Is a value bias part of the answer in navigating today’s low interest rates?

The Value Factor (value) offers the potential for additional returns relative to the broader sharemarket in the years ahead.

Exploring an array of different investment strategies and questioning the role of bonds in a portfolio are key to building a robust portfolio in the current low interest rate environment.

There will also be a need to be more dynamic and flexible to take advantage of market opportunities as they arise.

From this perspective, a value tilt within a portfolio is one investment strategy to consider in potentially boosting future investment returns.

The attraction of Value

Evidence supporting a value tilt within a robust portfolio is compelling, albeit opinion is split.

Nevertheless, longer-term, the “Rotating into Value stocks offers substantial upside in terms of return versus the broad market” according to GMO.

GMO presents the case for a value tilt to navigate today’s low interest rates in their Second Quarter 2020 Letter, which includes two insightful articles, one by Ben Inker and another by Matt Kadnar. 

Value is at cheapest relative to the broader market since 1999, based on GMO’s analysis.  Value is in the top decile of attractiveness around the world, as highlighted in the following figure.

Spread of Value for MSCI Regional Value Factors (GMO)

As of 6/30/2020 | Source: MSCI, Worldscope, GMO

Is Value Investing Dead

As mentioned, the opinion on value is split.

A research paper by AQR earlier in the year addressed the key criticisms of value, Is (Systematic) Value Investing Dead?

For a shorter read on the case for value Cliff Asness, of AQR, Blog Post of the same title is worth reading.

AQR’s analysis is consistent with GMO’s, as highlighted in the Graph and Table below.

The Graph below measures the Price-to-Book spread of the whole US sharemarket from December 1967 to March 2020.

This spread was at the 100th percentile versus 50+ years of history on the 31 March 2020 i.e. value is at it cheapest based on 50 years of data.

Price-to-Book Spread (AQR)

Asness’s Blog Post highlights “expensive stocks are sometimes only <4x as expensive as the cheap stocks, the median is that they are 5.4x more expensive, but today they are almost 12x more expensive.” (March 2020).

It is the same story when looking at different measures of value for the US sharemarket, as highlighted in the Table below.

Value is at its cheapest on many measures (AQR)

‘Don’t ask the barber whether you need a haircut’

This quote by Warren Buffett springs to mind when considering the analysis from GMO and AQR, both being value orientated investors.  As Asness states, AQR has a horse in the race.

However, as outlined in his Post, he undertakes the same analysis as above and controls for, just to name a few:

  • Excluding all Technology, Media, and Telcom Stocks
  • Excluding the largest stocks
  • Excluding the most expensive stocks
  • Industry bets
  • Industry neutrality
  • Quality of company

Analysis is also undertaken using other measures of value, Price-Sales, P/E, using trailing and forecast earnings (these are in addition to Price-Book).

The attraction of value remains based on different measures of value and when making the adjustments to market indices as outlined above.

Asness argues value is exceptionally cheap, probably the cheapest it has ever been in history (March 2020).

The AQR analysis shows this is not because of an outdated price-to-book nor because of the dominance of highly expensive mega-cap stocks.  Investors are paying more than usual for stocks they love versus the ones they hate.  There is a very large mispricing.

The AQR research paper mentioned above, looked at the common criticisms of value, such as:

  1. increased share repurchase activity;
  2. the changing nature of firm activities, the rise of ‘intangibles’ and the impact of conservative accounting systems;
  3. the changing nature of monetary policy and the potential impact of lower interest rates; and
  4. value measures are too simple to work.

 Across each criticism they find little evidence to support them.

Are we there yet?

We do not know when and how the valuation gap will be closed. 

Nevertheless, the evidence is compelling in favour of maintaining a value tilt within a portfolio, and certainly now is not the time to give up on value.

This is not a widely popular view, and quite likely a minority view, given the underperformance of value over the last ten years.  As clearly demonstrated in the Graph below provided by Top Down Charts.

However, from an investment management perspective, the longer-term odds are in favour of maintaining a value tilt and thereby providing a boost to future investment returns in what is likely to be a low return environment over the next ten years.

It is too early to give up on value, news of its death are greatly exaggerated, on this, Asness makes the following point, value is “a strategy that’s “worked” through the 1920s – when a lot of stocks were railroads, steel, and steamship companies – through the Great Depression, WWII, the 1950s – which included some small technological changes like rural electrification, the space race and all the technology that it spanned – the internet age (remember these same stories for why value was broken back in 1999-2000?)………. Value certainly doesn’t depend on technological advancement being stagnant! But in a time when it’s failed for quite a while (again, that just happens sometimes even if it’s as good as we realistically think it is), it’s natural and proper that all the old questions get asked again. Is now different?”

I don’t think so.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The reality is that asset allocations can only do so much

It is estimated US public pension plans would need to leverage a Balance Portfolio of 60% equities and 40% fixed income by 47% to achieve their 7.25% actuarial return target in the years ahead. 

Such is the challenge facing all investors in the current low interest rate environment.

Investors face some very tough decisions in the future and may be forced to consider significant asset allocation shifts.  Increasing the tolerance for risk and illiquidity are likely actions required to boost future investment returns.

Investors are going to have consider something different, from a return perspective, buying bonds is not going to cut it.  Likely actions may include considering substitutes to fixed income to provide portfolio stability and some diversification during periods of equity market weakness.

The reality is that asset allocation decisions can only do so much.

These are the key conclusions from an article written by Rob Croce, PhD, of Mellon and Aaron Filbeck, that recently appeared in AllAboutAlpha.

The article covers three potential solutions for investors to consider in boosting future investment returns.

Meeting the Pension Fund Challenge

The above conclusions are determined in the context of the challenge facing US public pension plans.

On average US pension plans currently have target returns assumptions of 7.25% on average, this is down from 8% in 2000.

In the year 2000, US 10-year government bond interest rates were 6%.  Therefore there “was little headwind to meeting return objectives”….

