Is it an outdated Investment Strategy?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Outdated Investment Strategy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The case for Tail Risk Hedging is well presented in this opinion piece, Investors Are Clinging to an Outdated Strategy At the Worst Possible Time, which appeared in Institutional Investor.com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

Is ESG an Investment Factor? Can ESG be easily harvested?

“ESG is not an equity return factor in the traditional, academic sense”.…… “Nevertheless, ESG can be a very powerful theme in the portfolio management process in the years ahead.” 

These are two key conclusions from a recent Research Affiliates article, Is ESG a Factor?

ESG investing is incorporating Environment, Social and Governance considerations into investment portfolios.

Research Affiliates conclude “that ESG does not need to be a factor for investors to achieve their ESG and performance goals.”

They also call for greater clarity around exactly what ESG is and what it is not. 

“Currently, various stakeholders are sending a whole host of mixed messages. Investors, particularly fiduciaries, need education and alignment. If ESG remains a heterogeneous basket of claims, we will likely never see it fulfill its vast promise.”

Lastly, they believe ESG is likely to be a powerful theme for the new owners of capital, in particular woman and millennials.  Increasingly investors will prioritise ESG in their portfolios in the years ahead.

In my view, it is a stretch to say ESG is an investment factor in the context of Factor Investing.  Nevertheless, the active management of ESG considerations into the investment process has the potential to add value.

You can’t capture the benefits of ESG by just being an ESG investor.  Capturing the benefits from ESG are harder to attain relative to implementing an equity factor strategy such as value or low volatility. 

The risks, and therefore the rewards of ESG, are more company specific.

Therefore, it is not good enough to say one incorporates ESG into the investment management process to gain the benefits from ESG. 

There is no specific ESG factor that can be “harvested” passively.  The ESG value add comes from implementing successfully and having the ability to identify company specific ESG risks. 

What Is a Factor?

Before we can determine if ESG is an investment factor we first need to establish what an investment factor is.

In short, factors are characteristics associated with long-term risk and return outcomes associated with investing into a group of securities. 

The “market”, sharemarkets and fixed income markets are factors themselves (Market Factors).  We know that over time we can expect to generate a return over cash, a premia over cash (premia), from investing in sharemarkets, credit markets (corporate debt), and longer-term fixed income securities (interest rate duration).

Within markets there are also investment factors, which have been shown to deliver a premia (excess return adjusted for risk) over the “market factors” identified above.

The most common of these investment factors, and one receiving a lot of media attention currently, is the value factor.  There are other well know and academically supported factors, including momentum, carry, quality, and low volatility. Investment factors are also known as Premias or Style Premia.

To be considered a robust investment factor, it is generally considered their needs to be support from an economic perspective or there is a behavioural-based explanation for the factor.

For those interested, I have previously Posted on Factor Investing, and this article on Andrew Ang discussing Factor Investment might also be of interest.

Research Affiliates have their own framework on determining the robustness of a Factor, which can be found here.

The Evidence – Is ESG an investment Factor?

To determine if ESG is a factor, Research Affiliates maintain it should satisfy the following three critical requirements, it should be:

  1. grounded in a long and deep academic literature;
  2. robust across definitions; and
  3. robust across geographies.

Academic Literature

The common factors of value, momentum, and low beta have been thoroughly researched and have a track record spanning several decades, as Research Affiliates conclude “very little debate currently exists regarding their robustness.”

In reviewing the academic literature on ESG, Research Affiliates find little agreement on the robust of generating excess returns.  (Their article provides a good source of academic ESG research for those interested.)

In their view ESG is not an equity return factor in the traditional academic sense.

I have posted previously on the Research spanning Responsible Investing, see: Unscrambling the Sustainable Investing Return Puzzle

In my mind there is value in undertaking a Responsible Investing approach, including the incorporation of ESG into the investment management process.  This can be the case yet ESG not be a Factor as defined in academia.  The research covered in the above Post provides support for this view.

Factors should be robust across definitions. 

This is an interesting observation.  Research Affiliates argue that “even slight variations in the definition of a factor should still produce similar performance results.”

They use value as an example, using different valuation metrics for value results in similar results over the longer-term.  The value factor is robust across different definitions of value.

Unfortunately, ESG does not have a common definition and is a broad continuum of philosophies, approaches, and strategies.

