Last updated: 08:25 / Wednesday, 28 August 2019
Part I

Funds Society's Investments & Golf Summit: Some Proposals for Investing in the Late Stage of the Cycle

Funds Society's Investments & Golf Summit: Some Proposals for Investing in the Late Stage of the Cycle

Three equity strategies, two fixed income, two multi-asset, structured products, and real estate investments, completed the proposals of the nine asset managers participating in the sixth edition of the Investments & Golf Summit organized by Funds Society, which was held in the Streamsong Resort and Golf, in Florida, and was attended by over 50 US Offshore market fund selection professionals.

At the Investment Day, delegates had the opportunity to find out the visions of Janus Henderson, RWC Partners, AXA IM, Thornburg IM, Participant Capital, Amundi, M & G, Allianz Global Investors and TwentyFour AM (Vontobel AM), and their proposals and investment ideas to obtain returns in an environment marked by the threat of being close to the end of the cycle, although with uncertainties about when this time will come. In this article we inform you about five of those visions.

Precisely with the idea of increasing caution at a time when it is difficult to predict the end of the cycle, Janus Henderson presented its global equity strategy with a neutral market perspective, developed in the Janus Henderson Global Equity Market Neutral fund. Richard Brown, the entity’s Equity Team Manager, argued for the need to reduce risks while positioning oneself for enabling returns, in a late stage of an upward cycle of which its exact end cannot be predicted. “Neutral market structures can now be very useful in investors' portfolios, at a time when, while we still don’t see a recession, there are some warning signs,” he said, presenting a strategy with a relatively short track record (from February 2017) but with good behavior and differentiation from its competition.

With regard to those warning signals that he observes, he indicated that we are only one month away from the greatest expansion in history and, once these levels have been reached, caution must be intensified, as well as the inversion of the curve, which helped to predict recessions in the past and now also provide a warning. China's economic situation (with lower growth, higher debt and a reversal in its demography), or central banks’ policies, which have stopped normalization, and the thought of their lack of resources for fighting against the next potential crisis are some of the other red lights. But, despite all of the above, the investor cannot afford to be out of the market, when 2019 has been the S & P 500’s best start to the year of the post-crisis financial era, and bonds offer very low returns. So, according to the asset manager, part of the solution can be a neutral market strategy in equities, with low volatility - around 4% - and low correlation with the stock markets, the potential to create absolute returns and protection against falls in the turbulences and in which stock-picking strategies favor good fundamentals.

On their differentiation from the competition, Brown pointed out that the fund invests in 60-80 pair trades (ideas obtained through the proposals -both long and short- of different asset managers), with a strong diversification by geography (now the majority of the exposure is in North America and Europe, but without directional bets, that is, only because that’s where there are more winners and losers), themes, styles and sizes that helps to reduce the correlation with the market. “We can bet a stock against a sector or against an index, but most are stock versus stock,” he explains.

Risk management is embedded in the portfolio’s construction (so that each pair trade contributes to the risk equally) and has a gross exposure of around 250%, and 5% in net terms. Among the examples of their bets, the long on Balfour Beatty versus the short on Carillion (both UK construction firms); Palo Alto Networks versus FireEye (US cybersecurity companies) or Sabra Health Care against the short bet on Quality Care Properties (REITS).
Long-short in US stock market

RWC Partners, also with a long-short bet in equities, but this time in the US, and with a market exposure that has historically been around 20% (although it has more flexibility), presented the RWC US Absolute Alpha fund at the event, a fund which aims to offer investors a pure source of alpha, with a concentrated high conviction portfolio, “with real names, without ETFs or other structures, in the form of a traditional hedge fund and managed with a high conviction.” It’s a liquid and transparent structure of long-short US equities managed by a team exclusively focused on absolute return and that seeks to provide strong risk adjusted returns with significantly lower volatility than the S & P 500, and in which the selection of stocks by fundamentals determines the returns on both sides of the portfolio. Managers try to identify patterns of information that can be indicative of changes in the dynamics of a company or industry and actively manage the net and gross market exposure in order to protect capital and benefit from directional opportunities whenever possible.

