Re-balance Cycle Reminder All MyPlanIQ’s newsletters are archived here.

Regular AAC (Asset Allocation Composite), SAA and TAA portfolios are always rebalanced on the first trading day of a month. the next re-balance will be on Monday May 2, 2022. 

As a reminder to expert users: advanced portfolios are still re-balanced based on their original re-balance schedules and they are not the same as those used in Strategic and Tactical Asset Allocation (SAA and TAA) portfolios of a plan.

Asset Allocation And Risk Management

As both stocks and bonds continue to experience weakness this year, it’s high time for investors to seriously (re)visit the concept of risk and how to manage it. In this newsletter, we look at portfolio diversification through allocation, its effectiveness and ways to manage risk better. 

Stocks and bonds

By now, investors should have finally tasted the limitation of stocks and bonds only allocation. First, the following chart, courtesy of Jim Bianco Research, illustrates that virtually nothing among stocks and bonds made money last quarter: 

A few observations: 

  1. The last time every asset class lost money was 1994. 
  2. Last quarter, the ‘best’ performing asset is S&P 500 (or US large cap stocks), only losing -4.6%
  3. It was the worst since 1980 Q1 when the best performing asset lost -8.7%

Or put it another way, there was no place to hide (unless you are in cash) in last quarter. Of course, one can try to be in commodities or gold that are usually considered by many as non major asset classes: 

It’s of course obvious that with high inflation rate, commodities and gold have done wonder. 

However one needs to be aware that investing in commodities is not only very volatile, it’s also much harder. For example, simply buying and holding DBC has had some dismal 10 and 15 year returns: 

Major Asset Returns (as of 4/11/2022):
Asset (Fund) Name YTD
1Yr AR 3Yr AR 5Yr AR 10Yr AR 15Yr AR
VTI (Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF) -6.3% 8.0% 17.2% 15.4% 14.3% 10.0%
VEA (Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF) -6.7% -1.0% 8.1% 7.5% 7.1%  
VWO (Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF) -6.0% -9.5% 4.7% 5.8% 3.5% 3.4%
VNQ (Vanguard REIT ETF) -4.3% 21.0% 11.9% 9.8% 10.0% 6.5%
GLD (SPDR Gold Shares) 6.7% 11.6% 14.4% 8.5% 1.4% 6.9%
DBC (PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking ETF) 28.6% 58.7% 18.7% 12.3% -0.4% 0.7%
BND (Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF) -7.5% -6.0% 1.4% 2.0% 2.0% 3.4%

This brings us back to the important topic: asset allocation and risk management. 

Stocks and bonds: risk parity

One of the favorite strategies for pension and institutional funds such as endowments is the ‘risk parity’ strategy. Basically, the strategy tries to allocate assets so that each portion has about the same risk (or volatility). For example, if stocks’s volatility is 3 times of bonds, one should adopt an 1:3 stock and bond allocation so that the volatility of the stock portion is about the same as that of the bond portion.

In general, this will make the overall volatility too low or in asset allocation terminology, the portfolio is too conservative: in this example, the ‘risk parity’ portfolio is about 25% in stocks and 75% in bonds, a typical conservative portfolio. A way to enhance the return (while increasing risk) is to utilize derivatives to leverage up the portfolio. For example, one can use futures or options to leverage this ‘conservative’ portfolio to a ‘balance’ portfolio risk while in the meantime getting better returns. 

This strategy has been extremely popular for the past 20 or so years. It’s actually no coincidence that it became popular and has done well in the secular bond market that started in 1990s. 