See a previous Post discussing the continuum of Responsible Investing, which includes ESG: Sustainable Responsible Investing Spectrum

The broad spectrum is highlighted in the following Table presented in the Research Affiliates article to emphasise “ESG has no common standard definition and is a broad term that encapsulates a range of themes and subthemes.” 

As they note, the strategies align more with investor preferences rather than a particular investment factor.  

In the article Research Affiliates present the findings of their research to display how variations in the definition of ESG results in different performance outcomes.

From this analysis, they conclude:

  1. None of the ESG strategies as defined displayed material excess returns;
  2. There was a lack of historical track record, which is a significant impediment to conducting research in ESG investing; and
  3. Only after decades of quality data will it be possible to accurately test the claim that EG is a robust factor.

Research Affiliates also highlight there is an issue with the lack of consistency among ESG rating providers which hinders the ability to determine if ESG is a robust factor.  They provide an example of this in the Article.

With regards to the last requirement, Research Affiliates find that ESG performance results are not robust across regions.

ESG Is Not a Factor, but Could Be a Powerful Theme

“ESG does not need to be a factor for investors to achieve their ESG and performance goals.”

Encouragingly, Research Affiliates see a role for the incorporation of ESG within an investment portfolio. I Agree!

They highlight that there are companies with poor ESG characteristics and that these risks should be incorporated into the stock selection process.

These risks are company specific risks, idiosyncratic risks technically speaking.

Research Affiliates consider carbon as an example, particularly coal.  Notably there has been a move away from coal in the US.  Therefore, “Investment managers who do not consider and integrate the ESG risk of, in this case, climate change may be blindsided.”

The successful implementation of ESG is a key determinant in capturing the value from company specific characteristics.  Specifically, having the ability to identify mispricing of securities due to ESG risk.

It is not good enough to say one incorporates ESG into the investment management process and therefore the portfolios will benefit. 

There is no a specific ESG factor that can be “harvested” passively, the value add comes from implementing successfully and having the ability to identify company specific risks. 

Increasing Adoption of ESG Investing

Lastly, and quickly, Research Affiliates note that there is a “large shift in investor preference toward ESG is occurring as two distinct groups—women and millennials—take greater control of household assets.”  This is backed up by third party research which notes that there will be a wave of assets ready to invest in highly rated ESG companies.

A regulatory push globally is also likely to accelerate this trend.

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.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cost of being wrong can be high.

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

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

Navigating through a bear market – what should I do?

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

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

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

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

The key points to consider are:

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

Protecting your portfolio from different market environments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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




Asset Allocations decisions for the conundrum of inflation or deflation?

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

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

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

Conundrum Facing Investors

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

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

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

Inflation or Deflation: Implications for Asset Allocations

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

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

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

Current Environment

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

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

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

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

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

Financial repression is potentially negative for government bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should investors do?

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

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

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

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

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

Real assets

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

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

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

Liquid Alternatives

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

When Alternatives to Passive Index Investing are Appropriate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framework for choosing an Alternative to Passive Investing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back ground Comments

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

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

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

Some Context

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

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

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

Market efficiency.

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

Cap-weighting is aligned with investor objectives.

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

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

Index efficacy.

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

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

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

Reason #1: No Readily Replicable Index is Available

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

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

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

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

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

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

By way of example:

Defined Benefit Pension Plan and tailored fixed-income mandates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason #3: The Standard Passive Index is Inefficiently Constructed

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

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

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

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

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

Equities

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

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

Fixed income

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market inefficiency situations

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

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

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

Opportunities arising from differing investor objectives

Opportunities for active management to benefit may exist when:

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

Index fails to cover the opportunity set

The article makes the following points under this heading:

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

Reason #5: Skilled Managers Can Be Identified

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

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

The discussion makes the following points:

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

Implementation and Costs

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

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

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

Concluding Comments

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

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

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

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

Preparing your Portfolio for a period of higher inflation

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

From an investment perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment Implications

The level and direction of inflation is important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These include:

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

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

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

Time for Preparation is now

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

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

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

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

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

Inflation Check List to Monitor

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

Man identify five significant regime changes to support their analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

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

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

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Investment Behavioural aspects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Private Equity receives a boost from the US Department of Labor – significant industry potential

Based on the US Department of Labor (DOL) guidance US retirement plans, Defined Contribution (DC), can include certain private equity strategies into diversified investment options, such as target date or balanced funds, while complying with ERISA (laws that govern US retirement plans).

