Why I am not changing my portfolio even though the yield curve has inverted

On Friday it was reported that the yield curve in the US inverted for the first time since the last (great) recession. This is supposed to be a reliable harbinger for a future recession in 12-18 months.

What does it mean when the yield curve inverts?

It means the US short-term interest rate (as measured by the 3 month Treasury Bill rate) is now higher than the long-term interest rate (as measured by the 10 year Treasury Bill rate). An inversion like this is generally regard as a negative market/economic sentiment that can affect economic and market behaviour.

The yield curve inversion has sent some scurrying to make changes to their portfolios by raising cash, selling riskier stocks and becoming more defensive (buying utilities, telcos, REITS and consumer staples equities).

Why I am not scurrying to do anything on the news:

  1. I already have some cash (about 10% of my portfolio, including high-interest savings and short-duration bonds maturing later this year)
  2. I already have good exposure to defensive equities: ~18% utilities + ~11% consumer defensive + ~6.5% communications services + ~3.5% real estate = ~39.0% defensive
  3. I have less than 50% of our total portfolio in equities so a market downturn should be offset somewhat by non-correlated holdings in fixed income, cash and bullion (this was true in 2018, when my portfolio returned ~+1% in spite of equity drawdowns in Canada and the US)
  4. If I sell something to raise cash there could be tax consequences in our non-registered accounts, due to potential capital gains being taxed
  5. I don’t know which non-defensive equities to sell to raise cash – I like all my holdings for the long haul or I wouldn’t own them
  6. Recessions tend to be short and I believe my long-term portfolio is structured well for riding out short-term events
  7. An inverted yield curve has reportedly accurately predicted upcoming recessions eight times (by some sources) since 1968 but, if on January 1, 1968, I bought and held the S&P 500 (^SPX) I would have made a return of 2.81K% in spite of the eight recessions (including the Great Recession of 2008-09)
  8. According to Forbes, the chance of a recession in the next year is always about 27% (based on their data pointing to 16 recessions since 1960) and today the chance is 30%, hardly more than average
  9. If the chance of recession is 30% next year there is also a 70% chance there won’t be a recession next year which means, based on probabilities alone, I should be buying risk-on stocks
  10. If the US Fed surprises by lowering interest rates, that could change the situation immediately
  11. I don’t know how to time when to start re-buying the risk-on equities I am supposed to sell now – presumably when the yield curve corrects to non-inversion

I am not saying a recession won’t happen in 2019-20. It may well.

What I am saying, as a long-term investor who buys, holds and monitors a portfolio of retirement assets designed for all markets, who relies primarily on asset allocation rules when making security weighting decisions, and who makes limited and selective trades intended to improve overall portfolio quality, I don’t react to news like this.

Do you?

 

 

 

Maybe the US president does affect markets after all

Many thought when Donald Trump became US president markets would react badly. How wrong was that?

Tax cuts and de-regulation have provided a boost to markets. However trade policy has also provided uncertainty. Rising interest rates, often not good for equities, have been seemingly offset, so far, by low unemployment and inflation and rising corporate profits.

With the most recent events in Washington, including Trump’s out-of-left-field tweet announcing an immediate troop withdrawal in Syria, followed by resignations by Defence Secretary Mattis and US anti-ISIS Envoy McGurk, Trump asking if he can fire Fed Chairman Powell, Trump associates being indicted and convicted by Mueller and other prosecutors, the Trump foundation closure due to inappropriate use of funds, the government shutdown that Trump said he would be proud of, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s calls today to top banks to check on their liquidity (was that even a problem?), to name a few, may mark a tipping point where the unpredictable deeds of Trump and his administration start to affect consumer and business confidence as well as market sentiment.

Investors have to be scratching their heads and wondering where all this is going and how much damage the seeming chaos might bring. 2019 doesn’t look like it will get much better with unresolved trade issues with China and others, the ongoing Mueller investigation and with the Democrats taking a majority role in the House of Representatives, where they will have the power of subpoena to conduct ever more investigations into Trump et. al. No one knows what tweet will next emanate from Trump’s fingers.

Powell is signalling a slowing of interest rate increases for next year. That might help markets settle. But forecasted profit growth is also slowing for 2019, same for global growth. Trump’s erratic behaviour seems to be amplifying uncertainty.