Mike Corcell, the strategy’s manager for about 15 years, focuses on criteria such as valuations, returns and margins (ROIC above the cost of capital and strong cash generation in the long part and the opposite in the short), or on transparency (it invests in industries with regular data on its fundamentals and avoids leveraged financial companies with opaque balance sheets and health companies due to the regulatory issue) and favors industries with improvements in their pricing capacity or where supply and demand are below or above the historical patterns. “We try to obtain returns in the higher part of a digit, and we invest in traditional sectors such as consumption, industrial, technology and in large secular industries such as airlines. We have analyzed these areas for 15 years and obtained good returns; It may be boring, but we will not invest in something we don’t understand,” he explains.

Regarding the current market situation, he admits that, although he doesn’t see any signs of recession in the US, we are at a late stage in the economic cycle, so he expects the growth of profits and returns in shares to be more moderate, although he doesn’t see signs of inflation at a time when the Fed has stopped monetary normalization. “Despite the goldilocks scenario with monetary and fiscal stimuli, we are in a late phase of the cycle, after a very long economic and market expansion, and in general, we expect a somewhat harsher scenario, with higher valuations.” He explains that although opportunities can still be found, it’s harder to find ideas in some parts of the portfolio following the Fed’s halt, although he believes that, sooner or later, it will have to adjust its balance and raise rates, a situation that will allow alpha to be generated more easily and will enhance the differentiation between companies, something that has not happened in the last 10 years.

Thematic equity and digital disruption

Also committed to equity, but with a more thematic vision dissociated from the economic cycle and focused on the economy of the future and digital disruption, the AXA IM experts participated in the Funds Society event. Matthew Lovatt, Global Head of AXA IM’s Framlington Equities, presented the investment themes which they focus on to position themselves in a changing economy, and an investment model that adapts to the new times. “When we invest, our challenge is to analyze changes in the world, in people and in the way we use technology, something that happens very fast, which is why businesses must adapt as well, and that's what we analyze, how companies react to change. And our investment models must also change,” he explains. Therefore, they do not worry about whether there is economic growth or how GDP evolves: “We aren’t worried about GDP, but about secular, long-term issues that happen independently of the cycle and which will even accelerate considerably in a potential recession,” like online consumption. “People live longer, have more demands, and have increased their wealth, changing their consumption patterns. Therefore, many things are changing, and that’s why the way we see the world has also changed;” hence the idea of creating products to capture this new growth.

On concrete issues, he pointed out the transition of societies (social mobility, basic needs and urbanization), aging and life changes (welfare, prevention, health technology...), connected consumption (e-commerce and fintech, software and the cloud, artificial intelligence...), automation (robotics, Internet of things, energy efficiency), and clean technologies (sustainable resources, clean energies...). “There are big issues that will have great effects on wealth, such as the changes of wealth in the world, in societies in transition like the Asian ones, where a great shift is taking place. We also live longer and have more time to consume and companies will have to think about how to reach these consumers. On the other hand, the impact of technology on consumption is dramatic, and also key to the implementation of this technology in industries, in automation... Clean technology is perhaps the most powerful change: how we capture energy, store it, and use it in, for example, electric vehicles, is key, because it changes the way we consume energy,” he adds.

On the other hand, they remain oblivious to investment themes of the “old economy”, which suffers from margin pressures, such as traditional manufacturing, the retail business, or the scarcity of resources, and which evolve worse in the markets than new economy themes. In fact, for this asset manager, even the traditional sectorial exposure is no longer relevant, and they analyze each sector under the criteria of one of their five investment themes, or of the old economy. “The biggest disruptive change will be in the financial sector’s old economy,” he says, for example in the insurers of large financial groups whose business will change. On the other hand, within the sector, he’s interested in business related to wealth management. The disruption will also be strong in the “old part” of the energy sector, he argues.

