Portfolio Management Perspective

Review of Benchmarks, Strategy, Risk, and Performance – Perspective from one of our Portfolio Manager’s – March 13, 2020

Whenever the topic of investing is discussed we are conditioned to think first of the New York Stock Exchange opening bell and Wall St. bankers in Brioni suits. And why shouldn’t we? Over the past 200 years, stocks have arguably been the most powerful generator of wealth.
That rosy conventional wisdom has the benefit of a perpetual time-horizon and an ambivalence towards risk. As we all know, stocks might be notorious for rising over time, but they also can produce nasty results if improperly managed. Very few of us are fortunate enough to be ambivalent towards risk or the trajectory of our investments – if we were, being 100% invested in the DOW or S&P 500 would be a fine strategy. That is where financial planning and asset management comes in.
As a conservative asset manager, we are tasked with two main objectives a) produce a rate of return that achieves an objective (generally retirement/self-sufficiency) and b) protect against downside and volatility.  Our definition of success in both goals is directly related to the specifics of your financial situation. 
Since the inception of our Total Return strategy in 2004, we’ve employed a mix of equities (stocks), commodities, fixed income, and cash to achieve the objectives stated above for clients. At any given point, we may be more dependent on one asset class or another to provide upside thrust or downside support for our clients’ portfolios. As you might expect, this asset mix is largely dependent on (among other things) the outlook for the economy, interest rates, and the inclination for risk in the markets.
In some environments, such as 2017, the stock market and high-quality individual equities genuinely are the best option for capital appreciation.  In other periods such as late 2018 and 2019, a choppy market and unclear fundamental prospects warranted a higher concentration in traditionally less economically sensitive asset classes like bonds, gold, and cash. No matter the environment, we are continually assessing our outlook and corresponding exposures.

In the client updates over the past week, we noted how our conservative positioning at the outset of this decline was yielding promising results. That remains the case, and when we evaluate client performance relative to equity benchmarks (DOW, S&P 500, NASDAQ), we are heartened by the fact that client accounts have a) declined substantially less than the benchmarks and b) exceeded the results previously experienced in similar periods of stress.
Since our inception, having a trained eye on risk management has allowed clients to generally experience asymmetric rates of upside and downside participation vs. equity benchmarks. In other words, we’ve consistently achieved more upside than downside through the course of market trends. 
Finally, we understand that the personal nature of the virus and the corresponding downside reaction in markets can be especially anxiety provoking.  And while this is everybody’s first time managing through a true pandemic, it is far from our first time managing through a panicked market.  We will get through this turbulent time and be prepared to deploy the capital we’ve preserved throughout the episode.

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This website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice or recommendations. For specific advice or recommendations you would need to meet directly with one of our advisers.