However, with the dramatic fall in interest rates over the last 20 years, the “gap” between long-term interest rates and return assumptions has widened materially.  This is highlighted in Figure 1 below, from the article. 

The gap is currently around 6%, compared to 2% in 2000!

Figure 1: Difference Between Average Plan Actuarial Return Assumption and 10-Year US Treasury Yield

Source: NASRA, Bloomberg, CAIA calculations

What have US pension plans done over the last 20 years as the return gap has widened:

  • Reduced their allocations to fixed income;
  • Allocated more to equities; and
  • Allocated more to alternatives.

“ According to Public Plans Data, from 2001 to 2009, the average pension allocation to alternative investments increased from 8.7% to 15.7%, which only accelerated after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Over the next decade, allocations to alternatives nearly doubled, reaching nearly 27% by the end of 2019.”

The increased allocation to Equities and Alternatives at the expense of fixed income is highlighted in the following Figure also provided in the article.

Figure 2: Average Allocations for the 73 Largest State-Sponsored Pension Funds

Source: Pew Research. Data as of 2016

At the same time US pension plans remain underfunded. 

The challenge facing US pension plans has been known for some time, the article notes, “In general, pension trustees seem to be faced with two potential solutions – take on more (or differentiated) risks or improve funding statuses through higher taxation or slashing benefits.”

How big is the Pension Fund Return Challenge?

The article analyses potential solutions to “filling the gap” between current interest rates and the assumed target rate of return for US pension funds.

The first approach uses risk premia-based analysis, focusing on the amount of return that can be generated over and above holding just risk-free short-term US Government bonds.

Starting with a traditional Balanced Portfolio, 60% domestic stocks and 40% U.S. 10-year bonds, the analysis seeks to determine how much risk would need to be taken to reach the 7.25% return target. Assuming historical return premia, but with the current level of interest rates.

In relation to return assumptions, the Article notes “Since 1928, stocks have outperformed the risk free asset by 6.2% at 20% volatility and 10-year U.S. government bonds have outperformed the risk-free asset by 1.5%, for Sharpe ratios of 0.3 and 0.2, respectively. For cash, we have decided to use its current near-zero return, rather than its 3.3% average return during that period.”

The results, “there is effectively no unlevered portfolio of stocks and bonds that can reliably deliver many investors’ 7.25% target return over time. Because of the nature of the problem, the solution will likely force pension investors to consider taking on leverage.”

This reflects the low interest rate environment, returns on equities will be lower on an absolute return basis.  Although equities are still expected to earn a “premium” above cash, the absolute return will be lower given the cash rate is so low (0%). The 6% equity premium is earnt on 0%, not the average 3.3% cash rate since 1928. 

The article estimates, for the Balance Portfolio to achieve the 7.25% return objective it would need to be levered by 47%.  This would increase the Portfolio’s volatility to 17.75% from 12%.

As they note, this is not a sustainable solution.  Nevertheless, it provides an indication of how much more risk needs to be taken to achieve the 7.25% return target in the current low interest rate environment.

Therefore, the article highlights the return challenge all investors face.  The leveraging of portfolios is not going to be a viable option for most investors.

The Potential Role of Alternatives

The article looks at two “hypothetical alternative allocations as potential solutions for U.S. pension funds to hit their 7.25% return, one illiquid and the other liquid.”

  1. Private Equity (illiquid).
  2. Hedge Funds or Diversified Assets (liquid)

Their analysis seeks to achieve the return outcome of 7.25% with less volatility than the levered Balance Portfolio above of 17.75% with an allocation to Private Equity and Liquid Alternatives separately.

Based on their analysis, and assumptions, they conclude the inclusion of Private Equity and Liquid Alterative strategies could help in reaching the 7.25% return assumption.

They note that Private Equity and Liquid Alternatives are “two examples provide different solutions for the same problem”.

The article also notes that there are many strategies that do not make sense e.g. anything that takes them further from their return target for the sake of diversification or anything illiquid with an expected return below their target portfolio return.

Key insights

The article wraps up with some key insights, including “buying bonds isn’t going to cut it from a return target perspective today,”…..

They also demonstrated that to meet return targets US pension plans are going to have consider something different.  “And while each pension fund is different, risk tolerance and liquidity needs will need to be managed.”

“We think that the current, low yield environment could potentially open institutions up to the idea of using low-risk liquid absolute return strategies as substitutes for fixed income investments. We believe they will increasingly look for investments that provide portfolio stability values and some diversification during risk-off environments, similar to that of traditional fixed income, but potentially provide the return of fixed income two decades ago.”

Reading this article made me think of the following John Maynard Keynes quotes:

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

“It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.”

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Kiwi Investor Blog has published 150 Posts….. so far

Kiwi Investor Blog has published over 150 Posts, so far! 

Thank you to those who have provided support, encouragement, and feedback. It has been greatly appreciated. Kiwi Investor Blog achieved 100 Posts in October 2019.

Consistent with the current investment environment and the outlook for future investment returns, the key themes of the Kiwi Investor Blog Posts over the last twelve months have been:

  1. Future returns are unlikely to be as strong as those experienced over the last decade
  2. Investment strategies for the next decade likely to include real assets, tail risk hedging, and a greater allocation to alternatives e.g. Private Equity
  3. What portfolio diversification is, and looks like
  4. Positioning portfolios for the likelihood of higher levels of inflation in the future
  5. Time to move away from the traditional Diversified Balanced Portfolio
  6. Occasions when active Management is appropriate and where to find the more consistently performing managers – who outperform
  7. Investing for Endowments, Charities, and Foundations
  8. Navigating a Bear market, including the benefits of disciplined portfolio rebalancing

Links to the key Posts to each of these themes is provided below.

Kiwi Investor Blog’s primary objective is to make available insights into Institutional investment strategies, practices, and processes to a wider audience in simple language.

