Diversification: The power of winning by not losing

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital 

The image is indelibly etched in the mind of baseball fans everywhere. In 1988, an injury-hobbled Kirk Gibson, sick with a stomach virus to boot, limp-running around second base and pumping his fist. Without a doubt, Gibby’s homerun is one of the most memorable in baseball history, setting up the Dodgers for an improbable Game One “W” and eventual World Series win. But in remembering the heroics of the moment, we tend to forget all that came before.

The score at the time of Gibson’s unexpected plate appearance was 4 to 3 in favor of the Oakland Athletics, whose mulleted (and we now know, steroid-fueled) superstar Jose Canseco had hit a grand slam in the first inning. Canseco had an outstanding year in 1988, hitting .307 with 42 homeruns, 124 RBIs and, eye-popping by today’s standards, 40 stolen bases. Loading the bases in front of Canseco was massively risky as was throwing him the hanging slider that he eventually parked over the center field fence. But riskier still was sending Gibson to bat sick with the flu and hobbled by injuries sustained in the NLCS. That we don’t perceive it as risky is an example of what psychologists call “counterfactual thinking.” It turned out in the Dodgers favor, so Tommy Lasorda is viewed as a strategic genius. But had it not, and simple statistics tell us that getting a hit is never in even the best hitter’s favor, Lasorda would have been a goat.

Just as we laud improbable and memorable athletic achievements without adequately accounting for risk and counterfactuals, we do likewise with large and singular financial events. Paulson’s shorting of subprime mortgage products. Soros shorting $10 billion in currency. These events are so large, so memorable and worked out so favorably that we ascribe to them a level of prescience that may not actually correspond with the expected level of risk-adjusted return. A friend of mine once joked that, “every man thinks he is ten sit-ups away from being Brad Pitt.” Having observed significant overconfidence among both professionals and novice traders alike, I might similarly assert that “every stock market enthusiast thinks that (s)he is one trade away from being George Soros.” The good fun we can have talking about, “The Greatest Trade of All Time” notwithstanding, most real wealth is accumulated by not losing rather than winning in spectacular fashion.

Diversification.Power of Winning by not Losing

The danger in taking excessively risky bets with the hope of a spectacular win is best illustrated by what is formally known as variance drain. Variance drain is the difference between mean return and compound return over a period of time due to the variability of periodic returns. The greater the variability from peak to trough, the more the expected returns will deviate negatively. Confused?

Say you invest $100,000 each in two products that both average ten percent returns per year, one with great volatility and the other with managed volatility. The managed volatility money rises 10% for each of two years, yielding a final result of $121,000. The more volatile investment returns -20% in year one and a whopping 40% in year two, also resulting in a similar 10% average yearly gain. The good news is that you can brag to your golf buddies about having achieved a 40% return – you are the Kirk Gibson of the market! The bad news, however, is that your investment will sit at a mere $112,000, fully $9,000 less than your investment in the less volatile investment since your gains compounded off lower lows.

A second, behavioral implication of volatile holdings is that the ride is harder to bear for loss-averse investors (hint: that means you and everyone you know). As volatility increases, so too does the chance of a paper loss which is likely to decrease holding periods and increase trading behavior, both of which are correlated with decreased returns. Baseball fans know the frustration of watching their favorite player “swing for the fences”, trying to end the game with a single stroke of the bat, when a single would do. Warren Buffett’s first rule of investing is to never lose money. His second rule? Never forget the first rule. The Oracle of Omaha understands both the financial and behavioral ruin that come from taking oversized risk, and more importantly, the power of winning by not losing.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

Trump’s free lunch: Avoiding a painful indigestion

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

The aphorism “there is no free lunch” is one of those handy phrases used ad-nauseam in Economics courses. The seductively tasty platter currently set in front of investors is a lightning-fast reallocation of assets towards stocks that should “clearly” benefit from a Donald Trump presidency. Often, however, it pays to be a skeptic. I’m not critiquing the efficacy of the policies themselves towards promoting Americans’ well-being; I’m talking about the need to unhurriedly assess the second-level investment implications of policy and whether they have already been discounted into asset prices.

