Tactical Asset Allocation – June 2020

Tactical Adaptive Strategies Update

Performance

Adaptive Global gained 0.38% for the month and has lost 1.03% YTD. Adaptive Global spent June invested in a broad mix of Treasury and investment grade bonds and Asia Pacific equities.

Adaptive Income gained 0.82% for the month and 3.54% YTD. Adaptive Income’s investment was split between corporate bonds and high yield.

Adaptive Innovation gained 5.40% for the month and gained 7.84% YTD. Adaptive Innovation had a winning combination by using long Treasury bonds to dampen the volatility of ARK Innovation Web.

RIP Bond Market

The $30 trillion dollar total value of the US equity market is dwarfed by the $40 trillion total value of the US bond market. While the equity market gets more notice, it is the bond market which provides the largest share of financing for government, municipal, and corporate projects.

The fundamental concept behind the bond market is that borrowed money will be used to build private or public infrastructure which will provide a stream of income (or economic growth) sufficient to repay the debt. In short, bond financing has historically been used to boost growth.

Let’s take a quick look at how today’s bond market measures up to its fundamental purposes:

  • Corporate issuers have used the largest share of issuance during the past several years to fund stock buybacks. This increases corporate debt levels without increasing the income stream needed to repay the debt.
  • Most municipal and state issuers continue to use bonds for public infrastructure which provides long term public benefits. However, increasing numbers are turning to bonds to deal with under-funded pension obligations accruing to past service of employees.
  • The Federal government is issuing bonds to fund deficits associated with routine spending which exceeds tax revenues.

In short, the use of the bond market has shifted from providing funds for infrastructure with expected long term benefits to providing funds for current spending with no future benefit. Credit markets have historically put the brakes on this type of spending; however the shift away from prudent, productive use of debt is not the only change in the bond market.

The Fed’s balance sheet held $870 billion in bonds in August 2007 which grew to $2 trillion (7% of the US bond market) by the time the equity market bottomed in April 2009. The Fed’s balance sheet now holds nearly $7 trillion in bonds equal to 16% of the US bond market.

The Fed’s massive moves into the US bond market to maintain historically low interest rates have virtually obliterated the bond market’s risk and price discovery process. How has this happened?

  • Historically, the US has enjoyed what the French referred to as “exorbitant privilege”, a process by which the world shipped goods to the US and received US dollars which it then invested in US Treasuries. The world stopped financing the growing US debt in 2014.
  • The domestic market was required to take up the slack so the Fed changed the rules under which money market funds and banks operate in order to facilitate increased purchases of Treasuries and GSE mortgages. Most recently, the Fed has permitted banks to leverage their Treasury holdings. But there is still too much supply.
  • The rising deficits and Treasury issuance has overwhelmed the capacity of the domestic market to absorb Treasuries absent a significant jump in yields. But neither the economy nor government budgets can afford higher yields.
  • So the Fed has become the purchaser of last resort. While the Treasury continues to sell Treasuries to the Primary Broker Dealers, it is the Fed which is actually buying large numbers of those bills and bonds to prevent failed auctions and/or rising yields.
  • This is the precursor to “Yield Curve Control”, a concept which has been openly discussed and advocated by Fed officials. Under Yield Curve Control, the Fed dictates Treasury yields along the curve from bills to bonds and buys whatever the market will not absorb at the pegged rates. In short, price discovery of “risk free” interest rates along the timeline from 90 days to 30 years is eliminated. Doesn’t sound possible? The Fed has a prior history in doing this from 1943 until forced to renounce yield curve control in 1951 due to soaring inflation.
  • But it goes further. The Fed is extending price controls beyond government bonds by setting up Special Purpose Vehicles to purchase corporate investment grade and junk bonds. The Fed has already purchased $1.6 billion in investment grade and high yield ETFs including LQD, VCIT, VCSH, HYG, JNK. This was done to reverse the widen credit risk spreads as the market began pricing higher default and bankruptcy risks.

For anyone who believes this is all temporary, consider the failed history of Fed attempts to shrink its balance sheet in 2012 (by $100 million) and again in 2018-2019 (by $700 million). In short, the Fed’s balance sheet can not be shrunk because the free market is unwilling or unable to absorb those bonds at artificially low rates.