The Posts are written in the spirit of encouraging industry debate, challenging the status quo and “conventional wisdoms”, and striving to improve investment outcomes for clients.

Future returns are unlikely to be as strong as those experienced over the last decade

The year started with a sobering outlook for long-term investment returns as outlined in this article by AQR.  The long-term outlook for investment markets has been a dominant theme this year, where the strong returns experienced over the Past Decade are unlikely to be repeated in the next 10 years.  Also see a related Bloomberg article here.

Interestingly, even after the strong declines in March and April of this year, Forecasted investment returns remain disappointing, given the nature of longer-term market returns.

If anything, the outlook for fixed income returns has deteriorated over the course of 2020.

Investment strategies for the next decade likely to include real assets, tail risk hedging, and a greater allocation to Alternatives

The challenging return environment led to a series of Posts on potential investment strategies to protect your Portfolio from different market environments in the future.

This includes the potential benefits of Tail Risk Hedging and an allocation to Real Assets.

A primary focus of many investment professions currently is what to do with the fixed income allocations of portfolios, as outlined in this article.

This series of Posts also included the case against investing in US equities and the case for investing in US equities (based on 10 reasons by Goldman Sachs that the current US Bull market has further to run).

The investment case for a continued allocation to Government Bonds was also provided.

Theses Post are consistent with the global trend toward the increasing allocations toward alternatives within investment portfolios.  This survey by CAIA highlights the attraction of alternatives to investors and likely future trends of this growing investment universe, including greater allocations to Private Equity and Venture Capital.

One of the most read Post this year has been a comparison between Hedge Funds and Liquid Alternatives by Vanguard, with their paper concluded both bring diversification benefits to a traditional portfolio.

What Portfolio Diversification is, and looks like

Reflecting the current investment environment and outlook for investment returns, recent Posts have focused on the topic of Portfolio Diversification. These Posts have complemented the Posts above on particular investment strategies.

A different perspective was provided with a look at the psychology of Portfolio Diversification.  Diversification is hard in practice, easy in theory, it often involves the introduction of new risks into a Portfolio and there is always something “underperforming” in a truly diversified portfolio.  This was one of the most read Posts over the last six months.

A Post covered what does portfolio diversification look like.  A beginner’s guide to Portfolio diversification and why portfolios fail was also provided.

On a lighter note, the diversification of the New Zealand Super Fund was compared to the Australian Future Fund (both nation’s Sovereign Wealth Funds).

A short history of portfolio diversification was also provided, and was read widely.

The final Post in this series provided an understanding of the impact of market volatility on a Portfolio.

Positioning Portfolios for the likelihood of higher levels of inflation in the future

Investors face the prospects of higher inflation in the future.  Although inflation may not be an immediate threat, this article by Man strongly suggests investors should start preparing their Portfolio for a period of higher inflation.

The challenge of the current environment is also covered in this Post, which provides suggestions for Asset Allocations decisions for the conundrum of inflation or deflation.

Time to move away from the traditional Diversified Portfolio

A key theme underpinning some of the Posts above is the move away from the traditional Diversified Portfolio (the 60/40 Portfolio, being 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income, referred to as the Balance Portfolio).

Posts of interest include why the Balanced Portfolio is expected to underperform and why it is time to move away from the Balanced Portfolio.  They are likely riskier than you think.

There has been a growing theme over the last nine months of the Reported death of the 60/40 Portfolio.

My most recent Post (#152) highlights that the Traditional Diversified Fund is outdated as it lacks the ability to customise to the client’s individual needs.  Modern day investment solutions need to be more customised, particularly for those near and in retirement.

Occasions when active Management is appropriate and where to find the more consistently performing managers

Recent Posts have also covered the role of active management.

They started with a Post with my “colour” on the active vs passive debate (50 shades of Grey), after Kiwi Wealth got caught up in an active storm.

RBC Global Active Management provided a strong case for the opportunities of active management and its role within a truly diversified portfolio.

While this Post covered several situations when passive management is not appropriate and different approaches should be considered.

Another popular Post was on where investment managers who consistently outperform can be found.

Investing for Endowments, Charities, and Foundations

I have written several Posts on investing for Endowments, Charities, and Foundations.

This included a Post on the key learnings from the successful management of the Yale Endowment.

How smaller Foundations and Charities are increasingly investing like larger endowments.  See here and here.

Navigating a Bear market, including the benefits of disciplined Portfolio rebalancing

Not surprisingly, there have been several Posts on navigating the Bear Market experienced in March and April of this year.

Posts on navigating the event driven Bear Market can be found here and here.

The following Post outlined what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification at the time of sharemarket crashes.

This Post highlighted the benefits of remaining disciplined during periods of market volatility, even as extreme as experienced this year, particularly the benefits of Rebalancing Portfolios.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

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.

Understanding the Impact of Volatility on your Portfolio

A key investment concept is volatility drag. Volatility drag provides a framework for considering the trade-off between the “cost” and “benefit” of reducing portfolio volatility.

The volatility of your portfolio matters. Reducing portfolio volatility helps deliver higher compound returns over the longer-term. This leads to a greater accumulation of wealth over time.

When introducing volatility reduction strategies into a Portfolio a cost benefit analysis should be undertaken.

The cost of reducing portfolio volatility cannot be considered in isolation.

The importance of volatility and its impact on an investment portfolio is captured in a recent article by Aberdeen Standard Investment (ASI), The long-term benefits of finding the right hedging strategy.

The ASI article is summarised below.  Access to article via LinkedIn is here.

It is widely accept that avoiding large market losses and reducing portfolio volatility is vital in accumulating wealth and reaching your investment objectives, whether that is attaining a desired standard of living in retirement, an ongoing and uninterrupted endowment, or meeting Pension liabilities.

Understanding Volatility Drag

Volatility Drag is a key concept from the paper: if you lose 50% one year, and make 50% the next, your average return may be zero but you’re still down 25%. This is commonly referred to as the “volatility drag.”

