Balanced Bear Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

  

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

US Recession Warning Indicators

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Statistically:

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

 

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

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

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDP Nowcast.

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

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

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

 

Leading Indicators

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

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

 

Yield Curve

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Trustees should be aware of the shocking cost of timing markets and what is the best solution

Cambridge Associates recently published a research report concluding it does not pay to be out of the market.

” Investors who take money out of the market too early stand to “risk substantial underperformance,”

Cambridge advised investors concerned about the length of the current bull market not to bail out of equity markets earlier than necessary in an attempt to avoid exposure to downturns.

This seems timely given current market volatility.

As the article notes, it is hard to time markets “because trying to time re-entry to get back into the markets at lower levels leads to substantially lower long-term returns, the researchers found. For example, the report showed that being out of the market for just the two best quarters since the turn of the last century cut cumulative real returns on U.K. equities by more than 50 percent.”

“That effect is even more profound in the United States, where sitting out the best two quarters cut cumulative real returns by more than two thirds, according to the report.”

“While no investor should be ignoring valuations, becoming too focused on timing an exit has substantial risks,” said Alex Koriath, head of Cambridge’s European pensions practice, in a statement accompanying the research. “The best periods for returns tend to be very concentrated, meaning that exiting at the wrong time could drag down cumulative returns significantly.”

 

This is a pertinent issue given the US sharemarket is into its longest bull market run in history. Also, of interest, historically on average, markets perform very strongly over the final stages of a bull market run. Lastly, bull markets tend to, more often than not, end six-twelve months prior to a recession. Noting, this is not always the case. Albeit, the consensus is not forecasting a recession in the US for some time. It appears, the probability of a US recession in the next couple of years is low.

The key forward looking indicators, such as shape of the yield curve, significant widening of high yield credit spreads, rising unemployment, and falling future manufacturing orders are not signalling a recession is on the horizon in the US. Please see my earlier posts History of Sharemarket corrections – An Anatomy of equity market corrections

 

What is the answer?

It is difficult to time markets. AQR came to a similar conclusion in a recent article. AQR argue the best form of defence is a truly diversified portfolio. I agree and this is a core focus of this Blog.

As we know equity markets have drawdowns, declines in value of over 20%. In the recent AQR article they estimate that there have been 11 episodes of 20% plus drawdowns since 1926, a little over once every 10 years! Bearing in mind the last major drawdown was in 2008 – 09.

The average peak to trough has been -33% and on average it has taken 27 months to get back to the pre-drawdown levels.

As AQR note, we cannot consistently forecast and avoid these severe down markets. In my mind, conceptually these drawdowns are the risk of investing in equities. With that risk, comes higher returns over the longer term relative to investing in other assets.

At the very least we can try and reduce our exposure by strategically tilting portfolios, as AQR says, “if market timing is a sin, we have advocated to “sin a little””.

 

I agree with the Cambridge Associates article to never be out of the market completely and with AQR to strategically tilting the portfolio. These tilts should primarily be based on value, be subject to a disciplined research process, and focused more on risk reduction rather than chasing returns. This approach provides the opportunity to add value over the medium to longer term.

 

Nevertheless, by far a better solution is to truly diversify and build a robust portfolio. This is core to adding value, portfolio tilting is a complementary means of adding value over the medium to long term relative to truly diversifying the portfolio.

True diversification in this sense is to add investment strategies that are lowly correlated with equities, while at the same time are expected to make money over time. Specifically, they help to mitigate the drawdowns of equities. For example, adding listed property and listed infrastructure to an equity portfolio is not providing true portfolio diversification.

In this sense truly “alternative” investment strategies need to be considered e.g. Alternative Risk premia and hedge fund type strategies. Private equity and unlisted assets are also diversifiers.

Again conceptually, there is a cost to diversifying. However, it is the closest thing in finance to a free lunch from a risk/return perspective i.e. true portfolio diversification results a more efficient portfolio. Most of the diversifying investment strategies have lower returns to equities. There are costs to diversification whether using an options strategy, holding cash, or investing in alternative investment strategies as a means to reduce sharp drawdowns in portfolios.

Nevertheless, a more diversified portfolio is a more robust portfolio, and offers a better risk return outcome.

Also, very few investor’s objectives require to be 100% invested in equities. For most investors a 100% allocation to equities is too volatile for them, which raises the risk that investors act suboptimal during periods of market drawdowns and heightened levels of market volatility i.e. sell at the bottom of the market

 

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

 

As AQR note, diversification is not the same thing as a hedge. Uncorrelated means returns are influenced by other risks. They have different return drivers.

From this perspective, it is also worth noting that adding diversifying strategies to any portfolio means adding new risks. The diversifiers will have their own periods of underperformance, hopefully this will be at a different times to when other assets in the portfolio are also underperforming. Albeit, just because they have periods of underperformance does not mean they are not portfolio diversifiers.

AQR perform a series of model portfolios which highlight the benefits of adding truly diversifying strategies to a traditional portfolio of equities and fixed interest.

No argument there as far as I am concerned.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Risk of Economic Recession and an Inverted Yield Curve

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

Historically an inverted yield curve is a powerful recession sign.  John Williams, who will take over the helm of the New York Federal Reserve Bank of New York in June, said earlier in the year a truly inverted yield curve “is a powerful signal of recessions” that has historically occurred (italics is mine).

The US yield curve spread (difference in yield) between the 2 year and 10 year US Treasury interest rates has recently reached its narrowest in over a decade.  Thus the heightened discussion.

As can be seen in the graph below the US Treasury yield curve inverted before the recessions of 2008, 2000, 1991, and 1981.

It should be noted that the US yield curve has not yet inverted and there is a lag between inversion and recession, on average of 1 to 2 years.  See graph below.  I am not sure I’d call the Yield Curve still “Bullish” all the same.

At the same time, the risk of recession does not currently appear to be a clear and present danger.

Much of the flattening of the current yield curve (i.e. shorter-term interest rates are close to longer-term interest rates) reflects that the US Federal Reserve has increased shorter-term interest rates by over 150 bpts over the last 2 years and longer-term interest rates remain depressed largely due to technical factors.  Albeit, the US 10 year Treasury bond recently trade above 3%, the first time since the start of 2014.  Therefore, the current shape of the US yield curve does make some sense.

Inverted yield curve.png

 

The picking of recession is obviously critical in determining the likely future performance of the sharemarket.

As a rule, sharemarkets generally enter bear markets, falls of greater than 20%, in the event of a recession.

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

See the graph below, as it notes, since 1957, the S&P 500, a measure of the US sharemarket:

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

bear market recessions.jpg

 

Statistically:

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

The current US sharemarket bull market passed its 9 year anniversary in March 2018.  The accumulated return is over 300%.

 

Mind you, we have to be careful with averages, I like this quote:

“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.”

 

Assessing Recession Risk

Importantly, investors should not use the shape of the yield curve as a sole guide as to the likelihood of a recession.

The key forward looking indicators to monitor include an inverted yield curve, but also a significant widening of high yield credit spreads, rising unemployment, and falling future manufacturing orders.

Tightening of financial conditions is also a key indicator, particularly central banks raising interest rates (or reducing the size of their balance sheet as in the current environment) e.g. US Federal Reserve, but also tightening of lending conditions by the large lenders such as the commercial banks to consumers and more particularly businesses.

Lastly, equity market valuation is important.

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement