September 2015 Investor Letter

Active Asset Allocator 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. 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 12% per annum net of fees since inception. Our active asset allocation approach is best illustrated in the following chart.

 
 

Executive Summary

Stocks tumbled in August, the first real -10% decline since 2011 and the bounce out of the August lows has been mediocre so far. Our studies confirm the continued deterioration in the internal structure of the stock market. The recent rally barely registers on the charts. The Large Cap Breadth Index (LCBI) for example (below left) has been steadily declining since peaking in September 2014. The recent performance of the FTSE All World Index also reinforces our defensive position. Bonds,  gold and cash, which together account for 80% of the  Active Asset Allocator investment portfolio, have provided some shelter from the storm. 

Stock Market Update

All eyes are on the Federal Reserve this afternoon as the US Central Bank decides whether to increase interest rates from 0.0% to 0.25%. The magnitude of the potential rate hike is small but market reaction to the news over the next few weeks could be significant.

We experienced a sharp correction in stocks in August, the first real -10% decline since 2011. The bounce out of the August lows has been mediocre so far. Our studies confirm the continued deterioration in the internal structure of the stock market. The recent rally barely registers on the charts. The Large Cap Breadth Index (LCBI) for example (below left) has been steadily declining since peaking in September 2014. This Index captures the underlying trend of the largest companies that trade on the NYSE and is a very useful tool in that it shows where the major players in the investment management sector are placing their trades. Most large portfolio managers need to own the largest market cap stocks for liquidity purposes, as they have multiple billions to invest on a regular basis. The LCBI is highlighting that the big institutional players have yet to step back into the market in any meaningful way.

The advance/decline line (above right) also shows that the majority of stocks have been trending lower for much of 2015. The A/D Line is a composite of over 3,000 stocks trading on the NYSE, so it is a broad measure of market breadth and an excellent barometer of the overall health of the stock market. Both of the above indicators suggest the trend remains down and lower stock prices lie ahead.

We continue to follow the path of the FTSE All World Equity Index with interest. As noted in last month's update,  this Index is the benchmark for global equity fund managers and includes stocks from North America (54%), Europe (23%) and Asia (23%). Similar to the 2007-2008 stock market top, the FAW Index:

  1. made an initial break lower in October 2014 (I);
  2. rallied to new market highs in early 2015 but on weaker momentum (II);
  3. declined to lower lows below (I) in August 2015 (III); and
  4. is currently attempting to rally back to the now declining 50 week moving average.

As long as this pattern continues in a similar fashion to 2007/8, we will continue to recommend a defensive position in the Active Asset Allocator.

 
 

The stock market in the United States looks to have formed a medium-term top. Following a 15% decline in August, the NYSE Index of 3,000+ stocks has managed a weak +6% rally. We need to see a sustained break above the upper resistance trend line before turning bullish again on US equities.

 
 

There have only been four occasions over the last 20 years when the S&P 500 traded below its long-term 100 week moving average. In 2000 and 2007, it preceded a severe multi-year bear market. In 2011, we experienced a -20% stock market correction before the uptrend resumed. In 2015, the Index is once again testing the 100WMA. We closed below the 100WMA for 9 trading sessions before the current rally took us back above this key support level. Correction or bear market pending?  We will find out shortly.

 
 

Turning to Europe, we can see a similar trend unfolding. The Eurostoxx 600 Index, comprising 600 of the largest companies from European developed countries, has fallen -20% since peaking in April 2015 and is currently +6% off those August lows. It is very likely we revisit those lows at some stage over the next 1-3 months. A successful re-test will likely have us turning more positive on equities. However, should we break the August lows, we expect to see an acceleration in selling pressure for stocks. We are at a critical juncture now for the stock market.

 
 

Emerging markets have fared worst of all. Peak to trough, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index (below) has fallen -32% from the highs earlier this year in local currency terms. Many emerging market currencies (ex China) have also experienced punishing declines over the last 12 months. China accounts for 23% of the index, followed by South Korea (15%), Taiwan (13%), India (8%), South Africa (8%), Brazil (6%), Mexico (5%) and Russia (4%).

