May 2017 Investor Letter

Strategy Performance

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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.

 
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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 10-20 trading days, depending on the cycle count. This approach allows me to effectively manage risk. The strategy aims to capture +5%-6% profit per trade while risking 2%-3% each time and has a win rate in excess of 70%.

Executive Summary

Over the last couple of months, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google together have added $260 billion in market capitalisation. Meanwhile, the other 495 companies in the S&P 500 have lost a similar amount. Market leadership is narrowing to just a handful of names, a trend that often occurs at the tail end of a bull market. Smart investors are taking note. Paul Singer recently raised $5 billion to take advantage of opportunities when investor confidence becomes impaired and volatility spikes. Warren Buffett is sitting on 22% cash in his investment company Berkshire Hathaway. We are getting close.

Bonds have had a quiet couple of months but as long as 3% on the 10-year US Treasury and 1% on the 10-year German Bund hold, I continue to believe that the final low in yields of this multi-decade bull market lies somewhere in our future. The price action in gold could provide the clue to the timing of the turn (lower in stocks, higher in bonds and gold). Gold Trader is looking to catch the top of gold's fourth daily cycle before the final descent into a medium-term low in June. Once next month's low is in place, I expect a powerful move higher over the Summer, possibly to $1,500, as the stock market finally rolls over.

Stock Market Update

Paul Singer's hedge fund Elliott Management raised $5 billion in 24 hours last week to take advantage of a potential major investment opportunity set that could emerge "when investor confidence is impaired, recent correlations and assumptions don't work and prices are changing rapidly". Singer, one of the most successful hedge fund managers of all time, is expecting a sharp rise in volatility and some unpleasant consequences for investors in the not too distant future. He is not the only one. Warren Buffett is currently holding 22% cash - nearly $100 billion - in his investment company Berkshire Hathaway. Two titans of the investment industry are on edge and concerned about the outlook for global markets.

Back in May 2013, Paul Singer penned an excellent article describing the moral hazard that has been created by the Federal Reserve. (The full article is available in the Research section of my website at the following link: In the Wilderness). In the article, Singer lambastes the Federal Reserve for the dangerous policies they have pursued and the unintended consequences that have yet to be felt from their reckless and irresponsible actions.

If you look at the history of Fed policy from Greenspan to Bernanke, you see two broad and destructive paths quite clearly. One path is the cult of central banking, in which the central bank gradually acquired the mantle of all-knowing guru and maestro, capable of fine-tuning the global economy and financial system, despite their infinite complexity. On this path traveled arrogance, carelessness and a rigid and narrow orthodoxy substituting for an open-minded quest to understand exactly what the modern financial system actually is and how it really works. The second path is one of lower and lower discipline, less and less conservative stewardship of the precious confidence that is all that stands between fiat currency and monetary ruin. Monetary debasement in its chronic form erodes people’s savings. In its acute and later stages, it can destroy the social cohesion of a society as wealth is stolen and/or created not by ideas, effort and leadership, but rather by the wild swings of asset prices engendered by the loss of any anchor to enduring value. In that phase, wealth and credit assets (debt) are confiscated or devalued by various means, including inflation and taxation, or by changes to laws relating to the rights of asset holders. Speculators win, savers are destroyed, and the ties that bind either fray or rip. We see no signs that our leaders possess the understanding, courage or discipline to avoid this.
— Paul Singer, Elliott Management, May 2013.

One of the consequences of continuous central bank intervention in capital markets has been the emergence of the short volatility trade as investor confidence levels ratchet up once again. A tremendous amount of capital has been placed on bets that volatility will remain suppressed for the foreseeable future. This, at a time when the Vix Index (below) is trading at multi-decade lows. Over the past 13 trading days, the S&P 500 has traded within a range of 1.01%, the least volatile 13 days in history! Volatility spikes and rapid changes in price are what Paul Singer is preparing for.

 
 The Vix Index is a measure of the volatility of S&P 500 index options and is considered a prescient gauge of investor confidence (when the Vix is low) and fear (when the Vix spikes higher).

