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Category Archives: Investor Sentiment

Mind the Gap! Emerging Markets Are Out-Running Developed Market Stocks

mind-the-gap-1484157-640x480Many years ago when my family and I took a trip to London my children took great delight in hearing the loud warning of “mind the gap” when taking the Tube.

To this day we still joke about it and hearing the expression always brings back a flash of fond memories.

But what I had in mind for this note was a different type of gap. Specifically, the gap that is developing between developed equity markets and emerging market stocks.

Going into 2016 sentiment was pretty bearish on emerging market equities.  Institutional investors were having a hard time hanging on to allocations that significantly under-performed expectations and retail investors had long been fleeing the asset class.

Moreover, over the prior ten years (2015-2006) emerging markets had only out-performed international developed markets by an annualized 0.45%.  Clearly not enough once transaction costs and the usually higher management fees are taken into account. Never mind the higher volatility of the asset class.

So what had happened to the emerging markets story? Investors once justifying their EM allocations on the growth of the middle class in these markets (the shift from export-driven to domestic consumption growth) had reverted back to explaining the disappointing performance of EM equities as a function of the collapse in global commodity prices.

At the end of 2015 it was hard to find investors willingly delinking expectations for EM equities from those of global commodity markets. Both asset classes ranked at or near the bottom of the pile in terms of 2016 prospects.

Not that every investors was bearish but you had to be a true contrarian to in the face of public ridicule increase allocations to EM or commodities.  The short EM/Commodity trade had become very crowded indeed!

What usually happens when you have a crowded trade? The short answer is nothing good for the crowd except for the small number of contrarians still hanging on.  Let’s think back to two recent examples of crowded trades:

The rise and subsequent bursting of the TMT bubble of the late 90’s.  Every portfolio manager back in those days felt the pressure to increase their exposure to companies in these sectors despite a lack of sound fundamentals and exorbitant valuations.

  • The real estate finance smorgasbord of builders, mortgage issuers, insurers and credit re-packagers of the 2004-2007 period.  The finance sector as a whole was gorging on low interest rates in the context of a low volatility capital market environment.  The end result was not unpredictable but in its day there was comfort in numbers and the possibility of something seriously going wrong was summarily dismissed by the vast horde of investors then making money on the trade.
  • The funny thing about crowded trades is that before they burst few people are willing to take a count of the players at the party.  Sometimes people will fail to even acknowledge that a party is taking place.  Tunnel vision sets in and investors are subsequently surprised when a turn of events has party attendees suddenly sprinting for the exits.

Is the short EM equities trade finally nearing exhaustion?  It sure feels like it. Systematic ways of looking at the “numbers” will invariably lag price behavior.  Our own allocation models have been pointing to a closing of the gap between expectations for developed and emerging market forward returns but we still slightly prefer the former.

Let’s take a look at major asset class performance in 2016.

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  • Last week EM equities were up 3.3% – best of the major asset class categories.
  • For the year, EM equities are up 4.4% -best among all equity sub-asset classes.
  • The gap between emerging and developed international market (EAFE) performance is widening.  Year to date the gap stands at over 7%.
  • The MSCI EAFE index is down 2.68% for the year while the MSCI ACWI-x US index (which has an EM weight close to 20%) is down approximately 0.4%.

The performance gap between developed international and emerging market equities is already causing some anxiety among international equity managers. Managers tied to the broader ACWI index are clearly having to swim upstream given their likely beginning of year under-weight to EM stocks.

Last year the consensus underweight to EM equities paid off handsomely.  EAFE out-performed EM equities by a whopping 14%.  An under-weight to EM equities could have hidden a lot of sins elsewhere in the portfolio but this year the tide has turned.

Having been a money manager for over 20 years I know the feeling when a previously ignored/disliked segment of the markets suddenly changes course and gaps up.

