The benefits of behavioral finance in the investment planning process

Investment advisors who stay active across their client base in times of market volatility are more likely to add new clients from a variety of sources.

Clients and prospects want to know that their advisor is looking out for them, even when the advice they are delivering is to stay the course or focus on the long term.

Laying a foundation for communications based on behavioral finance allows advisors to better set expectations early on in client relationships, while also offering an opportunity to maintain an open dialogue when markets become turbulent.

When properly employed, behavioral finance allows advisors to pursue the twin goals of helping investors feel less financial stress while making better decisions in pursuit of their long-term goals.

A recent study found those advisors who employed behavioral finance in their approach:

  1. Gained a better understanding of clients’ risk appetite and kept them invested during the market turbulence in early 2020;
  2. Reported elevated client acquisition activity earlier in the year; and
  3. Developed deeper relations with clients.

As market volatility escalated, advisors increasingly turned to behavioral finance to help keep clients invested and focused on their long-term goals.

These are the key conclusions of a White Paper by Cerulli Associates, in partnership with Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc., and the Investments & Wealth Institute: The Evolving Role of Behavioral Finance in 2020.    The Evolving Role of Behavioral Finance in 2020 | Schwab Funds

These findings will not be surprising to most investment advisors.  Nevertheless, the evidence supporting including elements of behavioral finance in the planning process is growing, and it is becoming more widely accepted.

It goes without saying, that advisors truly need to get to know their clients and use these insights to create personalised action plans to help them achieve their goals.  Clients prefer this too. 

Incorporating elements of behavioral finance in the planning process will help achieve this, benefiting both the client and advisor.

We all have behavioral biases and are prone to making poor decisions, investment related or otherwise. Therefore, it is important to understand our behavioral biases. From this perspective, behavioral finance can help us make better investment decisions.

For a further discussion on how investment decisions can be improved by employing behavior finance see this Kiwi Investor Blog Post, which includes access to a Behavioral Finance Toolkit.

Behavioral Biases

The following Table outlines the Top 5 behavioral biases identified by advisors in the Cerulli Associates study.

Recency biasBeing easily influenced by recent news events or experiences
Loss aversionOpting for less risk in portfolio than is recommended
Familiarity/home biasPreferring to invest in familiar (U.S. domiciled) companies
FramingMaking decisions based on the way the information is presented
Mental accountingSeparating wealth into different buckets based on financial goals

Not unexpectedly Recency bias was found by advisors to be the most common behavioral bias amongst clients this year.  This was also the most common behavioral bias in 2019, on both occasions 35% of Advisors indicated that Recency bias was a significant contributor to their clients’ decision making.

Loss aversion held the number two spot in both years.  The Paper provides a full list of Client behavioral biases identified, comparing 2020 results with those in 2019.

Clients are more than likely affected by several behavioral biases.

Source: Staib Financial Planning, LLC

Advisors can help clients improve their investment outcomes by influencing the behavioral bias in a positive way.  By way of example in the paper, Framing (easily influenced by recent events), “an advisor can emphasize how rebalancing a portfolio during an equity market decline allows investors to accumulate more shares of their favorite stock or funds at a reduced price.”

They conclude: “by embracing the principles of behavioral finance, advisors can nudge clients toward more constructive ways to think about their portfolios.”

Survey Results – the benefits of Behavioral Finance

The paper defines Behavioral finance as the study of the emotional and intellectual processes that combine to drive investors’ decision making, with the goal of helping clients optimize financial outcomes and emotional satisfaction.

As the White Paper outlines “Advisors must help investors create and maintain a mental framework to help ease their concerns about the fluctuations of the market. Behavioral finance can be a crucial element of advisors’ efforts to help investors overcome their emotional reactions in pursuit of their longterm financial goals.”

There has been an increase in advisors adopting the principles of behavioral finance in America, particularly in relation to client communications.

In 2020 81% of advisors indicated adopting the principles of behavioral finance, up from 71% in 2019.

The increase is likely in response by advisors to provide a “mental framework to deal with the adversity presented by increased uncertainty in the market and in life overall in 2020.”

Benefits of Behavioral Finance

Keeping clients invested was found to be a key benefit of incorporating behavioral finance in the advice process, 55% of advisors indicated this as a benefit, up from 30% in 2019.

The benefit of developing a better understanding of client’s comfort level with risk also grew in 2020, from 20% in 2019 to 44% in 2020 (probably not surprisingly given events in March and April of this year).

In 2019, the benefits of incorporating behavioral finance most cited by advisors was: strengthening relationships (50%), improving decisions (49%), and better managing client expectations (45%).  These benefits also scored highly in 2020. 