 
 

The Chinese stock market has already corrected -45% from the top in June and there is no evidence yet that this correction is over. The Latin American region is another basket case and is already fast approaching the 2009 lows experienced during the last financial crisis.

We continue to recommend a defensive position in the Active Asset Allocator of 20% equities / 30% bonds / 30% precious metals / 20% cash as we navigate an increasingly volatile market environment. 

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

Bond Market Update

 
 

We initiated a 5% position to inflation linked bonds in the Active Asset Allocator at the start of the year and will likely add to this position once it starts working for us. While deflationary fears persist in the marketplace, we believe they are already discounted in security prices. It therefore makes sense to us to begin to diversify our bond holdings ahead of the more inflationary future we anticipate. So long as inflation rises faster than nominal interest rates (thus causing real yields to fall), our inflation linked bonds will perform well for our clients.

 

 
 

We also bought a 5% allocation to Euro aggregate bonds, a mix of short duration government and corporate bonds, at the same time as we started our inflation linked bond position. The rationale is similar in that we want to diversify our bond holdings and reduce our interest rate exposure. We do not anticipate a significant rise in interest rates or bond yields in the years ahead but expect volatility to pick up, so we think it makes sense to reduce risk a little.

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

Gold Market Update

Gold priced in euros had a great start to 2015 rallying over +25% shortly after we increased our allocation from 20% to 30% in the Active Asset Allocator. The last few months however have been disappointing and Euro gold has given back a lot of its 2015 gain so far, but is still +5% since we took our overweight position.

 
 

We are now entering the most seasonally positive time of year for gold and expect to see higher prices over the next 4-6 weeks. If we do not get what we are looking for, we will be quick to cut back our allocation to our longer-term strategic weight of 20%. We are paying very close attention to the market action in the precious metals sector.

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

July 2015 Investor Letter

Active Asset Allocator 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. 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 12.4% per annum net of fees since inception. Our active asset allocation approach is best illustrated in the following chart.

 
AAA Asset Allocation.jpg
 
 

Executive Summary

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook together account for 35% of the Nasdaq 100 Index. Excluding Amazon, which despite its $227 billion market capitalization is losing money, the other four trade at an average P/E multiple of 41 times. Valuations are frothy and market breadth continues to deteriorate, while the Fear Index trades at record lows. Investors haven't been this confident in their outlook since 2007.

Meanwhile, gold has now retraced 50% of its +660% rally from 2000 to 2011 and sentiment is extremely bearish. Gold mining shares have collapsed and calls for sub-$1,000 gold are two a penny. During the 1970's bull market, gold rallied +457% from 1970-1974, corrected -49% from 1974-1976 before rocketing +750% from 1976-1980. What is in store this time around?

Stock Market Update

We began last month's Investor Letter highlighting the sharp -13% correction in the Chinese stock market, noting that "that could be it for the Shanghai stock market for 2015". It certainly appears that way now as the Chinese stock market has continued to plummet, declining -35% in four short weeks from the 12th June market top before a relief rally commenced last week. The reason for the bounce - a government initiative to ban the selling of shares; hardly a vote of confidence for the medium-term prospects of the Shanghai stock market. We anticipate the downward trend will resume shortly. 

 
 

Back in the United States, the stock market continues its relentless rise. The pace of the advance however is slowing and beneath the surface, fewer stocks are participating in the rally. The number of stocks trading above their 200 day moving averages, for example, continues to decline, from a peak of 94% in 2013 to just 58% today. Smart money is exiting the stock market while the strong performance of  just a handful of companies give the appearance that all is well. Appearances can be deceiving. 