The main disconnect some investors have is they look at returns over a discrete period, such as a year, or the simple average return over two years (zero in the case above).

Instead, investors should focus on the realised compound rate.  The compound annualised return in the above example is -13.97% versus simple average return of zero.

ASI make the following point: “The compound (geometric) rate of return will only equal the arithmetic average rate of return if volatility is zero. As soon as you introduce volatility to the return series, the geometric IRR will start falling, relative to the average return.”

This is a key concept to understand.  Volatility reduces compounded returns over time, therefore it impacts on accumulated wealth.  The focus should be on the actual return investors receive, rather than discrete period returns.  Most investment professionals understand this.

Cashflows, into and out of a Portfolio, also impact on actual returns and therefore accumulated wealth.  This is why a 100% equities portfolio is unlikely to be appropriate for the vast majority of investors. The short comings of a high equity allocations is outlined in one of my previous Posts: Could Buffett be wrong?

Thought Experiment

In the article ASI offers a thought experiment to make their point, a choice between two hypothetical investments:

  1. Investment A, has an average annual return of 1% with 5% volatility.
  2. Investment B, has twice the average return (2%) but with four times the volatility (20%).

An investor with a long term horizon might allocate to the higher expected return investment and not worry about the higher levels of volatility.  The view could be taken because you have a longer term investment horizon more risk can be taken to be rewarded with higher returns.

In the article ASI provides simulated track records of the two investments over 50 years (the graph is well worth looking at).

As would be expected, Investment B with the 20% volatility has a much wider range of possible paths than the lower-volatility Investment A.

What is most interesting “despite having double the average annual return, the more volatile strategy generally underperforms over the long term.”

This is evident in the Table below from the ASI article, based on simulated investment returns:

 Average Annual ReturnStandard Deviation of Annual ReturnsAverage total return after 50 yearsAverage realised internal rate of return (IRR)
A1%5%+53%0.88%
B2%20%-3.0%-0.07%

Note, how the IRR is lower than the average annual return e.g. Investment A, IRR is 0.88% versus average annual return of 1.0%.  As noted above, they are only the same if volatility is zero. 

The performance drag, or “cost”, is due to volatility.

Implications and recognising the importance of volatility

The concept of Volatility Drag provides a framework for considering the trade-off between the “cost” and benefit of reducing portfolio volatility.

The ASI article presents this specifically in relation to the benefits of portfolio hedges, as part of a risk mitigation strategy, and their costs with the following points:

  1. The annual cost can be considered in the context of the potential benefits that come from lowering volatility and more effectively compounding returns.
  2. Putting on exposures with flat or even negative expected returns can still increase your total portfolio return over time if they lower your volatility profile sufficiently.
  3. It is meaningless, therefore, to look at the costs of hedges in isolation.

These points are relevant when considering introducing any volatility reduction strategies into an Investment Portfolio i.e. not just in relation to tail risk hedging. A cost benefit analysis should be undertaken, investment costs cannot be considered in isolation.

As ASI note, investors need to consider the overall portfolio impact of introducing new investment strategies, specifically the impact on the downside volatility of a portfolio is critical.

There are a number of ways of reducing portfolios volatility as outlined below, including the risk mitigation strategies of the ASI article.

Modern Portfolios

The key point is that the volatility of your portfolio matters.  Reducing portfolio volatility helps in delivering better compound returns over the longer-term.

Therefore, exploring ways to reduce portfolio volatility is important.

ASI outline the expectation that volatility is likely to pick up in the years ahead, “especially considering the current extreme settings for fiscal and monetary policy combined with rising geopolitical tensions.”

They also make the following pertinent comment, “Uncertainty and volatility aren’t signals for investors to exit the market, but while they persist, we expect investors will benefit over the medium term from having strategies available to them that can help manage downside volatility.”

ASI also note that investors have access to a wide range of tools and strategies to manage volatility.  This is particularly relevant in relation to the risk mitigation hedging strategies that manage downside volatility and are the focus of the ASI article.

Therefore, a modern day portfolio will implement several strategies and approaches to reduce portfolio volatility, primarily as a means to generate higher compound returns over time. This is evident when looking at industry leading sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, superannuation funds, endowments, and foundations around the world.

Strategies and Approaches to reducing Portfolio Volatility

There are a number of strategies and approaches to reducing portfolio volatility, Kiwi Investor Blog has recently covered the following:

  1. Real Assets offer real diversification: this Post outlines the investment risk and return characteristics of the different types of Real Assets and the diversification benefits they can bring to a Portfolio under different economic scenarios, e.g. inflation, stagflation.  Thus reducing portfolio volatility and enhancing long-term accumulated returns.
  2. Sharemarket Crashes – what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification: This Post outlines the rationale for broad portfolio diversification to manage sharp sharemarket declines rather than trying to time markets.  The Post presents the reasoning and portfolio benefits of investing into Alternative Assets.
  3. Is it an outdated Investment Strategy? If so, what should you do? Tail Risk Hedging?: This Post outlines the case for Tail Risk Hedging.  A potential strategy is to maintain a higher allocation to equities and to protect the risk of large losses through implementing a tail risk hedge.
  4. Protecting your portfolio from different market environments – including tail risk hedging debate: This Post compares the approach of broad portfolio diversification and tail risk hedging, highlighting that not one strategy can be effective in all market environments.  Therefore, investors should diversify their diversifiers.
  5. What do investors need in the current environment? – Rethink the ‘40’ in the 60/40 Portfolios?: With extremely low interest rates and the likelihood fixed income will not provide the level of portfolio diversification as experienced historically this Post concludes Investors will need to rethink their fixed income allocations and to think more broadly in diversifying their investment portfolio.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Image from CFA Institute Blog: When does Volatility Equal Risk?

What do Investors need in the current environment? – Rethink the ‘40’ in 60/40 Portfolios?

Investors seeking to generate higher returns are going to have to look for new sources of income, allocate to new asset classes, and potentially take on more risk.

