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By this point, most readers of this blog know that I am in a very defensive posture relative to portfolio construction. We are holding money markets and fixed income in an effort to have some dry powder available to buy our favored holdings when we get a correction. I thought we would have had it by now given that corporate earnings are down 8% year-over-year and that valuations for the stock market are at their highest level since the last recession.
Fundamentally, stocks are over-valued and the US economy is slowing appreciably. US GDP growth was 0.3% in the first quarter of the year according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank.
Today, the Manufacturing PMI was released which shows the US manufacturing sector headed to recessionary levels not seen in several years. Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit said:
“US factories reported their worst month for just over six-and-a-half years in April, dashing hopes that first quarter weakness will prove temporary.
“Survey measures of output and order book backlogs are down to their lowest since the height of the global financial crisis, prompting employers to cut back on their hiring.
“The survey data are broadly consistent with manufacturing output falling at an annualized rate of over 2% at the start of the second quarter, and factory employment dropping at a rate of 10,000 jobs per month.
You can see in the graph above from Markit that manufacturing activity is just about to head into recession.
Below is a graph of manufacturing employment from Markit:
You can see that this is seriously impacting employment in the manufacturing sector as well.
The stock market has been going up in spite of the fundamentals deteriorating. However, even though it has tried multiple times to break out to new highs, it just has not been able to do it. Check out the graph below:
Over the past year, the market has dropped, recovered, then dropped again. The general pattern is for the market to fall, recover but not as strongly as before, then to fall again even further, recover but not as strongly – wash, rinse, repeat.
You can see that the market looks like it has rolled over but we need to see some follow-through before we determine if we’ve entered a correction or not.
From a technical standpoint, we are in a bear market correction until it can break above the horizontal blue line and start a new leg higher. I have trouble believing it can continue higher in the face of falling earnings and a slowing economy – but given that the computers are now making most of the trades based upon momentum strategies, the index will go further in each direction than makes sense before it switches and moves in the opposite direction.
Its been a few weeks since the last post on the blog – the market has meandered up and down and we are just now seeing the pattern that is developing.
In the graph above, you can see the formation of a series of lower highs and lower lows with investors unable to move the market to a new high.
From a technical standpoint, this is not a good sign for the market. But lets take a step back and remember what chart reading is really all about. The charts are just graphic representations of investor behavior and sentiment. This chart shows that there was positive sentiment that lead to a new high almost a year ago. Since then, investors have been in a tug of war with part of them in a glass half full mood and part of them in a glass half empty mood.
The glass half empty crowd: (1) sees a stock market that is overvalued at 25 times earnings, (2) sees corporate earnings that have steadily been falling over the past year and a half, (3) sees a slowing economy with the manufacturing sector already in recession and the service sector bouncing on either side of zero growth, (4) see a Federal Reserve that is in a rate increase mode, even if that mode is projected to be slower than originally forecast, and (5) believes we are headed into a recession later in the year. Their view is that the market needs to correct so that valuation comes in line with these headwinds.
The glass half full crowd: (1) sees the US economy being stronger than any of our trading partners, (2) sees a potential for strengthening of the Chinese economy, (3) believes that the steps taken in Europe to stimulate its economy should begin to produce dividends, (4) sees the dollar weaken against foreign currencies, which should be a positive for corporate earnings, and (5) sees a Federal Reserve that is putting the brakes on rate increases. Their view is that the market can push to new highs.
When you look at the graph, you can see that the investment crowd with a negative view is winning this battle. They have been able to drive prices down, then those with the positive view jump in to buy the dip. Unfortunately for them, they do not have enough strength or conviction to drive prices higher. You then have another selloff to a lower level before the dip buyers jump back in but lose steam before moving to a higher point.
Given the forecast for falling earnings and the current valuation at 25 times earnings compared to the historic average of 15 times earnings, caution is warranted.
Based upon this, we have adopted a conservative strategy in our portfolio management. There is a time to be aggressive and a time to be conservative, and given the fundamental landscape for earnings and the slowing economy now is a time to be conservative.