 
 
 

Just four stocks for example - Apple, Microsoft, Google and Exxon Mobil - represent 10% of the market capitalization of the S&P 500. Together, these four companies trade at a valuation of 20 times annual net earnings. Three of the same four - Apple, Microsoft and Google - together with Amazon and Facebook account for a full 35% of the Nasdaq 100 Index. Excluding Amazon, which, despite its $227 billion market capitalization, made a net loss in 2014, the other four trade at a lofty average price / earnings multiple of 41 times. 

 
 

The next chart is one you have seen before and is probably the most important chart that equity investors should focus on at the present time. It is of course the global equity benchmark - the FTSE All World Index. Trillions of dollars of investor capital is invested in stock markets around the world with investment managers trying to beat or match this index every quarter for clients. The index is a proxy for global stock markets and it appears to be running out of steam. Relative strength is deteriorating and the trend is flattening out. The same setup happened in 2007 before the wheels came off in rather dramatic fashion. On average, stocks are more expensive today than they were in 2007.

 
 

Our own studies also continue to point to internal weakness in the underlying technical trend of the market. Our Technical Trend Indicator is now on a "Sell" signal for the first time in years, while the Advance/Decline Line, which captures the number of stocks in rising versus declining trends, has failed to confirm the recent highs in the S&P 500, another warning sign.

Our Large Cap Breadth Index is also breaking down. The majority of institutional investor capital typically flows in to the largest market cap stocks and our Large Cap Breadth Index suggests that a trend change is at hand. The six horsemen continue to charge (AAPL, MSFT, GOOG, XOM, AMZN, FB), but fewer stocks are leading the market higher. Our Most Active Stocks Index also suggests that stocks that attract the highest volume each day are starting to turn lower.

Despite the deteriorating technical condition of the stock market, investors appear quite confident about the market's future prospects. The Vix Index, also known as the Fear Index, measures the extent to which investors are concerned about future stock market volatility. When the index is low, investors are unconcerned about market risks; when the index surges higher, market volatility increases and stocks generally decline, sometimes significantly. A glance at the chart below suggests that investors are very confident about the future prospects for the shares they hold. The Vix Index currently trades at record lows. In fact, investors haven't been this confident in their outlook since 2007. Portfolio insurance is cheap and suggests a market of overly complacent investors.

 
 

We remain defensively positioned in the Active Asset Allocator holding 20% equities / 30% bonds / 30% gold / 20% cash.

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

Bond Market Update

10 year government bond yields rallied sharply during the second quarter and bond prices fell accordingly. Typically, we hold a 60% allocation to government bonds when the Active Asset Allocator is defensively positioned. However, we have been concerned that a sharp rise in yields could occur over a short time period and have held an underweight 20% position in EU government bonds for some time now (with an additional 5% allocation to inflation linked bonds and 5% allocation to corporates). We will look to increase our bond allocation, particularly in the inflation-linked sector, later this year if real and nominal yields continue to rise. We do not anticipate the recent spike in yields to be the start of a strong persistent uptrend.  Sub-par economic growth and a multi-year debt deleveraging cycle should keep downward pressure on bond yields for some time to come.

A consequence of today's low interest rate environment has been the flood of money into high yield bonds as investors reach for yield to secure a reasonable income. High yield bonds carry significant risks relative to investment grade government and corporate bonds and yields today in this sector of the market are not pricing in the increased risk of default. The same case applies for emerging market debt. Yields are currently at historic lows for both. It will a while yet before we can consider including high yield bonds and/or emerging market debt in the Active Asset Allocator strategy.

High yield bonds have not in fact confirmed the recent highs in the S&P 500, another potential warning flag we are paying close attention to. In a healthy market, high yield bonds should trend higher in unison with other risk assets. This is not the case today.

 
 

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

Gold Market Update

Gold has now retraced 50%  of the entire bull market that began in 2000 at $253/ounce and topped in 2011 at $1,923. The 50% retracement level is $1,088, which I referred to in last month's update, was reached as futures trading opened on Sunday evening. Gold didn't spend long at that price and rallied back above $1,100 within minutes. Today (Wednesday 22nd July) gold is revisiting those Sunday night lows as I write. 

