Dave Moenning

Will Low Volatility Mean Lower Risk Next Time?

Well, it’s official. According to Ned Davis Research, this is now the longest period in history without the S&P 500 experiencing a correction of 3% or more. For those of you keeping score at home, NDR tells us that as of Monday’s close, it has now been 262 market days since the last time the S&P pulled back by at least 3%. The current run breaks the previous record of 256 days set back in 1995.

To put this feat into perspective, consider that since 1928, the S&P has experienced a correction of at least 3% every 22 trading days (or about once a month) on average. It is for this reason that pullbacks of 3% or more are often referred to as “garden variety” affairs.

In case you were wondering (I was), this is also the 4th longest period in history without a 5% correction, the 10th longest stretch without a 10% correction, and the 2nd longest span since early-1928 without a 20% correction (aka a “bear market”) for the S&P 500.

When these fun facts are added to the market’s lofty valuation levels – many of which are either near or above historic highs – it is little wonder that so many financial advisors are nervous about the outlook for the stock market these days.

Sure, the economy appears to be picking up steam. Yes, earnings are strong. It is true that rates are low and inflation doesn’t appear to be a threat. And no, the Fed isn’t likely to go on the war path anytime soon. Thus, it is fairly easy to argue that the market’s underlying fundamentals are pretty darn good.

Yet, investors and advisors alike remain nervous. The bottom line is nobody wants to get fooled again. No one ever wants to watch their 401K turn into a 201K the way they did during the crisis.

So, what have investors/advisors done to try and take less risk during this long bull run? From my seat, it appears they’ve plowed money into what have historically been lower risk plays such as high dividend paying companies and the so-called “low volatility” areas.

In fact, “low volatility” has become one of the popular factor-plays in stock picking. This is probably due to the fact that the low vol space has outperformed the broad market. According to PIMCO, the low volatility factor beat the CRSP/Compustat universe of U.S. stocks by 1.6% per year from 7/31/1968 through 6/30/2017.


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And as I’ve detailed in previous missives, the folks at BlackRock contend that focusing on the low volatility factor can reduce risk over time.

So, it is little wonder that investors who are nervous about the stock market would choose a low volatility approach.

The Fly in the Ointment

Such an approach has become very popular these days. Very, very popular.

So popular, in fact, that, according to PIMCO, the valuation measure for the low volatility factor currently resides in the 88th percentile.

As the chart below illustrates, the valuation level for the “low vol” factor is even higher (a lot higher) than the momentum factor – where the go-go stocks like the “FANGs” can be found.


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In their research report dated November 2017, PIMCO suggests that “valuations matter” when considering factor investing. “An expensive starting point reduces future return prospects,” the report contends.

My point on this fine Tuesday morning is one needs to beware of crowded trades – especially when they reach extremes. In other words, if the bears were to find a reason to occupy Wall Street for a spell in the near future, those low volatility and high dividend plays may not provide the protection that is expected. I can even argue that the opposite might even occur if “the crowd” heads to the exits in these ETFs – all at the same time.

Is this a reason not to employ low volatility or high divy factors in portfolios? No, absolutely not. However, it is yet another good reason to diversify your investing approach in a modern fashion.

Thought For The Day:

The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done. -Arnold Palmer

Current Market Drivers

We strive to identify the driving forces behind the market action on a daily basis. The thinking is that if we can understand why stocks are doing what they are doing on a short-term basis; we are not likely to be surprised/blind-sided by a big move. Listed below are what we believe to be the driving forces of the current market (Listed in order of importance).

      1. The State of Tax Reform

      2. The State of the Earnings Season

      3. The State of the Economy

Wishing you green screens and all the best for a great day,

David D. Moenning
Chief Investment Officer
Sowell Management Services

Disclosure: At the time of publication, Mr. Moenning and/or Sowell Management Services held long positions in the following securities mentioned: none. Note that positions may change at any time.


Disclosures

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are those of Mr. David Moenning and may not actually come to pass. Mr. Moenning’s opinions and viewpoints regarding the future of the markets should not be construed as recommendations. The analysis and information in this report is for informational purposes only. No part of the material presented in this report is intended as an investment recommendation or investment advice. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation to purchase or sell securities or any investment program.

Any investment decisions must in all cases be made by the reader or by his or her investment adviser. Do NOT ever purchase any security without doing sufficient research. There is no guarantee that the investment objectives outlined will actually come to pass. All opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Neither the editor, employees, nor any of their affiliates shall have any liability for any loss sustained by anyone who has relied on the information provided.

The analysis provided is based on both technical and fundamental research and is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. Although the information contained is derived from sources which are believed to be reliable, they cannot be guaranteed.

David D. Moenning is an investment adviser representative of Sowell Management Services, a registered investment advisor. For a complete description of investment risks, fees and services, review the firm brochure (ADV Part 2) which is available by contacting Sowell. Sowell is not registered as a broker-dealer.

Employees and affiliates of Sowell may at times have positions in the securities referred to and may make purchases or sales of these securities while publications are in circulation. Positions may change at any time.

Investments in equities carry an inherent element of risk including the potential for significant loss of principal. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

Advisory services are offered through Sowell Management Services.

Dave Moenning

Wait, BlackRock Is Saying What?

