January 2016 Investor Letter

Active Asset Allocator 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. We follow a multi-asset investment approach, actively allocating between global equities, bonds, precious metals, currencies and cash. We always invest with the primary trend of the market and do not follow a benchmark. Instead, we manage the market risk for our clients. Our strategy has returned +11% per annum net of fees since inception with a lower level of risk than the average multi-asset fund. Our active asset allocation approach is best illustrated in the following chart.

 
 

Executive Summary

Global stock markets are under increasing pressure. The S&P 500 has fallen -8% in the first three weeks of 2016, while technology stocks are -10% and small cap stocks -11% YTD. The internal structure of the market has also deteriorated with the number of stocks on the NYSE making new lows increasing significantly in recent weeks. In contrast, the Euro, bonds and gold have acted better and are showing positive returns YTD. Together, these account for 80% of the Active Asset Allocator, which has started 2016 +6% ahead of benchmark.

Government bonds continue to attract safe haven capital flows as stock market volatility persists. I expect gold to also step up as a safe haven asset in 2016 and outline a few more bullish developments this month for the metal, including a +27% increase in investment demand in the third quarter of 2015 and a +62% year/year increase in US consumer demand as recently reported by the World Gold Council.

Stock Market Update

2016 is off to a difficult start for investors. The S&P 500 has delivered its worst January month-to-date performance since its inception in 1923. The S&P 500, NYSE Composite and Dow Jones Industrial Average have all declined -8% in the first 10 trading days of 2016. Global equities in euro terms are -9% YTD. US Transportation (-11%), Technology (-10%), and Small Cap stocks (-11%) have fared even worse, increasing the likelihood that a full-scale bear market may now be in force. In contrast, the Euro, bonds and gold have each acted better and are showing positive returns YTD. Together, these positions account for 80% of the Active Asset Allocator. The S&P 500 closed Friday at 1,880, just 13 points above the October 2015 lows. The Index reached an intra-day lower low of 1,857 but stocks rallied into the close to end another difficult week. A lot of technical damage has occurred and it is now all for the bulls to prove.

 
 

Back in 2008, when the S&P 500 broke decisively below its 50 week moving average (50WMA), stocks sold off sharply but then rallied one final time to test the underside of the 50WMA before the real damage was done. This time around, we have already had one test of the 50WMA from below. We may get another shortly to reset sentiment, which has turned quite bearish in recent weeks (it looks like that this Tuesday morning), or we could just accelerate lower from here. For a rally to occur, the S&P 500 must hold 1,867. If the stock market spends too much time below 1,867, we could be in for trouble. The 50WMA is currently +9% above where the S&P closed on Friday. (US markets are closed on Monday 18th January in observance of Martin Luther King Day).

Outside of US large cap stocks, a lot of technical damage has already occurred. The Value Line Index (lower left chart), an equally weighted index of 1,700 US companies, formed a bull market top in April 2015 and has already declined -22%. The Russell 2000 Index (lower right chart) of US small cap stocks topped out two months later in June 2015 and has also fallen -22% in the intervening period.

The Dow Jones Transportation Average (DJTA), the oldest running stock index in the US (created in 1884 by Charles Dow), comprises 20 stocks in the transportation sector and is an excellent barometer of the health of the US economy. The DJTA has now fallen -28% since topping out in November 2014. The declining transport stocks and collapsing price of crude oil are discounting much weaker trading conditions in the US in the months/years ahead.

 
 

In my October 2015 Investor Letter, I noted that the number of stocks making new highs minus those making new lows had turned positive for the first time in many months and a consistent positive trend would allow me to become more constructive on the stock market. However, I needed to see more data before making that call. Over the following three months, the internal structure of the market deteriorated and the number of stocks on the NYSE making new lows increased significantly. I need to see new highs outpacing new lows before I can turn bullish on equities. In the meantime, I continue to recommend a defensive position in the Active Asset Allocator.