Investing into a broader array of fixed income securities, dividend-paying equities, and alternatives such as real assets and private credit is likely required.

Investors will need to build more diversified portfolios.

These are key conclusions from a recent article written by Tony Rodriquez, of Nuveen, Rethinking the ‘40’ in 60/40 Portfolios, which appeared recently in thinkadvisor.com.

The 60/40 Portfolio being 60% equities and 40% fixed income, the Balanced Portfolio. The ‘40’ is the Balanced Portfolio’s 40% allocation to fixed income.

In my mind, the most value will be added in implementation of investment strategies and manager selection.

In addition, the opportunity for Investment Advisors and Consultants to add value to client investment outcomes over the coming years has probably never been more evident now than in recent history.

The value of good investment advice at this juncture will be invaluable.

Putting It All Together

The thinkadvisor.com article provides the following Table.

Source: Nuveen

This Table is useful in considering potential investment ideas.  Actions taken will depend on the individual’s circumstances, including investment objectives, and risk tolerance.

The Table provides a framework across three dimensions to consider how to tackle the current investment challenge of very low interest rates.

Those dimensions are:

  1. The trade-off between level of income generated and risk tolerance (measured by portfolio volatility), e.g. lower income and reduced equity risk
  2. “How to do it” in meeting the trade-off identified above e.g. increase credit and equity exposures to seek higher income
  3. “Where to find it”, types of investments to implement How to do it e.g. active core fixed income, real assets (e.g. infrastructure and real estate), higher yielding credit assets.

Current Investment Environment

These insights reflect the current investment environment of extremely low interest rates.

More specifically the article starts with the following comments: “For decades, the 40% in the traditional 60/40 portfolio construction model was supposed to provide stable income with reduced volatility. But these days, finding income in the usual areas is as hard for me as a professional investor as it is for our clients.”

Tony calls for action, “With yields at historic lows, we’re forced to choose between accepting lower income or expanding into higher risk asset classes. We need to work together to change the definition of the 40 in the 60/40 split. So what do we do?”

This would be a worthy discussion for Investment Advisers and Consultants to have with their clients.

Returns from fixed income are relatively predictable, unlike equity market returns.  Current fixed income yields are the best predictor of future returns.  With global government bond yields around zero and global investment grade credit providing not much more, a return of greater than 1% p.a. from traditional global bond markets over the next 10 years is unlikely.

Fixed income returns over the next 10 years are highly likely to be below the rate of inflation.  Therefore, the risk of the erosion of purchasing power from fixed income is very high.  This is a portfolio risk that needs to be managed. 

Although forecasted returns from equities are also low compared to history, they are higher than those expected from traditional fixed income markets.

What should Investors do?

The article provides some specific guidance in relation to fixed income investments and a view on the outlook for the global economy.

The key point from the article, in my mind, is that for investors to meet the current investment challenges over the next decade they are going to need a more broadly diversified portfolio than the traditional 60/40 portfolio.

I also think it is going to require greater levels of active management.

This will involve a rethink of the ‘40’ fixed income allocation.  Specifically, the focus will be on generating higher returns and that fixed income is likely to provide less protection to a Balanced Portfolio at times of sharemarket declines than has been experienced historically.

Ultimately, a broader view of the 60/40 Portfolio’s construction will need to be undertaken. 

This is likely to require thinking outside of the fixed income universe and implementing a more robust and truly diversified portfolio.

Implementation will be key, including strategy and manager selection.

There will still be a role for fixed income within a Portfolio, particularly duration.  Depending on individual circumstances, higher yielding securities, emerging market debt, and active management of the entire fixed income universe, including duration, is something to consider.  More of an absolute return focus may need to be contemplated.

Outside of fixed income, thought should be given to thinking broadly in implementing a more robust and truly diversified portfolio. 

Kiwi Investor Blog has highlighted the following areas in previous Posts as a means to diversify a portfolio and address the current investment challenge:

  1. Real Assets offer real diversification: this Post outlines the investment risk and return characteristics of the different types of Real Assets and the diversification benefits they can bring to a Portfolio under different economic scenarios, e.g. inflation, stagflation.
  2. Sharemarket Crashes – what works best in minimising loses, market timing or diversification: This Post outlines the rationale for broad portfolio diversification to manage sharp sharemarket declines rather than trying to time markets.  The Post presents the reasoning and benefits of investing into Alternative Assets.
  3. Is it an outdated Investment Strategy? If so, what should you do? Tail Risk Hedging: This Post outlines the case for Tail Risk Hedging.  A potential strategy is to maintain a higher allocation to equities and to protect the risk of large losses through implementing a tail risk hedge.
  4. Protecting your portfolio from different market environments – including tail risk hedging debate: This Post compares the approach of broad portfolio diversification and tail risk hedging.  Highlighting that that not one strategy can be effective in all market environments.  Therefore, investors should diversify their diversifiers.

There have been a number of articles over recent months calling into question the robustness of the Balanced Portfolio of 60% Equities / 40% Fixed Income going forward.  I have covered this issue in previous Posts, here and here.

Why the Balanced Portfolio is expected to underperform is outlined in this Post.

Lastly, also relevant to the above discussion, please see this Post on preparing Portfolios for higher levels of inflation.

Call to Action

In appealing to Tony’s call for action, there has probably never been a more important time in realising the value of good investment advice and honest conversations of investment objectives and portfolio allocations. 

Perhaps it is time to push against some outdated conventions, seek new investments and asset classes.

The opportunity for Investment Advisors and Consultants to add value to client investment outcomes over the coming years has probably never been more evident now than in recent history.

The value of good investment advice at this juncture will be invaluable.

Addendum

For a perspective on the current market environment this podcast by Goldman Sachs may be of interest.