The ascendancy of the Trump administration and the degree to which President-Elect Trump will remain wedded to his campaign rhetoric have a number of moving parts. Now may be an opportune time to patiently exercise what Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital calls “second-level thinking”:

First-level thinking says, “It’s a good company; let’s buy the stock.” Second-level thinking says, “It’s a good company, but everyone thinks it’s a great company, and it’s not. So the stock’s overrated and overpriced; let’s sell.”[1]

At Brinker Capital, we believe that second-level thinking is best nurtured by asking questions. Trump’s vision is to “transform America’s crumbling infrastructure into a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth.” The number touted by greatagain.gov is $550 billion, and a recent paper by senior Trump advisors, Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, calls for spurring $1 trillion in privately-financed infrastructure investment over the next decade through use of tax credits.[2]  Buy infrastructure seems to be the screamingly obvious investment implication, but here are a few less obvious questions:

Is our infrastructure actually “crumbling?”

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a “D” in its 2013 report card.[3] But coming from a professional trade organization of civil engineers, that’s probably akin to asking the cows from the Chic-fil-A commercials whether they prefer beef or chicken. Policy analyst Mark Scribner calls this the “Great Infrastructure Myth” and notes that the number of structurally deficient bridges has been declining for over two decades while pavements have become smoother in aggregate.[4]  A recent piece by Deutsche Bank Research[5] argued that infrastructure spending in the U.S. is not, as commonly assumed, lacking:

  • When using infrastructure-specific price indices, the share of real government investment to output has been stable for much of the last three decades.
  • After taking into account compositional changes in private capex, business investment has also remained steady as a percent of output.

How much “leakage” is there to the transmission mechanism by which government spending boosts profits in the private sector?

Investors would be wise to examine the intended and realized consequences of President Obama’s $840 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of February 2009, much of which was directed towards infrastructure. Michael Grabell’s 2012 piece “How Not to Revive an Economy” provides a sobering look at what led President Obama to admit that “there’s no such thing” as a shovel-ready project.[6]

Which subsectors are winners of increased public spending on infrastructure?

Infrastructure is a blanket term that encompasses a large array of systems: energy, transit, ports, aviation, levees, dams, schools, roads, inland waterways, public parks, rail, bridges, drinking water, and waste treatment. Twelve of the 16 sectors reviewed on the ASCE’s 2013 report card received a grade of “C” or worse. Narrowing in on two subsectors, what evidence exists that Trump will favor oil and gas over renewable energy, for instance, and will he possess the means to undo the renewable energy investment tax credit (ITC) that was recently renewed in December 2015?

Okay, you’ve decided to buy an infrastructure fund. What’s under the hood?

There are 18 open-end funds focused on infrastructure and 15 ETFs with “infrastructure” in their name. Let’s say that you’ve set your sights on one of the larger ETFs in the group focused on income-generating infrastructure equities. By sector, utilities comprise 49% of the ETF, not uncommon for other members of the group. Is that an allocation you’re comfortable making? The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projects that the Trump administration’s plans will increase the national debt by $5.3 trillion, to 105 percent of GDP by 2026.[7] Profligate deficits tend to have the effect of raising benchmark interest rates, and high-yielding utility stocks have traditionally been rate-sensitive instruments.

The investment world lends mythical status to the “contrarian” who takes out-of-favor positions. But standing out from the crowd is also possible simply through exercising patience and requiring a fully fleshed out view as precedent for making a judgment.

Our founder, Chuck Widger, provides timeless advice in his New York Times best selling book entitled, Personal Benchmark: Integrating Behavioral Finance and Investment Management, that helps advisors and investors stay the course in times such as these:

What this boils down to is that advisors must develop and oversee the execution of an investment strategy that anticipates the inevitable potholes and stays the course of efficiently compounding the investment portfolio to create purchasing power. This requires both the management of the investment portfolio and the management of investor behavior. Skilled, experienced advisors know that one of their most important responsibilities is to help investors avoid making emotional decisions when volatility is high or when markets are irrationally exuberant.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. 

[1] Marks, Howard.  “It’s Not Easy.”  Oaktree Capital Management.  September 2015.

[2] Ross, Wilbur & Peter Navarro.  “Trump versus Clinton on Infrastructure.”  October 2016.  Specifically, the paper assumes projects are funded by debt and equity at a ratio of 5:1 and proposes to award a tax credit to the equity investor at 82% of the equity contribution or 13.7% of the project cost, and then tax the labor component of construction and the contractor’s pretax profits to bring the program towards revenue neutrality.

[3] American Society of Civil Engineers.  “2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.”  March 2013.

[4] Scribner, Marc.  “The Great Infrastructure Myth.”  Competitive Enterprise Institute.  November 2016.

[5] Tierney, John.  “America’s Fiscal Consensus—A Bridge Too Far.”  Deutsche Bank Research.  October 2016.

[6] Grabell, Michael.  “How Not To Revive an Economy.”  The New York Times.  February 2012.

[7] Committee for a Responsible Budget.  “Promises and Price Tags: An Update.”  September 22, 2016.

Nix the Mixed Emotions About Retirement

cook_headshotPaul Cook, AIF®, Vice President and Regional Director, Retirement Plan Services

The future holds many uncertainties, leaving us to often have mixed feelings when thinking about retirement. Even if you feel more than ready, on an emotional level, to move to the next phase of your life, you may have some uncertainty about whether you will be able to maintain the lifestyle you wish.

Last week in Roddy Marino’s Eight Signs You Are Ready to Retire, he shared some useful statistics from an Ameriprise Financial survey that address this notion of mixed emotion. Close to 50% of respondents felt they were ready to retire, but admitted that there was still some concern. 21% admitted more bluntly that they felt uncertain or not ready at all. Suffice it to say that a large portion, about 63%, of newly retired boomers said they felt stressed about retirement leading up to the decision.[1]

We’ve talked before about how your physical health can impact your retirement, but let’s take another approach and look at six financial certainties that may help to lower your stress and avoid some of the mixed emotions about retirement.

  1. You will need cash. Throughout your retirement journey, you will need quick access to your money. Typically, you will need enough liquidity to cover two years’ worth of anticipated living expenses.
  1. The quicker you spend, the shorter it will last. Your predictable expenses may total up to, for example, $2,000 a month. But how many years could you go on spending $24,000? The impact of spending on your portfolio becomes clear once you determine a spend-rate. For example, if you had $500,000 in a retirement savings account and withdrew $2,000 a month, the portfolio would last 20-29 years. A $500 reduction in spending, however, could result in 9-15 more years of longevity for the portfolio.
  1. The money not needed to cover expenses must be invested…wisely. While you can’t control the markets, you should feel confident that your investments are managed with skill and integrity. Choose an investment advisor with whom you have a trust and have a high level of confidence.
  1. Eventually, you will run out of cash and need more. One of the tricky parts of managing your money in retirement involves knowing how to create an income stream from your portfolio. You need to figure out which assets to take distributions from, and when. To ensure that each of your assets performs optimally, you must conduct a careful technical analysis and evaluate moving market trends. If you are like most retirees, you could benefit from having an expert perform this service for you so that you can have confidence that you are benefiting from all possible market and tax advantages.
  1. You’ll make more confident decisions if you know how your investment performance and expenses measure against your goals. Throughout your retirement journey, it is helpful to know where you stand against your goals. If your overall goal is to outlive your savings, then you should have a system in place that helps you contextualize your spending and its relative impact on long-term goals.
  1. Markets are volatile. When markets fluctuate, many investors feel like all semblance of control over their financial future is lost. Having a well-diversified portfolio may help to smooth the ride and reduce some of the emotions of investing.

If you approach retirement by developing an income solution that addresses each of these known facts, you can feel as if you are on more solid ground to enjoy your retirement.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.


[1] Ameriprise Study: First Wave of Baby Boomers Say Health and Emotional Preparation are Keys to a Successful Retirement, February 3, 2015

Investment Insights Podcast: Frontier Markets Still Attractive

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager & International Strategist

On this week’s podcast (recorded June 2, 2016), Stuart weighs in on frontier markets and how this space is still an attractive area for investors.

Quick take:

  • Today’s frontier markets closer to yesterday’s higher-growth emerging markets.
  • Frontier markets are different and may offer potentially higher growth prospects relative to re-emerging markets.
  • Frontier markets can offer potential positive benefits in portfolio diversification.
Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Frontier markets still offer investors the potential for higher returns and lower correlation within broadly diversified portfolios. Although emerging and frontier markets both offer younger populations and higher economic growth potential relative to developed markets, there are also key differences that currently favor frontier markets.

Frontier markets include a variety of countries that, in many cases, are more tied to domestic factors as opposed to global growth. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Kenya and Nigeria, and in South Asia, such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, offer potential investment opportunities. Several of these markets are enacting structural reform and attracting foreign direct investment to improve economic growth prospects. While depressed oil prices have an impact on growth in Middle East economies, such as Oman and Qatar, these countries also boast higher incomes and strong population growth rates.

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

Source: MSCI, Blackrock

In contrast, emerging markets are more of a mixed bag. The larger BRICK economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Korea) within emerging markets contain a spectrum of moderate growth to stagnation along with banking sectors hobbled by large and rising bad credit. Depressed commodity prices directly hurt Brazil and Russia, while a capacity glut in basic materials impacts bank loans in China and India. The question of “whither the BRICKs” is vital to the direction of emerging markets given they comprise over half of the index.[1]

Investing in frontier markets provides more exposure to domestic growth sectors whereas emerging markets are more geared toward industries influenced by global commodity exports. Domestic sectors account for three out of every four dollars in frontier markets, while they comprise only one out of every two dollars in emerging markets. Industry sectors related to global trends (in many cases commodities) comprise nearly half of emerging market companies but only a quarter of frontier markets.[2]

Frontier markets only comprise less than 3% of the world’s total market capitalization.[3]  Coupled with potentially faster growth relative to the developed world, further structural reform could propel further growth in capital markets.

Superior population growth is one supportive factor. Median population growth of 1.5% in Frontier markets exceeds growth in both developed and emerging markets.

2014 Median Compound Annual Population Growth
Frontier Markets 1.5%
Developed Markets 0.7%
Emerging Markets 0.9%

Source: World Bank and Brinker Capital

A growing variety of funds and ETFs have come to market and allowed greater access to investing in frontier markets in recent years. Nonetheless, frontier markets continue to offer potential benefits to diversifying investment portfolios. Even over the last five years, frontier markets still show lower correlation to broad equity indices (and even lower relative to emerging markets).

Please click here to listen to the full recording.

[1] BRICK comprises 54% of the MSCI Emerging Markets Free Index.  Source: MSCI and Blackrock.
[2] MSCI, Blackrock, and Brinker Capital
[3] Bloomberg and Brinker Capital

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

Diversification: It’s Not Beauty and the Beast, but Still a Tale as Old as Time

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Hedge fund guru Cliff Asness calls it “the only free lunch in investing.” Toby Moskowitz calls it “the lowest hanging fruit in investing.” Dr. Brian Portnoy says that doing it “means always having to say you’re sorry.” We’re speaking, of course, of diversification.

Diversification, or the reduction of non-market risk by investing in a variety of assets, is one of the hallmarks of traditional approaches to investing. What is less appreciated, however, are the ways in which it makes emotional as well as economic sense not to have all of your eggs in one basket. As is so often the case, the poets, philosophers and aesthetes beat the mathematicians to understanding this basic tenet of emotional self-regulation. The Bible mentions the benefits of diversification as a risk management technique in Ecclesiastes, a book estimated to have been written roughly 935 BC. It reads:

But divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. (Ecclesiastes 11:2)

The Talmud too references an early form of diversification, the prescription there being to split one’s assets into three parts—one third in business, another third in currency and the final third in real estate.

The most famous, and perhaps most eloquent, early mention of diversification is found in Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice, where we read:

My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,

Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate

Upon the fortune of this present year:

Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad. (I.i.42-45)

It is interesting to note how these early mentions of diversification focus as much on human psychology as they do the economic benefits of diversification, for investing broadly is as much about managing fear and uncertainty as it is making money.

Don't put your eggs in one basketBrought to the forefront by Harry Markowitz in the 1950s, diversification across a number of asset classes reduced volatility and the impact of what is known as “variance drain.” Variance drain sounds heady, but in a nutshell, it refers to the detrimental effects of compounding wealth off of low lows when investing in a highly volatile manner. Even when arithmetic means are the same, the impact on accumulated wealth can be dramatic. (This is not the same as the more widely used annualized return numbers, as they account for variance drain, but for this illustration, we’ll look specifically at variance drain.)

