Multi-asset diversification works, but hasn’t done so recently
Successful diversification using publicly-traded alternative asset classes, like commodities, REITs and TIPS is possible. We can select from a family of systematically-managed portfolios, which allow us to capture the upside of diversification and avoid most of the downside. However, the big takeaway from this process is that multi-asset diversification itself has been largely redundant since the end of the financial crisis, thanks to the actions of the Federal Reserve. Since that time there have been two false dawns, when it looked as though the concept was about to make a comeback and we may be on the verge of another one now. If it turns out to a real dawn, we have the regime management skills to exploit it. If not, we should be able to get out without too much harm.
We have a process. All we need is the upswing.
We know how to incorporate commodities into our asset allocation process. Over the last 25 years as a whole, our process would have generated significant outperformance on an absolute and risk-adjusted basis. This is achieved by systematically managing exposure to a limited number of commodities: oil, gold and copper only, and by actively managing a small number of other assets, spread across equities and fixed income. Passive exposures don’t work as well and too many assets create unnecessary and counter-productive complexity. The problem with including commodities is that US exceptionalism in equities, currencies and fixed income has made this strategy unattractive since 2010. If you think that this regime may be ending, it may be time to take another look at commodities.
Diversification via REITs actually works and is underused
Over the last 25 years, US REITs have provided successful risk-adjusted diversification opportunities when compared with a 50/50 equity bond portfolio. Comparing them with just an equity or fixed income benchmark understates how well they do when compared with a joint benchmark. They perform far better than the other alternatives we look at – hedge funds, commodities and gold. We think the investors underuse the tactical asset allocation opportunity provided by REITs, as opposed to real estate in physical form.