It’s never a good feeling and leaves portfolio managers in search of answers.  In the course of my career I have seen three types of generic responses by managers:

  • Ignoring the problem and remaining steadfast in the belief that the portfolio is correctly positioned.  The likely outcome of the “no action” manager is binary – at the end of the year the manager will either be a hero or a goat.
  • Gradually changing course acknowledging that the trade might have been crowded.  The manager works at finding investments with the right exposures thus gradually minimizing the under-weight to the previously ignored/disliked segment.  In all likelihood the manager will initially make small adjustments and is praying that the performance gap does not widen too rapidly
  • Throwing in the towel and joining the new party by aggressively over-weighting the previously maligned investment.  The potential to be a hero or a goat is large.  Such a response is usually driven by “gut” feelings that things have changed

Only in hindsight will investors be able to tell which course of action resulted in the best outcome.  Portfolio managers live in the present and must make decisions.  With that in mind here is set of principles to adhere to:

  • All predictions contain a certain amount of error – be humble about your ability to predict the future. Low probability events happen more frequently than we would like to
  • Seek to understand opposing points of view as a way to discover flows in your thinking.  You will gain a greater appreciation of what can go wrong
  • Strike a balance between what is happening now (recent evidence) and longer-term information. Don’t let your decisions succumb to feelings of either fear or greed
  • Research-based views are better than reactive off-the cuff conclusions – at least you will understand why you made certain decisions. Do your homework
  • Gradually changing one’s views given changing/new information is not a sign of weakness.  Making better decisions involves the constant calibration of new probabilities
  • There is no substitute for experience in providing context to the decision at hand, but experience without analysis is no way to make decisions in an ever evolving capital market environment
  • Understand the consequence of your decisions – never bet the farm on one major decision unless you (and your clients) are comfortable with binary outcomes

Sincerely,

Eric J. Weigel
Managing Partner of Global Focus Capital LLC

eweigel@gf-cap.com

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Surprise – The First Gold Medal Goes to Brazil!

gold medal-1589651With all the bad news coming out of Brazil investors must be perplexed by the strength of the Brazilian equity market this year.  After a strong jump up last week in both equity prices and the Real, the MSCI Brazil index is up 20% for 2016.  

The news last week was not good. It was reported that GDP growth clocked in at -3.8% with little hope for a rebound this year.  The Zika virus keeps wreaking havoc on the local population, Olympic Game preparations are over-budget and behind schedule, and lastly Ex-President Lula De Silva was detained in a corruption scandal involving the country’s largest company Petrobras.

Capital markets are unforgiving to those foolhardy enough to believe that short-term predictions can be made with any accuracy and the example of Brazil hammers home the point. Just when you think that certain investments are basket cases with no hope things turn around.

A great example of this happened last week in global capital markets.

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Now, I am not all that confident that Brazil is out of the woods yet and in fact our country allocation model rates Brazilian equities toward the bottom of the pack.

The point is that capital markets are always full of surprises.

When do we get the biggest surprises? Usually when the consensus view is at an extreme.

After the walloping that commodities and emerging market investments have been taking in the last few years, it is not too surprising to find investor sentiment heavily skewed against these beaten up sectors.

Click here to download the report: EM & Commodity Resurgence

Sincerely,

Eric J. Weigel
Managing Partner and Founder of Global Focus Capital LLC

eweigel@gf-cap.com

 

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Feeling a Bit Deflated This Year?

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With the rough start to 2016 most investors are feeling a bit deflated.  Not only are most asset classes in the red but now there is even talk about the dreaded D word – Deflation.

In this report we look at deflationary conditions around the globe and the likelihood that such forces persist over the foreseeable future.

We share our thoughts on the issue of negative short-term interest rates and the ability of monetary policy to spur growth to levels more consistent with the potential productive capacity of the global economy.

Finally we assess the implications for key asset classes in the face of changing inflation expectations.

Some of our report conclusions:

  • The specter of deflation is already present in countries such as Greece and Switzerland and is not far off in a large number of other economies particularly those in Continental Europe
  • Over the last ten years no country in our sample has experienced a negative annualized inflation rate but Switzerland (0.25%) and Japan (0.31%) have come close
  • When using the Output-Gap to measure the divergence between current and potential levels of production, global growth has been disappointing for seven straight years
  • Despite massive monetary stimulus, the negative global Output-Gap of the last seven years highlights that impediments to global growth are likely to be structural in nature
  • Using negative policy rates are unlikely to sufficiently boost global growth and most likely will bring about an increase in investor uncertainty
  • Equity oriented asset classes would dis-proportionally benefit from an increase in inflationary expectations while high quality bonds would suffer
  • According to our macro risk factor model, the primary beneficiary of rising inflationary expectations would be at the moment Emerging Market Equities

 

Click here to download the report: “Being Back That Old Inflation Please

 

Sincerely,

Eric J. Weigel
Managing Partner and Founder of Global Focus Capital LLC

eweigel@gf-cap.com

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