The Vix Index is a measure of the volatility of S&P 500 index options and is considered a prescient gauge of investor confidence (when the Vix is low) and fear (when the Vix spikes higher).

 

Another direct consequence of continuous central bank intervention has been the reach for yield as investors are forced out of low risk cash and into higher risk investments in the search for income and a reasonable investment return. Total assets in Rydex Money Market Funds have now also fallen to multi-decade lows.....

 
 

.... at a time when stock market valuations and margin debt as a percentage of nominal GDP have rarely been higher.

There is also a potential negative divergence now appearing in the S&P 500 where price is breaking out to new all-time highs but relative strength and momentum indicators are failing to confirm the move. This signals that the rally could be nearing its final stages.

 
 

In his 1st May Weekly Market Comment, John Hussman showed a simple chart of the S&P 500, marking all days since 1960 where the opening level of the Index was 0.5% above the prior day's closing price and the Index was within 2% of an all-time high. On some occasions, these conditions occurred shortly before the final bull market high, while on others (August 1987 and October 2007), they occurred just a few days before or after the final market top. Food for thought.

 
 

Stock markets have enjoyed a very strong multi-year rally since 2009, and since bottoming versus gold in 2011. The S&P has handily outperformed precious metals over the last six years, following gold's strong relative performance versus US equities from 2000 until 2011.  I believe the trend is now turning once again in favour of gold. I think gold will put in a meaningful low over the next 4-6 weeks (see Gold Market Update for more information), which I expect will coincide with a top in the stock market. After that, things should start to get interesting.

 
 

European stocks (lower left chart) trade at a valuation discount relative to US stocks and the market is pricing in quite a depressed level of earnings growth for EU companies. So, there is a margin of safety priced in to EU stock markets. Chinese stocks (lower right chart) continue to face significant headwinds and the chart of the Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index suggests that the downward trend will persist for some time yet. I will be tilting the regional equity bias in the Active Asset Allocator towards Europe following the next meaningful correction, but for now, I continue to recommend caution and maintain a defensive position in the Active Asset Allocator of 20% equities / 40% bonds / 30% precious metals / 10% cash. 

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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

The trend remains down for government bond yields across the world. Inflationary pressures are probably greatest in the United States and eventually that will be reflected in the US Treasury market. However, as long as the US 10-year yield remains below 3.0%, I think the final low in yields of this multi-decade bull market lies somewhere in our future. 

 
 

Debt, demographics and delusional central banks are combining to perpetuate this bull market in bonds. Despite the recent rise in yields, Eurozone government bond yields also remain in a multi-year downward trend. As long as 10-year German bund yields remain below 1.0%, the bond bull market remains intact.

 
 

It has been a quiet couple of months for inflation-linked bonds but the longer-term trend remains up for this under-owned asset class. Inflation-linked bonds offer attractive diversification benefits for multi-asset portfolios and perform well at times when equities and fixed interest rate bonds are struggling. I will likely increase the allocation to ILB's in the Active Asset Allocator over the course of the next 12 months.

 
 

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

I closed Trade 12 of the Gold Trader strategy last week for a 2% gain (+4.4%YTD). I am looking to place another short position for Gold Trader to catch the top of gold's fourth daily cycle before the final descent into a medium-term low in June. Once next month's low is in place, I am expecting a powerful move higher over the Summer, coinciding with a top and decline in the stock market.

 
 

I am pretty excited about the prospects for Gold Trader. The strategy looks to capture 5-6% per trade while risking just 2-3% each time and has a win rate in excess of 70% based on over 10 years of data. Profits are tax-free to the client and fees are performance based. No gain, no fee. Please get in touch if you are interested in learning more.

I expect gold to bottom next month near $1,170. The possibility remains for a fast and sharp drop below the December 2016 low of $1,124 to shake out the bulls, which would provide the fuel for the next rally. Either way, once gold gets going, I expect a strong move higher towards $1,500. Gold Trader will be searching for a long position next month to get on board the move. 

 
 

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.