The paper provides a full list of the benefits of incorporating behavioral finance, comparing the results of 2020 with 2019.

To summarise, the results highlighted the dual role of behavioral finance in client relationships as:

  1. serving as a framework for deeper engagement to strengthen communications and prioritize goals during good times; and
  2. to help minimize clients’ instinctual adverse reactions during periods of acute volatility.

The paper then focused on two areas:

  • Growing the client base
  • Deepening client connections

Behavioral Finance Advisors experienced greater growth of their client base in 2020

In 2020 55% of advisor respondents indicated they had added new clients since the first quarter of 2020.  4% indicated they had experienced net client losses.

However, the results differed materially between advisors who adopted elements of behavioral finance compared to those who do not.

“Two-thirds (66%) of behavioral finance users reported adding to their client base, compared to just 36% of advisors who are not incorporating behavioral finance in their practices.”

The source of these new clients?:

  • “Approximately two-thirds of new clients were sourced from other advisors with whom clients had become dissatisfied, or as an outcome of investors seeking to consolidate their accounts and maintain fewer advisor relationships. This is frequently attributable to satisfied clients referring friends and family who are discontented with their current advisory relationship.”
  • “The other third of new client relationships was attributable to the conversion of formerly selfdirected investors who found the current conditions an opportune time to seek professional advice for the first time.“

Therefore, “behavioral finance adherents are more likely to not only educate clients regarding the potential for volatility, but also to urge clients to expect it. This scenario reinforces many of the key benefits of leveraging behavioral finance in advisory relationships, especially with regard to managing expectations and remaining invested during periods of volatility.”

Behavioral Finance Advisors develop deeper connections with their client base

Cerulli’s research has found that the level of an advisor’s proactive communication during periods of market volatility is the most reliable indicator of the degree to which the advisor will add new clients during the period.

In the study that they undertook, for example, they found that 72% of those advisors who employed elements of behavioral finance and increased their outgoing calls added new clients, compared to 42% of non-users of behavioral finance.

They conclude “The unifying element in these results is that proactive personal communication was valued by investors and was especially effective for advisors who have made behavioral finance a part of their client engagement strategy.“

A key point here, is that “Instead of having to pivot from touting their investment returns to focusing on explaining volatility, behavioral finance users were able to frame current conditions as expected developments within the context of the long-term plans they had previously developed and discussed.”

From this perspective, it is important to understand what type of communications clients and prospects prefer.

It goes without saying, that advisors truly need to get to know their clients and use these insights to create personalized action plans to help them achieve their goals.

Clients prefer this too. 

Incorporating elements of behavioral finance in the planning process will deliver this, benefiting both the client and advisor. 

Please read my Disclosure Statement

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

Behavioral Biases

Recency biasBeing easily influenced by recent news events or experiences
Loss aversionOpting for less risk in portfolio than is recommended
Familiarity/home biasPreferring to invest in familiar (U.S. domiciled) companies
FramingMaking decisions based on the way the information is presented
Mental accountingSeparating wealth into different buckets based on financial goals
Confirmation biasSeeking information that reinforces existing perceptions
AnchoringFocusing on a specific reference point when making decisions
HerdingFollowing the crowd or latest investment trends
Endowment effectAssigning a greater value to investments or assets already owned
Inertia/status quoFailing to take action or avoiding changes to a portfolio
Selective memoryRecalling only positive experiences or outcomes
Regret aversionFearing to take action due to previous mistakes or regret avoidance
Availability biasBasing decisions only on readily available information
OverconfidenceBeing overly confident in one’s own ability
Self-controlSpending excessively today at expense of the future

Sources: Cerulli Associates, in partnership with Charles Schwab Investment Management, Inc., and the Investments & Wealth Institute. Analyst Note: Advisors were asked, “To what degree do you believe the following biases may be affecting your clients’ investment decision making?”

Who would benefit most from targeted investment advice?

Those in the Retirement Risk Zone would benefit most from targeted investment advice.

The Retirement Risk Zone is the 10-year period before and after retirement (assumed to retire at age 65 years).

It is the 20-year period when the greatest amount of retirement savings is in play, and subsequently, risk is at its highest.  It is a very important period for retirement planning.

The Retirement Risk Zone is the worst possible time to experience a large negative return.  How much you lose during a bear market (20% or more fall in value of sharemarkets) may not be anywhere near as important as the timing of that loss.

Therefore, the value of good advice and a well-constructed portfolio aligned with one’s investment objectives is of most value during the Retirement Risk Zone.