 

This is anticipated to result in better outcomes for US investors.

It is also anticipated to provide a further tailwind for the Private Equity sector which is expected to experience significant growth over the decade ahead, as outlined

 

Private equity investments have long been incorporated in defined benefit (DB) plans, DC plans, 401(k) retirement plans similar to KiwiSaver Funds offered in New Zealand and superannuation funds around the world, have mainly steered away from incorporating Private Equity in their plans due to litigation concerns.

By way of summary, the DOL provides the following guidance. In adding a private equity allocation, the risks and benefits associated with the investment should be considered.

In making this determination, the fiduciary should consider:

  1. whether adding the asset allocation fund with a private equity component would offer plan participants the opportunity to invest their accounts among more diversified investment options within an appropriate range of expected returns net of fees and the diversification of risks over a multi-year period;
  2. whether using third-party investment experts as necessary or managed by investment professionals have the capabilities, experience, and stability to manage an asset allocation fund that includes private equity effectively;
  3. limit the allocation to private equity in a way that is designed to address the unique characteristics associated with such an investment, including cost, complexity, disclosures, and liquidity, and has adopted features related to liquidity and valuation.

It is worth noting that the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) has adopted a 15% limit on investments into illiquid assets by US open-ended Funds such as Mutual Funds (similar to Unit Trusts) and ETFs.

 

In addition, the DOL suggests consideration should be given to the plan’s features and participant profile e.g. ages, retirement age, anticipated employee turnover, and contribution and withdrawal patterns.

The DOL letter outlines a number of other appropriate considerations, such as Private Equity to be independently valued in accordance with agreed valuation procedures.

It is important to note the guidance is in relation to Private Equity being offered as part of a multi-asset class vehicle structure as a custom target date, target risk, or balanced fund. Private Equity cannot be offered as a standalone investment option.

The DOL letter can be accessed here.

 

Size of the Market and innovation

As noted DC plans have been reluctant to invest in Private Equity, by contrast DB plans allocate 8.7% of their assets to Private Equity, based on a 2019 survey of the US’ 200 largest retirement plans.

It is estimated that as much as $400 billion of new assets could be assessed by Private Equity businesses as a result of the DOL guidance, as outlined in this FT article.

Increased innovation is expected, more Private Equity vehicles that offer lower fees and higher levels of liquidity will be developed.

A number of Private Equity firms are expected to benefit.

For example, Partners Group and Pantheon stand to benefit, see below for comments, they launched Private Equity Funds with daily pricing and liquidity in 2013. These Funds were designed for 401(k) plans.

As you would expect, they reference research by the Georgetown Center for Retirement Initiatives which concludes that including a moderate allocation to private equity in a target-date fund could increase the participant’s annual retirement income by at least 6%.

They also comment, private markets provide valuable diversification in an investment portfolio in light of a shrinking public markets sector that has seen the number of US publicly-traded companies decline by around 50% since 1996.

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

The DOL guidance will provide another tailwind for Private Equity.

 

For those interested, this paper by the TIAA provides valuable insights into the optimal way of building an allocation to Private Equity within a portfolio.

 

Potentially significant Industry Impact

The DOL Letter has been well received by industry participants as outlined in this P&I article.

The article stresses that the guidance will help quell some sponsor’s litigation fears and  with a good prudent process Private Equity can be added to a portfolio.

 

The DOL believes the guidance letter “helps level the playing field for ordinary investors and is another step by the department to ensure that ordinary people investing for retirement have the opportunities they need for a secure retirement.”

 

The DOL Letter is in response to a Groom Law Group request on behalf of its clients Pantheon Ventures and Partners Group, who have developed private equity strategies that can accommodate DC plans. The DOL specifically referenced Partners Groups Funds and commented their Private Equity Funds are “designed to be used as a component of a managed asset allocation fund in an individual account plan.”

Partners Group said in a statement that the DOL has taken “a major step toward modernizing defined contribution plans and providing participants with a more secure retirement. At a time when working families are struggling to save, this guidance gives fiduciaries the certainty they need to finally provide main street Americans access to the same types of high-performing, diversifying investments as wealthy and large institutional investors, all within the safety of their 401(k) plans.”

Further comments by Partner Group can be found here.

 

Happy investing.

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