March 2017 Investor Letter

Strategy Performance

 
 

Investment Philosophy and Approach

The Active Asset Allocator investment strategy is designed to deliver a consistent level of positive returns over time with a strong focus on capital preservation. I follow a multi-asset investment approach, actively allocating between global equities, bonds, precious metals, currencies and cash. I always invest with the primary trend of the market and do not follow a benchmark. Instead, I manage the market risk for clients. This strategy has returned +11% per annum net of fees since inception with a lower level of risk than the average multi-asset fund. My active asset allocation approach is best illustrated in the following chart.

 
 

Gold Trader focuses on capturing the strongest and weakest parts of gold's daily cycle, buying daily cycle lows, selling daily cycle highs and holding for 10-15 trading days, depending on the cycle count. This approach allows me to effectively manage risk. The strategy aims to capture +5% to 6% profit per trade while risking 2% each time and has a win rate in excess of 70%.

Executive Summary

The strong rally in growth assets and sharp decline in interest rates have pulled forward future expected returns to such a degree that a passive portfolio of stocks and bonds is now priced to deliver little more than 2% per annum over the next decade, down from 9% per annum in 2009. Despite this prognosis, many are bullish on the outlook for stocks this year. The USD also looks vulnerable. The US Dollar Index peaked in 1985 and 16 years later in 2001. Prior declines in the USD Index have coincided with bear markets in stocks. 16 years later in 2017, are we about to see currency and equity cycles turn lower again?

Inflation-linked bonds have quite attractive risk and return characteristics and often perform well at times when equities and fixed interest rate bonds are struggling; namely during periods when inflation is rising and/or economic growth is falling. Inflation-linked bonds can therefore provide attractive diversification benefits for multi-asset portfolios without impacting expected returns. The Active Asset Allocator currently holds a 15% allocation to inflation-linked bonds. Meanwhile on gold, this month I look at some of the developing bullish trends for precious metals in 2017. I remain defensively positioned for now with 20% equities / 40% bonds / 30% precious metals / 10% cash.

Gold Trader closed Trade 11 for a win and is now looking to enter Trade 12, a short position to catch the top of daily cycle 3 and the drop into the next daily cycle low. 

Stock Market Update

While historical returns on a traditional portfolio of 60% equities / 40% bonds are near all-time highs, forward-looking expected returns are near all-time lows. The strong rally in growth assets in recent years and sharp decline in interest rates have pulled forward future expected returns to such a degree that a passive portfolio of stocks and bonds is now priced to deliver little more than 2% per annum over the next decade, down from 9% per annum in 2009. Active asset allocation will become a key driver in delivering attractive returns for investors and the Active Asset Allocator is well positioned in this regard. Two asset classes which remain significantly under-owned that should outperform in a rising inflationary world are inflation-linked bonds and precious metals, discussed in more detail later in this report.

For now, the stock market continues its ascent, still untroubled by the many potential time-bombs ticking quietly away in the background. The Sell-signal triggered by my technical studies last October, shortly before the US election result, was negated in December, so the bullish trend continues for now. An ageing bull market, now the third longest in history, and record overvaluation in stocks however are holding me back from moving to a fully invested position at this time. The risks are just too high and I think the current rally is running on fumes. A couple more weeks of additional selling in the stock market will tip the scales once again back to full defensive mode. 

 
 

John Hussman of Hussman Funds provides an excellent weekly analysis of trends in the stock market and captures the extent of the current overvaluation in equities better than anyone else. His chart (below left) measures the market value of equity plus book value of debt (enterprise value) of US companies relative to their gross value-added; a variation on the price/earnings multiple. His chart shows that valuations today are more expensive than in 2007 and within a hair's breath of their all-time extremes in 2000. The percentage of bullish newsletter writers from the latest Investors Intelligence Survey is also back near all-time highs.

Newsletter writers at optimistic extreme.

US corporate earnings have stopped falling in the short-term, perhaps on the back of expectations that Donald Trump will get his tax reform and infrastructure spending plans approved. However, US earnings are still at the same level as they were in 2007 when the S&P 500 was trading in the 1,500's, 33% below yesterday's closing price. At current prices, the stock market is all risk, no reward.

 
 

A bell doesn't ring at the top, but Trump's recent failure to get his healthcare reform legislation through the House of Representatives could mark an important tipping point. The Trump rally may have finally ended and if that proves to be the case, stock market volatility should start to accelerate. The Vix Index, a measure of volatility in the stock market,  appears to confirm this view, bottoming at 9.97 on 1st February 2017 and has been creeping higher in recent weeks. 