The end result for investors? While bonds will continue to serve investors as a safe haven during times of financial stress; investors can expect negative real (after inflation) yields on Treasuries for years to come coupled with artificially low rates on corporate debt.

The alternative? Equities and high yield bonds which carry significantly higher risks and volatility.

Bonds Remain Relevant To Our Strategies

Our Tactical Asset Allocation strategies have long relied upon large helpings of bonds, but not for the income they produce. It is the characteristic low volatility of bonds which is key to maintaining high full cycle returns while keeping portfolio volatility tolerable.

Equities (and equity-like high yield) in tight upward trends always command priority portfolio allocation. But when the upward trend of equities (and equity-like high yield) begins to wobble, correct, or decline, risk management algorithms kick in to lower investment risk:

  • Adaptive Dynamic Momentum finds tighter trends and higher trend confidence in bonds which boosts the relative priority in selecting bonds over equities.
  • Targeted Volatility Weighting lowers portfolio volatility to target levels by shifting allocations from higher to lower volatility investments.

Tactical Adaptive Global provides broad exposure to 16 domestic equity, international equity, commodity, and precious metals funds coupled with 6 fixed income funds used to manage volatility.

Adaptive Income’s basket of 6 funds cover the risk and volatility spectrum from short term Treasuries to high yield. While the 3 high yield funds provide the lion’s share of returns, the 3 government bond funds reduce volatility and provide a safe haven when high yield is under pressure.

Adaptive Innovation’s equity funds carry high levels of both opportunity and volatility. Three government bonds funds are used to dampen volatility both in combination with the equity funds and as a safe haven.

This is why the 3 Tactical Adaptive strategies will continue to lower investment risk while improving returns in spite of the destruction of the bond market.

Perspective

The economy had to be reopened! Just as there are potentially dire consequences from the virus, there are dire consequences from shuttering the economy. By all appearances, there has been a failure in balancing and prioritizing the consequences.

Churchill once commented to the effect that “Americans will always do the right thing after trying everything else”. We are quite likely somewhere along the course of trying everything else but we’ll eventually get to “the right thing”.

Economies thrive on confidence and confidence is waning; in large measure due to the major virus flare ups across the country. The euphoria in the equity market is quite likely at or near an end. We are now likely to see many months, perhaps a year, of hard slogging. The “Fed put” may well hold the lows in place but the market is quite likely to cycle sideways in a 1000+- point S&P 500 range for the foreseeable future.

Market

From the June 26th Market Monitor

A modestly down week across all indexes and sectors. The S&P 500 completed an island reversal chart pattern with large gaps preceding and following June 5 through 10. The S&P 500 closed the week at the low end of its post-gap trading range between 3150 and 3000. A directional break of this range should prove significant.

Short term Cumulative Advancing Declining Volume for big caps weakened modestly this week while declining sharply for mid and small cap indexes. The 12 sectors I track also declined strongly with the biggest losses in transportation and real estate. The decline in Intermediate term CADV was muted.

The Credit Market Index declined sharply this week as numerous risk measures show flattening and or rising trends. This is an important shift which bears close watching.

The Weekly Value Line Model remains on a confirmed Sell signal while the Daily Value Line Model switched from Buy to Sell during the Week. The VIX Model remains on a Buy signal. 

This coming week, we are likely to see a bit of follow through to the downside followed by a rally attempt, which, should it fail, is likely to complete the initial phase of the rally off the March low. Looking further out, the country appears to be losing confidence in its battle with the virus which is likely to begin showing up in the economic numbers and market rather soon.

Earl Adamy

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Compares performance of the Tactical Adaptive Strategies to the S&P 500 and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund

Supporting tables for Tactical Adaptive Global. S&P 500 (SPY) and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX) can be found below

Our backtest results tables are constructed for two full market cycles beginning in January 2000.

The most recent market cycle covers October 2007 to date. The fund baskets for our tactical strategies are constructed from indexed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) with just two exceptions, an Open End Fund and a Closed End Fund, both with long history.

The earlier market cycle covers January 2000 through September 2007. A number of the ETFs we use were not created until later in the decade. For those cases, we infill using predecessor Open End Funds (OEFs) for which the indexing and/or subclass is substantially similar to the ETF. Aside from providing insight into possible strategy performance during a second, earlier, cycle, they also offer the advantage of completely out of sample data. The fact that the metrics of both cycles are very comparable appears to validate the process.