We have been very busy in recent weeks repositioning client accounts for what we see as a difficult year in the stock market in 2016. With the Federal Reserve embarking on an interest rate tightening cycle, the dollar continuing to strengthen and regulatory compliance costs increasing, all resulting in corporate earnings continuing their slide, all happening at a time when stock price valuations are pushing historic highs and global economic activity is slowing, a more conservative posture to portfolio management is the focus of our 2016 strategy.
Toward that end, we are focusing our efforts on moving our overall asset allocation within each investment objective to its minimum level of equity allocation and maximum level of fixed income and cash equivalents. That means, if a client investment objective is 65% Equity / 35% Fixed Income / 0% Cash Equivalents, it will move to 53.50% Equity / 41.5% Fixed Income / 5% Cash Equivalents. The change is formula driven, but in essence, the equity exposure is reduced by a flat 5% (which is moved to cash equivalents) plus 10% of the original equity exposure (or 6.5% in this example) is moved into fixed income.
Within the equity allocation, we have increased our exposure to companies that will benefit from increasing interest rates – like banks, brokerages, life insurance, and payroll processing companies, all of which traditionally experience increased earnings due to higher levels of interest income – and more defensive holdings like consumer staples and utilities.
We have also been selling holdings that have higher than average leverage on their balance sheets since higher interest rates will increase their expenses and lower their net income.
In a typical interest rate increase cycle, you would avoid longer term fixed income and utilities investments as the entire rate curve shifts higher, not just the short term rates that the Federal Reserve dictates. However, I believe this time, given the low level of economic activity we have been experiencing and the fact that we have the potential for a recession later in 2016 or early 2017, we will see longer term interest rates hold steady or even fall. This scenario is very positive for fixed income and utilities investments, and it has in fact been playing out in this manner over since the Federal Reserve increased rates in mid-December.
On the bar graph above, I have charted the price performance of the various economic sectors of the stock market. You can see that consumer staples and utilities stocks have far outperformed the rest of the market since the Federal Reserve increased rates in mid-December. The odd thing is that financial stocks have under-performed, but when quarterly earnings are reported in April and the positive impact of the rate increase is shown in their bottom line numbers, that situation should reverse itself.
We have been incrementally making changes to implement this strategy over the past few weeks, but will implement this strategy in full during our semi-annual account rebalancing process this month.
Given the outlook for a potential recession later this year or early 2017 (just so you know, I am not being a rebel on this issue, Citigroup has already issued a report predicting one and various other economist have started to incorporate this scenario in their forecasts) I will be monitoring economic conditions closely. As the economy continues to deteriorate, I will take the appropriate actions to protect client portfolios.
In order to monitor the probability of a recession, one tool I use is the St. Louis Fed’s own Smoothed Recession Probabilities indicator (see below):
Currently, the reading is flat, indicating a recession is not imminent. However, that can change fairly rapidly and our response will be to act to protect client portfolios.
Another indicator we follow fairly closely is the TED spread. This represents the yield differential between treasury bills and eurodollar deposits (or the yield spread between a risk free asset and one with short term risk). When that line of the graph below gets elevated, that is an indication that there is some amount of stress in the financial system (see below):
You can see that the line has started to rise, but is no where near to the level it reached before and during the 2008 crash. To me, this is just a sign that caution is called for at the current time.
Sam Zell, a man who has rightly attained billionaire investor fame, recently was on
Bloomberg TV stating that the US economy could go into a recession in the next year. Zell has been putting his money where is mouth is, selling significant real estate holdings to raise cash. He adopted this same stance prior to the 2008 market crash, selling a significant amount of his holdings at the top of the market. He was then able to take advantage of rock bottom prices after the crash, being a buyer with cash when everyone else needed to be a seller to pay down their debt.
When we look at the various indicators of economic activity, many are under pressure and already in recession territory:
(1) Construction spending was down 0.4% in November;
(2) Energy, Mining and Commodities have been contracting for a couple of years, with layoffs and bankruptcies hitting the weakest of companies in those industries;
(3) Manufacturing is contracting, with the ISM Survey reading 48.2 (below 50 is recessionary) and the Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index also giving a similar reading; and
(4) The services sector, the largest part of our economy, remains in growth territory but has dropped to a 55.3 reading in the ISM Survey – the weakness in other areas of the economy will continue to negatively impact the services sector until we are in a fully recognized economic recession.
