- Diversifying to include Emerging Markets helps in tough month for Developed Markets.i,ii,iii
- Continued worries about rising COVID-19 cases and the economy.iv
- Narratives appear to be shifting as more evidence of a potential market inflexion point.
Globally, this month was tough for Developed Markets and not for Emerging Markets. In October, returns for the S&P 500 were -2.8%[i] and MSCI EAFE was -4.1%[ii] while the MSCI Emering Markets was +2.0%[iii]. It was the second month in a row of monthly declines in U.S. equities. As mentioned before, we continue to employ diversification specifically to areas like Emerging Markets to potentially cushion against U.S. equity losses as in October.
Overall, Developed Markets suffered from increasing COVID-19 cases[iv] and in the U.S., diminished hopes of a pre-election stimulus package. The month culminated with a -5.6%[v] sell off during the last week when technology earnings missed expectations, with Microsoft disappointing most in our opinion.
Underneath the surface of a post-election rising market tide, the relative price movement in sectors and investing styles (Factors) appears staggering. Our broad measures of the underlying health of the market continue to worsen. Events happen daily that have either likely never happened before or not happened in a long time. For example, on November 4, the Dow Jones Transportation sector had its worst day relative to the S&P 500 since April 2009, down almost -4%[vi]. Growth had its best day versus Value (using Russell 1000 indices as proxies) since January 2001 – almost 20 years![vii] In our opinion, the market narrative appears to be that the Federal Reserve has everything under control and that it has “got your back.” Meanwhile, we continue to worry about how COVID-19 will affect the economy this winter given the explosion of cases shown by the Johns Hopkins University’s Daily COVID-19 Data in Motion.
In October, we saw the beginnings of a narrative shift to a scenario that reminds us of 2000, similar to what we discussed in our August update. In that market cycle, the technology bubble was formed by companies from buying to prepare for the risk that at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000 their computers would be unable to function. In 2020, companies and individuals spent on technology to work from home during a pandemic. In both cases, decelerating earnings occurred once priorities shifted away from investments in technology. Last month, it appeared that investors started to choose between decelerating and expensive large companies versus opportunities in growing and cheaper small companies where client portfolios have some investments. Specifically, the Russell 1000 Growth Index (large) lost -4.7%i versus the Russell 2000 Index (small) gained 3.4%i in October. This shift is potentially bullish for CIG’s portfolios and less so for investors indulging in passive investments[viii].
We would like to thank our clients and friends for their continued trust and support, as well as to respectfully encourage all to focus on the positives on Thanksgiving Day. Obviously, 2020 has been an excruciatingly difficult year for many of us and it continues with the contested election and the division in the country. However, we have a newfound appreciation for going to family gatherings, restaurants and sporting events, for more frequent phone calls with elders, and for being able to see our children during the workday at home.
Lastly, we suggest that you listen to the replay of our webinar “Keeping your Financial Plans Alive Amid Chaos.” We discuss the challenges, opportunities and questions ahead as we navigate the current and future market conditions.
This report was prepared by CIG Asset Management and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security.
[i] Yahoo Finance
[v] Calculated by CIG using data from Yahoo Finance for 10/23 to 10/30.
[vi] Research report from Epsilon Theory, “The King is Dead. Long Live the King” dated 11/5/20.
[vii] Research report from Epsilon Theory, “The King is Dead. Long Live the King” dated 11/5/20.
[viii] While small companies as measured by the Russell 2000 small-cap index has had six 10%+ multi-day moves in 2020, per Bespoke Investment Group, the number of underlying companies with negative profits appears to be quite large relative to history and could pose a problem if investors just buy the index versus those stocks which have positive earnings.
Hopefulness around a COVID-19 vaccine, expectations of additional stimulus, and better-than-expected quarterly corporate earnings in the U.S. bolstered investor sentiment and risk assets in July. Positive vaccine announcements were dominant in investors’ psyche despite a record spike in infection rates in many parts of the country and poor macroeconomic data.
The S&P 500 Index was up for the fourth straight month, increasing 5.5% in July. By month’s end, the index was into positive territory with a 1.2% year-to-date return. At the same time, gold increased 9.5% during the month, pushing year-to-date returns to 29.2%.
Gold became an investment across most of our portfolios about a year ago based upon what, at the time, was a high level of uncertainty within the U.S. and global economies. However, last year’s China/U.S. trade war was a walk in the park versus today’s unknowns. Gold has typically been a good hedge against uncertainty and accordingly it has performed well during 2020.
Warren Buffett, a longtime critic of gold as an investment, has said that the “magical metal” is no match for “American mettle.” Recently, he might have changed his tune by buying 21 million shares of Barrick Gold, a gold miner, while also selling shares of financial firms such as Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase.
The bond market seems to be concerned over the economy as global rates moved lower. In the U.S., yields on 10-year Treasury bond fell 0.11% to 0.528% on July 31. Excluding just one single day this past spring, March 9, this is an all-time record low. When factoring in inflation, U.S. real interest rates moved further into negative territory. With the help of central bank intervention and tighter credit spreads, companies issued debt hand over fist to avoid potential lower availability in the future.
The DXY Index, which represents a trade-weighted index for the U.S. dollar and an implicit view of the U.S. in the foreign exchange markets, fell over 4%, its worst monthly performance since 2010. The combination of dollar weakness and risk-on investor sentiment helped non-U.S. equities. In July, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index gained 8.9%, while developed market stocks, excluding the U.S., as measured by the MSCI EAFE Index, rose 2.3%.
While gold’s recent rally partially reflects weakness in the U.S. dollar and the asset’s negative correlation to real rates, U.S. money growth (the so-called M2) has never been faster than it is today. It is two-thirds faster than during the inflationary 1970s and more than two times the growth since 2008. While inflation expectations remain muted, the greater than $4 trillion of fiscal stimulus estimated to be injected in the U.S. economy would suggest that a pick-up in inflation seems quite possible, if not probable.
Going forward, it is our view that the only certainty is that uncertainty will continue. We need to muster our own METTLE to meet these challenges: stretched market valuations, any COVID intensification, grueling elections, China/ U.S. strains and U.S. social tensions. While the recent performance of risk assets has been encouraging, we continue maintain our discipline and dedicated appropriate allocations to gold, Treasuries and cash. We are also attempting to be opportunistic, adding to international and emerging markets equities that may benefit from a continuing weakening of the U.S. dollar.
 Yahoo Finance as of July 31, 2020
 Yahoo Finance as of July 31, 2020
 Yahoo Finance as of July 31, 2020
 NEPC Monthly report