 
 

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

Bond Market Update

 
 

Government bonds continue to attract safe haven capital flows as stock market volatility persists. German 10-year bund yields have fallen -10 bps in 2016 YTD and have almost halved since peaking in June 2015 at 0.98%. Japanese 10-year bond yields have fully retraced their 2015 move, while UK and US 10-year government bond yields have also started trending lower again. If stock market weakness persists over the next couple of months, pressure will come on central banks to restart quantitative easing (printing money, buying bonds) and government bond markets may now be discounting this increasing probability.

German 10-year bund yield

Japanese 10-year bond yield

UK 10-year bond yield

US Treasury 10-year bond yield

High yield bonds continue to fall and are now -14% off their 2014 highs. Last year's divergence relative to equities provided a timely warning for investors that the market's risk profile was changing. Default rates across high yield bonds should spike before this move lower is done and we are not there yet. I expect more pain to come for high yield fixed income investors.

 
 

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

Gold Market Update

Gold in euros returned -0.8% in 2015. A mix of bearish sentiment and apathy continues to surround the sector. The stage is set for the gold bull market to return and there are many positive catalysts, but at the moment, Nobody Cares (This light-hearted presentation by Grant Williams, saved in the Research section of our website, does a very good job of outlining the bullish case for gold and is well worth 28 minutes of your time). I am expecting a trend change in 2016.

 
 

In his presentation, Williams refers to the Q3 2015 World Gold Council report on demand trends in the sector. The report highlighted a +27% increase year/year in overall investment demand for gold in the third quarter of 2015, a +33% increase year/year in bar and coin demand and a +62% year/year increase in consumer demand for gold in the United States in the same period. These are very significant numbers and if this trend continues, it won't take long for the bull market in precious metals to return.

US retail investment demand jumped to 32.7 tonnes generating growth of more than 200% year-on-year. This signaled both a level of interest in gold investment not seen since the global financial crisis, and a level of price awareness on a par with that of Indian and Chinese retail investors. Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than in the US, where the US Mint reported rocketing sales of gold eagle coins. Demand for gold was the highest for more than five years: in volume terms, sales hit 397,000oz.
— World Gold Council, Demand Trends Q3 2015

The +33% year/year increase in gold bar and coin demand is shown on a regional basis in the next table. China and the United States stepped up their purchases significantly in Q3 2015.

Physical bullion ETF's lost additional ounces (-4%) in 3Q 2015 but the trend has slowed significantly since the start of last year. Once investors start accumulating ounces in the main gold ETF's once again, the gold bear market will have finally ended. I am monitoring this situation closely.

For more information on our gold market analysis, please contact Brian Delaney at 086 821 5911 or brian.delaney@secureinvest.ie.

October 2014 Investor Letter

Model Portfolio Update

Executive Summary

Without an immediate about turn in the stock market, we will get an "All Market Sell Signal" on Friday for the first time in over a year. Stocks are now trading at their second highest ever reading based on Warren Buffet's favourite valuation tool. Stock market volatility has picked up recently, and in the short-term, equities are oversold and should bounce. In fact, there have been six other times the Vix Index has jumped 60% or more in three days. Every time, stocks rallied over the next two days. In four of the six times, the rally marked the end of the decline. However, in the other two instances, stocks rallied for 5-7 days and then rolled over to new lows. Our best advice is to continue to follow our Active Asset Allocator Model which is defensively positioned 20% equities / 30% 5+ year Eurozone government bonds / 30% absolute return bonds. / 20% gold.

Equity Market Update

This is a big week for the stock market. My Technical Trend Indicator (TTI) will deliver its first "All Market Sell Signal" in well over a year this Friday unless stocks do an immediate about-turn. Risks are running high as equities enter their sixth year of rising prices without a meaningful correction (we typically experience a 20% correction in stocks every 3.8 years on average). Investors must now contend with an overvalued stock market, overly bullish investor sentiment, the end of the Federal Reserve's latest round of money printing (QE3), which has provided $1 trillion of support to the capital markets this past year and a technical trend change in the market.

We have come a long way since the 2008/9 stock market lows and that is now reflected in equity market valuations. A Warren Buffet favourite valuation tool: US corporate equities are now valued at 127% of US nominal GDP, the second highest reading in history.