 
 

The last major bull market in gold occurred during the inflationary 1970's. Gold began that decade at $35/ounce and went on to rally +457% over the next five years. Then on 14th August, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed a bill lifting Executive Order 6102, which had banned gold ownership by US citizens. Gold rallied sharply in anticipation of this event and topped shortly thereafter at $195.

Next followed the big correction, similar to what we have experienced over the past three years (in USD terms). From 1974 to 1976, gold plunged -49% from $195/oz to $100/oz. Banks and economists in 1976 were queuing up with doomsday forecasts. Citibank called for $60 gold and encouraged gold holders to sell their metal in light of a strong recovery under way in the United States.

For the few that held on, what followed next was a sight to behold. Over the next four years, gold rallied +750% before topping out in January 1980 at $850/oz. Inflation was of course a significant problem in the 1970's and the Federal Reserve was behind the curve for years before Paul Volcker took charge on 6th August 1979, hiking interest rates to double digits and eventually killing inflation and the gold bull, dead.

Roll forward to today and we have quite a different set of economic and monetary circumstances to deal with, though much more problematic in our view. We expect gold will once again protect investors from the badly misguided policies of central banks around the world. It is just a question of timing.

The current gold bull market began in 2000 at $253/oz and rallied +660% for twelve years in a row before topping out in 2011 at $1,923. Over the next four years, gold has fallen by -44% in USD terms to an intra-day low this week just under the 50% retracement level of $1088. Sentiment in the gold sector is extraordinarily bearish and gold mining stocks have collapsed by -82% since 2011. By comparison, the miners fell by "just" -67% during the 1974-1976 gold price decline.

 

Relative to the metal, gold miners are now cheaper today than at any other time since the gold bull market began fifteen years ago. The mining companies have issued a lot of shares in the intervening period and have been poor capital allocators, but still, the level of bearishness in this sector is extreme. Either the entire industry is about to go out of business (bullish for gold as supply stops) or these shares, when they turn, have a LOT of upside.

 
 

For gold, we have experienced the multi-year rally from 2000 to 2011 and now the sharp correction from 2011-2015. What should follow is the final leg of the bull market, perhaps from 2015-2020. It should be a sight to behold. We are keenly watching for the turn but also may cut back our gold allocation if we don't like what we see in the near-term. When the gold miners turn higher, fortunes will be made in this sector. 

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

June 2015 Investor Letter

Active Asset Allocator 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. 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 12.6% per annum net of fees since inception. Our active asset allocation approach is best illustrated in the following chart.

 
 

Executive Summary

Stocks are little changed since our last Investor Letter but under the hood, we note a deteriorating picture. The FTSE All World Index looks to be tracing out a topping pattern, while our own studies show that the technical trend is breaking down. Opportunities in fixed income may present themselves later this year in both fixed and inflation linked sectors if yields continue to back up over the summer. Meanwhile gold continues to frustrate the bulls and bears alike and sentiment for the precious metals is as bad as I have ever witnessed. Despite this picture, gold in Euro terms is +7% YTD. 

Stock Market Update

We continue to experience pockets of strength in certain regional stock markets around the world - Japan, the Eurozone and China to name three - but the broader picture is one of consolidation and range trading. Japanese and Eurozone stock markets continue to rally following sharp currency declines (JPY -40%, EUR -25%) and the Shanghai stock market trades as if on steroids, +158% in 12 months, before declining -13% last week (That could be it for the Shanghai stock market for 2015). The bigger picture however, is less certain.