Unfortunately, this strategy has recently suffered major setback, amid the unusual weakness in both stocks and bonds. The following table compares some risk parity funds and other portfolios: 

Risk Parity, Permanent Portfolios Performance as of 4/11/2022:
Ticker/Portfolio Name YTD
1Yr AR 3Yr AR 5Yr AR 10Yr AR 15Yr AR
MPIQ ETF Allocation Moderate -6.6% 2.2% 11.2% 9.7% 8.8% 8.4%
Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio -4.1% 3.1% 9.1% 7.2% 5.3% 6.4%
NTSX (WisdomTree U.S. Efficient Core Fund) -10.2% 4.6% 16.4%      
RPAR (RPAR Risk Parity ETF) -7.2% 4.1%        
WFRPX (Wealthfront Risk Parity W) -13.6% -6.0% -1.4%      
PPRPX (Putnam Risk Parity Fund) -10% -4.9% -3.1%      
VBINX (Vanguard Balanced Index Inv) -7.5% 2.2% 11.1% 10.1% 9.5% 7.6%
PRPFX (Permanent Portfolio) -0.5% 4.0% 12.0% 8.8% 5.1% 6.2%

All of the above risk parity funds haven’t done well. The worst performer is Wealthfront Risk Parity fund WFRPX, it has lost money for the past 1 and 3 years. In fact, it lost -1.9% annually since it was introduced on 1/22/2018. Wealthfront was a pioneer in robo advisor, i.e. providing low cost portfolio management to average investors. Unfortunately, as what we always contend, these robo advisors are just providing static or strategic asset allocation service to investors by charging 0.25% or even higher fees. We believe the ‘low’ fees are not even low: managing a strategic cookie cutter asset allocation portfolio is a simple enough task any investor can perform. Charging a quarter percentage of assets seems excessive to us. Unfortunately, we expect these robo advisors portfolios will continue to suffer in the coming years as the secular bond market is coming to the end. 

The other interesting fund is NTSX (WisdomTree U.S. Efficient Core Fund). It basically leverages both stocks and bonds up to 90/60 allocations (thus, it’s a 1.5x leverage). This fund will do well when both stocks and bonds have positive returns. But it will do badly when the two major assets are in distress (it lost -10.2% year to date). 

What’s more important is that the strategic allocation has started to show its sign of weakness, as shown in the above. The strategy has done well for the past 30 years because bonds (as well as stocks) were in a secular bull market. Now that we are seeing this bond bull market (and very likely stock bull market also) is ending, the alarm is sounding: it’s probably not enough to navigate through the next 10 years or so by using such a simple strategy. We will discuss this a bit more shortly. 

Gold and permanent portfolios

The other way is to introduce gold to one’s asset allocation. A famous one is Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio. It basically allocates 25% each to stocks, gold, long term Treasury bonds and short term cash. There are several varieties. We have written several newsletters on them. Interested readers can look at them on our newsletter collection

From the above table, one can see that PRPFX (Permanent Portfolio) fund and the portfolio has lost least year to date. Notice that PRPFX fund has a different allocation than the Harry Browne’s portfolio. We expect that these portfolios might do better than a conventional stock and bond portfolio such as VBINX. However, one shouldn’t underestimate the severity of the next financial crisis. Imagine a bear market when stocks loses 50% while gold, an asset also considered to belong to risk asset group also lose some values (probably less than stocks). Unfortunately, in this bear market, bonds might not come to rescue as much as in the past because of inflation pressure or even if they do because of central banks’ strong intervention, inflation will force them to lose value big time after the bear market. 

At any rate, we expect to see high inflation and rising interesting rate in the coming decade or longer. The permanent portfolios or similar hedged allocations will probably beat out a stock and bond only portfolio but in terms of returns, at best, they will preserve values without much value growth. 

The need of dynamic or tactical allocation

We again want to repeat our belief that to cope with extremely high stock and bond valuations in a secular rising rate (rising inflation) environment, in addition to diversifying one’s investments to various asset classes, there Is a need of dynamic allocation, especially during a financial crisis or severe bear market. By dynamic allocation, we mean strategies like MyPlanIQ’s Asset Allocation Composite (AAC)  or Tactical Asset Allocation(TAA) that can reduce or increase allocations of stocks and bonds depending on market conditions. 