We hear a lot about how unemployment is at low levels. The indicator is in deed reading a low level of unemployment, but there are so many people, particularly young Americans, older workers, and others who are not counted in this because they have dropped out of the pool of people looking for work. The indicator for this is at levels not seen since the 1970’s and continues to fall. For an economy to be healthy and growing, we need both indicators to show healthy readings not just one or the other.
2016 will be a year of challenges in the economy and the stock market, its not a year to act like heroes with wildly aggressive allocations, but rather a focus on conservative investments that will allow us to weather the storm. We recognize this and have already taken action to protect client accounts from what we see on the horizon. If there are changes to the current situation and economic times get worse, we will act to protect client funds in the most prudent manner possible.
Best wishes for a happy and productive 2016 – and allow me to worry about the investment markets on your behalf!
The graph above is one that I follow fairly closely (and have for years) to give me a feel for the direction of the stock market as represented by the S&P 500 Index. This is a graph that I last showed you this summer when I explained why we had raised cash in client accounts.
This monthly graph of the S&P 500 shows me the prevailing trend in index and its strength. The indicator in the bottom pane is the Price Momentum Oscillator. This indicator shows us how much momentum is behind the current trend, and the direction the trend is headed.
You can see that I’ve circled a few different points on the oscillator and on the price graph above it. These represent longer term trend changes in the index. You can see that in late 2009, after the crash had bottomed, the indicator turned positive and stayed that way for several years as the market recovered and moved to new highs.
Earlier this year, the indicator turned negative which is one of those flashing red lights for me as a portfolio manager. The market in turn moved sideways for several months while we raised cash in client accounts. In August and September, the market corrected >12%, but during October it moved back toward its old highs.
Unfortunately, the indicator continues to point to a weak stock market with potentially lower prices. I say potentially because no indicator is 100% fool-proof. This one has proven very reliable over the years and allowed us to take action ahead of major downturns and allowed us to get aggressive ahead of major bull market moves.
I’ve written before, but it seems like a good time to repeat it, that all charts are just representations of investor psychology. If I look at this chart along with breadth statistics (like less than 1/2 the companies in the index are trading above their 200-day moving average – or in simple terms – less than 1/2 the companies in the index are in a bull market stage), I think this is telling us that investor psychology is weakening. It may be because most now believe the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December or it may be some other less apparent reason – who knows.
As long as this red flag is out there, I plan to be cautious until a clear path to higher prices presents itself. Just as we did with the August/September correction, we will be opportunistic with any sell offs and add to positions; conversely, as we have been doing over the past week or so, when the market moves back toward old highs, we will lock in the gains and raise cash.
Risk management is a key component to investment management and having the right tools in place to effectively execute your strategy maximizes performance. Being conservative when risks are high and aggressive when risks are low are key to beating the indices.
Today’s video has no tie in to the blog post other than I was in the third row of the REO Speedwagon concert last night:
So I thought I’d share one of my favorite songs that was written not too far from where I am sitting writing this post. Enjoy!
I thought a quick update of the things I am seeing in the market would be of interest to everyone. In short, I think we are due for a bit of a pullback based upon how the market internals are reacting to recent events.
Above is a graph of the S&P 500 Index along with several indicators that I follow.
The top panel is the Relative Strength Index. This indicator measures the momentum in the market based upon price change and the speed of those changes. Whenever it shows a reading above the 80 level, this generally means that the index has moved up too fast giving us an overbought situation. Generally, this is corrected by a drop in prices of a few to several percentage points in the index. You can see that I have circled the overbought reading in red.
What I see here is a warning sign that the market could pull back sometime over the next few days to consolidate the gains it has chalked up.
The panel below that is the S&P 500 Index itself. In this case, I am using the candlestick version of the graph because it gives me an idea of what happened on each day based upon the color (black is up, red is down) and size (trading range for the day). You will also notice a light beige color under the index – this is an area graph of the S&P 500 Equal Weight Index, a totally separate measurement of the same 500 companies with the difference being that the S&P 500 Index is weighted based upon the size of the company (Apple is the biggest company in the index by Market Capitalization, so it makes up the largest percentage of the index). The Equal Weight Index simply takes all 500 companies and weights them at 0.2% of the total.