 
 

The S&P 500 continues to trade in a tight range and has corrected by just 3 points or -0.1% since last month's investment update while the FTSE All World Index (below) has fallen just 2 points or -0.7% over the same period. This global stock market benchmark continues to track the 2007-2008 market top pattern with uncanny similarity - marginal new price highs combined with slowing momentum and weaker internal market strength. We continue to pay very close attention to this chart formation, particularly as stock market valuations are quite stretched and investor confidence is running high, a dangerous combination. This chart may repair itself with price breaking higher on strong volume, but until this happens, we remain guarded.

 
 

In tandem with the potential topping pattern in the FTSE All World Equity Index, some of our own studies also show that the technical trend is potentially breaking down here. Our Technical Trend Indicator is once again trading below its long-term moving average while our Large Cap Breadth Index has been in a downward trend since April.

Valuation is not a timing tool but any sensible valuation metric today indicates that, after a 200%+ run, stock market valuations have entered elevated territory. The value of US corporate equities for example relative to the value of the US economy has stretched to two standard deviations above the long term mean, as illustrated in the next chart. Now is not the time to be swinging for the fences. So, we remain defensively positioned for now in the Active Asset Allocator 20% equities / 30% bonds / 30% gold / 20% cash.

 
 

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

Bond Market Update

Following a sharp appreciation in price and decline in yields across government bond markets in 2014, yields have begun to rise in 2015 in a mean reversion trade. The trend higher may persist a while longer but we do not anticipate the recent spike in yields to be the start of a strong persistent uptrend.  Sub-par economic growth and a multi-year debt deleveraging cycle should keep downward pressure on bond yields for some time to come.

Before the credit crisis, 10-year Eurozone nominal government bond yields traded in the 3-4% range while inflation was running at approximately 2% per annum. Real yields (nominal yields minus inflation) therefore were positive 1-2%. As interest rates were pushed lower after the financial crisis below the rate of inflation, real yields turned negative. In this environment, inflation-linked bonds have delivered positive returns.

Today, nominal government bond yields are 1-2% and inflation remains sticky at 2% so real yields have broken below zero. We anticipate this trend in negative real yields will accelerate over time as nominal yields are kept low via continued central bank buying, while inflation rates begin to rise, a byproduct of years and trillions of dollars, euros and yen of QE. Real yields have the potential to fall by 3-5% over time, which would deliver a 20-35% return on an inflation linked bond fund with a duration of 7 years. We will look to increase the allocation to inflation linked bonds later in 2015 if real yields climb a little higher than current levels.

 
 

Gold Market Update

Gold has a tendency to move in 8 year cycles. Gold declined in price from 1993 to 2000 before the secular gold bull market began in earnest. Gold traded aggressively higher from 2000 to 2007 before correcting and consolidating as the tail end of the equity bull market before we had the financial crisis. Gold's next eight year cycle began in 2007 and is getting long in the tooth. Gold may already have bottomed or we could be set for one final push lower this summer before the next eight year cycle commences.

 
 

The almost four year correction in precious metals has certainly taken its toll. Sentiment is as bearish as I have ever seen it in my 12 years analyzing and investing in this sector. I can't find a single gold bull no matter where I look (apart from the good folks at GoldCore in Dublin). Share prices of the Gold mining companies have fallen by 70-90% in many cases and a growing number are facing bankruptcy. Despite the negative sentiment, gold has delivered a better return than either equities or bonds since before the financial crisis. Gold has actually only had one negative year since the bull market started in 2000.

Where to from here? Of course, I cannot guarantee that the bottom is in and we may experience lower lows this summer in USD terms. In fact, the 50% retracement of the entire bull market from $250 in 2000 to $1,923 in 2011 is $1,088, about -7% below the current gold price.

 
 

If gold breaks lower and trades down towards $1,088, I would expect to see an equivalent rally in EUR/USD, from $1.12/€1.00 towards parity. Euro gold investors would gain on the currency what they lose on the asset price decline and thus experience a minimal drawdown. For now, I will continue to hold a 30% allocation to precious metals in the Active Asset Allocator as I expect we are close to, if not already past, the 8 year cycle low. Of course, I continue to monitor the situation closely.

 
 

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