Wednesday, June 26th from 12:30-1:30 pm.
This week I want to step back and talk about some misconceptions with concerning markets, cycles, and investing. However, before we get to that, let me give you a quick review and update on where we are following the “sellable rally,” we have discussed over the last couple of weeks.
In review, we said last week:
“We remain primarily long-biased in our portfolios, but are also slightly overweight in cash, and portfolio weight in fixed income. We are also carrying some hedge by having overweighted “defensive” stocks a couple of months ago which have continued to provide outperformance.
There is a very good possibility this rally will continue next week as momentum and short-covering levels have been breached. However, if the market fails to set a new high and turns lower, the risk of a downside break will grow as we progress into summer.”
That target was hit on Monday, and we sold 1/2 of our trading positions accordingly.
Since then, the market has languished around the 50-day moving average seemingly awaiting some catalyst to move it in one direction of the other. Fortunately, there are plenty of those on deck as next week the Fed will give us their latest musings on whether they are inclined to cut rates or not and Trump will be confronting China in the upcoming G-20 meeting.
Pass the popcorn, please.
As shown in the chart below, the short-term oversold condition has been reversed which limits upside, but the 50-day moving average has acted as support all week.
The concern this coming week will continue to be adverse news from the Fed, the White House, or the economic data which has continued to take a turn for the worse. Global economic growth has plunged as well as Q2 and Q3 economic growth estimates.
This also puts forward earnings at risk of recession, which will not play well with a market trading at rather extreme historical valuations.
“Oh my gosh, you are so bearish. You must just be all in cash and hiding in a bunker.”
Well, for those that are reading impaired, it must certainly sound that way.
However, in reality, we have consistently maintained long exposure to the markets, but continue to control our risks to protect against sudden losses of capital.
That brings us to today’s missive.
Understand Bear Markets, Don’t Fear Them
I am a value-oriented investor and prefer to buy assets when they are fundamentally cheap based on several factors including price to sales, free cash flow yield, and high return on equity. However, being a strict value investor can also lead to a variety of investment mistakes, primarily emotional, when markets become both highly correlated and driven by speculative excess.
Currently, there is little value available to investors in the market today as prices have been driven higher by repeated Central Bank interventions and artificially suppressed interest rates.
What we do know is that despite these interventions, the markets will eventually mean revert to the point that “value” is once again present.
The problem for investors is two-fold:
This is why a good portion of our investment management philosophy is focused on the control of “risk” in portfolio allocation models through the lens of relative strength and momentum analysis.
The effect of momentum is arguably one of the most pervasive forces in the financial markets. Throughout history, there are episodes where markets rise, or fall, further and faster than logic would dictate. However, this is the effect of the psychological, or behavioral, forces at work as “greed” and “fear” overtake logical analysis.
I have discussed previously the effect of “full market cycles” as shown in the chart below.
What is also important to note is that these full market cycles are ultimately driven by the economic cycle. As shown in the next chart, the sector rotation appears to lead the economic cycle.
Importantly, it should be noted that investment styles also shift during the broader cycle.
It is during this last stage of the cycle that “fundamentals appear not matter” as the fundamentally worst stocks lead the markets higher.
In other words, we begin hearing discussions of why “This Time Is Different (TTID),” “The Fear Of Missing Out FOMO),” and “There Is No Alternative (TINA).”
For now, complacency lives. Despite geopolitical turmoil, slowing economic data, weak corporate profitability, tariffs, and “trade wars,” the markets remain astonishingly close to their all-time highs. Furthermore, volatility, remains amazingly close to its historical lows despite a market that has gone nowhere for eighteen months.
Moreover, complacency also in how much investors are willing to pay for each dollar of profits from owning stocks relative to overall economic growth. As shown below, investors are paying much more for every dollar’s worth of profits than what the economy should actually generate. (Profits are a reflection of economic activity, not the other way around.)
Clearly, paying excess valuations is not uncommon throughout history. However, so are the eventual reversions are investors reprice values during economic slowdowns and recessions.
But the driving force behind today’s multiple expansion has been the relentless expansion of global central bank balance sheets since the outbreak of the financial crisis nearly a decade ago. Overall, global central bank balance sheets have expanded from just over $5 trillion prior to the crisis in 2007 to nearly $22 trillion today.