 
 

The performance of the US dollar has also caught my attention. US dollar bulls are ten-a-penny these days and the long dollar trade is quite lopsided. You have to buy US dollars before you can buy US equities and money has been piling into both markets in recent years. If we are close to the end of the bull run in equities, money will flow out of US stock markets and US dollars at the same time. While euro-based investors have enjoyed the double benefit of rallying US stock markets and a rising USD versus EUR, the trend in both looks set to change. The US Dollar Index peaked in 1985 and 16 years later in 2001. Prior declines in the USD Index have coincided with bear markets in stocks. 16 years later in 2017, are we about to see currency and equity cycles turn lower again?

 
 

For now, I continue to maintain a defensive position in the Active Asset Allocator of 20% equities / 40% bonds / 30% precious metals / 10% cash. 

For more information on my stock market analysis, please get in touch. You can reach me at brian@secureinvestments.ie or at 086 821 5911.

Bond Market Update

 
 

Inflation-linked bonds have quite attractive risk and return characteristics and often perform well at times when equities and fixed interest rate bonds are struggling; namely during periods when inflation is rising and/or economic growth is falling. Inflation-linked bonds can therefore provide attractive diversification benefits for multi-asset portfolios without impacting expected returns. Inflation-linked bonds tend to perform well when rising interest rates are driven by rising inflation expectations. They also represent quite an attractive alternative to fixed interest rate bonds in the current environment when nominal bond yields have already plunged to zero or below. While investors require nominal bond yields to fall deeper into negative territory to generate a positive return, inflation-linked bond returns, as the name suggests, are linked to the prevailing rates of inflation of countries issuing the bonds. If inflation happens to be higher than the nominal bond yield, then the real yield (nominal bond yield minus inflation) will simply be negative. Real yields can move to a negative extreme in a world of high inflation. The Active Asset Allocator currently holds a 15% allocation to inflation-linked bonds.

 
 

For more information on my bond market analysis, please get in touch. You can reach me at brian@secureinvestments.ie or at 086 821 5911.

Gold Market Update

According to the World Gold Council, overall demand for gold increased +2% in 2016 from 4,216 tonnes to 4,309 tonnes. ETF inflows accounted for the majority of the growth, offset by jewellery demand and a reduction in central bank purchases. Demand for physical bars and coins was relatively stable over the calendar year. Gold prices ended the year +8% in USD and +12% in EUR having been +25% in USD for the year to 30th September 2016. Investment demand increased +70% to its highest level since 2012, while annual ETF inflows were the highest since 2009. 

Investment demand soared +70% in 2016. Global gold bar and coin demand was broadly stable. China increased demand by +25% while the demonetisation experiment in India led to a -17% reduction in the demand for gold.

Central banks bought 384 tonnes of gold in 2016, a third less than in 2015 and 32% below their average purchases of the past five years. Mounting pressure on central bank currency reserves was the culprit for the reduced demand. Russia, China and Kazakhstan were the main buyers in the market.

After a five year bear market, the gold bull looks like it has turned the corner. Gold has been in a declining trend relative to the S&P 500 since 2011. The double bottom over the last 12 months could signal the tide is turning in favour of gold relative to US stocks. The pattern is similar to that formed in 1999-2000, shortly before an epic bull run began.

 
 

The monthly gold chart looks bullish. Gold traded above the 20 month moving average for the majority of the bull run from $250 in 2001 to $1,923 in 2011. Today gold is trading at $1,255, above the 20MMA of $1,212. Gold still needs to navigate daily cycles 3 and 4 of the current investor cycle (we are currently mid-way through daily cycle 3) before the next big move higher. I expect the next investor cycle to kick off in May 2017 and if gold holds together until then, the move could be significant.

 
 

The silver chart looks more bullish than gold's. Silver broke above the 20MMA last year and has re-tested the trend line from above a couple of times since. Silver is leading the way and this is another positive for the precious metals market. The Active Asset Allocator currently holds a 20% allocation to the Central Fund of Canada (CEF), which currently holds a 61% allocation to gold bullion and 39% allocation to silver bullion. CEF trades at a -5% discount to the net asset value of the bullion held in the fund. This discount has narrowed from -8% at the start of the year.

 
 

For more information on my gold market analysis, please get in touch. You can reach me at brian@secureinvestments.ie or at 086 821 5911.