It’s no secret that risk premia have taken wing in recent months, as our chart below illustrates. Nor is it any mystery as to the cause. Prices have slumped like a rock in a lake, and that’s boosted trailing yields and interest rates to the sky. What’s less obvious is if it’s time to avail oneself of the relatively rich offerings.
Alas, the answer to this perennial question is always debatable. Even in the best of times, the wisdom of investment decisions is always in doubt, albeit in varying degrees depending on the context du jour. But this is a major hazard only if you’re betting the farm on a given day or limiting your investment world to a narrowly defined subset of assets. Avoiding those dangers are essential for sound investing and sound sleeping, although it doesn’t allow us to completely sidestep uncomfortable choices or mistakes. Nonetheless, it’s a sound basis for putting our investing strategies on a sound foundation for improving the odds of long-term success. On that note, your editor is of a mind to begin indulging. In fact, we’ve been suggesting that in recent months and the advice stands anew. Not because we have a crystal ball. Indeed, the capital markets still face tough times, perhaps for an extended period. Looking back a year from now will dispense exactly the right strategy, although that and 50 cents will buy you half a pack of gum in the here and now.
The task of taking advantage of higher prospective returns must begin at some point. Waiting for the “all clear” bell looks great on paper, but in the real world market bottoms and tops are identified only in hindsight. By that time, a fair amount, perhaps most of the rebound is behind us. Yes, there’s always a good case for waiting, but there’s a risk in times like these that the waiting becomes habit. Patience is a virtue, but even virtuous behavior has limits.
CS is an advocate of multi-asset class portfolios and adjusting portfolio allocations over time by taking cues from current conditions and reasoned projections of the economic and financial climate. In other words, we’re fans of holding a mix of stocks, bonds, commodities, REITs and cash and adjusting the mix based on current and expected conditions.
We don’t take this view lightly. Rather, ours is a perspective born after years of reading the financial literature, interviewing some of the world’s best strategists, crunching the numbers and analyzing real world results. In an effort to consolidate and categorize what this reporter has learned, we’re currently writing a book on the subject and will soon launch a newsletter dedicated to the topic (details to following in coming days and weeks). But for this post, the point is simply that winning the investment game requires action. Reasoned, well-timed, informed action, to be sure; but action just the same.
It’s tempting to think that we can put off crucial investment decisions until the buy and sell signals flash with unmistakable clarity. But the transparency arrives only in the rearview mirror, once we’ve sped past the opportunistic junction. In real time, the challenge of investing is working with an unknown future and wondering if our analysis today will prove worthy tomorrow.
There are several defensive tactics to employ to limit the associated risks without giving up too much of the prospective return. One is refraining from making bold changes to asset allocation in a short time period. Alternatively, one can and should practice an ongoing rebalancing/tactical asset allocation program. In addition, we should emphasize changing portfolios at times when conditions appear to favor our odds of enhancing future returns.
By that standard, 2008 has become an increasingly opportunistic year in terms of higher expected returns. That’s not to say that the trend won’t continue; if fact, we expect as much and so we must pace ourselves in terms of shifting assets into asset classes with better prospects while reducing allocations in those areas with declining expected returns.
Perhaps the crucial point is that dynamic asset allocation is a process rather than a one-time event. Time diversification, in sum, is crucial for strategic-minded investing. We can’t see peaks and troughs in markets in advance and so we should embrace apparent opportunities modestly, over time.
In essence, this is all about finding the optimal approach for exploiting the time-honored notion of buying low and selling high. As we discussed in 2006-2008, the extraordinary gains in everything was a signal to begin winding down risk exposures, albeit modestly, systematically and over time. We now encourage the flip side of that counsel.
Yes, we’re were early in recommending lowering risk levels in 2006-2008, and we’re likely to be early now in proposing that strategic-minded investors begin elevating their risk exposures. That’s the nature of contrarian-based investing, arguably the only prudent approach for long-run investment strategies.
No one said it would be easy; in fact, it’s downright awkward at times—like right now. So it goes in a world where mere mortals are faced with making imperfect decisions using limited information. As Winston Churchill might have said if he was an investment strategist in 2008: It’s the worst investment strategy available, except when compared to everything else.
Originally published at The Capital Spectator and reproduced here with the author’s permission.