Assessment and Opportunity
October 2, 2020
We understand and can appreciate how individuals are uneasy investing during these challenging times. The world has been bombarded with bad news. Inflation, war, recession, de globalization, European energy disaster, etc. We adjust our portfolios based on changes in the probability about events in the future. As discussed on September 22, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell let us know that rates will continue to move higher, and we used that opportunity to position more defensively.
I keep reading and speaking to rather smart ex-colleagues and partners around the world that equities must reflect lower prices to adjust for these developments. The riskiest parts of the equity markets have already adjusted in quite a nasty way. Recently the rest of the equity market experienced lower prices along with the lower prices for fixed income securities. Private equity and venture capital will probably be marked down considerably in the quarters to come.
Will market prices go even lower? Maybe but maybe not. It depends on how hard inflation comes down and how high interest rates will actually rise from current levels. Will there be a recession? Will a recession be deep or shallow and short lived? Will the war continue, get worse, or will it end?
It is hard for me to know the answers to those questions, hence we are positioned even more defensively. We own more cash and more short-term treasuries because this will reduce exposure to these market fluctuations in both equity and fixed income in the near term. However, there is some good news, and I hope this different perspective highlights this for you.
Your equity portfolio has held up better than the market indices. Nasdaq, S&P, MSCI ex USA, and better on the fixed income side than the Barclays aggregate bond index.
Hopefully, our advice on the importance of earning a rate of return on your money, and suggestions to avoid most illiquid, high fee products and cash constrained investments has you in a position to take advantage of future opportunities.
The dollar has not been this strong in over 20 years compared to many global currencies. This will provide future opportunities to invest globally and to travel cheaply.
Our defensive market positioning will hopefully give us opportunities to invest when they become available.
Now, many smart market strategists point out that this time is different because the Fed will not be cutting interest rates when inflation and growth decline. That inflation will not come down enough for that to happen. The Fed may keep interest rates higher for longer. In fairness, many of the best hedge funds have performed well being short the equity market this year, and many remain short. They tell me that investors, whom are conditioned to “buy the dip,” will have to sell equities at lower prices because they will not be able to deal with an equity market that continues to drop.
This is all possible, but we cannot know for sure. As I point out to them, it is naïve to think we know the way and path of how price adjustments will work into the future many years out. Our goal is to help you protect purchasing power in the long term. Continuing to hold cash in a bank account (earning almost zero) into the future may protect your purchasing power, but history is not on your side. Other opportunities usually present themselves. What could happen?
Maybe fixed income pays us higher yields than we are currently getting in two-year treasuries because the Fed pushes rates even higher.
Maybe the Fed cuts rates because inflation rates drop back towards 2% and growth slows dramatically. This would probably push equities and perhaps other assets back up.
Maybe the Fed keeps rates high but acts to provide liquidity in other ways to protect against a disorderly treasury market (much like the Bank of England just did). This might push the dollar down against gold and other commodities which we need to consume in our daily lives.
Maybe it will be a difficult environment for a long time, and we must focus only on companies that sell essential products and produce free cash flow and returns on capital.
Here are some themes which are intriguing:
We keep hearing about the transition from gas/petrol cars to battery cars. We keep hearing the need for greener energy policies to counter global warming. Just use wind and solar energy you say? The current infrastructure to store wind and solar energy for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing doesn’t currently exist.
How will this happen?
We need metals from global mining companies to pull from the ground if there is any hope at all. Prices for these companies are lower because these are typically cyclical economic businesses, and nobody wants to own them in a recession. Additionally, these companies are global with global assets. Many are priced in foreign currencies. Because the dollar has appreciated so much, the share prices are low. I prefer to be buying these companies that are producing lots of free cash flow and paying high dividends.
Prices for the Vanguard Utilities Index dropped precipitously in the past week as investors sold to reduce equity market risk generally. These utility companies will need to invest in new infrastructure for the transition to cleaner sources of energy and they receive a regulated rate of return on investment. They also pay relatively high dividends, and people will be purchasing energy from them into the future. A steady defensive stream of income.
Fossil fuels. As most of you know we reduced our exposure over the past year, but some prices are becoming attractive again because much like utilities these companies were sold in the recent market risk reduction. We cannot transition to a greener energy economy without oil and gas. Europe knows this very well at the moment.
In summary, I suggest that life will go on. Circumstances will change, but those new circumstances always present new opportunities and challenges. We are here to help you navigate it.
If you have questions, please reach out to the team.
Thank you, Joe
Joseph Cardello, Principal August Wealth Advisors, LLC 51 Riverside Avenue, First Floor Westport, CT 06880 Direct (916) 461-9451 toll free (800) 985-9477
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