Say you invest $100,000 each in two products that both average 10% returns per year, one with great volatility and the other with managed volatility. The managed volatility money rises 10% for each of two years, yielding a final result of $121,000. The more volatile investment returns -20% in year one and a whopping 40% in year two, also resulting in a similar 10% average yearly gain. The good news is that you can brag to your golf buddies about having achieved an average return of 40%—you are an investment wizard! The bad news, however, is that your investment will sit at a mere $112,000, fully $9,000 less than your investment in the less volatile investment since your gains compounded off of lower lows. (To account for this, the investment industry uses annualized returns, which account for variance drain, rather than average returns.)

Managing variance drain is important, but a second, more important benefit of diversification is that it constrains bad behavior. As we’ve said on many occasions, the average equity investor lags the returns of the equity market significantly. It is simply hard to overstate the wealth-destroying impact of volatility-borne irrationality. The behavioral implication of volatile holdings is that the ride is harder to bear for loss-averse investors (yes, that means you).

As volatility increases, so too does the chance of a paper loss, which is likely to decrease holding periods and increase trading behavior, both of which are correlated with decreased returns. Warren Buffett’s first rule of investing is to never lose money. His second rule? Never forget the first rule. The Oracle of Omaha understands both the financial and behavioral ruin that come from taking oversized risk, and more importantly, the power of winning by not losing.

DiversificationAt Brinker Capital, we follow a multi-asset class investing approach because we believe that broad diversification is humility in practice. As much as experts would like to convince you otherwise, the simple fact is that no one knows which asset classes will perform well at any given time and that diversification is the only logical response to such uncertainty. But far from being a lame concession to uncertainty, the power of a multi-asset class approach has the potential to deliver powerful results. Take, for example, the “Lost Decade” of the early aughts, thusly named because investors in large capitalization U.S. stocks (e.g., the S&P 500) would have realized losses of 1% per annum over that 10-year stretch. Ouch. Those who were evenly diversified across five asset classes (U.S. stocks, foreign stocks, commodities, real estate, and bonds), however, didn’t experience a lost decade at all, realizing a respectable annualized gain of 7.2% per year. Other years, the shoe is on the other foot. Over the seven years following the Great Recession, stocks have exploded upward while a diversified basket of assets has had more tepid growth. But the recent underperformance of a diversified basket of assets does nothing to change the wisdom of diversification; a principle that has been around for millennia and will serve investors well for centuries to come.

Diversification does not assure a profit or protection against loss. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

January 2016 Monthly Market And Economic Outlook

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After three years of strong market returns, 2015 performance was relatively flat combined with higher volatility across most asset classes. Sluggish global economic growth, concerns over a hard landing in China, a further decline in oil prices, and the anticipation of the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate hike since 2006 weighed on markets. The U.S. dollar was a top performing asset class, gaining more than 9%, while commodity-related assets were the worst performers. Large cap U.S. equities outpaced small cap and international equities, fixed income delivered lackluster returns, and alternative strategies generally underperformed expectations, resulting in a difficult year for diversified investors.

Despite a robust fourth quarter, U.S. equity markets ended the year with a small gain on a total return basis. There was also wide dispersion across sectors. Consumer discretionary dominated with a double-digit gain, followed by healthcare and technology. Energy experienced a greater than -20% loss for the year. With sluggish economic growth as the backdrop, investors significantly favored growth over value from a style perspective across all market capitalizations, but particularly in the large cap space where the spread was more than 900 basis points. Small caps faded after a strong start to the year, with the Russell 2000 Index declining more than -4%.

BRICDeveloped international equity markets performed in line with U.S. markets in local terms during 2015, but lagged in U.S. dollar terms. Unlike in the U.S., small caps outpaced large caps in international markets. Japan was the strongest performing market with a gain of almost 10%. Emerging markets significantly underperformed developed markets. The weakest performer was Brazil, with a decline of more than -40% in U.S. dollar terms. Of the BRIC countries, only Russia was able to deliver a positive return.

Longer-term U.S. Treasury yields moved slightly higher in 2015, with the 10-year rising 10 basis points to end the year at a level of 2.27%. The shorter-end of the curve moved higher, resulting in a modest flattening of the yield curve. Even with the Fed’s actions, we expect longer-term rates to remain range-bound in the intermediate term. All investment-grade fixed income sectors except for corporate credit delivered modest gains, and municipal bonds outperformed taxable fixed income. High-yield credit spreads widened meaningfully throughout 2015 and the asset class declined more than -4%. Technical pressures, including increased supply and meaningful outflows, weighed on the high-yield market with the most impact on lowest-rated credits; however, we have yet to see a meaningful decline in fundamentals.

