With the end of the government shutdown and the lifting of the debt ceiling, it’s time to review how we’ve positioned Pinnacle’s portfolios. First, our stance has been that the political impasse was mostly noise — that’s why we didn’t pull volatility down over the past few weeks. Washington’s politicians waited until the last minute, hoping to force some policy concessions, but had to acknowledge the practical reality that making a deal was better than the alternative.
What does the government shutdown mean for the stock market, and how does Pinnacle’s Investment Team plan to respond?
I just returned from a speaking engagement in Tennessee where I decided to do a “low tech” presentation on the current state of the financial markets. Low tech means no PowerPoint slides… just good old-fashioned notes on a yellow pad.
I thought I would share what I wrote down on the way to Nashville:
Recent events unfolding in Syria are a good example of how quickly news can change and ripple through markets.
Lately I have participated in several discussions about how to make money at “neutral vol,” or when Pinnacle portfolios are positioned to have roughly the same volatility as our benchmark portfolios. A good starting point for the conversation is to analyze the total equity positions we own in the portfolio versus the neutral allocation to equity in our benchmark portfolios. In Investment-Speak, changing the overall portfolio risk posture by underweighting risk assets is called a “beta trade.” We are reducing the portfolio allocation to market risk.
Rates are hopping, markets are churning, and investment positions are coming under challenge. Today we’ll have an investment meeting that challenges one of the bigger themes that we have in our portfolio: investing a strong dollar bias.
Inflection Point: (N) – Mathematics – A point on a curve at which the curvature changes from convex to concave or vice versa.
In describing our current thinking, I have to resort to an investment writing cliché where the financial markets are described as being “at an inflection point.” While the mathematical definition for an inflection point is presented above, in the business of investing inflection points occur where there is a change in the long-term trend or momentum of the financial markets, economy, or price of an individual security. Inflection points are critically important because if you recognize one and if you understand the significance of the change, then you can make a lot of money.
Back in June our proprietary quantitative model gave us a warning signal by dipping below the neutral bracket into what we consider mildly bearish territory (see the red line in the chart). The fact that the external models we follow were also behaving similarly had us somewhat concerned. However, that turned out to be a brief signal, as the model quickly reversed course and crossed the neutral bracket in just a few weeks, landing in mildly bullish territory last week. The message was again confirmed by the external models, which all turned up over the past couple of weeks.
If you could return to May 2012, would you invest your money in Europe or the United States? It may come as a surprise, but Europe is actually outpacing the S&P 500 with returns of 40% and 33% respectively. Headlines continue to beat the negative drum that ‘problems still loom in Europe;’ that may be true, but those problems also might be hiding the strong gains realized in those markets. The markets still look healthy from a technical perspective, and I’m particularly intrigued by the financial shares.
I recently wrote about three “red flags” that I look for when evaluating portfolio manager returns. The third item – a firm dropping a specific time frame from its performance reports – is particularly relevant, because we’ve decided to make our own change to the time horizon for our performance numbers. Beginning next month, Pinnacle will no longer publish monthly portfolio returns.