The S&P 500 has traded for 475 consecutive trading days above its 200 day moving average - the longest stretch in history - but closed below key support on Friday. While the most popular stock market indices (Dow Jones Industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq) are holding up reasonably well so far this year, the smaller cap indices in the US and many key European stock markets have been trading much weaker recently.

The character of the market is changing and this can be seen in the spike in volatility measured by the Vix Index (below) that has coincided with the recent decline in the stock market. In the short-term, stocks are oversold and should bounce from here. In fact, there have been six other times the Vix Index has jumped 60% or more in three days (19/10/1987, 13/10/1989, 8/6/1990, 27/2/2007, 6/5/2010 and 8/8/2011). Every time, stocks rallied over the next two days. In four of the six times, the rally marked the end of the decline. However, in the other two instances, stocks rallied for 5-7 days and then rolled over to new lows. If we get a relief rally that fails over the next week, watch out below. We remain defensively positioned in our Active Asset Allocator Model.

 
 

High yield bonds are also signalling renewed stress in the credit markets for the first time in over three years and equity investors definitely don't like it when junk bonds are plunging to new lows as they are today.

 
 

So, what's an investor to do? The technical trend indicator has navigated the market turns like a professional. Our Active Asset Allocator investment strategy has switched to defensive mode ahead of every significant stock market decline and reverted to bullish mode to capture each medium-term rising trend since inception. Note: the Active Asset Allocation Strategy switched to defensive mode in June 2013 due to our concern over the ageing equity bull market and has since benefited from an overweight position in bonds.

For more information on our analysis, please get in touch. You can reach Brian Delaney at brian.delaney@secureinvest.ie or at 086 821 5911. 

Bond Market Update

US and EU government bond yields are turning lower again but have yet to make new all time lows. Even if they do, there is limited room for yields to fall. We will likely stay in this low yielding environment for quite some time, particularly if equity market volatility picks up over the next 12 months. Only a bout of inflation or a currency crisis will cause yields to spike.

High yield bonds also look unattractive for yield seeking investors, particularly following their recent break lower. So, for investors in search of safety in a low yielding fixed income world, we are left with short duration government debt, emerging market debt and/or absolute return bond strategies. We have an allocation to two of these strategies currently in our Active Asset Allocator model and are happy to discuss in more detail.

For more information on our bond market analysis, please contact Brian Delaney at 086 821 5911 or by email at brian.delaney@secureinvest.ie.

Gold Market Update

Commodities as an asset class remain totally out of favour. The CRB Index, when measured against the S&P 500, has returned to 15 year lows, quite unbelievable when one considers the trillions of newly printed notes circulating in the system. We could start to see a rotation into this asset class if equities start to turn lower.

 
 

Gold continues to hold up quite well here, particularly gold priced in euros, which is +11% YTD. Despite gold's resilience to hold above $1,200, I am not hugely excited about the triple test of $1,180 by USD gold in recent months. These support zones tend to become targets for active traders and there are probably plenty of stops placed just under those levels. We could head back below $1,180 on the next decline for gold. That said, this bear market in gold is getting long in the tooth. 2015 could be the year for precious metals to shine once again as one of the remaining true safe haven stores of value in a fiat currency world. In the meantime, continued patience is required.

 
 

For more information on our gold market analysis, please contact Brian Delaney at 086 821 5911 or by email at brian.delaney@secureinvest.ie.

June 2014 Investor Letter

Model Portfolio Update

Executive Summary

Our model portfolio remains defensively positioned 20% equities / 50% bonds / 20% gold / 10% cash ahead of what we expect to be an increasingly volatile second half to 2014. We are still tracking ahead of benchmark this year despite a more conservative portfolio and are on track to maintain our double digit annual return since inception. 

We are also excited to launch Delta Futures this month, an actively traded investment approach using multiple asset classes across multiple time frames. Delta Futures has returned +33% since launch on 1st January 2014. Please get in touch for more information on how to implement our Active Asset Allocator or Delta Futures investment strategies.