The global macro backdrop keeps us positive on risk assets over the intermediate term as we move through the second half of the business cycle. However, we acknowledge that we are in the later innings of the bull market that began in 2009, and the risks must not be ignored. We find a number of factors supportive of the economy and markets over the near term.

  • Fed_OutlookGlobal monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Fed beginning to normalize monetary policy with the initial rate hike in December, their approach should be patient and data-dependent. The European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of Japan have been more aggressive with easing measures in an attempt to support their economies. China is likely going to require additional support.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: U.S. economic growth has been modest but steady. Payroll employment growth has been solid, and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5%. Wage growth has been tepid at best despite the tightening labor market, and reported inflation measures and inflation expectations remain below the Fed’s target.
  • Deal Activity: Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) deal activity continues to pick up as companies seek growth.
  • Washington: With the new budget, fiscal policy is poised to become modestly accommodative, helping offset more restrictive monetary policy.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Policy mistake: The potential for a policy mistake by the Fed or another major central bank is a concern, and central bank communication will be key. In the U.S., the subsequent path of rates is uncertain and may not be in line with market expectations, which could lead to increased volatility.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker, and a significant slowdown in China is a concern.
  • Wider credit spreads: While overall credit conditions are still accommodative, high-yield credit spreads have moved significantly wider, and weakness has spread outside of the commodity sector.
  • Commodity price weakness: Weakness in commodity-related sectors has begun to spill over to other areas of the economy, and earnings have weakened as a result.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

Market technicals remain weak, but valuations are back to more neutral levels. Investor sentiment, a contrarian signal, is near extreme pessimism territory. We expect a higher level of volatility as markets digest the Fed’s actions and we move through the second half of the business cycle; however, our view on risk assets remains positive over the near term. Increased volatility creates opportunities that we may take advantage of as active managers.

Source: Brinker Capital. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Early Concern in 2016 Yields Opportunity

Miller_HeadshotBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

Overall global economic concerns and yesterday’s market events present a great opportunity to remind investors to stay focused on their goals. To that end, we highlight two performance metrics:

First, as illustrated below, some asset classes, including gold, U.S. Treasury bonds, TIPs and pipeline Master Limited Partnerships, finished up yesterday in the face of poor global equity performance. In some cases, this is the opposite of last year’s performance. Such a flip-flop in performance across asset classes only serves to highlight the value of Brinker Capital’s multi-asset class investment philosophy. A commitment to diversification can help calm investors on bad days and moderate enthusiasm on good days.

Performance Across Asset Classes

Source: Brinker Capital, FactSet

Second, big drops in the S&P are infrequent but certainly not an unfamiliar occurrence on an absolute basis. There have been single-day dips of 2% or greater in the S&P 500 a total of 222 times in the trailing 20 years, or just slightly under 5% of the total number of trading days.

More importantly, following these dips the median S&P return in the following month (2.44% over the subsequent 20 trading days) has been more than double that of the median 20-day S&P return over the period on a non-conditional basis (1.01%).

Over the last 20 years, a strategy that fled to cash for 20-day periods following those 2% S&P 500 declines would have fared 2% worse on an annualized basis than staying 100% invested in equity. That’s a cumulative return difference of 151%.

S&P 500 Performance

Source: Brinker Capital, FactSet

Again, yesterday’s volatility presents a great opportunity early in 2016 to remind investors that it’s not time to panic–it’s important to stay focused on their goals. While we can’t predict what specifically may happen in the future, Brinker Capital has been identifying trends and leveraging our six-asset class philosophy when positioning our portfolios to anticipate a period of increased market volatility in many of our strategic and tactical portfolios.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: November 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The market correction in the third quarter, prompted by the Federal Reserve’s decision to stay on hold and worries over China, resulted in investor sentiment reaching levels of extreme pessimism. Risk appetites returned in October and global equity markets rebounded sharply. The start to earnings season was also better than expected. With a gain of +8.4%, the S&P 500 Index posted its third-highest monthly return since 2010, bringing the index back into positive territory for the year. Fixed income markets were relatively flat, but high yield and emerging market debt experienced a rebound in the risk-on environment. Year to date through October, the S&P 500 Index leads both international equity and fixed income markets, a headwind for diversified portfolios.

