Written By Dave Young, President and Founder of Paragon Wealth Management
This article is from Paragon’s Third Quarter Newsletter. If you are interested in receiving a free printed copy of Paragon’s Newsletter, please click here.
It’s been a difficult three months. From July through September, investors worldwide faced a market with vicious volatility and the worst performance we have seen in four years. As a group, hedge funds posted their worst performances since 2008.
Prior to this, the benchmark S&P 500 had gone 44 months without suffering an official correction, which is defined as a decline of 10% from its high. That streak ended on Aug. 24 when the index was hit with an intraday plunge of 1,100 points.
It is interesting to note that while the S&P 500 index itself declined — 12.4% from its highs — just over half of the stocks that make up that index were actually down more than 20%. This disparity shows the actual breadth of the decline.
Most indexes and asset classes were down for the quarter. The large cap stocks of the S&P 500 were actually a bright spot — only losing -6.9%. The NASDAQ was down -7.3%, U.S. Small caps lost -11.9%.
The international EAFE index lost -9%, while the emerging market index declined -12.1%. The broad-based GSCI commodity index lost -18.5%. Australia was down -15%, Canada -20%, Singapore -19.5%, China -22.7%, and Brazil -33.6%. Gold mining companies lost 25% and silver miners lost 28%.
Why The Drama?
Last quarter, we were wrapping up our annual Greek drama. This quarter, the worry shifted to China. China’s stock market languished for much of the decade, but with encouragement from government officials, the Shanghai Composite Index went up 152% from June 30, 2014, to its peak on June 12, 2015. It is amazing what impact government meddling can have.
It was a meteoric rise by any standard, with a buying frenzy fueled by margin debt. But the index quickly shed 32% of its value in less than one month, forcing the government to implement additional measures to stem the decline.
China is the world’s second largest economy, and its growth rate has been slowing. Although China officially announced that Q2 GDP expanded by 7.0% in Q2, few believe the official report.
The most immediate impact has been on the emerging market currencies, which are grappling with a China slowdown and a possible Fed rate hike.
In addition, China surprised markets by devaluating its currency on Aug. 11 by about 3%. China’s central bank billed the surprise announcement as a market-oriented reform and a one-time move. Almost everyone else viewed it as an attempt to shore up their sagging economy by increasing their exports.
The Federal Reserve is also being blamed for the sell-off. In late July and early August, markets seemed resigned to the idea the Fed was set to boost rates at its Sept. 17 meeting. When they didn’t raise rates, it led to a circular argument as to whether that was positive or negative for the markets — which ultimately led to more uncertainty.
In my opinion, Greece, China and the Fed were just excuses for a sell off. In reality, we were in the seventh year of a bull market that was overdue for a correction.
The U.S. economy is doing OK — but not great. More importantly, market internals have been deteriorating. Valuations have been hitting the upper end of fair value. Earnings growth has slowed. And the weakness in the energy sector and the stronger dollar have both provided headwinds for the market.
We ended last quarter’s newsletter by saying, “We cannot see into the future. However, as of today, (June 30), we are conservatively positioned. Based on our indicators, it would make sense that the market may continue to move sideways or that we could see a 15% to 20% decline from these prices. Our expectation is that this may play out over the next three months.”
As a result of our defensive positioning, we were able to avoid most of the carnage.
Managed Income Portfolio, our conservative portfolio, generates returns three ways.
First, Managed Income captures yield whenever available from government and corporate bonds. With interest rates being held down by the FED, most bond investments haven’t made much sense for some time. The risk-to-reward ratio for bonds is upside down and will stay that way until interest rates reset higher.
Second, Managed Income generates returns from several less risky, equity income oriented asset classes. Those are high-yield bonds, utilities, real estate, convertible and preferred stocks, MLPs, closed-end funds and some equities. The current sell-off temporarily eliminated most of these options because the market was so weak. This will likely change when the equity markets start to recover.
Third, for a very limited portion of the portfolio, Managed Income generates returns from select equity positions. Those opportunities have not been available with the market in a downtrend.
Managed Income is down -3.4% year to date. The portfolio generated a compound annual return of 5.09% from its inception Oct. 1, 2001, through Sept. 30, 2015. Its total return for that period is 100.4%.
Top Flight Portfolio is our flagship growth-oriented portfolio. Considering the difficult quarter we have just been through, we are very pleased with its performance.
This portfolio is driven by two sets of models. The first group is made up of eight primary models, each of which is either on a buy or sell signal. These models measure price momentum, volume, advance decline ratios, sentiment and a host of other market indicators. These models took us to a 50% invested status about four months ago.
The second group of models provides a ranking system, which rates about 100 asset classes. These asset classes give us potential exposure to almost every investment category available. That rotation between asset classes also helped our performance.
Top Flight is only down -0.46% year to date. Its compound annual return is 11.45% from Jan. 1, 1998, through Sept. 30, 2015. Its Total Return for that period is 584.7% versus 174.7% for the S&P 500. (See our track record page for appropriate disclosures.)
The good news is there can be advantageous opportunities created by the sell-off. We will work to capitalize on them as they become available.
When the market stabilizes and the potential reward justifies the risk, we will re-enter our investment positions. We do not attempt to forecast; we only react to what the market is actually doing at the time. We will continue to follow our models.
Successful investing is about playing offense and defense — each at the right time — and keeping a long-term perspective. Patience is key.
We appreciate your confidence in us. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns.
Disclaimer Paragon Wealth Management is a provider of managed portfolios for individuals and institutions. Although the information included in this report has been obtained from sources Paragon believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy. All opinions and estimates included in this report constitute the judgment as of the dates indicated and are subject to change without notice. This report is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.