The original article by Axel Merk has been edited here for length (…) and clarity ([ ]) by munKNEE.com – a Site For Sore Eyes & Inquisitive Minds – to provide a fast & easy read.
How should investors prepare?
1. Portfolio insurance: In the 1980s, portfolio insurance was all the rage. The idea was that one could always buy stocks, as derivatives could protect one’s portfolio on the downside. However, things turned from bad to worse in 1987 when the linkage between stocks and commodities broke down.
2. Sell out in a nanosecond: These days, many algorithmic trading systems don’t take out “insurance” anymore, as stocks can be unloaded in nanoseconds – or so the theory goes anyway – except that the recent rather violent correction in the gold market showed liquidity can evaporate in a heartbeat as many quant trading systems all at once appear to be taking a step back from trading the moment market action moves outside of preset parameters… We call these disruptions flash crashes; however, who says it can’t turn into a flash flood? Can a crash happen if “someone” dares to take a profit as the S&P reaches ever-new highs, prompting others to follow suit?
3. Sell in May & go away: Another scenario might be the conventional wisdom to “sell in May” stems from the fact that portfolio managers with sizable year-to-date gains might take a profit, staying on the sidelines for the summer. As the market corrects, retail buyers jump into the market, having been trained that every correction is a buying opportunity. Then, when retail has finally embraced the stock market again in the post 2008 recovery, the market crashes in earnest. There are eerie similarities to 1987.
4. The Fed might come to the rescue: Anyone focused on fundamentals might shrug off the above as being hypothetical fear mongering but fear not: with the Fed as your friend, investors need no enemies. Investors are chasing risky assets, be that stocks or junk bonds and should the market crash indeed, well, the Fed might come to the rescue so why bother even worrying about a market correction.
5. Keep dancing until the music stops: Chuck Prince as head of Citi famously said he would continue to dance until the music stops. Except that the music had already stopped, and the bank needed a government bailout. Investors, retail and professional investors alike are not good at timing the markets. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Greenspan warned of irrational exuberance in 1996, yet the market peaked in 2000. Similarly, it was rather difficult to time the top of the credit bubble. I warned in late 2007 that rising volatility would bring the market to its knees as sophisticated levered players would liquidate assets to pair down their risk profile; few were listening at the time…
When to crash-proof a portfolio
Forget about monetary, fiscal or regulatory policy for a moment; even forget about corporate earnings. We don’t know whether or when the market will crash but we do know that a properly diversified portfolio has an array of assets that ought to add diversification. We encourage investors to look at their portfolio. If either one of the following two conditions are met, investors should seriously consider taking action:
- Are all components in the portfolio fulfilling their role? Not everything in a portfolio should go up when the stock market goes up. That’s because only a truly diversified portfolio has a chance of offering downside protection should, for whatever reason, the market, god forbid, experience a downturn.
- Should any group of assets outperform the rest of a portfolio for an extended period, seriously consider rebalancing the portfolio. Rebalancing a portfolio is a great time to reflect on how to add uncorrelated returns to a portfolio.
Pundits told you to stay the course in late 2008 after many investors had lost half their savings, sometimes more. Indeed, with markets now reaching new highs, those pundits will tell you: “I told you so” but they are wrong. Someone who loses half their net worth can almost certainly not afford to take on the same amount of risk as before the loss, strongly suggesting that a lower risk profile is in order. The way to fix this, however, is to take profits before the crash. As such timing may not be possible, we believe prudent portfolio management requires taking chips off the table on the way up.
How to crash-proof a portfolio
The above may all sound great, but what can investors do? We cannot provide specific investment advice in a newsletter, but we would like to offer the following food for thought:
~ Stocks: Stocks are risky assets. As stocks have gone up, odds are that risky assets comprise a bigger portion of one’s portfolio. Investors that want to crash-proof their portfolio should consider reducing their exposure to risky assets.
~ Bonds: Bonds have had a great run for decades. US Treasuries are considered “safe” but even with Treasuries, the “safety” is limited to being paid back the face value on maturity. Mutual funds holding bonds never mature, so while underlying issuers might not default, bond funds carry interest and credit risk. Investors have been rewarded for taking on both, with longer-term interest rates on a downward path for decades. Investors in search of yield have been buying riskier bonds, with junk bonds recently paying the lowest yields ever, as measured by the yield on junk bond indices. Even buying inflation protected Treasury securities, TIPS, investors take on interest risk, as investors tend to buy such securities with maturities many years out.
If interest rates move higher because of either greater inflation concern priced into the market, or because of economic growth – bonds may be an increasingly risky proposition. Before anyone thinks that their favorite bond managers can outwit the markets, as evidenced by recent outperformance of actively managed bond funds versus their index peers, keep in mind that those managers have outperformed the markets by chasing yield; increasingly, bond managers are buying equities too…
Many investors have been exiting their bond holdings because of these risks, buying stocks instead but is it really just an alternative between stocks and bonds?