In the podcast, Goldman Sachs discuss their asset allocation strategy in the current environment, noting both fixed income and equities look expensive, this points to lower returns and higher risks for a Balanced Portfolio.  They anticipate an environment of below average returns and above average volatility.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Is it an outdated Investment Strategy? If so, what should you do? Tail Risk Hedging?

Those saving for retirement face the reality that fixed income may no longer serve as an effective portfolio diversifier and source of meaningful returns.

In future fixed income is unlikely to provide the same level of offset in a portfolio as has transpired historically when the inevitable sharp decline in sharemarkets occur – which tend to happen more often than anticipated.

The expected reduced diversification benefit of fixed income is a growing view among many investment professionals.  In addition, forecast returns from fixed income, and cash, are extremely low.  Both are likely to deliver returns around, if not below, the rate of inflation over the next 5 – 10 years.

Notwithstanding this, there is still a role for fixed income within a portfolio.

However, there is still a very important portfolio construction issue to address.  It is a major challenge for retirement savings portfolios, particularly those portfolios with high allocations to cash and fixed income. 

In effect, this challenge is about exploring alternatives to traditional portfolio diversification, as expressed by the Balanced Portfolio of 60% Equities / 40% Fixed Income. I have covered this issue in previous Posts, here and here.

Outdated Investment Strategy

There are many ways to approach the current challenge, which investment committees, Trustees, and Plan Sponsors world-wide must surely be considering, at the very least analysing and reviewing, and hopefully addressing.

One way to approach this issue, and the focus of this Post, is Tail Risk Hedging. (I comment on other approaches below.)

The case for Tail Risk Hedging is well presented in this opinion piece, Investors Are Clinging to an Outdated Strategy At the Worst Possible Time, which appeared in Institutional Investor.com

The article is written by Ron Lagnado, who is a director at Universa Investments.  Universa Investments is an investment management firm that specialises in risk mitigation e.g. tail risk hedging.

The article makes several interesting observations and lays out the case for Tail Risk Hedging in the context of the underfunding of US Pension Plans.  Albeit, there are other situations in which the consideration of Tail Risk Hedging would also be applicable.

The framework for Equity Tail Risk Hedging, recognises “that management of portfolio risk and equity tail risk, in particular, was the key driver of long-term compound returns.”

By way of positioning, the article argues that a reduction in Portfolio volatility leads to better investment outcomes overtime, as measured by the Compound Annual Growth Return (CAGR).  There is validity to this argument, the reduction in portfolio volatility is paramount to successful investment outcomes over the longer-term.

The traditional Balance Portfolio, 60/40 mix of equities and fixed income, is supposed to mitigate the effects of extreme market volatility and deliver on return expectations.

Nevertheless, it is argued in the article that the Balanced Portfolio “limits portfolio volatility in benign market environments over the short term while making huge sacrifices in long-run performance.”

In other words, “It offers scant protection against tail risk and, at the same time, achieves an under-allocation to riskier assets with higher returns in long periods of economic expansion, such as the past decade.”

The article provides some evidence of this, highlighting that “large allocation to bonds still failed to provide enough protection to add value over the cycle — reducing the CAGR by 170 basis points.” 

Essentially, the argument is made that the Balanced Portfolio has not delivered on its promise historically and is an outdated strategy, particularly considering the current market environment and the outlook for investment returns.

Meeting the Challenge – Tail Risk Hedging

The article calls for the consideration of different approaches to the traditional Balance Portfolio.  Naturally, they call for Tail Risk Hedging.

In effect, the strategy is to maintain a higher allocation to equities and to protect the risk of large losses through implementing a tail risk hedge (protection of large equity loses).

It is argued that this will result in a higher CAGR over the longer term given a higher allocation to equities and without the drag on performance from fixed income.

The Tail Risk Hedge strategy is implemented via an options strategy.

As they note, there is no free lunch with this strategy, an “options strategies trade small losses over extended periods when equities are rising for extremely large gains during the less frequent but devastating drawdowns.”

This is the inverse to some investment strategies, which provide incremental gains over extended periods and then short sharp losses.  There is indeed no free lunch.

My View

The article concludes, “diversification for its own sake is not a strategy for success.”

I would have to disagree.  True portfolio diversification is the closest thing to a free lunch in Portfolio Management. 

However, this does not discount the use of Tail Risk Hedging.

The implementation of any investment strategy needs to be consistent with client’s investment philosophy, objectives, fee budgets, ability to implement, and risk appetite, including the level of comfort with strategies employed. 

Broad portfolio diversification versus Tail Risk Hedging has been an area of hot debate recently.  It is good to take in and consider a wide range of views.

The debate between providing portfolio protection (Tail Risk Hedging vs greater Portfolio Diversification) hit colossal proportions earlier in the year with a twitter spat between Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan and involved in Universa Investments, and Cliff Asness, a pioneer in quant investing and founder of AQR.

I provide a summary of their contrasting perspectives to portfolio protection as outlined in a Bloomberg article in this Post.  There are certainly some important learnings and insights in contrasting their different approaches.

The Post also covered a PIMCO article, Hedging for Different Market Environments.

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

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

They provide the following Table, which outlines an array of “Portfolio Protection” strategies.

In Short, and in general, Asness is supportive of correlation based like hedging strategies (Trend and Alternative Risk Premia) and Taleb the Direct Hedging approach.

From the Table above we can see in what type of market environment each “hedging” strategy is Most Effective and Least Effective.

For balance, more on the AQR perspective can be found here.

You could say I have a foot in both camps and are pleased I do not have a twitter account, as I would likely be in the firing line from both Asness and Taleb!

To conclude

I think we can all agree that fixed income is going to be less of a portfolio diversifier in future and produce lower returns in the future relative to the last 10-20 years. 

This is an investment portfolio challenge that must be addressed.

We should also agree that avoiding large market losses is vital in accumulating wealth and reaching your investment objectives, whether that is attaining a desired standard of living in retirement, ongoing and uninterrupted endowment, or meeting future Pension liabilities.