But here is the most important point for investors.
The speculative asset chase over the last decade, which is a direct result of Central Bank activity, has locked investors into a period of near zero prospective total returns in virtually in every asset class for the coming decade.
Read that again.
There is little doubt that we are in both the late stages of an economic cycle and a momentum driven market. Therefore, investment focus must be adjusted to current market dynamics that requires a focus on relative strength and momentum as opposed to valuation-based strategies.
There have been many studies published that have shown that relative strength momentum strategies, in which as assets’ performance relative to its peers predicts its future relative performance, work well on both an absolute or time series basis. Historically, past returns (over the previous 12 months) have been a good predictor of future results. This is the basic application of Newton’s Law Of Inertia, that states “an object in motion tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
The chart below shows a simple example of a strategy using the 12-month moving average. The theory is you are long equities when the S&P 500 is above the 12-month moving average, and in cash when below it.
Momentum strategies, which are trend following strategies by nature, have been proven to work well across extreme market environments, multiple asset classes and over historical time frames.
Unfortunately, few investors can actually use such a system for the following reasons:
The end effect is not a pretty one.
By applying momentum strategies to fundamentally derived investment portfolios it allows the portfolio to remain allocated during rising markets while managing the inherent risk of behavioral dynamics.
It is just really hard to do because of the “psychological pull” from the markets and the media.
However, this is why, despite the fact that I write like a “bear,” the portfolio model has remained allocated like a “bull” during the market’s advance. Our job is simple, make money for our clients when markets are rising and avoid potentially catastrophic losses when trends change.
Maintaining your portfolio through a disciplined investment process will reduce risk and increase long-term profitability. With markets currently hovering near all-time highs, despite a continuing erosion of underlying fundamental and technical strength, the risk/reward ratio remains out of favor.
Eventually, this cycle does end, and the reversion process back to value has historically been a painful one.
But the important point is that you shouldn’t “fear” bear markets.
They are just part of the investment cycle and are required for the next “great bull market” to begin.
If you need help, or have questions, we are always glad to help. Just email me.
See you next week.
If you are NOT an RIA PRO subscriber you are missing the most important part of each weeks’ newsletter.
A Conservative Strategy For Long-Term Investors
There are 4-steps to allocation changes based on 25% reduction increments. As noted in the chart above a 100% allocation level is equal to 60% stocks. I never advocate being 100% out of the market as it is far too difficult to reverse course when the market changes from a negative to a positive trend. Emotions keep us from taking the correct action.
As noted last week:
“As reiterated in the main missive above this week, the “risks” still outweigh the “rewards” as we head deeper into the summer months. Importantly, don’t mistake an oversold, short-covering, rally as a bullish sign. More often than not, it is a trap.
We have remained patient over the last several weeks which has helped minimize some of the volatility.”
While the rally over the last couple of weeks was certainly welcomed, it was not impressive in terms of breadth or strength. Our suspicion is it will fail sooner than later UNLESS the Federal Reserve cuts rates and Trump inks a deal with China.
Given the unknowns, and the potential volatility of a “surprise” coming to fruition, continue following the same rules and guidelines from the last couple of weeks.
As noted last week, with week two of the rally now in the books and the markets back to very oversold, it is time take some action this coming week.
If you need help after reading the alert; don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thank you for all the emails of plans. We have been imputing them into the 401k plan manager (we are going to roll out the beta shortly with a few samples for testing purposes.) We are currently covering more than 10,000 mutual funds initially, and will add ETFs and Stocks in the coming updates.
We are also adding some retirement planning and savings tools to keep you on track.
Our “live” 401k plan manager which will soon be available to RIA PRO subscribers. You will be able to compare your portfolio to our live model, see changes live, receive live alerts to model changes, and much more.
We are building models specific to company plans. So, if you would like to see your company plan included specifically, send me the following:
I have gotten quite a few plans, so keep sending them and I will include as many as we can.
If would like to offer our service to your employees at a deeply discounted corporate rate please contact me.
The 401k plan allocation plan below follows the K.I.S.S. principle. By keeping the allocation extremely simplified it allows for better control of the allocation and a closer tracking to the benchmark objective over time. (If you want to make it more complicated you can, however, statistics show that simply adding more funds does not increase performance to any great degree.)