Impact on timing of market losses

If a large loss occurs during the Retirement Risk Zone it will result in less money in retirement and raise longevity risk (the risk of running out of money in retirement).

The risk that the order of investment returns is unfavourable is referred to as sequencing risk. 

Sequencing risk can be viewed as the interaction of market volatility and cashflows. The timing of returns and cashflows matters during both the accumulation of retirement savings and in retirement.

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

It is untrue to say that volatility does not matter for the long term when cashflows are involved.  For further discussion on this issue see this Post, Could Buffett be wrong?

Longevity Risk

The portfolio size effect and sequencing risk have a direct relationship to longevity risk.

For individuals, longevity risk is the risk of outliving ones’ assets, resulting in a lower standard of living, reduced care, or a return to employment.

One-way longevity risk manifests itself is when an investor’s superannuation savings is subject to a major negative market event within the Retirement Risk Zone.

Materiality of Market Volatility in Retirement Risk Zone

Research by Griffith University finds “that sequencing risk can deplete terminal wealth by almost a quarter, at the same time increasing the probability of portfolio ruin at age 85 from a probability of one-in three, to one-in-two.“

Based on their extensive modelling, investors have a 33.3% chance of not having enough money to last to aged 85, this raises to a 50% chance due to a large negative return during the Retirement Risk Zone.

They also note “It is our conjecture that, for someone in their 20s, the impact of sequencing risk is minimal: younger investors have small account balances, and plenty of time to recover …… However, for someone in their late 50s/early 60s, the interplay between portfolio size and sequencing risk can cause a potentially catastrophic financial loss that has serious consequences for individuals, families and broader society.”

This is consistent with other international studies.

Managing Sequencing Risk

Sequencing risk is largely a retirement planning issue. Albeit a robust portfolio and a suitably appropriate investment approach to investing will help mitigate the impact of sequencing risk.

Two key areas from an investment perspective to focus on in managing sequencing risk include:

The Retirement Goal is Income

The OECD’s Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation emphasis that the objective is to generate retirement income.  This is different to the focus on accumulated value.  A key learning from the Australian Superannuation industry is that there has been too greater focus on the size of the accumulated balance and that the purpose of superannuation should be about income in retirement.

An important point to consider, without a greater focus on generating income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement as recommended by the OECD.

The OECD recommends the greater use of asset-liability matching (LDI) investment techniques.   

This is not just about increasing the cash and fixed income allocations within the portfolio but implementing more advanced funds management techniques to position the portfolio to deliver a more stable and secure level of income in retirement.

This is aligned with a Goals Based Investment approach.

A greater focus on reducing downside risk in a portfolio (Capital Preservation)

This is beyond just reducing the equity allocation within the retirement portfolio on approaching retirement, albeit this is fundamentally important in most cases.

A robust portfolio must display true portfolio diversification, that helps manage downside risk i.e. reduce degree of losses within a portfolio.

This may include the inclusion of alternative investments, tail risk hedging, and low volatility equities may also be option.

The current ultra-low interest rate environment presents a challenging environment for preserving portfolio capital, historically the role of Fixed Income.  Further discussion on this issue can be found in this Post, which includes a discussion on Tail Risk Hedging.

This article in smstrusteenews highlights the growing issue of capital preservation within the Australian Self-Managed Super Fund (SMSF) space given the current investment environment.

Meanwhile, this article from Forbes is on managing sequence of returns in retirement, and recommends amongst other things in having some flexibility around spending, maintaining reserve assets so you don’t have to sell assets after they fall in value, and the use of Annuities.

Many argue that sequencing risk can be managed by Product use alone. 

My preference is for a robust portfolio, truly diversified that is based on the principles of Goals-Based Investing.  Longevity annuities could be used to complement the Goals-Based approach, to manage longevity risk.

This is more aligned with a Robust Investment solution and the focus on generating retirement income as the essential investment goal.

Further Reading 

For a more technical read please see the following papers:

  1. Griffith University = The Retirement Risk Zone: A Baseline Study poorly-timed negative return event
  2. Retirement income and the sequence of-returns By: Moshe A. Milevsky, Ph.D., and Anna Abaimova, for MetLife

The case for a greater focus on generating retirement income is provided in this Post, summarising an article by Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Merton.  He argues strongly we should move away from the goal of amassing a lump sum at the time of retirement to one of achieving a retirement income for life.

The concepts in Merton’s article are consistent with the work by the EDHEC Risk Institute in building more robust retirement income solutions.

Lastly, a recent Kiwi Investor Blog Post, The Traditional Diversified Fund is outdated – greater customisation of the client’s investment solution is required, provides a framework for generating greater tailoring of investment solutions for clients.

