With the market still facing some volatility after last month’s beating, some investors might be inclined to seek out stocks that may stay relatively safe from big moves. One strategy for doing so could be to look for companies with low debt. Low debt brings greater financial flexibility to companies and generally makes investors much less worried about their ability to meet their obligations. According to Barron’s “Stocks of firms with low debt have outperformed those with higher debt by about one percentage point a year for the past 25 years … Low debt companies are also less volatile than the overall market, on average”.
FINSUM: This seems like a good parameter by which to carve out a safer portion of a portfolio, though as our readers will know, we generally don’t like using historical returns alone as a guide.
Here is an eye opener- by some measures this was the worst year for markets in at least a century. Through early November, 89% of assets had delivered losses for the year, the worst market wide performance in a 100 years, according to Deutsche Bank. However, with the new truce between China and the US, many assets are moving into the black for the year. Also, the jump in oil bodes well for the energy sector as well as high yield bonds.
FINSUM: A lot of the near-term gloom got cleared up this weekend, and it seems possible that markets could have a nice end-of-year bull run.
Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, is a legendary name is investing. Not only did he found and grow one of the largest asset managers in the world, but he has a habit of being right when he predicts returns. Well, he has just made another prediction, and unfortunately it is not one investors will like. He thinks returns over the next decade are going to lag their historical levels badly. His forecast is that investors can expect a 1.75% net return with a 50%/50% stock-bond portfolio over the next decade.
FINSUM: If this call turns out to be right, it will have huge implications for retirees and pension funds, as “safe spending” rules and total returns for pensions will be devastated. That sad, we think forecasting that far out is all but useless.
Here is a big warning. Goldman Sachs says that with bonds and stocks falling, and the outlook remaining poor, cash will be king. The bank thinks that stocks will only rise by single digits in 2019. In the words of Goldman analysts, led by David Kostin, the chief of Goldman’s research arm, “We forecast S&P 500 will generate a modest single-digit absolute return in 2019. The risk-adjusted return will be less than half the long-term average. Cash will represent a competitive asset class to stocks for the first time in many years”.
FINSUM: Goldman basically think T-bills are a great buy right now and we have a hard time disagreeing. The yields on short-term holdings are very favorable and quite rate insensitive.
If you or your clients own any Chinese focused ETFs, you will have noticed a glaring fact—they have hugely variant returns even when the underlying holdings don’t seem that obviously different. China is a study in how different index weightings and configurations can impact returns. For instance, Chinese stocks as a whole have fallen 21% this year, however the 40 or so Chinese focused ETFs in the US market have ranged from a 5% positive to negative 40% return. Even seemingly broad ETFs, like the iShares Large-Cap ETF, have very varying results, as despite the 21% fall, that ETF only dropped 13%. This is because it has a 50% weighting towards financial stocks, which were largely unscathed.
FINSUM: The key point here is to know what you are buying. Each of the indexes being tracked are quite unique, even if you think you are just buying a broad “China ETF”.