In this context, the management company has modified its investment process, adding a thematic filter and ranking companies for their exposure to the themes they are betting on; also with changes in its analysis structure (focusing on these themes and selecting the best ideas) and the construction of the portfolios, which normally include 40-60 names with a large exposure to the themes. The management company has several strategies focused on each of these themes (transition of societies, longevity, digital economy, fintech, robotech and clean economy), although its core strategy, which invests in these five trends, overweight on those that are consumption and aging connected, is AXA WF Framlington Evolving Trends. In the presentation, the asset manager also pointed out their digital economy strategy, based on the fact that 9% of retail sales are now produced online but that is just the beginning of a great trend that in fact offers much higher figures in countries such as China, United Kingdom, USA or India. Positions which stand out in that strategy are Zendesk or the Argentinian Globant.

Real estate: Projects in Miami

During the conference, there was also room for more alternative proposals, such as real estate, presented by Participant Capital, a subsidiary of RPC Holdings, with a 40 year track record and 2.5 billion dollars in real estate projects under management, which offers Individual investors and entities access to real estate projects under development directly from the developer at cost price. Claudio Izquierdo, Participant Capital’s Global Distribution Managing Director, presented future projects such as the Miami Worldcenter, in Downtown Miami, which includes hotel rooms, retail and residences, and is financed with equity, deposits and credits; Dania Beach, which includes studios for rent; or the Mimomar Lakes golf and beach club, with villas and condominiums. And he also talked about other recent ones like Paramount Miami Worldcenter, Paramount Fort Lauderdale, Paramount Bay or Estero Oaks. The expert projects a very positive outlook on the opportunities offered by a city like Miami, with over 100 million visitors and 12.5 million hotel rooms sold per year, second only to New York and Honolulu, that is, the third most successful US city.

For its development, the firm has institutional partners, institutional and traditional lenders, and offers investors (through different formats such as international funds in Cayman, ETPs listed in Vienna or US structures) annualized returns of between 14% and 16%, the result of a 7% dividend or coupon during construction and an additional part after the subsequent sale or rent.

Structured products or how to boost alpha

One of the day’s most innovative proposals came from Allianz Global Investors, an active management company working with different asset classes, which is growing strongly, especially in the alternative field, and which has just opened an office in Miami. Greg Tournant, CIO US Structured Products and Portfolio Manager at Allianz GI presented his strategy Allianz GI Structured Return, an alpha generator which can work together with different beta strategies (fixed income, equities, absolute return...). The investment philosophy has three objectives: to outperform the market under normal conditions, hedge against declines, and navigate within the widest possible range of stock exchange scenarios. The portfolio, UCITS with daily liquidity, pursues an objective of annual outperformance of 500 basis points and uses listed options (never OTC) as instruments on equity and volatility indices (S & P 500, Russell 2000, Nasdaq 100, VXX and VIX) , with short and long positions, with an expected correlation with stocks and bonds of 0.3 or less. In fact, it has a risk profile similar to that of fixed income, but without exposure to credit or duration. “The goal is to make money regardless of market conditions. We do not try to find out the market’s direction or its volatility,” explains Tournant, who adds the importance of risk management: “We are, primarily, risk managers, followed by returns.”

The strategy, which has a commission structure of 0-30% (zero management, and 30% on profitability, based entirely on the success achieved), except in some UCITS classes, bases its investment process on statistical analysis (with a historical analysis of the price movements of equity indices in a certain environment of volatility), but it’s not a 100% quantitative process: it is in two thirds, while for the rest the manager makes discretionary adjustments. Further on, three types of positions are constructed: range bound spreads, with short volatile positions designed to generate returns under normal market conditions; directional spreads, with long and short volatile positions to generate returns when equity indices rise or fall more than normal over a period of several weeks; and hedging positions, with long proposals in volatility, to protect the portfolio in the event of a market crash.

As explained by the portfolio manager, the best scenario for this portfolio is one of high volatility, although the idea is that it works in environments of all kinds and has low correlation with other assets in periods lasting several months, although short-term market distortions can cause correlations with equities. The greatest risk is related to market movements and volatility and is a scenario of low volatility and very rapid market movements. “The relationship between the market path and volatility is important for this strategy,” says Tournant.