We have been asked if it is possible to extend backtests to earlier decades. While this appears to be a common practice with some services; it is not possible to produce credible results for many strategies due to the lack of funds with substantially similar indexing and/or subclass. Doing so would force me to stretch the term "substantial" far beyond my comfort level.

A Caveat

A 35+ year secular bull market in both equities and bonds began in 1982. The last cyclical bull market in equities (and to a lesser extent, bonds) began 10 years ago. Returns during these periods have been historically exceptional. Market returns for the next 10 years are highly unlikely to approach those of the past 10. In fact, there is at least some evidence that market returns have a high probability of being significantly lower and that bonds and equities (which have risen together) may actually begin working at cross purposes.

Investors should not use the statistics shown for our strategies to establish expectations of specific levels of returns or drawdowns. Investors should, however, appreciate that we believe the principles which underlie the Tactical Adaptive Global, Tactical Adaptive Income, and Tactical Adaptive Innovation Strategies are enduring enough to significantly outperform the market in the future, both in lowering risk and in improving returns.

Benchmark S&P 500 (SPY)

Benchmark Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX)

Compares performance of the Tactical Adaptive Strategies to the S&P 500 and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund

Supporting tables for Tactical Adaptive Income, S&P 500 (SPY) and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX) can be found below

Our backtest results tables are constructed for two full market cycles beginning in January 2000.

The most recent market cycle covers October 2007 to date. The fund baskets for our tactical strategies are constructed from indexed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) with just two exceptions, an Open End Fund and a Closed End Fund, both with long history.

The earlier market cycle covers January 2000 through September 2007. A number of the ETFs we use were not created until later in the decade. For those cases, we infill using predecessor Open End Funds (OEFs) for which the indexing and/or subclass is substantially similar to the ETF. Aside from providing insight into possible strategy performance during a second, earlier, cycle, they also offer the advantage of completely out of sample data. The fact that the metrics of both cycles are very comparable appears to validate the process.

We have been asked if it is possible to extend backtests to earlier decades. While this appears to be a common practice with some services; it is not possible to produce credible results for many strategies due to the lack of funds with substantially similar indexing and/or subclass. Doing so would force me to stretch the term "substantial" far beyond my comfort level.

A Caveat

A 35+ year secular bull market in both equities and bonds began in 1982. The last cyclical bull market in equities (and to a lesser extent, bonds) began 10 years ago. Returns during these periods have been historically exceptional. Market returns for the next 10 years are highly unlikely to approach those of the past 10. In fact, there is at least some evidence that market returns have a high probability of being significantly lower and that bonds and equities (which have risen together) may actually begin working at cross purposes.

Investors should not use the statistics shown for our strategies to establish expectations of specific levels of returns or drawdowns. Investors should, however, appreciate that we believe the principles which underlie the Tactical Adaptive Global, Tactical Adaptive Income, and Tactical Adaptive Innovation Strategies are enduring enough to significantly outperform the market in the future, both in lowering risk and in improving returns.

Benchmark S&P 500 (SPY)

Benchmark Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX)

Compares performance of the Tactical Adaptive Strategies to the S&P 500 and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund

Supporting tables for Tactical Adaptive Innovation, S&P 500 (SPY) and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX) can be found below

The Innovation ETFs used in the Innovation Strategy were not established until 2014-2015 so our history is limited. There are no predecessor funds which are similar enough to use for infill.

A Caveat

A 35+ year secular bull market in both equities and bonds began in 1982. The last cyclical bull market in equities (and to a lesser extent, bonds) began 10 years ago. Returns during these periods have been historically exceptional. Market returns for the next 10 years are highly unlikely to approach those of the past 10. In fact, there is at least some evidence that market returns have a high probability of being significantly lower and that bonds and equities (which have risen together) may actually begin working at cross purposes.

Investors should not use the statistics shown for our strategies to establish expectations of specific levels of returns or drawdowns. Investors should, however, appreciate that we believe the principles which underlie the Tactical Adaptive Global, Tactical Adaptive Income, and Tactical Adaptive Innovation Strategies are enduring enough to significantly outperform the market in the future, both in lowering risk and in improving returns.

Benchmark S&P 500 (SPY)

Benchmark Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBINX)