The consensus for a strong dollar is more fragile than it appears
Our asset allocation models have been significantly dislocated by the strength of the US dollar. Our previous note – Currency First Is Second Best – showed that we had a model for working round the problem, even if it was difficult to know when to use it. This note introduces our G7 currency model, which we have been live-running for about two years. We don’t use it to make trade recommendations because we think the risk-adjusted returns are normally unattractive compared to those in other models, but it is occasionally useful in times of extreme market stress. The model itself is based on a mean-reversion approach and it is now close to its largest underweight position in USD over the last two years. This time last year, it was close to a two-year maximum overweight, when the consensus view was the dollar would be weak in 2021. If we were forced to commit capital, we would position for a weaker USD, but we think the right time to do this is January, not December.
Global equities are about to start rotating faster than usual
We expect global equities to start rotating faster than usual on a country/regional basis. We discuss the technical rationale in some detail, but the important message is that this not about the recent winners such as the US and India, or the losers like China and Korea, but all the others, which are somewhere in the middle. There are several European countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, which are at risk of dropping down the ranking, while selected EM countries in Asia and Latin America could benefit. If our analysis is correct, this should happen before Christmas.
Works well but the downside needs to be managed
There is lots of client interest in alternative asset classes, mainly because bonds no longer provide enough income and because they are structurally vulnerable to inflation. This week, we demonstrate this it is possible to generate superior long-term returns by adding REITs to an actively managed portfolio of equities and bonds. The key messages are (1) that the combined portfolio needs to be actively and systematically traded and (2) that exposure to REITs must be properly constrained in order to avoid the savage drawdowns that are characteristic of this asset class. We also note that US REITs have performed very strongly this year, so now may not be the time to start this strategy.
Even the strong dollar is not as important as you think
Clients often ask whether they should incorporate a currency view into their asset allocation process, to which the short answer is No. Although we don’t normally publish it, we have a model which prioritises currency selection over asset class selection. There are times when it outperforms our standard model (and now is one of them), but over the long run it produces lower returns, with higher volatility and deeper and longer drawdowns. Two conditions are required for the Currency-First model to outperform – a global bull market in risk assets and easy monetary policy in the US. Neither one, on its own, is sufficient. If you believe the latest FOMC minutes, our standard asset class model should start to outperform again, sometime in the first half of 2022.
Europe is on the way to debt-mutuality
It’s time to restructure our euro-denominated fixed income portfolio. The yield on 7-10 year German bunds is too negative for comfort and they no longer offer the best way of creating risk-efficient portfolios. A pan-euro index of government bonds with the same maturity has done this more effectively for the last two years and we believe it offers a safer and more liquid benchmark asset.
Investors need a process which highlights what they don’t know
One of the great virtues of our process is that it is sensitive enough to identify sudden changes in the relationship between risk and return, which have no apparent justification in real life – until the news story which prompted them finally breaks. We have just had a classic example of this with the resignation of Prime Minister Abe, which was announced in late August, eight weeks after our weighting in Japan was suddenly reduced. There is always an explanation, even if you don’t what it is, and this note highlights ten other recent moves at sector or country level, which we think are only partially explained.
China plays a different game and Healthcare suffers
Yesterday’s sell-off was so brutal that it probably marks the start of a different regime in equity markets. We are out of Phase 1 of the recovery and into a second more sceptical and nervous regime. Both the US and the UK broke of out the uptrends in our daily indicator that have been in place since March. The technical situation is better in the Eurozone and Japan, while the level of financial repression is China so severe, in our view, that the indicator has lost most of its signalling power.
Time to Start Thinking About It
Well-designed sectors make portfolio management easier, but that means that the definitions need to be reviewed and refreshed on a regular basis. We believe we have arrived at that moment in the US. We propose splitting the Tech sector into two, combining Materials with Industrials and Energy with Utilities. We find that it is easier to generate systematic outperformance using the new definitions.
Introducing a new daily indicator
We cannot hope to forecast all the social and economic consequences of the pandemic, but we can construct a model which allows us to observe to their impact on equities in real-time. Our new daily models are based on the same process as our weekly models. They outperformed during three similar crises in 1998, 2002 and 2008. They also suggest that US Equities will not regain their recent highs before the model reaches a point where previous mid-crisis rallies have come to an end.
Mean reversion signal getting close to the danger zone
Our standard PRATER process is well-correlated with the subsequent performance of equities vs bonds. However, the relationship decays when we get close to extremes. Here, we can use a modified RSI approach to estimate the potential for mean reversion. Our 25-year data set indicates that equities are particularly vulnerable when they have been accelerating too hard (RSI) in relation to the speed at which they are travelling relative to bonds (PRATER). Presently, they are accelerating too hard, but the difference is not yet critical. At current progress, global equities will enter the danger zone in about two weeks, after which the probability of a high single-digit correction vs bonds rises sharply.