Climbing A Wall Of Worry

The third quarter of 2017 was highlighted by unfavorable seasonal effects and a steady stream of nerve wracking geopolitical developments, but despite a challenging environment world equity markets persistently fought off short-term jitters and closed out the quarter solidly in the green. Commodities markets also bounced back in the third quarter, and fixed income found a way to post positive returns as investors continued to demonstrate an appetite for both credit related yield and safe-haven plays to hedge portfolio risks.

Those who stayed invested during the third quarter were amply rewarded for doing so, but as markets climbed higher the risks of an overvalued market rose in tandem. With the fourth quarter looming, investors must decide if they should remain fully invested, or start to pull back after the unusually strong run this year.

Gameplan For A Market Hangover

The first quarter picked up where the fourth quarter left off, with equity markets celebrating the surprise of a new U.S. administration that global investors perceived to be more business friendly than the previous one. During the quarter, stocks rallied around the world and along with a pullback in the U.S. dollar and signs that global growth was slowly reviving, many international stocks enjoyed gains in excess of the U.S. While the stock market roared, the bond and commodity markets were less enthused, as bonds bounced and commodities gave back some of the gains that accrued towards the end of the year. By the end of the quarter the equity markets were mostly calm, but with tensions that were beginning to build and signal that some of the election-driven luster was beginning to wear off.

Hangovers & Roadmaps

2016 began with a thud and ended with a bang. After one of the worst-ever starts to a year, U.S. stocks managed to rebound and ultimately finish the year with solid gains. Much of the rise came in the final few weeks of the year, following the surprising results of the U.S. presidential election. Indeed, there has been an abrupt change in market sentiment, and asset prices have largely taken their cues from a recalibration of economic expectations in the wake of the surprising Trump victory and Republican sweep of Congress.

REITs Get Their Own Space

On September 19, 2016, S&P Dow Jones and MSCI, Inc. added a sector for Real Estate. Up to this point, REITs have traditionally been considered a sub-industry and part of the Financial sector, but as of the market close on August 31, 2016 (and effective September 19, 2016), they were split from the Financial sector and moved to their own sector (with the exception of Mortgage REITs). This should not be a surprise for investors, as the change had been announced by index providers, S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI, back in March 2015.

Man Versus Machine in Investing

Over the last couple of months, we have been preparing to expand our product offering by launching two new sets of strategies, called the Market series and the Quant series. They are offered as alternatives to our traditional strategies, now referred to as the Prime series, for a chance to help our current and future clients achieve their financial goals. While the Market series and the Quant series are different under many aspects, they share one important feature: under both strategies, a portion of the client’s portfolio is managed according to a rules-based, quantitative model developed in house at Pinnacle. Diversification has always been a core tenet of Pinnacle’s investment process and the way we manage risk. However, with this move, Pinnacle has now further expanded the diversification it offers to clients to a new dimension of risk: decision risk. While the Pinnacle traditional (now Prime) strategies rely primarily on the time-proven judgment, experience, and intuition of the members of the Investment Team, the new strategies are based on a rules- based decision-making process that is more objective and unemotional. In Pinnacle jargon, we say the Prime strategies are subject to manager risk, while the new strategies are subject to model risk. Modern Portfolio Theory tells us that by combining different sources of uncorrelated risks, we can move our portfolio farther out in the efficient frontier and achieve a better expected return-to-risk ratio.

Homebuilding

The Return of the Home Builders

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB):

The Housing Market Index (HMI) is based on a monthly survey of NAHB members designed to take the pulse of the single-family housing market. The survey asks respondents to rate market conditions for the sale of new homes at the present time and in the next six months as well as the traffic of prospective buyers of new homes.

Our proprietary work shows that the HMI Index is negatively correlated to changes in interest rates, with a lag of about one year. This means that when interest rates fall (or rise), the HMI index tends to move in the opposite direction a year later. The rationale behind this relationship is simple: lower interest rates make new homes more affordable, thus leading to a brighter outlook for housing, as measured by the HMI index. In turn, increases in the HMI index typically coincide with better performance for home builders stocks.

The Quantitative Picture Gets Brighter

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.

The Market Sends a Warning

Over the past few weeks our proprietary quantitative model has experienced a significant decline, falling from an almost unequivocally bullish reading of 7.45/10 to a lower neutral reading of 4.33/10. The deterioration in the overall score was caused by a broad-based decline in several important variables including, among others, the relative momentum in early cyclical, late cyclical, and defensive sectors, the steepening of the yield curve, the growth-sensitive Australian dollar to Canadian dollar exchange rate, and implied volatility.