Time to be defensive

Bob Doll at Nuveen says he does not expect a recession (for the next few quarters) but remains neutral towards stocks:

“Although stock prices have advanced over the last couple of weeks, investors remain focused on downside economic and policy risks and are increasingly concerned about a possible recession. The latest manufacturing readings hurt economic sentiment, while trade issues, turmoil in Hong Kong, the increasing likelihood of a messy, no-deal Brexit and a downturn in European growth are increasing worries.”

The Institute for Supply Management August Report points to an economic slow-down, with the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) falling to 49.1 percent, from 51.2 percent in July. The New Orders Index also declined, to 47.2 percent from 50.8 percent in July. Readings below 50 indicate contraction.

“…The 2020 U.S. elections linger in the backdrop, offering potential to produce either a dramatic shift in economic policy should the Democrats retake the White House, or continued policy uncertainty should President Trump win reelection.

Against this backdrop, investors are struggling to position their portfolios. Consensus appears to say that it is time to turn more defensive, but U.S. Treasuries and other government bond yields appear to offer little if any value. Indeed, government bond markets are pricing in a high likelihood of a recession and a prolonged period of sluggish growth. At the same time, equity markets have been range bound over the last several months (and, by some measures, since the start of 2018) and are providing unclear signals.

In our view, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that growth will remain sluggish but a recession will be avoided, at least for the next few quarters. In other words, we think the signals coming from the equity markets are more accurate than those coming from government bond markets. Nevertheless, we continue to have a broadly neutral view toward stocks, and think investors should remain selective, focusing on such themes as companies that offer compelling value and those that have the ability to put relatively high levels of free cash flow to work.”

The wild card is the impact that high levels of uncertainty may have on business investment and employment.

Google Searches for Recession

This is a time to be defensive.

Bonds, traditional dividend-paying blue chips, and growth stocks all appear over-priced at current levels. Small caps are high risk in the current volatile environment and we are focused on large cap stocks with strong cash flows and defensible market position in non-cyclical industries. Some cyclical sectors may present value but investors need to be selective because of vulnerability to a potential down-turn.

How I Can Explain 96% Of Your Portfolio’s Returns | Kiran Pande

Great article from Kiran Pande:

Since the 1960s, we’ve been dependent on a model called CAPM (capital asset pricing model) to understand the relationship between risk and return, despite the fact that its measure of risk only explains about 70% of return. This measure, beta, makes the assumption that the entirety of every stock’s return is due to its exposure to the market. Put simply, every stock’s returns will equal a factor of the S&P 500’s returns. Thus, if a stock’s beta is 2.0, it will double the S&P 500’s returns on a bull day and double its losses on a bear day. Obviously, this assumption is wrong almost every day, but the idea is that this factor is explaining most of a stock’s returns.

All returns not explained by beta in the CAPM model are called alpha. This is traditionally accepted as the level of skill and value added by a portfolio’s manager……

There is a whole laundry list of reasons not to use CAPM, beta, and alpha but here are some highlights…

  • 70% is not 100%, not even close
  • Beta is symmetrical, risk is not… downside risk is rarely the same as upside risk.
  • Since the market index used to calculate beta (usually the S&P 500) contains stocks whose returns are supposedly dependent upon beta, these stocks’ returns are somewhat dependent upon themselves.

These counterpoints do not render beta, alpha, and CAPM useless, but we can do much better. The Fama-French Three Factor model is the answer. Rather than a single factor (market performance), the model throws a size factor and a value factor into the mix, replacing much of the nebulous alpha term. With the addition of these factors, Fama and French boast that their model explains as much as 96% of returns with quantifiable measures.

Read more at How I Can Explain 96% Of Your Portfolio's Returns | Seeking Alpha.