One of the most-common questions we receive is: why do we manage our portfolio’s in a sector-neutral fashion (sector-neutral meaning the process of rebalancing our sector weightings to match those of the benchmark)? After all, why would an active manager want to look like the index? Why not overweight certain indices where we are finding the most-attractive opportunities?
When looking at the table below, the only real takeaway is that it’s been nearly impossible to predict relative sector performance. Notice where each year’s top-performing sector wound up the following year. Despite the randomness of sector performance, the majority of portfolio managers make active sector bets as if they have some kind of edge in doing so.
In S&P Dow Jones Indices’ most-recent annual report of active managers’ relative performance against their benchmarks, 2018 was a continuation of the same theme that has prevailed for much of the past decade: active managers struggled to beat their passive counterparts1. This included the fourth quarter when the S&P 500 fell over 13%. Many investors assumed active managers would shine during the long-awaited risk-off environment and were surprised when this didn’t play out accordingly.
“What’s different about 2018 was the fourth quarter volatility,” Aye M. Soe, a managing director at S&P and one of the authors of the report, told CNBC. “Active managers claimed that they would outperform during volatility, and it didn’t happen.”2
For advisors, having the option to sit down and speak with a client about a topic that is important to them, but not strictly related to their investment performance, can be a very powerful tool. This is one of the benefits of having a strong Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) capability, especially since younger investors and women – two demographics quickly accumulating wealth – have shown such strong interest in the space. These robust conversations will also lead you to get to know your clients on a more personal level and potentially develop a level of trust that didn’t previously exist.
Although volatility hasn’t been as pronounced as in past years (we recently penned a blog on this, “Chart of the Month – How 2019 Volatility Stacks Up Against Prior Years”), trade tensions and concerns over a slowing U.S. economy have caused enough concern for more-tactical investors to take some money off the table. One investor group in particular that has trimmed its long equity exposure is hedge funds.
Hedge funds typically employ nimble, tactical investment strategies, relying on portfolio managers’ experience and expertise or specific indicators to determine when to increase exposure in their long or short books. While these funds’ short positions and relative lack of equity beta (compared to a strategic long-term, long-only equity investor) was beneficial during 2018’s fourth-quarter selloff, the majority of hedge funds then missed out on the first quarter’s rally.
Today there are many managers, even those not managing formal ESG strategies/funds, who claim to take ESG considerations into their investment processes.
Here are three questions you can ask as part of your due diligence:
Just when we were getting used to some tranquility in the markets, U.S.-China trade tension reared its head again. While nothing compared to the dramatic volatility of late-2018, the chart below illustrates the recent pop in the VIX Index.
It seems like the fourth quarter’s stock market selloff just happened yesterday, but we’ve already had a full recovery. Things have changed quite a bit - especially the Fed backing-off its intentions to continue raising rates. Let’s take the pulse of major world economies to see where things currently stand.
China is a good place to begin, since it’s the second-largest economy in the world - larger than the economies of Japan, Germany, and India combined. Most believe the economic statistics that come out of China are manipulated by their government. How else could Chinese GDP stay in such a narrow band between 6.4% and 7.0% for the last four years? The Chinese stock market may be a better indicator of economic health, and the Shanghai Shenzen stock index is near the same level it was four years ago. Many believe that the Chinese economy could get a big boost if the trade dispute with the U.S. is settled, but we have our doubts. It has gone on for a year now, and many U.S. companies have found ways to diversify their supply chains and lower their exposure to China. There is no reason they would put all of their eggs back in the China basket even if the trade dispute is resolved.
Over the years, you may have noticed certain traits of successful equity managers, and certain other traits of managers that have disappointed. Here are some common characteristics we frequently see among equity money managers who have created strong long-term risk-adjusted track records for their clients.
Image Source: Explara.com
- Limiting big drawdowns. As we mentioned in a previous blog (The Arithmetic Behind Drawdowns and Recoveries) bouncing back from a big drawdown can take years, and the arithmetic is not in your favor (i.e. It takes a 25% gain to recover from a 20% loss). Buying undervalued stocks can help with this; their multiples tend to be lower which can help limit the downside.
Financial Advisor recently wrote an article on environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment options in retirement plans. Turns out a lot of investors want it and not a lot of companies are meeting the demand.
According to a recent survey from Natixis Investment Managers, sixty-one percent of respondents said they would be more likely to contribute or increase contributions to their workplace retirement savings plan if there were more socially-responsible investments. Among plan participants not currently invested in ESG funds, only 13 percent said their company’s retirement plan offers ESG options.