Please read 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 case against US equities

Extremely high valuations at a time of overwhelming uncertainty sits at the core of the case against US equities.  The US equity market appears to be priced for a perfect outcome. 

For those that demand a margin of safety, there is very little safety margin right now in US equities.

GMO’s James Montier recently outlined the reasons not to be cheerful toward US equities. 

This contrasts with Goldman Sachs 10 reasons why the US equity market will move higher from here, which I covered in my last Post.

In the GMO article it is argued the US sharemarket is priced with too much certainty for a positive outcome.  Nevertheless, with so much uncertainty, such as shape of the economic recovery and effectiveness of efforts in containing further outbreaks of the coronavirus, investors should demand a margin of safety, “wriggle room for bad outcomes if you like”. 

The article concludes there is no margin of safety in the pricing of US stocks today.

In his view, “The U.S. stock market looks increasingly like the hapless Wile E. Coyote, running off the edge of a cliff in pursuit of the pesky Roadrunner but not yet realizing the ground beneath his feet had run out some time ago”.

This view in part reflects that GMO does not fully support the narrative that has primarily driven the recovery in the US stock market over recent months and is expected to provide further support.

The centre of the positive market outlook narrative is the US Federal Reserves’ (Fed) Quantitative Easing program (QE).  QE involves the buying of market securities, leading to an expansion of the Fed’s Balance Sheet.

In short, Montier thinks it is tricky to argue any direct linkage from the Fed’s balance sheet expansion programs to equities.  In previous Fed QE periods longer-term interest rates rose, which is not supportive of equities.  It is also observed, in other parts of the world where interest rates are low, equity markets are not trading on extreme valuations like in the US.

On this he concludes the “Fed-based explanations are at best ex post justifications for the performance of the stock market; at worst they are part of a dangerously incorrect narrative driving sentiment (and prices higher).” 

Further detail is provided below on why he is skeptical of positive market outlook narrative centred around ongoing support for the Fed’s policy.

The article concludes:

“Investing is always about making decisions while under a cloud of uncertainty. It is how one deals with the uncertainty that distinguishes the long-term value-based investors from the rest. Rather than acting as if the uncertainty doesn’t exist (the current fad), the value investor embraces it and demands a margin of safety to reflect the unknown. There is no margin of safety in the pricing of U.S. stocks today. Voltaire observed, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” The U.S. stock market appears to be absurd.”

This view is consistent with a “long term value” based investor and has some validity.  From this perspective, the investment rationale provides a counterbalance to Goldman’s 10 reasons.

The counter argument to GMO’s interest rate view is that the fall in interest rates reflects higher private sector savings and easier monetary policy rather than pessimism about growth and corporate earnings.  Reflecting the expansionary polices of both governments and central banks corporate earnings will recover.  Although weaker, the temporary fall in corporate earnings are not in proportion to that implied by lower interest rates.  This means lower interest rates really do justify higher market valuations.

Also, the two contrasting views could be correct, the only difference being a matter of time.

Implementation of investment strategy is key at this juncture in the economic and market cycle, more so than at any time over the last 20 years.

Historical sharemarket movements and over valuation

Since reaching the lows of 23rd March 2020, the U.S. equity market has rallied almost 50% and other world markets nearly 40%.

The movements in markets have been historic from the perspective of both the speed and scale of the market declines and their rebound.

GMO provide the following graph to demonstrate how sharp the fall and rebound by comparing the Covid-19 decline to others in history, as outlined in the following graph they provide:

Source: Global Financial Data, GMO

The sharp rebound in markets has pushed the US markets back up to extreme valuation levels.

The article outlines the following observations:

  • In 1929 the U.S. market P/E was 37% above its long-term average, and earnings relative to 10-year earnings were 46% above their normal level
  • In 2000 the market P/E was 98% above its average, and earnings relative to 10-year average earnings were 37% above their normal level.
  •  

As displayed in the following graph provided, valuations are in the 95th percentile, “right up there in terms of one of the most expensive markets of all time”.

Source: Schiller, GMO

It is clear to see there is very little margin for safety with such high valuation levels set against an uncertainty economic environment.

Accommodative US Federal Reserve Policy

A portion of the GMO article addresses the notion that an expanding Fed Balance Sheet will continue to support US equities.  The notion being that QE lowers interest rates, reducing the discount rate, and therefore drives up stock markets.