~ Cash: Warren Buffett missed the tech boom in the 90s, yet he came out just fine as the market tumbled in 2000. Cash has its role to play in a portfolio. Except wait: the U.S. dollar might not be that ultimate safe haven after all. Not only may it be a myth that we are in a rising dollar environment…, more importantly, investors’ purchasing power may be at risk in an era of financial repression. When the Fed imposes negative real interest rates on savings, holding U.S. dollar cash is a risky proposition and that doesn’t even touch on the risks to the dollar posed by what we believe are unsustainable long-term deficits due to the lack of progress on entitlement reform, as well as the risks posed by higher interest rates on the U.S. government’s budget.
We are not making much progress here on safe havens, are we? If we are concerned about the U.S. dollar, we should have a look abroad.
~ International stocks: When policy makers are actively engaged in the markets, markets chase the next perceived move of policy makers rather than reflect fundamentals. As such, investors have been rewarded with additional volatility by investing in international stocks, but not really with diversification, as international stock indices often move in tandem with US indices. The downside of this is that when the tide turns, investors might get little of the benefit of holding international stocks.
~ International bonds: International bonds provide investors with an opportunity to diversify out of the dollar without taking on equity risk. However, such bonds carry interest and credit risk, such as their U.S. peers…
~ Currencies: Investors looking to eliminate equity risk while minimizing credit and interest risk, but also not interested in too much U.S. dollar risk, may want to consider looking at holding cash in different currencies. Currencies historically have a low correlation to equities or bonds. This clearly introduces currency risk to a portfolio, but maybe that’s the sort of risk that’s under-represented in a portfolio…
Investors often shy away from currencies believing they are risky, difficult to predict and, ultimately, it’s a race to the bottom anyway. We beg to differ, notably:
- Unlike their reputation, currencies are less volatile than stocks or bonds. When the euro moves a full cent versus the dollar, it moves major economies, but on a percentage basis, it’s a small move. Because of their inherently lower volatility, currency strategies – as long as they don’t use leverage – may offer downside resilience in an investment portfolio (“resilience” does not suggest one cannot lose money, but a less volatile strategy might lose less money than riskier alternatives in a down market).
- We believe currencies reflect the ‘mania of policy makers’. Investors buying stocks because of quantitative easing should be aware that they are taking on a great deal of noise of the equity market. The currency market, in contrast, might provide for a more pinpointed way of projecting policy moves onto the currency market. We may not like what our policy makers are up to, but think they are rather predictable.
- Not all central banks are created equal. As central banks print varying amounts, it proves that currencies are not a zero sum game. We believe studying central banks provides an opportunity to stay a step ahead of policy makers, so that investors have an opportunity to profit from rather than necessarily suffer from the so-called race to the bottom.
- Another reason to have a look at currencies [is that] liquidity is generally not a problem: about $4 trillion in currency transactions take place every business day.
~ Gold: So is gold the safe haven we have been waiting for? In 2008, gold performed rather well. In recent months, however, pundits have come out suggesting the shine has come off the yellow metal. I personally like gold because there’s too much debt in the world…but risk free, when measured in U.S. dollars, it is not…[While] the volatility of the metal has been significant of late, gold is an example [of] how something not moving in tandem with the rest of the portfolio may be something to be embraced rather than shied away from…
~ Other Commodities: There are other commodities, but keep in mind that as volatile as gold is, it’s historically the least volatile commodity. When moving beyond gold, dynamics also get more complex, going beyond the scope of the analysis here.
~ Other Alternatives: There are other alternatives beyond currencies, gold & commodities in general, some of which seek absolute returns. In principle, pursuing an absolute return strategy may be a good idea to protect a portfolio to the downside but keep in mind that in 2008, when push came to shove, many alternative strategies could not be executed as stocks could not be shorted in long-short equity strategies; and liquidity completely dried up in more esoteric strategies…
Related Articles From the munKNEE Vault:
Use a portion of your portfolio in the form of credit spreads to protect and drive income over the next nine months. It’s an extremely simple strategy to learn and arguably the most powerful strategy in the professional options traders’ tool belt.
In volatile markets you must be able to go to cash when markets become dangerous. That is exactly what the momentum selection model does well. It protects your capital on the downside and enables it to grow on the upside! If you insist on staying in the stock market at all times, even perfect foresight cannot protect you. The ability and willingness to periodically run away beats the macho strategy of holding on.
It is hard to know what to buy or sell let alone just when to prudently do so. Thank goodness there are indicators available that provide information of stock and index movement of a more immediate nature to help you make such important decisions. This article describes the 6 most popular Momentum Indicators. If ever there was a “cut and save” investment advisory this is it!