Within the U.S. equity market sector leadership shifted again but all sectors were in positive territory. The energy and materials sectors, which have weighed significantly on index returns this year, both experienced double-digit gains for the month as crude oil prices stabilized. The more defensive consumer staples and utilities sectors underperformed. Large caps outpaced small and mid-caps, and the margin of outperformance for growth over value continued to widen.

International developed equity markets kept pace with U.S. equity markets in October despite a slight strengthening in the U.S. dollar. Performance in Japan and Europe was boosted on expectations of additional monetary easing. Emerging markets were only slightly behind developed markets, helped by supportive monetary and fiscal policies in China and stabilizing commodity prices. All regions were positive but performance was mixed, with Indonesia gaining more than +15% while India gained less than +2%.

U.S. Treasury yields moved slightly higher during October, and they have continued their move upward as we have entered November. Investment-grade fixed income was flat for the quarter and has provided modest gains so far this year. Municipal bonds outperformed taxable bonds. After peaking at a level of 650 basis points in the beginning of the month, the increase in risk appetite helped high yield spreads tighten more than 100 basis points and the asset class gained more than 2%. Spreads still remain wide relative to fundamentals.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. The global macro backdrop keeps us positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term, even as we move through the second half of the business cycle. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Federal Reserve heading toward monetary policy normalization, their approach will be patient and data dependent. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have both executed bold easing measures in an attempt to support their economies. Emerging economies have room to ease.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: U.S. GDP growth, while muted, remains positive. Employment growth is solid as the unemployment rate fell to 5%. Wage growth has been tepid at best despite the tightening labor market, and reported inflation measures and inflation expectations remain below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in decent shape: M&A deal activity continues to pick up as companies seek growth. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is positive, but margins, while resilient, have likely peaked for the cycle.
  • Washington: Policy uncertainty is low and all parties in Washington were able to agree on a budget deal and also raised the debt ceiling to reduce near-term uncertainty. With the new budget fiscal policy is poised to become modestly accommodative, helping offset more restrictive monetary policy.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed tightening: After delaying in September, expectations are for the Fed to raise the fed funds rate December. The subsequent path of rates is uncertain and may not be in line with market expectations, which could lead to increased volatility.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. It remains to be seen whether central bank policies can spur sustainable growth in Europe and Japan. A significant slowdown in China is a concern, along with slower growth in other emerging economics like Brazil.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

While the equity market drop was concerning, we viewed the move as more of a correction than the start of a bear market. The worst equity market declines are associated with recessions, which are preceded by substantial central bank tightening or accelerating inflation. As described above, we don’t see these conditions being met yet today. The trend of the macro data in the U.S. is still positive, and a significant slowdown in China, which will certainly weigh on global growth, is not likely enough to tip the U.S. economy into contraction. Even as the Fed begins tightening monetary policy later this year, the pace will be measured as inflation is still below target. While we expect a higher level of volatility as the market digests the Fed’s actions and we move through the second half of the business cycle, we remain positive on risk assets over the intermediate term. Increased volatility creates opportunities that we can take advantage of as active managers.

Source: Brinker Capital. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: April 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

After 2014 was dominated by the strong performance of the narrow S&P 500 Index, the first quarter of 2015 showed better results for diversified portfolios and higher levels of volatility across and within asset classes—both positive developments for active management.

The focus remained on the Federal Reserve and the timing of the initial interest rate hike despite U.S. economic data coming in below expectations. The S&P 500 gained just 1% for the quarter, while mid caps and small caps fared better, gaining 4%. Growth outperformed value across all market caps, and high-dividend-paying stocks lagged amid concern of higher interest rates. The strong dollar also hurt U.S. multinationals as a high percentage of their profits are derived from overseas. Despite a strong February, commodity prices fell again in March and were the worst performing asset class for the quarter.

shutterstock_28211977While the anticipation of tighter monetary policy may have weighed on U.S. equity markets in the first quarter, looser monetary policy helped to boost asset prices in international developed markets. The MSCI EAFE Index surged 11% in local terms, but the stronger dollar dampened returns in U.S. dollar terms to 5%, still 400 basis points ahead of the S&P 500 Index. The euro fell -11% versus the dollar, the largest quarterly decline since its inception in 1999. Japan also benefited from central bank policy, gaining 10%.