In my mind, staying still is not going to work over the next 5-10 years and the issues raised by the Institutional Investor.com article do need to be addressed. The path taken is likely to be determined by individual circumstances.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Endowments, Foundations, and Charities – learning from the best

The achievements of the Yale Endowment are significant and well documented. 

Their achievements can largely be attributed to the successful and bold management of their Endowment Funds.

They have been pioneers in Investment Management.  Many US Universities and global institutions have followed suit or implemented a variation of the Yale’s “Endowment Model”.

Without a shadow of a doubt, those involved with Endowments, Foundations, Charities, and saving for retirement can learn some valuable investment lessons by reviewing the investment approach undertaken by Yale.

I think these learnings are particularly relevant given where we are currently in the economic cycle and the outlook for returns from the traditional asset classes of cash, fixed income, and selected equity markets.

A growing Endowment

In fiscal 2019 the Yale Endowment provided $1.4 billion, or 32%, of the University’s $4.2 billion operating income.

To put this into context, the Yale Endowment 2019 Annual Report notes that the other major sources of revenues for the University were medical services of $1.1 billion (26%); grants and contracts of $824 million (20%); net tuition, room and board of $392 million (9%); gifts of $162 million (4%); and other income and transfers of $368 million (9%).

Spending from the Endowment has grown during the last decade from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion, an annual growth rate of 1.5%.

The Endowment Fund’s payments have gone far and wide, including scholarships, Professorships, maintenance, and books.

Yale’s spending and investment policies provide substantial levels of cash flow to the operating budget for current scholars, while preserving Endowment purchasing power for future generations.

What a wonderful contribution to society, just think of the social good the Yale Endowment has delivered.

Yale’s Investment Policy

As highlighted in their 2019 Annual Report:

  • Over the past ten years the Endowment grew from $16.3 billion to $30.3 billion;
  • The Fund has generated annual returns of 11.1% during the ten-year period; and
  • The Endowment’s performance exceeded its benchmark and outpaced institutional fund indices.

In relation to Investment Objectives the Endowment Funds seek to provide resources for current operations and preserving purchasing power (generating returns greater than the rate of inflation).

This dictates the Endowment has a bias toward equity like investments.  Yale note: 

“The University’s vulnerability to inflation further directs the Endowment away from fixed income and toward equity instruments. Hence, more than 90% of the Endowment is targeted for investment in assets expected to produce equity-like returns, through holdings of domestic and international equities, absolute return strategies, real estate, natural resources, leveraged buyouts and venture capital.”

Accordingly, Yale seeks to allocate over the longer term approximately one-half of the portfolio to illiquid asset classes of leverage buyouts, venture capital, real estate, and natural resources.

This is very evident in the Table below, which presents Yale’s asset allocation as at 30 June 2019 and the US Educational Institutional Mean allocation.

This Table appeared in the 2019 Yale Annual Report, I added the last column Yale vs the Educational Institutional Mean.

 Yale UniversityEducational Institution MeanYale vs Mean
Absolute Return23.2%20.6%2.6%
Domestic Equity2.7%20.8%-18.1%
Foreign Equity13.7%21.9%-8.2%
Leverage Buyouts15.9%7.1%8.8%
Natural Resources4.9%7.7%-2.8%
Real Estate10.1%3.4%6.7%
Venture Capital21.1%6.6%14.5%
Cash and Fixed Income8.4%11.9%-3.5%
 100%100% 
    
Non-Traditional Assets75.2%45.4%29.8%
Traditional Assets24.8%54.6% 

The Annual Report provides a comment on each asset class and their expected risk and return profile, an overview of how Yale manage the asset classes, historical performance, and future longer-term risk and return outlook.

High Allocation to Non-Traditional Assets

As can be seen in the Table above Yale has a very low allocation to traditional asset classes (domestic equities, foreign equities, cash and fixed income), and a very high allocation to non-traditional assets classes, absolute returns, leverage buyouts, venture capital, real estate, and natural resources.

This is true not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to other US Educational Institutions.  Who in their own right have a high allocation to non-traditional asset classes, 45.4%, but almost 30% lower than Yale.

“Over the last 30 years Yale has reduced their dependence on domestic markable securities by relocating assets to non-traditional assets classes.  In 1989 65% of investments were in US equities and fixed income, this compares to 9.8% today.”

By way of comparison, NZ Kiwi Saver Funds on average have less than 5% of their assets invested in non-traditional asset classes.

A cursory view of NZ university’s endowments also highlights a very low allocations to non-traditional asset classes.

There can be good reasons why other investment portfolios may not have such high allocations to non-traditional asset classes, including liquidity requirements (which are less of an issue for an Endowment, Charity, or Foundation) and investment objectives.

Rationale for High Allocation to Non-Traditional Assets

Although it is well known that Yale has high allocations to non-traditional assets, the rationale for this approach is less well known.

The 2019 Yale Annual Report provides insights as to the rationale of the investment approach.

Three specific comments capture Yale’s rationale:

“The higher allocation to non-traditional asset classes stems from their return potential and diversifying power”

Yale is active in the management of their portfolios and they allocate to those asset classes they believe offer the best long-term value.  Yale determine the mix to asset class based on their expected return outcomes and diversification benefits to the Endowment Funds.

“Alternative assets, by their very nature, tend to be less efficiently priced than traditional marketable securities, providing an opportunity to exploit market inefficiencies through active management.”

Yale invest in asset classes they see offering greater opportunities to add value. For example, they see greater opportunity to add value in the alternative asset classes rather than in Cash and Fixed Income.

“The Endowment’s long time horizon is well suited to exploit illiquid and the less efficient markets such as real estate, natural resources, leveraged buyouts, and venture capital.”

This is often cited as the reason for their higher allocation to non-traditional assets.  As an endowment, with a longer-term investment horizon, they can undertake greater allocations to less liquid asset classes. 

