The Absolute Return Letter
Are markets efficient? This is a debate that has been on-going for decades. In one corner you have the proponents of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. In the other corner you have the supporters of behavioural finance. Out of this long lasting stand-off a new paradigm is emerging called the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis which aims to reconcile the two.
Investors appear preoccupied with central bank policy. We argue that investors are quite right in keeping their eye on the ball but, to us, it looks as if they are focusing on the wrong ball. The real worries for the long term are demographics and negative real interest rates and the effect these factors may have on equity returns.
Frustrated with the lack of direction from political leaders central bankers from around the world are likely to demand change, but politicians will have to be pushed into a corner before they will respond to any such pressure.
With real interest rates being negative in many countries we expect low returns going forward. Many investors have responded to that by going passive. We believe it is the wrong approach.
June – The Wisdom of Crowds Are markets efficient? This is a debate that has been on-going for decades. In one corner you have the proponents of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. In the other corner you have the supporters of behavioural finance. Out of this long lasting stand-off a new paradigm is emerging called the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis which aims to reconcile the two.
May – In the long run we are all in trouble Investors appear preoccupied with central bank policy. We argue that investors are quite right in keeping their eye on the ball but, to us, it looks as if they are focusing on the wrong ball. The real worries for the long term are demographics and negative real interest rates and the effect these factors may have on equity returns.
April – The Need for Wholesale Change The seeds of the next crisis have probably already been sown as a consequence of the lax monetary policy currently being pursued. Frustrated with the lack of direction from political leaders, most recently witnessed in the handling of the crisis in Cyprus which was a complete farce, central bankers from around the world are likely to demand change, but politicians will have to be pushed into a corner before they will respond to any such pressure. Hence nothing decisive will happen before the next major crisis erupts.
March – Expect the Unexpected With real interest rates being negative in many countries we expect low returns on both equities and bonds going forward. Many investors have responded to that by allocating more and more of their assets to passive strategies such as ETFs. We believe it is the wrong approach for this type of environment.
February – Currency War or Something Altogether Different? We cannot recall ever having encountered as much bearish sentiment when it comes to the outlook for bond prices as we see at the moment. In this month's Absolute Return Letter we question whether the pessimism is justified or if there is something else at play.
September – If Carlsberg Did Mortgages We focus on one particular idea which will greatly benefit economic growth at no cost to the tax payer – reform the mortgage finance system across the world, using the model developed by the Danes over the past 200 years.
May – The Case for Human Ingenuity We take a closer look at oil and reach what many of our readers will probabaly find a surprising conclusion: We believe that we are approaching the end of the oil era and that oil prices will undergo a substantial correction over the next several years.
March – From Dublin to Tripoli We take a closer look at two remarkable events unfolded during the month of February (i.e. the uprising in the Middle East and North Africa and the Irish elections) and what the implications may be for financial markets.
November – Four Rather Sick Patients US monetary policy is likely to push emerging market currencies to new highs, but the euro and the pound should also strengthen further against the dollar, at least in the longer run. Only the yen appears to be in a bigger pickle than the US dollar.
Not The Absolute Return Letter – A New Equity Fund with a Different Approach Our policy is not to market our products and services in that letter. However, today we take the unusual step of writing to all our subscribers to inform them of our new equity offering which we believe is truly unique.
October – Insolvency Too On 1st January 2013, a new directive regulating insurance companies which conduct business within the EU will come into effect. It is called Solvency II and unless you work in the insurance or the pension industry the chances are that you will never have heard of it before.
September – Beggar thy Neighbour We differentiate between the predicament of the US versus Europe and conclude that investors have become too bearish on US growth prospects and too optimistic on European.
June – The European Disease The eurozone is facing its biggest crisis so far. Many countries are flirting dangerously with a toxic combination of high debts and low growth and are at risk of falling into the dreaded ‘debt trap’.
April - When the Facts Change We look at the implications of being in a structural bear market and we make five specific recommendations: (1) Beware of echo bubbles; (2) Do not benchmark; (3) Include uncorrelated asset classes in your portfolio; (4) Do not use leverage; (5): Prepare for bond yields to surprise everyone by falling further.
February – If PIIGS Could Fly An increase of more than 50% in global equity prices can be very seductive, and nine months of virtually uninterrupted gains have led many to believe that the problems of 2008-09 are now largely behind us.
