The U.S. stock market is in a rut. Since the end of last year, little progress has been made. In the last three months, it has moved back and forth in a trading range 10 times. Volatility has increased, with larger daily moves than we have seen for some time. During the month of March, major indexes closed down about 1.5 percent.
Many markets around the world hit all-time highs during the first quarter, which, depending on your perspective, has its ups and downs. For momentum or trend traders, it’s positive, because they ride the trend as long as it lasts. On the other hand, for range traders it’s negative. We are currently hitting the upper end of the range, which may mean it’s time to sell.
Last October, we had a 10 percent pullback. It is too early to tell, but so far it seems the market leadership of large cap stocks and the S&P 500 may finally be changing. Since the October correction, the S&P 500 has lost relative strength.
Contrary to what doomsayers perpetually predict, the dollar has been incredibly strong for the past nine months. So while it may be a great time to go to Europe, it’s somewhat tricky for investors. In addition to determining where to invest internationally, it is important to make sure your dollar exposure is hedged properly.
After falling from $106 to $46 in six months, oil has recently found some stability. This is in the face of analysts calling for $30 oil. Opportunities to invest seem to be spreading out from the U.S. We are entering a transition period where the markets are offering new opportunities and risks.
The bond market continues to be somewhat of a conundrum. We have been at all-time lows with the 10-year Treasury bond yielding around 1.85 percent. That means if you bought that bond today, you would earn 1.8 percent for the next 10 years. By way of comparison, Germany’s 10-year bond is yielding an unbelievable 0.20 percent. In fact, in a number of European countries, you would have to pay the government if you bought shorter-term debt because they have a negative yield.
The bottom line? Rates are at all-time lows around the world. And because of that, we know rates will eventually rise. When those rates rise, many investors will be hurt. If rates were to move up quickly, bond investors could potentially see volatility and losses similar to what we see in the stock market.
Investors invest in bonds rather than stocks because of their historic level of safety. And that’s a problem considering today’s market. When interest rates move back up to their historical norms, that illusion of safety could easily evaporate.
Interest rates were supposed to move up two years ago. They didn’t. The FED determined the economy was too weak. Ever since then, investors have expected rates to move up. Most recently, rates were supposed to move up this coming June.
Simply put, it’s a guessing game. There are many variables at play and no one knows when rates will rise. The problem is that we have to protect Managed Income from those eventual rate increases. Protecting the portfolio has a cost, in that we give up some of the meager returns currently available. We will continue to do our best to protect the portfolio and pull out whatever returns are available without putting the portfolio at undue risk. When we move off these all-time lows in rates, we should have better opportunities to once again capture returns in the conservative space.
Active management strategies are coming back into favor. This usually happens later in a market cycle — after the easy money has been made. Early in a market recovery, almost any strategy will work because almost everything is moving up. This is when everyone appears to be a genius.
Later in a recovery, as many asset classes approach full value, it is more difficult to generate returns. Typically, that is when active managers outperform. This is also about the time many investors switch from active strategies to passive ones. Historically, because of the increased market risk, that is exactly the wrong time to make the switch.
We have seen this change in opportunity within Top Flight over the past quarter. Top Flight Portfolio returned 3.98 percent net of fees for the first quarter versus 0.96 percent for the S&P 500. From its inception in January 1998 through March 2015, Top Flight has returned 615 percent to investors versus 193 percent for the S&P 500. That works out to a compound rate of return over that period of 12.08 percent compounded for Top Flight versus 6.42 percent for the S&P 500. Please click here to see full track record and disclosures.
WHAT IS AHEAD?
It’s the question I get asked repeatedly. While no one really knows, there are factors we do know. We know we are likely in the latter third of this bull market. This bull market is the fourth longest in 85 years. From a low of 6469 on March 9, 2009, the Dow Industrials has gone up an additional 11,700 points.
Other issues include:
• How does the market usually react to a severe drop in oil?
• What does the market usually do in the seventh year of a president’s term?
• How does a rapidly rising dollar affect the market?
• Stocks are overvalued by most historic metrics but undervalued relative to interest rates.
The list is endless. We do our best to separate out those factors that matter and adjust our portfolios accordingly. We apply those factors to our investment strategy to give us a framework. More importantly, we process the actual market data through our models, then react to that data as market conditions change. For example, Top Flight is currently holding about 30 percent cash, which is its highest cash allocation in some time.
Investing is difficult. As I have said before, there are 10 ways to lose money for every one way to make it. Fortunately, Nate and I have a combined market trading experience of 50 years. As they say, “This is not our first rodeo.”
Our objective is to make sure you are invested according to your risk comfort level. Each of our clients is invested differently depending on age, goals, total net worth and investment experience. In order to achieve investment success, you must be invested in a way that allows you to stay invested over the long term, through market ups and downs.
Please let us know if you would like to discuss your investments or make changes to them. We appreciate the confidence you have placed in us.
Written by Dave Young, President and Founder of Paragon Wealth Management