Emerging market equities outpaced U.S. equities for the quarter, gaining 2.3%; however, dispersion was quite wide. All emerging regions delivered positive returns in local currency terms, although weaker currencies in Latin America had a significant impact for U.S. investors. For example, Brazil’s equity market gained 3% in local terms, but fell -15% in U.S. dollar terms. China and India posted solid gains of 5-6% for the quarter.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield bounced around in the first quarter, first declining 49 basis points in January, then climbing 56 basis points in February before declining again to end the first quarter at a level of 1.94%, 23 basis points lower than where it started. The Barclays Aggregate Index outperformed the S&P 500 Index for the quarter, with all sectors in positive territory. Credit spreads tightened modestly during the quarter and the high-yield sector outperformed investment grade. Municipal bonds were slightly behind taxable bonds as the market had to digest additional supply.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives but recognizes that risks remain. We feel we have entered the second half of the business cycle and remain optimistic regarding the global macro backdrop and risk assets over the intermediate term. As a result, our strategic portfolios are positioned with a modest overweight to overall risk.

A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term:

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Federal Reserve heading toward monetary policy normalization, the ECB and the Bank of Japan have both executed bold easing measures in an attempt to support their economies.
  • U.S. growth stable: U.S. economic growth remains solidly in positive territory and the labor market has markedly improved.
  • Inflation tame: Reported inflation measures and inflation expectations in the U.S. remain below the Fed’s 2% target.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets are beginning to put cash to work through capex, hiring and M&A. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is decent, and margins have been resilient.
  • Less uncertainty in Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, Washington has done little damage so far this year; however, Congress will still need to address the debt ceiling before the fall. Government spending has shifted to a contributor to GDP growth in 2015 after years of fiscal drag.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Timing/impact of Fed tightening: The Fed has set the stage to commence rate hikes later this year. Both the timing of the initial rate increase and the subsequent path of rates is uncertain, which could lead to increased market volatility.
  • Slower global growth: While growth in the U.S. is solid, growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. It remains to be seen whether central bank policies can spur sustainable growth in Europe and Japan. Growth in emerging economies has slowed as well.
  • Geopolitical risks: Issues in the Middle East, Greece and Russia could cause short-term volatility.
  • Significantly lower oil prices destabilizes global economy: While lower oil prices benefit consumers, should oil prices re-test their recent lows and remain there for a significant period, it would be a negative not only for the earnings of energy companies but also for oil dependent emerging economies and the shale revolution in the U.S.

While valuations have moved above long-term averages and investor sentiment is neutral, the trend is still positive and the macro backdrop leans favorable, so we remain positive on equities. The ECB’s actions, combined with signs of economic improvement, have us more positive in the short term regarding international developed equities, but we need to see follow-through with structural reforms. We expect U.S. interest rates to normalize, but remain range-bound, and the yield curve to flatten. Fed policy will drive short-term rates higher, but long-term yields should be held down by demand for long duration safe assets and relative value versus other developed sovereign bonds.

As we operate without the liquidity provided by the Fed and move through the second half of the business cycle, we expect higher levels of market volatility. This volatility should lead to more opportunity for active management across asset classes. Our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high-conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Asset Class Outlook Comments
U.S. Equity + Quality bias
Intl Equity + Neutral vs. U.S.
Fixed Income +/- HY favorable after ST dislocation
Absolute Return + Benefit from higher volatility
Real Assets +/- Oil stabilizes; interest rate sensitivity
Private Equity + Later in cycle

Source: Brinker Capital

Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting. Past performance is not a guarantee of similar future results. An investor cannot invest directly in an index.

Investment Insights Podcast – February 11, 2015

Rosenberger_PodcastAndrew Rosenberger, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded February 5, 2015): We break away from our traditional format to hear Andy breakdown 2014 performance in terms of a diversified portfolio versus the S&P 500.

Highlights from the podcast include:

  • U.S. markets trumped mostly all other markets in 2014
  • Caution against knee-jerk reactions from investors to move portfolios from international to domestic
  • Encourage keeping an open mind to international opportunity given the 2014 pace of U.S. equities may be unlikely to continue
  • International markets are up year to date; U.S. slightly negative
  • Risks remain–new Greek government, elections in Spain, etc.

Listen here for the full version of Andy’s insights.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.