There are many indicators available that provide information on stock and index movement to help you time the market and make money. Market strength and volatility are two such categories of indicators and a description of six of them are described in this “cut and save” article. Read on!
The trend is your friend and this article reviews the 7 most popular trend indicators to help you make an extensive and in-depth assessment of whether you should be buying or selling.
Assume that we are at a point corresponding to the beginning of 2007. How would our investing/trading techniques weather the same conditions represented by this most recent market adjustment? Would we be able to mitigate the losses (or even avoid them)? A traditional buy & hold, diversified investing strategy will be evaluated here.
Individuals are long-term investors only as long as the markets are rising. Despite endless warnings, repeated suggestions and outright recommendations – getting investors to sell, take profits and manage…[their] portfolio risks is nearly a lost cause as long as the markets are rising. Unfortunately, by the time the fear, desperation or panic stages are reached it is far too late to act and I will only be able to say that I warned you – unless you take the time to read, and study the contents of this article.
Protect your money by steering clear of these 10 most dangerous investing mistakes.
80% of my investable income is in cash, precious metals and a small number of stocks. That might seem crazy, but the Pareto Principle, Zipf’s Law and the bell curve have convinced me that it’s a waste of time and money to get any more diversified. Let me explain why that is the case.
The traditional view of portfolio management is that three asset classes, stocks, bonds and cash, are sufficient to achieve diversification. This view is, quite simply, wrong because over the past 10 years gold, silver and platinum have singularly outperformed virtually all major widely accepted investment indexes. Precious metals should be considered an independent asset class and an allocation to precious metals, as the most uncorrelated asset group, is essential for proper portfolio diversification. Let me explain.
Since there is such a wide range of emotions, it might be helpful for you to do a ‘gut-check’ before you actually buy or sell any type of security. Knowing how you “feel” about investing might turn out to be just as important as knowing what you “know.”
One of the hardest things for individual investors to do is to know when to sell a stock. Many times, you might sell simply because a stock has gone up and you’ve made some money. More often than not, though, this is not a great reason to sell [because, as mentioned in the title of this article,] you will never – ever – have a 10-bagger if you sell a stock after a 2-bagger. That being said, what things should one consider before selling?
I’m not going to candy coat it for you: making serious money in the stock market is a ton of hard work. It takes patience, savvy, and a certain level of market smarts – and the cold, hard truth is that if you don’t have them, the big boys will drain your portfolio dry. Unfortunately, those are the three areas that most retail investors need to work on the most. Otherwise, they will simply end up in a cat-and-mouse game where they are the mice. Don’t fool yourself for one second into believing that your “due diligence” can be done by watching a show or two on CNBC. It just doesn’t work that way but if there is one voice from the markets that should grab your attention every time you hear it, it belongs to Dennis Gartman, founder and author of The Gartman Letter. He’s sort of a guru’s guru. [Here is] a glimpse into how he views and trades the markets.
The conventional stock market investing advice is rooted in myth – rooted in a false understanding of what the historical stock-return data says about investing for the long-term….Set forth below are five reasons why I believe that the conventional stock market investing advice must soon change.
Investment “rules” that were relevant for a century are obsolete. They were based on a world where economies grew, people’s standard of living increased and outcomes tomorrow better than today. Arguably each of these conditions will not hold in the future but if they don’t, neither do the rules of thumb that guided investing last century. These guiding principles developed and worked in a world that that no longer exists but applying them in the future will result in devastating financial outcomes. Let me explain.
There’s a bewildering amount of advice on how to invest…so it’s worthwhile, especially in today’s volatile markets, to take a look at what has actually worked, as opposed to what people claim works. We’ve collected some of the finest wisdom on markets from the most respected and successful investors, past and present.
Risk inherent to the entire market or market segment is referred to as systematic risk and modern portfolio theory says that a blend of investments has the potential to increase overall return for a given level of risk, and/or decrease risk for a given return that the investor is trying to achieve. The expected risk/return relationship is known as the efficient frontier. If you have a portfolio of investments then you need to fully understand what all this really means and how you can apply it to your portfolio makeup to enhance returns under any circumstances. Let me do just that.
There is a common notion that stocks, at least if held for a long-time, outperform other assets [and, as such,] should be the cornerstone of any long-term portfolio. [While that is indeed true,] it is best to focus first on how much you are able and willing to lose (i.e. what risk you are able and willing to bear) when determining the optimal allocation for your portfolio. [Only] then [should you] think about what potential investment returns you might be able to capture. Let me explain.
What hope can there be for motivated stock pickers – no matter how much they sweat and toil – to outperform the low-cost index funds that simply mechanically track the market? Well – in spite of the absurd rise of the Nobel-acclaimed, and highly promoted, Efficient Market Hypothesis that claims that individual investors can’t beat the market – it turns out there is plenty! Just ask Warren Buffett, for one. Let me explain.