The Art and Science of Getting and Staying “On a Roll”
I love adapting engineering and physics concepts to solve common financial problems many people, even financially savvy people, encounter all the time. That’s why I’m so excited about my latest invention, the Wealth Allocation Wheel.
The challenge, in simple terms, is “staying on a roll.” There is an art and science to staying on a roll with your wealth. This means having enough inertia with your wealth to successfully navigate the Stages of Financial Freedom (see Illustration 1). The clear aim I have written about extensively is how to achieve controlled growth while avoiding short or long periods of stagnation or depletion.
I’m not sure Yogi Berra is big source of investment knowledge for most investors. But, that doesn’t mean his words of wisdom, “déjà vu all over again,” don’t apply.
Today’s Wall Street Journal included an article titled, “Value Investors Face Existential Crisis After Long Market Rally.” It discussed the “rut” that value investing has experienced since 2009. No arguments there. Value stocks are down about 1% year-to-date while growth stocks are up nearly 8%. The tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite Index, which holds many of the favorite tech names among growth investors, is at its all-time high.
A Familiar Scenario
But as I sipped my morning coffee and read further, I didn’t ask myself how we should change our current value approach (for the portion of our portfolios dedicated to value investing) to match the current environment. Instead, I found myself thinking about earlier in my career, the late 1990s. Tech ruled the day from 1995 through 1999, and value investors lagged back then too.
While the S&P 500 remained near its all-time high, the recent massive selloff in the technology sector went mostly unnoticed. But for investors who follow the so-called “FANG” stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) the hit was painful: About $60 billion in value was wiped out in just one afternoon, representing the largest selloff in nearly 2 years.
The wipeout was a function of just how big these companies have become and the position they are in with new tax reform looming. Tech companies are expected to receive little benefit given its already-low average tax rate of 18.5% (below the 20% proposed rate).
This has caused investors to rotate out of the tech stocks and into the financial services sector, which stands to benefit more from a corporate tax rate that would drop from the current 35% to 20%.
Interestingly, the S&P 500 was relatively unaffected while this rotation into financials and out of tech ensued. The index’s volatility actually remained low, as did correlations among the S&P 500’s member stocks.
In other words, the diversity offered by the S&P 500 Index allowed for the index too remain relatively unscathed by the trading within the tech and financial sectors, a key reminder to investors that having proper exposure across the markets continues to be important with the S&P 500 near its all-time high.
Passive investing as the foundation for an optimal portfolio
To investors who have spent years accumulating wealth through active entrepreneurship or business management, the notion of being “passive” may have a negative connotation. But when designing a portfolio strategy, evidence suggests that passive investing produces superior results with lower expenses than one built around active trading.
In a passive investment strategy, an investor is not looking to beat the market. Rather, the goal is to gain exposure to the broader market – all the good and all the bad – at the lowest possible cost. (Source: Managing Investment Portfolios: A Dynamic Process)
The broader market is represented by indices, for example the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index for stocks and the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index for bonds. Investors do not buy into an index per se, but in funds that closely mimic the index.
No single input is more important to a portfolio’s success than asset allocation, or determining how much to allocate to various asset classes.
In 1986, authors Gary Brinson, Gilbert Beebower, and Randolph Hood conducted an in-depth study of the various sources of investment returns. Specifically, they analyzed quarterly returns from 1974-1983 for the 91 largest pension funds, and determined that 93.6% of the returns generated were a result of asset allocation.
In a follow-on study in 1991, the authors concluded that 91% of portfolio returns are determined by asset allocation.
Thus far, the 2016 presidential race has been nothing short of surprising. It has been laden with controversy and criticism. With a victory in California, Hillary Clinton is the clear democratic nomination frontrunner. Donald Trump, the only Republican candidate left in the race, has won enough delegates to clinch the GOP party nomination.
While the outcome of the election is still months away, history suggests the markets respond far better to a predictable outcome. Markets hate uncertainty. Investment managers will seek clarity over the coming months by looking carefully at the economic proposals of each candidate. For example, markets might respond well to a reduction in the corporate tax rate, a bullish economic indicator. Party affiliation does not offer much insight into strong or weak performance of capital markets. We can look back to times when markets have performed well under both parties.
The turmoil in the energy sector was widely publicized since the historic decline of prices starting mid-2014. This has largely been due to a glut of oil in the market with relatively flat demand.
As a result, the energy sector was plagued with volatility and decreasing prices as investors fled for safety.
This negative sentiment has spilled over into what should be an uncorrelated segment of the energy industry: mid-stream providers. Think of mid-stream as an infrastructure of toll roads that transport and store units of energy, not just oil. As Jim Callahan discussed in his latest edition of Portfolio Matters, the U.S. pipelines currently transport 70% natural gas and 30% oil. The demand globally for oil has decreased the volume of oil flowing through pipelines, but natural gas production is growing. The Energy Information Administration, estimates that natural gas consumption will increase by 60% on a global basis by 2040. The U.S. is the largest producer and exporter of natural gas and estimates point towards an increase in volume of 9% in 2016. While oil gets all the press, we remind our clients that its natural gas that is more important to the U.S. mid-stream MLPs, and because of this, we are very comfortable with our mid-stream focused investment thesis.
On Wednesday, the Fed decided to put an anticipated rate hike on hold for at least another month. The planned hike was curbed due to the recent volatility experienced in the market. Although the job market has been resilient during this weakened economic period, broader economic factors have caused a period of increased market volatility, measured by the VIX index. U.S stocks have rebounded in the past month, mainly due to improving data, rising oil prices and an accommodative stance by central banks around the world.
When building an efficient portfolio, most market practitioners would agree to an allocation to bonds. This allocation reduces the overall volatility of the portfolio and adds a layer of safety. The two main components affecting fixed income returns are: 1). interest rates and 2). the credit quality of issuers. With the recent increase of interest rates and the Fed’s plan to incrementally increase rates over the next few years, we feel investments in credit, especially high yield, offers better return potential to investors.
High yield bonds tend to deliver the potential to improve a portfolio’s overall risk/return given the historically low correlation with other core asset classes. Due to their location on the credit spectrum, high yield bonds offer enhanced yields compared to high quality bonds and can potentially increase the overall yield of a portfolio significantly. Although this has not been the case as of late, historically speaking, high yield bonds have provided better downside protection than equities while delivering equity like returns with significantly less volatility and drawdowns.