Sovereign wealth Funds, such as the New Zealand Super Fund, often highlight the benefit of their endowment characteristics and how this is critical in shaping their investment policy. 

Given their longer-term nature Endowments are able to invest in less liquid investment opportunities. They will likely benefit from these allocations over the longer-term.

Nevertheless, other investment funds, such as the Australian Superannuation Funds, have material allocations to less liquid asset classes.

Therefore, an endowment is not a necessary condition to invest in non-traditional and less liquid asset classes, the acknowledgement of the return potential and diversification benefits are sufficient reasons to allocate to alternatives and less liquid asset classes.

In relation to the return outlook, the Yale 2019 Annual report commented the “Today’s actual and target portfolios have significantly higher expected returns than the 1989 portfolio with similar volatility.”

Smaller Endowments and Foundations are following Yale

In the US smaller Endowments and Foundations are adopting the investment strategies of the Yale Endowment model.

They have adopted an investment strategy that is more align with an endowment more than twice their size.

Portfolio size should not be an impediment to investing in more advanced and diversified investment strategies.

There is the opportunity to capture the key benefits of the Endowment model, including less risk being taken, by implementing a more diversified investment strategy. Thus, delivering a more stable return profile.

This is attractive to donors.

The adoption of a more diversified portfolio not only makes sense on a longer-term basis, but also given where we are in the economic and market cycle.

The value is in implementation and sourcing appropriate investment strategies.

In this Post, I outline how The Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) runs its $400m investments portfolio like a multi-billion-dollar Endowment.

Diversification and Its Long-Term Benefits

For those interested, the annual report has an in-depth section on portfolio diversification.

This section makes the following key following points while discussing the benefits of diversification in a historical context:

  • “Portfolio diversification can be painful in the midst of a bull market. When investing in a single asset class produces great returns, market observers wonder about the benefits of creating a well-structured portfolio.”
  • “The fact that diversification among a variety of equity-oriented alternative investments sometimes fails to protect portfolios in the short run does not negate the value of diversification in the long run.”
  • “The University’s discipline of sticking with a diversified portfolio has contributed to the Endowment’s market leading long-term record. For the thirty years ending June 30, 2019, Yale’s portfolio generated an annualized return of 12.6% with a standard deviation of 6.8%. Over the same period, the undiversified institutional standard of 60% stocks and 40% bonds produced an annualized return of 8.7% with a standard deviation of 9.0%. “
  • “Yale’s diversified portfolio produced significantly higher returns with lower risk.”

There are also sections on Spending Policy and Investment Performance.

Lastly, I have previously discussed the “Endowment Model” in relation to the fee debate, for those interested please see this Post: Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Where Investment Managers Who Consistently Outperform can be found

Likely poor performing investment managers are relatively easy to identify.  Great fund managers much more difficult to identify.

Good performing managers who can consistently add value over time can be identified.  Albeit, a well-developed and disciplined investment research process is required.

Those managers that consistently add value are likely to be found regularly in the second quartile of peer analysis.  They are neither the best nor the worst performing manager but over time consistently add value over a market index or passive investment.  They are not an average manager.

These are key insights I have developed from just under 30 years of researching and collaborating with high calibre and talented investment professionals. 

More importantly, modern day academic research is supportive of this view.  The conventional wisdom of active management is being challenged, as highlighted in a previous Post.

Analyzing Consistency of Manager Performance

A recent relevant study is a submission to the Australian Productivity Commission in respect of the Draft Report on ‘How to Assess the Competitiveness and Efficiency of the Superannuation System’. The analysis was undertaken by Peterson Research Institute in 2016.

The author, John Paterson, of this analysis was interviewed in a i3 article.

The key points of Peterson’s analysis and emphasized in the i3 article:

  • Many of the studies into the ability of active managers to consistently outperform are inherently flawed. 
  • Most of these studies merely confirm that financial markets are not static, therefore they do not say anything about manager performance.

“The failure to find repeated top quartile performance in these ‘tests of manager consistency’ simply reflects the reality that markets are not Static, and says nothing about the existence, or otherwise, of manager consistency.”

  • The key flaw is that many of the studies on active management focus on the performance of only the top performing managers: whether top quartile performers are able to repeat their efforts from one period to the next.
  • A wider view of manager performance should be considered, all quartiles should be assessed to determine whether manager performance is random or not.
  • Those managers that that consistently achieved above average returns are more likely to be found in the second or third quartiles.

In the i3 interview, Paterson discusses more about the results of their research:

“Someone who consistently outperforms doesn’t necessarily look like a top quartile manager. They are more likely to be found in the second quartile,”.

The following comment is also made:

“Most asset managers intuitively know this, because markets are cyclical and if you do something that shoots the lights out in one period, it is likely to do the complete opposite in another period.”

The Australian Experience

Paterson’s analysis also found “Across the studies analysed, it was found that there is very strong evidence that investment managers available to Australian superannuation funds do perform consistently.”

Lastly Paterson comments “And experience tells us that super funds with more active managers have done better than those with largely passive mandates, and often at a lower level of volatility.”

Concluding Remarks

As I have previously Posted, there are a wide range of reasons for choosing an alternative to passive investing over and above the traditional industry debate that focuses on whether active management can outperform.

Other reasons for considering an alternatives to a passive index include no readily replicable market index exists, imbedded inefficiency within the Index, and available indices are unsuitable in meeting an investor’s objectives (e.g. Defined Pension Plans).

The decision to choose an alternative to passive investing varies across asset classes and investors.

Therefore, the traditional active versus passive debate needs to be broadened.

The article by Warren and Ezra, covered in a previous Post, When Should Investors Consider an Alternative to Passive Investing?, seeks to reconfigure and broaden the active versus passive debate.

They provide five reasons why investors might consider alternatives to passive management.

In doing so they provide examples of circumstances under which an alternative to passive management might be preferred and appreciably widen the debate. 

The identification of managers that consistently add value is one reason to consider an alternative to passive management.

Happy investing.

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