I can’t help thinking 2019 will be more volatile than 2018 as the drama, or do I say crisis, south of the border plays out.

We certainly live in interesting times.

Update: The Washington Post has a piece about how investor expectations may be adjusting to the reality of a Trump presidency.

 

More on sequence of returns risk

Sequence (of returns) risk is something I mentioned in my recent piece about my upcoming third quarter portfolio review. Sequence risk is a major factor in my planning as our household heads into retirement in the near future.

Looking at the current valuation of the S&P 500 vs. underlying gross national product is a bit sobering.

More on this here.

Previewing my next quarterly household portfolio review

September brings my next quarterly portfolio review and my next, self-imposed, securities trading window (I only trade four times a year). I have been giving a fair bit of thought this summer to what’s next for our portfolio.

Here’s a preview of my thinking….

 

 

 

 

 

My latest article on secular trends and investing has been published in Canadian MoneySaver

Canadian MoneySaver published my latest article on thematic investing in the July/August 2018 edition.

This time I discuss the investment opportunities in alternative energy. While there are headwinds in the short to medium term, long term this theme offers considerable potential, especially in Asian markets.

See more here (paywall): Canadian MoneySaver

My Q2 2018 portfolio review has been published

I’ve published my second quarter of 2018 portfolio review. In it I discuss my current take on managing our household portfolio, some of the trades I’ve recently made and my thoughts for the rest of the year.

See my review here.

The June 2018 OSC content has been published

The material from the June 12, 2018 Ottawa Share Club meeting has been published. It includes:

  • Peter’s slides presented by Brad and Eric on the use of advisors through the investment lifecycle.
  • Peter’s appendix about the difference between a dealing representative and an advising representative.
  • Margot Pomerleau’s slides on how to work with a financial advisor.
  • A pamphlet from Margot Pomerleau’s firm on the complaints process for retail investors in Canada (bonus material).

See all the content here.

Breaking my own asset allocation rules

I have a confession to make. I have broken my own asset allocation rules with my second quarter trades.

I bought more equities even though I was already a bit overweight in them.

Why did I do this?

My reasoning is as follows:

  • I have a relatively low target equity weight to begin with (46% of our portfolio)
  • I had a lot of cash on hand (way over 10% of our portfolio)
  • I have more cash becoming available due to savings, bond maturities, dividends and interest in the next 12 months or less
  • quite a bit of that cash was in our TFSAs and I wanted to get that money working at better than than bond returns since the returns are tax free
  • bond yields are still not that attractive in spite of rising rates (~3.1% yield-to-maturity on a five-year investment grade corporate bond)
  • there are a lot of relatively good deals in consumer staples, utilities and telecommunications right now – several companies are off their highs and are trading at reasonable multiples
  • these three sectors are pretty defensive and could do OK in a recessionary environment
  • I only bought high quality equities with relatively low risk and often decent dividends (with one or two exceptions)
  • I did not add any new positions, just added to our existing holdings to increase their position size to something more in line with our average position size
  • Next quarter is another opportunity to review our portfolio and decide if we should trim some of the big gainers, especially in technology, which are starting to become more dominant single positions in our holdings

What I bought (all in our TFSAs):

  • Algonquin Power (AQN) – initially bought in my Canadian TFSA and journalled to my US TFSA to get the dividend that is paid in US dollars without conversion back to Canadian dollars
  • Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE)
  • Fortis (FTS)
  • Loblaw (L) – has a relatively low dividend
  • ONEX (ONEX) – this is an exception as it is a growth stock with a very small dividend in the multi-sector holdings industry
  • North West Co (NWC)
  • Telus (T)

I also bought some bonds:

  • CALLOWAY-I 3.985% 30MY23
  • FAIRFAX FINL 4.5% 22MR23
  • CANADIAN WESTERN BANK Maturity Jun 16 2022 Coupon 2.737

So, after this investment “spree,” our weightings vs. targets are as follows:

Asset Type Planned Actual Variance
Equities 46.0% 51.9% 5.9%
Bonds 36.0% 29.6% -6.4%
Bullion 9.0% 9.1% 0.1%
Total Cash/Near Cash 9.0% 9.4% 0.4%
TOTAL 100.0% 100.0%

All in all, we’re still in a pretty conservative posture and continue to have flexibility with cash levels if needed.

More to come in early July when I publish my Q2 portfolio review.