Equity Market Update

All markets move in cycles. Bull markets spend the majority of their time advancing, interspersed with periods of consolidation and/or correction. Bear markets do the opposite, spending the majority of their time declining, with strong counter-trend rallies separating each move lower. Analysing market cycles helps to set the framework for making informed investment decisions. Examining 50 years of stock market data shows us that the average equity market Investor Cycle lasts 22 weeks. In a healthy bull market, we should therefore expect 15-18 weeks of solidly rising stock prices, followed by a period of consolidation or correction. The strongest bull markets tend to give back the least during their consolidations. 

We are now on week 18 of the current equity market Investor cycle, so history tells us that we should be on watch for a move down into an Investor cycle low. Investor cycle lows are often strong selling events, so this is why we continue to advise caution in the short-term. We are also on Year Six of this powerful bull market in stocks. A study of market history also tells us that equity bull markets have tended to last 3.8 years on average. So, the current bull market in stocks is getting long in the tooth. This is one of the key reasons we are also cautious in our medium-term outlook for stocks.

Let's examine some charts to see if our cautious outlook is justified. At first glance, this equity bull market looks remarkably resilient, still favouring those with a bullish bias. The major US large-cap indices are making new highs each week and selling pressure is non-existent. However, if you look a little closer, you will see some initial signs of weakness, though they are only initial signs at present. Smaller cap stocks for example, measured by the Russell 2000 Index, are struggling to keep up with the S&P 500. While the S&P 500 is hitting new all-time highs, the Russell 2000 is -7% off its own recent peak. The small cap sector is considered riskier than its large cap counterpart and small cap stocks typically tend to lead the market, higher and lower. So, perhaps the Russell 2000 is signalling that the current trend is beginning to weaken.

 

The stock market's underlying technical strength has also been truly impressive. A majority of the the 3,000+ stocks that trade on the NYSE have been in steadily rising uptrends for the majority of this cyclical bull market, as can be seen in the Advance/Decline Line below for the total market. This total market A/D Line is a key input into our technical trend indicator, which drives the asset allocation decisions we make. Now, if you look closely at these charts, you will see that, while the total market A/D Line remains in a steadily rising uptrend, the Large Cap Breadth Index A/D Line has flattened out. This means that the largest stocks in the index are no longer driving the stock market higher. This could change in a few months time, which would be a bullish development and cause us to move back to a fully invested position, but for now, caution is advised. It is the same story for the Most Active Stocks Index A/D Line, which has stalled despite the price indices hitting new highs recently. Stocks that are attracting the greatest daily volume are no longer leading the market higher. The stock market is looking tired.

 

Many of the stocks that have been leading the market higher until recently are in the social media and biotech sectors and some have taken a drubbing in recent weeks, another sign that the character of this market is changing. Tesla (TSLA) plunged -33% in March 2014. Facebook (-24%), Netflix (-35%) and Twitter (-61%) have also experienced very sharp corrections recently.

 

In our April 2014 Investor Letter we noted that a record number of unprofitable IPO's were coming to market and only in 2000 did we see a greater number of money-losing businesses taken public. The door appears to be closing now if the recent price action of the above stocks is anything to go by. 

We are also concerned about the recent turn lower in margin debt (money borrowed to buy stocks on margin). History has not proven very kind to investors when margin debt peaked in the past (1987, 2000 and 2007) and began to unwind as investors headed for the exit. 

Finally, if the US dollar is emerging from a 3-year cycle low, which is looking more likely each day as time passes, then it could put the breaks on this strongly trending US equity market. The US dollar index is made up of a basket of currencies, with the Euro having the biggest influence on the direction of the USD at 55% (followed by the Japanese Yen at 15%). Over much of the last 12 months, a rising Euro has coincided with a falling USD and a sharply rising US equity market. Since May 2014 however, the trend has started to turn. 

 

 The ECB meets later this week and Mario Draghi will likely attempt to talk down his currency again in an effort to stave off the growing deflationary threat across the Euro zone. We An additional interest rate cut will likely send the Euro lower versus the USD.

 

To learn more about the full range of investment services available at Secure Investments, please contact Brian Delaney at 086 821 5911 or by email at brian.delaney@secureinvest.ie.