One example of dynamic allocations is to reduce or completely avoid stocks in 2008-2009 financial crisis. The other example is like recently, our bond portfolios are mostly in short term bonds or cash because of the bond market weakness. 

Dynamic or tactical allocation strategies are the last resort defense in the case of all major assets have severe weakness. 

Dynamic allocations are also called market timing. Unfortunately, strategies or behaviors, most of them are bad, that change allocations are all lumped into the bad ‘market timing’ category, thus they are usually shunned by investors with disdain. However, as what our strategies have demonstrated, a few of them can work and work well, meaning, they can deliver market beating or market comparable returns with much lower volatility. This is important for investors whose time horizon is shorter than 20 or even 30 years. Essentially, our view is that our dynamic allocation strategies like AAC will outperform strategic asset allocations in the following decades. 

We encourage readers to read through our published newsletters to better understand our arguments. You can also monitor the portfolios on brokerage or Advanced Strategies pages.  

Market Overview

However how negative stocks and bonds have behaved recently, we remind investors that both household and corporate debt levels are actually still reasonable in a historical setting: 

These levels are relatively high (about the same levels in 2007 or so) in the recent cycle but they are still low compared with those in 1970s and 1980s. In a complicated setting, this means the central bank might not be forced to raise interest rates as much as markets might expect. On the other hand, no one can be certain as many factors can develop further to tip an already decelerating economy into a recession (The Atlanta Fed GDPNow predicts a 1.1% next quarter’s GDP growth, low but no where near negative for now) or an expensive stock and bond market to a bear market. 

To summarize, we believe a tactical or dynamic allocation is very much warranted to cope with the current treacherous market conditions. However, that doesn’t mean that we advocate abandoning strategic asset allocation or other hedged allocations such as permanent allocations. In fact, we view these strategies are complement to each other and each can serve well under certain conditions or settings. Because we can’t predict when these conditions will emerge and how long they will last for certain, we thus need to rely on them to balance out. 

We again advocate the following practice: 

  • For strategic allocation (buy and hold) investors, ignore the current market behavior. Remember, as what we have emphasized numerous times, when you choose and commit to a strategic portfolio, you essentially know and commit that your investment horizon (or the time you need to utilize this capital) is 20 years or longer. As we pointed out, if your investments are those diversified (index) funds such as an S&P 500 index fund (VFINX, for example), you know your money is in some solid ‘business’ that eventually (20 years later) will deliver some reasonable returns. As long as you are comfortable with this thesis, you should sit tight and forget about the current gyration.
  • For tactical investors, again, you have to ignore the current market noise. Furthermore, you should follow your strategy rigorously, especially in a time like this. Human emotion, both optimistic and pessimistic, and human desire, both greedy and fearful, are your worst enemies. This has been shown to be true time and time again.

Stock valuation has dropped somewhat. However, it is still very high by historical standard. For the moment, we believe it’s prudent to be extra cautious. However how serious a correction might be, we have confidence in the US economy in the long term and thus in the stocks in aggregate. We just need to manage through interim losses carefully.  

We again would like to emphasize that for any new investor and new money, the best way to step into this kind of markets is through dollar cost average (DCA), i.e. invest and/or follow a model portfolio in several phases (such as 2 or 3 months) instead of the whole sum at one shot.

Enjoy Newsletter

How can we improve this newsletter? Please take our survey 

–Thanks to those who have already contributed — we appreciate it.

Latest Articles

Any investment in securities including mutual funds, ETFs, closed end funds, stocks and any other securities could lose money over any period of time. All investments involve risk. Losses may exceed the principal invested. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. There is no guarantee for future results in your investment and any other actions based on the information provided on the website including, but not limited to, strategies, portfolios, articles, performance data and results of any tools. All rights are reserved and enforced. By accessing the website, you agree not to copy and redistribute the information provided herein without the explicit consent from MyPlanIQ.