“In the world of investing, being correct about something isn’t at all synonymous with being proved correct right away.” – Howard Marks, Oaktree Capital
The global equity markets have been in full retreat since China devalued its currency (CNY) relative to the U.S. dollar (USD) on August 11th. Since then, more than $5 trillion has been erased from the value of global equities on fears that the slowdown in the Chinese economy is worse than expected. As a result, there is now widespread belief that the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) will not be in a position to raise interest rates in its September meeting as had been expected. The table below summarizes the year-to-date performance of the S&P 500 (U.S. large company stocks), MSCI EAFE (developed international stocks) and MSCI EM (emerging market stocks) indices. While the equity market drawdowns have been more dramatic in the emerging markets, the S&P 500 Index has also entered a correction phase – defined as a decline of over 10% – since reaching an all-time high in mid-July.
As is evident from the graph below, the S&P 500 Index (green) has enjoyed a relatively calm climb with little to no volatility since late 2011. The Volatility Index (white) measures the 30-day volatility of the market. It is often referred to as the “Fear Index”. A low level of this index is a sign of too much optimism in the equity markets. The psychology has now changed dramatically, as the current selloff has raised many concerns with respect to currency wars, global growth, valuations of the equity markets, and whether the global central banks – stuck on ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy) for almost 7 years – have any ammunition left to battle a global economic slowdown.
While U.S. markets have somewhat stabilized this morning, our concern going forward is that the poor underlying fundamentals could finally derail this resilient bull market. We have been articulating the risks associated with the global monetary policies for some time now and have reduced our equity exposure in recent years in response to escalating valuations. Just in July, we published a position paper detailing our thought process with respect to expensive global markets and the rationale behind including an allocation to gold as a hedge against depreciating paper currencies. We encourage you to read this paper and have included a link to our website below.
If you would like to discuss this paper, the financial markets, or your portfolio in more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Co-Chief Investment Officer