October – A Country for Old Men and a Bit of Samba This month’s Absolute Return Letter is about demographics and is the second in our series about major trends defining the future of the world we live in.
July – Make Sure You Get This One Right The most important investment decision you will have to make this year and possibly for years to come is whether to structure your portfolio for deflation or inflation.
June – Green Shoots or Smoking Weed? Our conviction remains high that the global economy will stage a recovery later this year but, unfortunately, we remain equally convinced that it will prove temporary and that we will face more gloom and doom soon afterwards.
April – The News Which Never Made the Front Pages Markets have been distracted recently as the focus has been on issues such as executive pay packages at AIG and the preparations for the G20 summit. This has created a unique situation where events, which would normally make the front pages, have not received the attention they deserve.
March – Europe On the Ropes Europe’s banks are far more leveraged than American banks which would be acceptable if the assets were of high quality; however, many of them have loaded their balance sheets with junk dressed up as AAA. In many Eastern European countries, the economy is now in freefall and the local banking system is at risk of collapsing.
December – Do Dead Cats Bounce? We argue that, despite a somewhat more benign environment over the past couple of weeks, markets are by no means ‘back to normal’ (whatever that means these days), and it is this ‘normalisation’ which needs to take place before we can finally declare victory over the bear market. We look at the conditions which must fall into place for a more sustainable equity rally to unfold.
November – When the Chickens Come Home to Roost We look at two issues which worry us - the banking sector's exposure to emerging market countries and the large redemptions facing the hedge fund industry.
September – Observations on a Crisis We look at property as an asset class which is still considerably overvalued, even after the correction of recent months. The key question is how much damage has been inflicted on the real economy.
July – Shadow Banking, Private Credit or…? Even the deepest of crises will throw up opportunities, and we believe that the current crisis, with all the problems facing the world's banking industry, has created just one such opportunity.
April – The Moral Balance Sheet We look at how years of abnormally high returns have "corrupted" investors and reveal why we believe the years ahead of us will offer very different, and certainly less extravagant, returns. At the very end we also bring a new investment idea to the table.
March – A Great Buying Opportunity? Once every few years events conspire to create opportunities which are out of the ordinary and which have the potential to generate extraordinarily attractive returns.
December – The Future Looks Bright(er) We look at why November was an ugly month for investors and find that the risk-reduction exercise currently being undertaken by banks across the world has played a big role.
November – It Ain’t Over till the Fat Lady Sings Why is it that global equity markets have performed so resiliently on back of the severe credit problems we have been faced with in recent months? Can equity markets continue to ignore the credit problems? Is the credit crisis behind us now or is it likely to get worse before it gets better? Are $96 oil prices justified?
September – Another Black Swan? So profound has the summer crisis been that it has left deep scars in the investment landscape and the repercussions will be felt for a long time to come. Topics covered include the implications for the private equity industry, pension funds, gold, property, hedge funds and much more.
April – The Emperor’s New Clothes A number of high profile investment banks entered the market with new 'innovative' products on the premise of being able to replicate hedge fund returns. We are highly sceptical of these products which we consider simply as marketing gimmicks. We examine the arguments and explain our rationale.
December – Trash the Cash – The Dollar Club November has seen unprecedented activity levels in the buyout market and in the first article we take a closer look at the reasons behind this. In our second article we look at what it really means when countries such as China tie their currency to the US dollar.
November – Priced for Perfection – Show Me the Hedge (Again) There are recessions and there are soft landings. And once in a blue moon, you may even come across a perfect landing. So perfect, in fact, that it justifies the exuberant behaviour arguably displayed by most asset classes today. This month we do our best to try to explain this. The only problem is, we don’t believe in Nirvana. In the second essay we follow up from a previous story as more evidence supports our long-held view that many hedge funds do not offer the qualities they claim to deliver.
October – The Chart Room – Absolute Returns Revisited In our first essay we take a quick look at the U.S. current account deficit which may be about to improve, if history offers any guidance. In our second essay we offer some thoughts on hedge fund investing.
September – A High Price to Pay The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank has stated unequivocally that the current state of affairs is not likely to be long-lasting. They expect the headline rate of inflation to come back down again over the course of the next year or so. The main thrust of this letter is a discussion of why the Fed could be terribly wrong in their analysis.