I have drawn two red boxes and two red lines on this graph. The red box on the left shows you the last time that there was a divergence between the two indices, with the Equal Weigh falling in value while the S&P 500 kept moving higher for a few days. You can see that after a few days, the S&P 500 Index fell as well. The box on the right shows you the market action of the past few days. You can see by the two red lines I drew that the S&P 500 continues higher (except for two small down days yesterday and today) when the Equal Weight has already moved lower.
What I see here is a warning sign that the market is ready to pull back similar to the way it did in the red box on the left.
Further down, you see I have a red oval drawn over the Full Stochastics indicator. This is again a momentum indicator showing an overbought reading. This supports the earlier momentum indicator, telling us to expect a bit of a pullback in coming days.
The bottom three indicators are all breadth indicators for the market – basically, they tell us how individual stocks are reacting within the market as a whole.
The uppermost of the bottom three is the Advance / Decline line indicator I use. You see that the blue shorter term 10 day moving average line has been falling the past several days indicating that on a daily basis there are a greater number of companies falling in price. It has just crossed over the red intermediate term 30 day moving average line which is holding steady.
What this tells me is that the intermediate term picture is still healthy, but near term we are in for a price pull back.
The middle of the three panels is the McClellan Oscillator – a breadth measure of the net advances and declines – you can see that it I have drawn a red down trending line. This represents a divergence from the S&P 500 which has continued higher as breadth has weakened. You can see that it is now below zero, telling us that there are now more stocks falling in price than gaining in price. Additionally, you can see the purple arrow I drew showing the days that they indicator was above the 50 level. Historically, readings above 50 cannot be sustained and a drop in both net advances and declines as well as prices is ahead.
What this tells me is that we should see the index fall in price soon.
The bottom of the three panels is the McClellan Summation Index. This is a derivation of a derivation – it basically takes the readings of the McClellan Oscillator and adds them together. That give us an intermediate term indicator, which currently shows that the intermediate term outlook for the market is fine.
In addition, we skipped several panels in the middle of the graph that show us cash flow is still moving into the market and that the intermediate term picture is good as of now.
In recent weeks/months, I’ve discussed the divergence between corporate earnings and stock prices. Corporate earnings are predicted to be down 15% in 2015 (and that forecast is proving correct) whereas the stock market – until the August swoon – was moving ever higher and achieving more unrealistic valuations. A lot of the overvalued situation corrected itself in August, but since end of September, the market has moved back toward the old highs.
I advised you that as we approached the 2050 area of the S&P 500, we would employ risk management and start raising cash for the inevitable pull back in prices to sustainable levels. When the McClellan Oscillator moved over 50, we began to book profits on many of the stocks we bought during the August correction. We have also been sellers of higher beta stocks (ones that are inherently more volatile than the overall market), and we have included sales of some companies whose performance has been weak due to sales or foreign exchange issues so that when the fall occurs, we hold the strongest companies possible so that we outperform the index.
Risk management is a critical part of active portfolio management and we utilize both fundamental analysis and technical market indicators to help us achieve this goal and to keep everyone happy.
One of the questions I receive the most from clients is whether they will run out of money. Will their savings be able to sustain their spending during their retirement years.
No one has a crystal ball, but we use a technique called Monte Carlo Simulation. Monte Carlo portfolio simulation provides a means to test long term expected portfolio growth and portfolio survival during retirement withdrawals, i.e., whether the portfolio can sustain the planned withdrawals during the client’s retirement years.
In the image above, you can see that we use an all equity portfolio that consists of:
45% Large Cap Value Stocks
15% Mid Cap Value Stocks
10% Small Cap Value Stocks
5% Real Estate Stocks
5% Emerging Markets Stocks
10% European Stocks
10% Pacific/Asian Stocks
Our assumptions are that the client will withdraw 5% of the ending market value each year and that inflation will be an average annual 1.5%.
The way the simulation works, the model randomly selects an actual annual historic returns for each investment class above and projects the portfolio balance and distribution amounts over a 30 year period. It then repeats this multiple times (e.g., 1000), aggregates the results, and gives us a statistical probability that the client’s money will last over the 30 year period of time.