James prefers to focus on fundamentals and therefore has several issues with this viewpoint:

  1. He is skeptical of a clear link between interest rates and equity valuations.  As noted, Japan and Europe both have exceptionally low interest rates, but their stock markets are not trading on extreme market valuation like the US.
  2. Interest rates are low because economic growth is low, this needs to be reflected in company valuations.  See the note below, Role of Interest Rates for a fuller explanation.
  3. QE hasn’t actually managed to lower interest rates.  As can be seen in the Graph below, all three of the completed cycles of QE have actually ended with interest rates higher than they were when the QE began.
Source: Global Financial Data, GMO

The graph also highlights how low US interest rates are!

A Note on the Role of Interest Rates

The following extract from the Article outlines James’ explanation as to the Role of Interest Rates:

“I am no longer unique in my questioning of the role of interest rates. The good people at AQR Capital released a paper in May 2020 entitled “Value and Interest Rates: Are Rates to Blame for Value’s Torments?” In it they say, “As the risk-free interest rate is one component of the discount rate, when interest rates go up, the discount rate increases and the asset price falls – if everything else stays constant. Hence, if expected cash flows are unchanged and if the risk premium associated with those cash flows is unchanged (where the risk premium is determined by both the amount of risk exposure the cash flows have and the price of aggregate risk to those exposures in the economy), then the formula tells us how prices will change when riskless interest rates change. However, in the case of stocks, these other components rarely stay constant. Changes in real or nominal interest rates are often accompanied by (or are often a response to) changes in expected inflation and/or changes in expected economic growth, and hence expected cashflows are often changing as well. There may also be a change in the required risk premium, which is the other (and often larger) component of the discount rate. All of these components have their own dynamics and are likely simultaneously being affected by macroeconomic conditions in possibly different ways.”

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

The case for owning equities – 10 reasons why the current bull market has further to run by Goldman Sachs

In what has been an extraordinary year, and despite a sharp bounce back from the sharemarket lows in March 2020, Goldman Sachs (GS) provides 10 strong reasons why they think US equity markets can continue to move higher from here.

GS issued their report earlier this week, 7th September 2020, after last week’s sharp declines. 

Quite rightly they highlight markets are currently susceptible to a pull back given their strong run since earlier in the year.  Nevertheless, over the longer term they think there are good reasons for them to move higher.

GS provide context in relation to the current market environment.

Firstly, the current global recession is unusual, not only to how sudden, sharp, and widespread the recession has been, also that it was not triggered by economic or market factors.  The recession was caused by government actions to restrict economic activity to contain the coronavirus.

Secondly, GS provides analysis as to the characteristics of the bear market (sharemarket fall of greater than 20%) earlier in the year.  They note it was characteristic of an “event driven” bear market (other types include structural and cyclical).  GS note that event driven bear markets typically experience falls of ~30% and are generally shorter in nature.  A sharp fall is often followed by a quick rebound.  They estimate that on average event driven bear markets take 9 months to reach their lows and fully recover within 15 months.  This compares to a structural bear market which take 3-4 years to reach their lows and around 10 years to recover.

See this Post for the history and comprehensive analysis of previous bear markets by Goldman Sachs: What too expect, navigating the current bear market.

GS also see lower returns than historically in the current investment cycle, this is expected across all asset classes.

Reasons why the current bull market has further to run

Goldman Sachs provide 10 reason why the current bull market has further to run.

Below I cover some of their reasons:

  • The market is in the first phase of a new investment cycle.  GS outline four phases of a cycle, hope, growth, optimism, and despair.  They see markets in the phase of hope, the first part of a new cycle.  2019 had the hallmarks of optimism.  The hope phase usually begins when economies are in recession as investors start to anticipate an economic recovery. 
  • The outlook for a vaccine has become more likely.  This is a positive for economic growth.  This combined with the expansionary policies by governments and central banks suggest economies will recover. 
  • The Policy environment is supportive for risk assets, including sharemarkets.
  • GS economists have recently revised up their economic forecasts.  This will likely lead to upward revisions to corporate earnings, which will help drive share prices higher.
  • Their proprietary analysis indicates there is a low level of risk for a new bear market, despite current high valuations.
  • Equities look attractive relative to other assets.  Dividend yields are attractive relative to government bonds and in GS’s view cheap relative to corporate debt, particularly those companies with strong balance sheets.
  • Although higher levels of inflation are not likely in the short/medium term, Equities offer a reasonable hedge to higher inflation expectations.
  • They see the technology sector continuing to dominate as the digital revolution continues to gather pace. They also note that many of the large tech stocks have high levels of cash and strong balance sheets. 

This article by the Financial News provides a good review of Goldman Sachs’ 10 reasons why the current bull market has further to run.

In my last Post I looked at the investment case for holding government bonds and fixed income which might be of interest.

Happy investing.

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.