On several occasions in the past, we have articulated our belief that the U.S. equity and bond market valuations are stretched. We have also argued that Zero Interest Rate Policies (ZIRP), practiced by the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) and other global central banks since the credit crisis, have led to investors chasing higher yields and risk assets without much regard to risk. The Fed’s balance sheet has experienced tremendous expansion since the onset of the credit crisis. According to Guggenheim’s global CIO Scott Minerd, the Fed’s balance sheet now represents roughly 26% of the U.S. economy. While the Fed just recently concluded its bond buying or “quantitative easing” program, it is still not clear how or when the Fed will start to drain some of this liquidity or raise short-term interest rates. Other global central banks have also experienced similar balance sheet expansions relative to the size of their economies. In a recent presentation, CIO of TCW Tad Rivelle shared some of his concerns that the Fed’s monetary policies have distorted valuations in the credit markets. He also stated that the US is currently in a late stage credit cycle, and a rise in volatility should be interpreted as a warning signal in this environment.
As fiduciaries, we believe it is our responsibility to point out such risks in the global financial markets and try to take appropriate steps to protect our clients’ portfolios. For over a year, we have believed that a small allocation to gold or gold mining shares represents an important hedge against super-accommodative monetary policies and the resulting erosion in the value of the US Dollar (USD). According to Bloomberg, the USD Index has lost over half of its value relative to a basket of foreign currencies since the mid 1980s. Nevertheless, the USD has been relatively strong lately versus other reserve currencies (The Euro and Japanese Yen). In our opinion, this is mainly due to the perceived diverging monetary policies in the US and other developed nations.
Focusing on risk adjusted returns and protecting against the downside in a portfolio require us to be contrarian investors at times. This means trimming our allocation in riskier assets that have appreciated and raising our allocation in assets that have lagged and are out of favor. It is no secret that an allocation to gold mining shares has not worked well in the past year. In a properly-diversified portfolio, we do not expect all parts to move in the same direction at the same time. This, however, has not changed our view that gold serves as true “global currency” and the need for such a hedge has never been stronger. While short-term market volatility is never a welcome addition to a portfolio, we believe the true risk in a portfolio is the risk associated with the permanent impairment of capital. By introducing this hedge or slightly increasing our allocation in some portfolios, we are attempting to somewhat mitigate this risk.
If you would like to discuss the rationale behind this move or your portfolio in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Co-Chief Investment Officer