In the example above, the client starts with $300,000 invested in the portfolio allocation as detailed. He withdraws his 5% at the end of each year, and the portfolio is then rebalanced to the target asset allocation.
The graph below shows you the possible projected balance and portfolio growth pattern based upon these parameters over the 30 year simulation period, with the yellow line showing how the portfolio growth looks at the 75th percentile, the blue line the median portfolio growth, and the orange line showing the 25th percentile.
The graph below shows you the possible projected distribution dollar amounts based upon these parameters over the 30 year simulation period, with the yellow line showing how the portfolio growth looks at the 75th percentile, the blue line the median portfolio growth, and the orange line showing the 25th percentile.
The results are that in all cases, there is a 100% probability that the client will be able to sustain a 5% withdrawal rate from their portfolio and that the median market value of the portfolio at the end of 30 years will be $1,025,801 and that the median withdrawal in the 30th year will have grown to a bit over $51,290 in today’s dollars.
Most people, however, do not want to have an all equity portfolio in their retirement years. Most want a portfolio that is less volatile and that could sustain a higher distribution amount. The portfolio mix that historically provides the highest return for the least amount of risk is one that is 65% equity and 35% fixed income. Below, we have adjusted the portfolio above to add 35% fixed income to it, diversified across various fixed asset classes.
29.25% Large Cap Value
9.75% Mid Cap Value
6.50% Small Cap Value
3.25% Emerging Markets
6.50% Intl Europe
6.50% Intl Pacific Region
5.00% Long Term Treasuries
10.00% Intermediate Term Treasuries
5.00% Short Term Treasuries
15.00% Corporate Bonds
Additionally, we have increased the distribution amount to 7% of the market value and increased the average annual inflation rate to 3%. Here are those results:
> Median market value of the portfolio at the end of 30 years will be $623,532
> Median withdrawal in the 30th year will have dropped to a bit over $19,763 in today’s dollars due to the impact of inflation and the lower portfolio growth – in other words, even though you are receiving $47,095 in actual dollars, you will have lost significant purchasing power with this blended allocation such that it will be like having $19,763 today
> There is a 100% probability that the client will be able to sustain a 7% withdrawal rate
When you compare the risk of the two portfolios, in the 100% equity portfolio, your largest down year was a loss of -42.46% compared to a loss of -30.26% for the 65/35 portfolio. Your volatility for the 100% equity portfolio is a standard deviation of 9.52% compared to the 65/35 portfolio’s standard deviation of 7.82% – the easy way to think of this concept is to ignore the statistics (standard deviation being a measure of the variability of the portfolio returns over the 30 year period – see, ignoring it is better) and view the 100% equity portfolio as 20% more volatile than the 65/35 portfolio.
We can even push the limit and move the portfolio allocation to 50/50. Your median market value drops to $537,564 but your withdrawals will have dropped to $17,002 in today’s dollars due to the impact of inflation and lower portfolio growth.
Finally, lets look at a 100% fixed income portfolio. Those are some ugly results. If we have an expected return of 3% for our fixed income portfolio instead of using historic actual – I don’t think we are likely to ever see those 14% treasury bonds again – we have a median market value at the end of 30 years of $68,391 and a withdrawal of $2,155 in today’s dollars (with the actual withdrawal dropping to $5,147).
What you give up in potential portfolio growth and potential withdrawals with the 100% equity portfolio you get in the ability to sleep better at night knowing that your money is invested in a less risky asset allocation. However, you have to understand that inflation is a nasty creature and it will eat away at your purchasing power if you do not have adequate growth included in your portfolio.
So what is important to know about this exercise? Having an equity component in your portfolio is critical to sustaining your purchasing power for the 5% distribution. The higher your equity percentage, the more risk you assume, but by maintaining your investment allocation you weather the storm (remember we have had several 40%+ stock market crashes in the history of the stock market, with a 90%+ included for good measure) and are able to sustain your lifestyle in retirement.
Now the caveats: as with any simulation, it is just that, a simulation. It is not a Nostradamus quality prediction of the future, but rather a probability based upon a mathematical model developed by humans who are not perfect. However, it is the best tool around at the present time and given that it uses the law of large numbers to analyze the portfolio under a thousand scenarios that have happened in the past, from a statistical standpoint we can rely upon the results.
If you are wondering what the tie-in is with Kashmir and this post, there were rumors long ago that this song referred to Nostradamus predictions. Just a weird factoid from you humble blogger.
There is so much talk about how index funds are better than active management that I wanted to take a couple of minutes to show you a comparison.
In the above graphic, you see the the index fund asset allocation of 60% US Stock Market (inclusive of Large Cap, Mid Cap and Small Cap weighted in the percentage of market value each plays in the total) and 40% US Bond Market (inclusive of Corporate Bonds and Treasury Bonds weighted again by percentage of market value) which is called Portfolio 1.
Portfolio 2 is a diversified asset allocation very similar to the one we have in our Fully Diversified Strategy. It includes decisions by an investment manager (me) to allocate specific percentages of the portfolio to Growth Vs Value stocks, Large Cap Vs Mid Cap Vs Small Cap stocks, and Domestic Vs Foreign Vs Emerging Market stocks – in other words, applying the sound investment principals of risk management, relative value, and potential return, all of which are moving targets based upon the constant changes in the markets.
If you believe the hype, then Portfolio 1 will soundly outperform Portfolio 2 because no one can beat the market and that the lower fees of the index funds provide the advantage over active management.
Below is the comparison of the actively managed portfolio to the index portfolio:
If you happen to double click on the image above, you will see that the actively managed portfolio has soundly beaten the index fund portfolio. In the example above, both portfolios had $10,000 invested in 1984. Over the course of 30 years, the actively managed portfolio grew to $222,507 whereas the index portfolio grew to $172,387.
Now, I know some of you out there are thinking that the difference between the two is that Portfolio 1 did not include any foreign stocks and that if you add those in, the results are similar.
Check this out:
If you double click the image, you will see that we have added 15% International exposure and reduced the US exposure by the same amount. I chose this 15% because it is roughly the same as the 16% in Portfolio 2.
Here are the returns:
The addition of 15% International Exposure to the index portfolio made no material difference in the final portfolio value: $172,037. In fact, the portfolio value actually dropped with the addition of International stocks.
Lastly, I also want you to see how an investment in the markets did compared to keeping the money ultra safe in a money market fund. So, here is our new Portfolio 3, an all money market portfolio:
The primary reason that people keep money in a money market instead of invested prudently is that they are afraid they will lose everything and end up flat broke. However, over the course of 30 years, with multiple crashes in the stock market, inflation, wars, bad Presidents, and anything else you can think of, a properly diversified actively managed portfolio of stocks and bonds is clearly the winner. Just take a look:
I will admit that I am biased to active management over passive index funds. However, having an extra $50,000 in my investment account simply because I hired a competent investment manager who can balance Risk Vs Return by selecting an asset allocation that aims to minimize risk and maximize return seems like a simple decision, even for a banker.
Just a short note to let you see what happened to the stock market when the Fed released its meeting notes. It was no surprise to read that they were concerned about global growth and slowing US economic numbers so they put off the September rate increase until later.
The Skynet kicked into gear and pushed the index above the 50-day moving average that we looked at yesterday as resistance to close at a reading of 2013.
Below is the same graph from yesterday except updated for today’s action.
If you double click the image you will see that we moved decisively above the 50-day moving average, but the short-term indicators we looked at yesterday (RSI and CCI) are both also decisively into over-bought territory.
I still see a pullback, but it will be interesting to see if the 50-day has turned into support from resistance. Long time readers of the blog will remember my Rule of 3 – any break of support or resistance has to be sustained by either 3% or 3 trading days. If it falls (or rises) back below previous resistance (or above previous support) then breaking those levels does not count.
Also of note, our intermediate term indicators have moved more solidly positive with today’s market action – a positive thing for the intermediate future.
So, tomorrow will be a really interesting day – will we finally get the pullback that the RSI and CCI tell us is coming and can the 50-day act as support? Or, is there any chance we will knock on the door of the 200-day moving average and see the RSI and CCI get REALLY over-bought?