With no fewer than three potential big, bad events (and a fourth – the FOMC meeting – on tap for next week), traders appear to be in wait-and-see mode at the present time. And since I do not believe in making predictions about what the news will be – or more importantly how Ms. Market is going to react to said news – I would like to spend our time this morning talking about the subject of managing risk in the stock market.

Long-time readers of my oftentimes meandering morning market missive know that I am a risk manager. I always have been. I always will be. My career was shaped in the early 1980’s by the likes the late Marty Zweig, Ned Davis, and Stan Weinstein. They taught me early on that one of the best ways to make money in the long run was to avoid losing a lot of money in the short-run. And while my approach has shifted over the years (I’m much more big-picture/long-term oriented these days) my overriding objective of investing hasn’t changed. In short, I strive to stay in tune with what the market is doing and to lose the least amount possible when the bears are in control on Wall Street.

To be sure, this hasn’t always been a popular approach. In the late 1990’s for example, the idea of managing risk was almost laughable as the secular bull was raging, 10-year returns in the high-teens were normal, and the mutual fund industry had convinced investors that the key to success was to simply buy and hold. “Time, not timing” was the battle cry and back then, investors and advisors alike were taught to be “long-term” in their approach.

However, what I’ve learned over my career is that advisors and clients alike tend to be long-term – as long as they are making money!

The bottom line is that after two of the most brutal bear markets in history occurred within a nine-year period, a great many investors have decided to rethink their approach. Gone is the notion that investors should just put their money in a mutual fund and leave it there – forever. Gone is the idea that managing risk is a fool’s game. And gone is the concept of just riding things out when the bears come to call at the corner of Broad and Wall.

“My 401K is Now a 201K”

No, investors distinctly remember the pain of their “401K’s turning into 201K’s” during the 2000-2008 period and they don’t want that to EVER happen again. Never mind the fact that the next bear market usually looks nothing like the last one. Today, investors want assurance that the destruction they witnessed in their accounts during the 2000-2002 and 2008 through March 2009 bear markets won’t happen again.

While I may be guilty of “talking my book” here, the idea of trying to “do something” (anything!) to prevent the vicious declines that can accompany bear markets sounds pretty darned appealing to most of the folks I talk to.

Ask yourself this question: If you have a choice, do you want to remain fully exposed to stock market risk during the next bear market decline?

For those that answered, “Sure, I’m long-term – I don’t look at my retirement accounts anyway,” feel free to stop reading now – and you can skip some of next week’s missives as well.

But for the rest of you, now might be an excellent time to think about your strategy for the next bear market.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that a bear market is imminent. However, given that (a) the current economic recovery is now nine years old (and one of the weakest in the post-war era), (b) stock market valuations are very high from an historical perspective, and (c) this is now the second longest period in stock market history without a 20% correction, now might be a great time to put a plan to “lose less” during the next bear market.

Even BlackRock Agrees!

And much to my surprise, one of the biggest money managers on the planet – a little company called BlackRock – agrees with me.

Yep, that’s right. Unlike the 1990’s, when Wall Street told you to hang in there and not to even THINK about adjusting your portfolio during bearish environments, today BlackRock is encouraging investors to understand risk and to actually do something about it.

So… Next time (likely on Tuesday), we will review the presentation BlackRock made at our advisor conference – a presentation that encourages investors to “win more by losing less.” What a concept!

Publishing Note: I am traveling for the rest of this week and will not publish report on Friday.

Thought For The Day:

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Current Market Drivers

We strive to identify the driving forces behind the market action on a daily basis. The thinking is that if we can both identify and understand why stocks are doing what they are doing on a short-term basis; we are not likely to be surprised/blind-sided by a big move. Listed below are what we believe to be the driving forces of the current market (Listed in order of importance).

      1. The State of the U.S. Economy

      2. The State of Earning Growth

      3. The State of Trump Administration Policies

Wishing you green screens and all the best for a great day,

David D. Moenning
Chief Investment Officer
Sowell Management Services

Disclosure: At the time of publication, Mr. Moenning and/or Sowell Management Services held long positions in the following securities mentioned: none. Note that positions may change at any time.

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Disclosures

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are those of Mr. David Moenning and may not actually come to pass. Mr. Moenning’s opinions and viewpoints regarding the future of the markets should not be construed as recommendations. The analysis and information in this report is for informational purposes only. No part of the material presented in this report is intended as an investment recommendation or investment advice. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation to purchase or sell securities or any investment program.

Any investment decisions must in all cases be made by the reader or by his or her investment adviser. Do NOT ever purchase any security without doing sufficient research. There is no guarantee that the investment objectives outlined will actually come to pass. All opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Neither the editor, employees, nor any of their affiliates shall have any liability for any loss sustained by anyone who has relied on the information provided.

The analysis provided is based on both technical and fundamental research and is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. Although the information contained is derived from sources which are believed to be reliable, they cannot be guaranteed.

David D. Moenning is an investment adviser representative of Sowell Management Services, a registered investment advisor. For a complete description of investment risks, fees and services, review the firm brochure (ADV Part 2) which is available by contacting Sowell. Sowell is not registered as a broker-dealer.

Employees and affiliates of Sowell may at times have positions in the securities referred to and may make purchases or sales of these securities while publications are in circulation. Positions may change at any time.

Investments in equities carry an inherent element of risk including the potential for significant loss of principal. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

Advisory services are offered through Sowell Management Services.