2017 was a tremendous transition year for Optivest. We added industry veteran Bart Zandbergen, CFP® as Senior Wealth Advisor and Stella Choi, CFA®, CFP® as Director of Portfolio Management who was responsible for implementing our successful risk-based model portfolios for Optivest clients. As 2018 commences, we continue to refine our portfolio models and upgrade our different portfolio software systems to enhance our management and reporting capabilities.
Financial Markets Review by Mark:
2015 Economic Review –
World markets have been caught between two strong forces: 1. the Federal Reserve’s desire to increase interest rates as a result of an improving U.S. job market, and 2. weakening economies in the rest of the world as a result of China’s deceleration, bringing commodity prices to multi-year lows. The result produced a volatile tug-of-war causing U.S. markets to deliver the worst year since 2008 after dealing with a soaring U.S. Dollar, sinking junk bonds, low yields and crashing oil prices.
Outside of the F.A.N.G.s (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), U.S. stocks struggled all year, commodities and emerging markets dropped in sync, liquid alternatives faltered (average hedge fund was down 3%), and old European markets advanced thanks to a devalued Euro and heavy Central Bank stimulus. Interest rates rose, leaving most bond funds with either small gains or losses (including income). 2015 was quite a frustrating year for investors as there were few winners and multiple losing asset classes.
Economic data at mid-quarter is quite mixed. On the positive side: the U.S. stock and bond markets rebounded back to beginning of the year levels; hiring was up in October; and the third quarter GDP was revised from 1.5% up to 2.1%.
On the negative side: consumer sentiment hit a 15-month low this week (on November 24, 2015); the stock and bond markets saw a very narrow rebound mostly from the “FANGs” (companies like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google with high P/E ratios); and revenue and profits for the S&P 500 are headed toward decline for the third quarter in a row. This combination of activity has raised the P/E level of the S&P 500 up to 23 from the 20 level we witnessed over the summer (the long-term average is 15.5%). These mixed signals force us to maintain a cautious stance, avoiding U.S. equities until fundamentals improve.
Financial Markets Review by Mark:
While both the first and second quarter GDP estimates were revised upward, the third quarter will likely slow to under 1% (according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta). There is growing concern that worldwide economic weakness will slow the U.S. economy next year. Adding to these reservations, the S&P 500’s third quarter earnings are expected to decline 4.9% (according to Reuters). This would be the second consecutive profit decline since 2009 and subsequently trigger an “earnings recession.” This second decline would be attributed to our strong Dollar, falling oil prices and weak global demand; forward 12 month earnings are also forecast to fall 2%. The probability of a “garden variety” U.S. economic recession (i.e. two consecutive quarters of GDP decline) is increasing.
September 9, 2015 Market Update
Overview: Optivest sold their U.S. stock holdings before the August 24th major market decline based on over-valuation and market deterioration. This is only the third time since 1987 that Optivest has de-risked portfolios to this extent. The below report explains our rationale and our future forecast.
Great returns come from great opportunities; weak returns come from weak opportunities. Specifically, forward multi-year stock market returns are directly linked to how over-valued or under-valued shares are when you buy them… READ MORE
The drop in the stock market over the last week was fast and unrelenting. Based on this reality, we want to share with you our trading activity and thoughts on the direction of the financial markets.
As outlined in our Second Quarter 2015 Newsletter, our Third Quarter 2015 Newsletter and our August 2015 Newsletter, we have been highly concerned with the U.S. stock market’s high valuations. We sold about half of our direct U.S. stock market exposure in May and June after our long-term timing indicator flashed a “sell” signal; this was the first “sell” signal in 6 years and only the 3rd in 17 years.
Year-to-date financial markets are frustrating both money managers and investors alike with flat returns. The U.S. stock and bond markets are waffling; they are either up 1%-2% or down 1%-2% on a monthly basis without any discernable direction. Unfortunately, this flat performance is also accompanied by near all-time high valuations across most financial assets (except commodities and emerging markets).
In this environment we have chosen to take profits in our potentially vulnerable stock positions, seeking equity-like returns of 5%-12% in non-correlated investment strategies. This decision has resulted in improved performance for our Optivest portfolios and reduced risk exposure via these securities. Once the financial markets pick a direction – up or down – we will adjust accordingly. In the meantime, we remain cautious with our clients’ hard-earned money.
While the Greek crisis has knocked stock indexes down recently, the U.S. economy and markets have been stuck on the 50-yard line since November 2014. The U.S. stock market has been at all-time high valuations and our timing indicators set off the preliminary sell signals which we outlined in our April 1, 2015 Important Market Update and further described in our April 21, 2015 Second Quarter 2015 Newsletter. Consequently, we sold stocks throughout the second quarter and now have one of the lowest U.S. equity exposures in years. Year-to-date, stocks are flat and bonds are down despite a slow increase in business growth on “Main Street,” as forecast in our January 9, 2015 First Quarter 2015 Newsletter.
CLICK TO READ MORE: Third Quarter 2015 Newsletter – Optivest
US ECONOMY: After years of tightly banded earning results for public companies, second quarter 2015 earnings are showing large discrepancies in results due to our strong US Dollar, drastically lower oil prices and a tightening wage market. This has caused a wider disparity in price returns that favor smaller, domestic companies that look more like Main Street. The US economy is enjoying continued modest growth but both US stock and bond prices are near all-time high valuations and are vulnerable to setbacks if the fine balance of ultra-low inflation and exceptionally high profit margins gets disruptive. (See our Important Economic Update from April 1st.)
CLICK TO READ MORE: Second Quarter 2015 Newsletter
April 1, 2015
RE: Important Market Update
All good things must come to an end, even if just temporarily. The stock market has climbed admirably since March of 2009 and is now at all-time high valuations according to a number of ratios in the attached charts. Calling tops is dangerous as the market has always come back and eventually made new highs, yet there are certainly good times to take profits and become less vulnerable to stock market pullbacks…