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.

December 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 with a lower level of risk than the average multi-asset fund. Our active asset allocation approach is best illustrated in the following chart.

 
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Executive Summary

For the first time since 2010, the Active Asset Allocator has run a full calendar year without a single change to the asset mix. While not unprecedented, this is quite unusual and testament to the difficult trading conditions experienced this year. In 2015, regional stock markets were a mixed bag with the US -3%, Europe +4% and emerging markets -10% on average. Despite euro gold delivering a flat performance and EU government bonds +2%, the Active Asset Allocator is on track to deliver another positive year for investors; not quite 12% but positive nonetheless. I expect 2016 to be filled with opportunity for those of a patient persuasion. Until then, Happy New Year to one and all and my sincerest thanks for your continued support.

Stock Market Update

US stocks returned -3% on average in 2015, though the performance varied widely by sector. Large cap technology stocks for example returned +9%, while industrial company shares declined -2%. Stocks in the transportation sector sunk -18%, despite a -31% collapse in crude oil prices. Euro investors can add +10% to these returns due to the fall in the Euro versus the US dollar in 2015.

 
 

Despite pockets of strength in US stocks, I remain concerned about the broader outlook based on valuation and the deteriorating technical picture I see. Over the last 20 years, the S&P 500 has broken below its long-term 100 week moving average (100 WMA) on just four occasions. In 2000 and 2008, stock prices collapsed shortly thereafter. In 2011, after a battle, stocks recovered the 100WMA and went on to rally another +70%. In 2015, the S&P 500 has once again broken below the 100WMA and the battle is on. The 100WMA currently stands at 2,006 so a meaningful close below that level could spell trouble. This bull market in stocks is almost 7 years old now and approaching the second longest bull market in history (average: 3.8 years, median 3.6 years). Bull markets typically don't die of old age, but at the same time, they all must eventually end. 2016 is shaping up to be quite an interesting year.

Last month, I reviewed the chart of the Value Line Geometric Index, noting the deteriorating technical picture. Over the past five weeks, there has been no real improvement. This equally weighted index of 1,700 stocks is signalling that the US economy is at the very least, slowing down.

 
 

The same pattern is evident in the FTSE All World Index, my global stock market barometer. While some regions have performed well this year, particularly in Europe, due to the weaker currency (Eurostoxx 600 +7%, Germany +9%, France +9%, Italy +13%, Denmark +34%, Ireland +39%), in aggregate, the trend in the Index is down. Many Asian and Latin American stock markets have declined over -10% in 2015.

 
 

So, I remain cautious heading into the new year. This stock bull market is ageing and stock valuations are high relative to history. US corporate profits have peaked for this cycle. Margin debt has also peaked and is now in decline. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has no real room to cut interest rates to cushion the fall if stock markets roll over. Interesting times indeed.

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

 
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There is little to report in fixed income this month. Government bond yields have risen by 10-20 basis points in Germany and by 10 basis points in the United States, but only at the shorter end of the yield curve. This is in response to the Federal Reserve increasing short-term rates by 25 basis points earlier this month. While the Fed controls the short end of the yield curve in the US, the market determines long-term bond yields. Long-term bond yields have hardly budged in the US over the last month, increasing by just 3 basis points. 30-year yields have rallied by 10 bps in the UK and 20 bps in Germany since our last report and have actually fallen 11 bps in Japan over the same period.

The main story continues to be the slow motion deterioration in the high yield/junk bond market. Investors reaching for yield have invested in high yielding fixed income instruments including credit derivatives and below-investment grade bonds. The JNK ETF has already declined -11% from its recent peak compared to just -2% for the S&P 500. Much pain ahead for high yield investors.

 
 

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 started the year at €978 ($1,183) and is priced today at €976 ($1,062), so despite all the hoopla and bearish calls, euro gold has returned -0.2% in 2015. Gold is of course a core component of the Active Asset Allocator and a zero return hasn't helped much this year but gold will rally in its own good time and when the bull market resumes, the Active Asset Allocator will be ready. The patience of a saint is however required in the meantime. After a four year bear market, I think the wait is almost over.

 
 

What could be the spark that reignites the gold bull market? US dollar bulls today are ten-a-penny. Being bullish the USD is very much a consensus trade, particularly since the Federal Reserve has started to raise interest rates, while the ECB continues to talk the euro lower. However, all of this information is already in the price. Long USD and  long US equities are very much the same crowded trade and both may be about to reverse.

 
 

Looking back through history, the USD Index declined sharply in the lead up to the 1987 stock market crash. The USD Index fell sharply during the 2001/2 technology bust and again during the 2008 financial crisis.  It would surprise an awful lot of folks if the USD turned lower in 2016 in  tandem with a declining US stock market. This does not have to happen for gold to rise but it may drive new demand into precious metals by US investors if a protracted decline in the USD takes hold.

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