Displaying items by tag: risk
With the proliferation of ETFs and model portfolios and the growing amount of assets flowing into them, more and more AUM has been going into low vol and other risk management-oriented strategies. This is doubly true with the big volatility of the last year. However, a small cautionary tale to share today. If you take a look at LVHD, a popular “low volatility high dividend” ETF from Legg Mason, you see a fund that has significantly underperformed the S&P 500 and failed to protect investors from volatility. It is hard to know exactly why because the fund’s proprietary methodology is not transparent. However, even that fact is representative of the space. In their rush to defend against downside, many low vol ETFs and models can inadvertently and drastically underperform and expose investors to very low risk-return profiles.
FINSUM: What you get is not always what is being sold, so when choosing low vol products, make sure to pay significant attention to methodology and track record, especially during periods of volatility.
Until every recently (and even now), junk bond yields were historically low. This was not a surprise since Treasuries were also at historic lows. But the whole situation begs an important question—why are junk bonds so popular when their yields are so low? It seems like an abundance of risk with little return. The answer to the question is that “there is no alternative”. Many fund managers have mandates to invest in a minimum holding of bonds, no matter what their yields. Therefore, when that cash needs to find a home in fixed income, it naturally finds its way towards the highest-yielding bonds, even if those might be quite risky. This helps explains the huge decline in yields since March 2020 (from an average of 12% yield to under 4% in February).
FINSUM: “There is no alternative” (TINA), is the same explanation given for the big rise in equities since after the Financial Crisis, and even since the beginning of the pandemic. Frankly, the argument seems to hold water.
Asset allocation as it has traditionally been conceived has taken a beating over the last few years, and especially since the start of the pandemic. The old 60/40 allocation model has been cast aside for years, and investors are using many new techniques to allocate, such as factoring. However, one easy-to-implement and effective way to think about allocation is the balance of active and passive investments one holds. Active investments, when well done, can offer long-term outperformance. However, they also have more significant risks. Accordingly, this can be the risk/upside portion of a portfolio, while passive strategies, which are almost by definition more diversified, can be more of a hedge.
FINSUM: This not only makes sense in equities, but this consideration about active vs passive holds across different asset classes as well.
The market is split over dividend stocks. On the one hand, about half the market thinks the huge wave of dividend cuts are over and that most of the damage has been done. One the other, many worry that not all the deleterious effects of COVID have manifested themselves on corporate behavior and that further cuts may still be in the works. The overall picture seems to be one where caution is due given the big jump in valuations and the continued possibility of further cuts. For instance, bank and credit card companies look likely to cut further as high unemployment leads to worsening credit quality and more delinquency. Wells Fargo just announced a dividend cut, for instance.
FINSUM: Our thinking here is to be careful. Even if the economy does not have another lockdown, the full effects of this recession may take a little time to fully show themselves in dividend cuts.
One of the aspects of this bear market that has really alarmed investors is the speed with which the market has rallied from its lows. Huge gains of well over 35% have shocked investors into feeling like indexes are bound to fall again. In some sense that sentiment makes sense since it has happened before, such as in the dotcom bubble. However, according to BlackRock, it is absolutely time to go risk-on, but with a twist. The asset manager says that sovereign bonds have very little upside or protection to offer right now, so instead investors should put their capital into credit and higher-quality equities. “Over the next six to 12 months, we favor credit over equities given bondholders’ preferential claim on corporate cash flows and prefer an up-in-quality stance in equities”.
FINSUM: We particularly like the argument about sovereign bonds not offer much right now. With central banks already at their zero lower bound and sovereigns priced very highly, there is just not much to gain and plenty to lose.