIA report is well worth reading.

 

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.

 

Real Assets offer real diversification benefits

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Pertinent points of the analysis:

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

 

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

 

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

Asset

Growth

Sensitivity

Inflation

Sensitivity

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

mid

mid high high mid

mid

Real Estate Debt

low

low mid low low mid

Natural Resources

high

high mid mid high

high

Infrastructure

mid

mid mid low mid

mid

Timberland

mid

mid mid mid high

mid

Farmland (annual crops)

mid

high mid mid mid

mid

Farmland (permanent crops)

low

mid low mid high

high

TIPS

low

high high high low

low

Commodity

high

high high high low

high

Gold

low

high high high low

low

Currency

low

mid high high mid

Mid

 

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

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

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

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

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

Portfolio Strategy

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

Y

Y

Y

Y

Y

Inflation-Protection

Y

Y Y

Stagnation Protection

Y

Y

Y

Equities

Y

Y

Y

Fixed Income

Y

Scenario frequency

8.9%

11.4%

53.9%

10.2%

15.8%

 

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

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

 

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

The sections include:

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

 

Access to the PGIM Report is provided below.

 

The Real Assets Universe and their investment characteristics

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

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

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

Asset

Annual p.a. returns

Risk annual volatility

Sharpe Ratio

Real Estate Core

8.3%

11.0%

0.55

Real Estate Debt

6.3%

4.8%

0.85

REIT

10.7%

19.8%

0.43

Natural Resources

15.9%

23.8%

0.58

Energy Equity

9.0%

19.7%

0.35

Infrastructure

4.0%

12.7%

0.14

MLP

12.6%

26.2%

0.39

Timberland

7.3%

6.9%

0.74

Farmland

12.2%

7.3%

1.37

TIPS

5.2%

6.0%

0.50

Commodity

-0.9%

28.2%

-0.11

Gold

5.6%

16.2%

0.21

Currency

-1.2%

8.5%

-0.40

US Cash

2.2%

2.2%

US 10 yr Treasury

5.2%

8.6%

0.35

US Equity (S&P 500)

8.6%

18.3%

0.35

 

Sensitivity to Macro-economic and financial market exposures

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

Inflation and growth

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

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

Inflation Protection

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

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

Stagnation Protection

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Asset

Growth

Sensitivity

Inflation

Sensitivity

Accessibility Data Availability & Quality Specific Risks

Sector Difference

Real Estate Core

mid

mid high high mid

mid

Real Estate Debt

low

low mid low low

mid

Natural Resources

high

high mid mid high

high

Infrastructure

mid

mid mid low mid

mid

Timberland

mid

mid mid mid high

mid

Farmland (annual crops)

mid

high mid mid mid

mid

Farmland (permanent crops)

low

mid low mid high

high

TIPS

low

high high high low

low

Commodity

high

high high high low

high

Gold

low

high high high low

low

Currency

low

mid high high mid

Mid

 

Real Asset Diversification Benefits relative to equities and fixed income

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

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

 

Diversifying Real Assets

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

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

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

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

 

Analysis of Real Asset Strategy Portfolios

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

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

 

Diversification (80% private assets):

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

 

Inflation-Protection (33% private assets)

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

 

Stagnation-Protection (50% private assets)

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

 

Return Outcomes

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

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

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

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

 

Diversification Benefits of the three Real Asset Portfolios

Sensitivity to Equities and Fixed Income

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

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

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

 

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

 

Sensitivity to Economic variables

Economic Growth

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Inflation Sensitivity

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

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

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

 

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

This analysis found:

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

 

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

Portfolio Strategy

Ideal

Overheating Muddled Stagflation

Stagnation

Inflation &/ Growth

Low & High

High & High Median/Median High & Low

Low & Low

Diversification

Y

Y Y Y

Y

Inflation-Protection Y Y

Y

Stagnation Protection

Y

Y

Y

Equities

Y

Y Y
Fixed Income

Y

Scenario frequency

8.9%

11.4% 53.9% 10.2%

15.8%

 

Diversification Benefits of Real Asset Strategies in Pension Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Access to the PGIM Report

 

Happy investing.

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

lost-decades_12-31-19

 

 

The Balance Portfolio is riskier than you think.

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

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

Real Returns

(after inflation)

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

The Deutsche Bank analysis highlights:

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Happy investing.

 Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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