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Recession fears prompt re-think of diversification

David Brenchley  |  09 Aug 2018Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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UK-based multi-asset fund manager Investec has been increasing exposure to Australian and New Zealand bonds as recession fears prompt a re-think of traditional diversification strategies.

John Stopford, co-head of fixed income, Investec Asset Management, says his team views diversification differently from the traditional equity/bond split: "Just because something is called a bond, doesn’t mean it’s a diversifier with an equity. What matters is how it behaves in times of change."

Government debt has been distorted by central banks’ quantitative easing policies since the financial crisis. As that extraordinary monetary policy gets reversed, there’s a question mark over how defensive debt will be.

"There’s definitely one scenario where, in the same way quantitative easing pushed all asset prices higher, the withdrawal of QE potentially causes all asset prices to sell off, so your bonds are no longer negatively correlated to your equities" says Stopford.

Therefore, his exposure to this traditional diversifier is used sparingly. He has positions in Australia, New Zealand and towards the longer end of US Treasuries. David Coombs, head of multi-asset at Rathbones, also has a position in safe haven Australian bonds.

Australia Sydney bonds fixed income credit

Offshore fund managers are eyeing Australian and New Zealand bonds as diversifiers

Stopford suggests a global recession could be anywhere from 12 to 36 months away. But Investec isn't ready to be outright defensive just yet.

The current bull market is pretty long in the tooth now. In fact, Bank of America Merrill Lynch notes that we’re less than 14 trading days away from the S&P 500’s bull market becoming the longest of all time.

Stopford accepts that we’re pretty late in the cycle. Mark Appleton, head of multi-asset and strategy at Ashburton Investments, points to risk factors like the reversal of easy money, trade wars and global growth that has become "desynchronised".

And Tommaso Mancuso, head of multi-asset at Hermes, says we’re seeing plenty of signs of :typical end-of-cycle optimism", with US stock buybacks ramping up on the back of tax reforms. Momentum has resumed in earnest after the first-quarter correction.

Bill McQuaker, head of multi asset at Fidelity, sees the divergence of global growth reconciling itself. But he reckons it’s more likely the US will slow towards the rest of the world, rather than the rest of the world catching up with the US.

"Headwinds like oil prices, long-term policy rates and the stronger US dollar are all headwinds for the US as well,” he says. “Once the positives like tax cuts begin to recede then the likelihood is that the US will slow. The last month’s data is beginning to hum that tune.”

Bull run may not be finished

However, few believe the bull market is over just yet. “If you look at leading indicators, a recession globally is somewhere between one to three years in the future,” Stopford says. And Mancuso notes that equity markets could yet hit further record highs before the year is out.

As a result, Stopford says his ‘growth’ bucket of assets is still very much in equities. “At this stage in the cycle we think equity still has upside and downside, whereas something like credit looks like it’s mostly got downside.” And, of course, “the last year of a bull market can be pretty rewarding”.

“We don’t necessarily want to walk away now if there’s more upside.” While credit looks to have peaked already, Stopford adds that equities don’t tend to peak until around six months before a recession hits, “so there’s still a bit to go”.

Appleton now has a marginal underweight in global equities and has lessened his exposure to emerging market debt. Mancuso has taken his portfolios’ leverage down closer to 4 per cent volatility, rather than 6 per cent.

Stopford’s Investec Diversified Income portfolio is the most defensive it has been in the six years he's been running it. He’s gone from having a “clear growth bias” and a beta – a measure of volatility – to equities of a third, or 1.33, to a much more defensive beta of 0.1.

Other defensive assets

One traditional safe haven that seems to still be liked is the Japanese yen. Appleton says he has an overweight to this currency and deems it “an efficient risk-off currency”.
Stopford agrees and has around 5 per cent of his portfolio exposed to the yen, which he says is a “naturally defensive” asset.

McQuaker also likes the yen, and has exposure to another traditional safe haven asset, gold, through various ETFs.

Appleton reckons the yen is “a cheap way of hedging our portfolio construction, instead of using derivatives”. But Stopford disagrees, arguing that options are cheap in the current environment.

He also has both call and put options on equity markets, which act as insurance against his 29 per cent physical equity exposure.

Stopford explains what this means in practice: “If the market collapsed tomorrow, our sell options mean the portfolio would behave as though we’ve only got nine or 10 per cent in equities. Our call options mean if the market rallies quickly, our portfolio begins to behave as though we’ve got more like 30 per cent in equities.”

 

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David Brenchley is a reporter for Morningstar UK.

© 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782 ("ASXO"). The article is current as at date of publication.

is a Reporter for Morningstar.co.uk.

© 2020 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782. The article is current as at date of publication.

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