July – So Much Nonsense – Show Me the Hedge The performance of stocks and commodities is likely to de-couple sooner or later and the key to performance will once again be to correctly assess where we are in the economic cycle. This is the focus of our first essay. In our second essay, we take a closer look at a recent UBS study which confirmed our long-held view that certain types of hedge funds have been designed more for the benefit of the manager than investors.
June – The Bulls, the Bears and the Pigs – Size Matters We take a look at the recent rise in volatility and the factors behind this turn of events. In the second article we look at some of the reasons why younger hedge funds tend to do much better than their more established peers.
April – Bangladesh Here We Come – An Update on Global Liquidity For the first time since we launched the Absolute Return Multi-Strategy Fund, and indeed the first time since our model portfolio was established a little more than 3 years ago, we are downgrading the long-term outlook for global interest rates and reducing our exposure to long-dated bonds. In our second article this month we take another look at the global liquidity situation.
March – The (Not So Apparent) Risks of Asia – The Forecasting Powers of the Yield Curve In our first article this month, we discuss the worrying signs of inflation creeping in across parts of Asia. In the second article we take a closer look at the shape of the yield curve and we reach two conclusions.
February – Challenging the Consensus – In Search of Hedge Fund Returns We discuss the importance of not following the herd, and we look at some of the biggest consensus trades of 2006. In the second article we take a closer look at the lacklustre returns hedge funds have offered in recent years, and we offer some suggestions as to how this problem may be overcome.
December – Investment Outlook 2006 – Time to Buy Yen Assets? Over the next few pages we shall provide you with a brief summary of how we view the investment outlook for next year. In our second article this month, we take a closer look at the Yen which has been struggling in recent months.
October – The Liquidity Driven Dollar – A Bubble in Private Equity? – Freakonomics The global liquidity indicators that we follow continue to deteriorate. This suggests a continuation of the recent uptrend for the U.S. dollar. In our second essay this month we take a closer look at the private equity sector. Lastly, we review one of the best books we have read for a long, long time. “Freakonomics” takes a closer look at things in life that most human beings accept at face value.
September – Peak Oil – Deteriorating Global Liquidity Peak Oil has played only a modest role in taking oil prices from $30 to $70 per barrel. This suggests that the bull market in oil prices is far from over, although an economic slowdown could temporarily provide some relief. In the second article we take a closer look at one of our favourite leading indicators, namely the global liquidity indicator.
July – Does Europe Have a Future? – Be Careful What You Wish For Since the EU referenda in France and the Netherlands about five weeks ago, the future of Europe has been panned by most observers. Some have even questioned whether the euro will survive. In our second article this month, we look at the twin deficits of the U.S. and why the issues are less straightforward than often portrayed.
June – Inflation and the Battle of Interest Rates – An Afterthought on Commodities We dedicate most of the space to one of the greatest challenges of recent times - figuring out whether the bond market is in for a rude awakening or if yields can continue to fall. Towards the end, we make a few comments related to our article from last month, discussing the short- and long-term outlook for commodity prices.
May – The Chart Room – Absolute Return Investing We will be sharing with you three charts that all tell an interesting story. In the second part of this letter, we discuss the concept of absolute return investing and some related subjects and make our case why you should run your portfolio according to this investment philosophy for the foreseeable future.
April – The Lessons from Phoenix – Is Germany Kaputt? In our first article this month, we discuss some of the more important issues that investors should consider when selecting managers for their assets. In our second article this month we put the spotlight on Germany. The German economy continues to underperform most other nations, and we argue that there is no easy solution available to German policymakers.
March – The Great Rebalancing Act – What Exactly Is It that You Guys Do (Part Two) The world is out of balance. Economic growth is far from evenly distributed as demonstrated by the large U.S. current account deficit, which has created repeated calls for a lower dollar. In our second article, we revisit the area of portfolio theory and we focus specifically on the concept of correlation and how you may use it to your benefit.
February – The Property Market Revisited We will revisit the outlook for house prices around the world, exactly one year after we did an essay on the U.K. property market (you can find our February 2004 newsletter on www.arpinvestments.com).
December – 2005 Investment Outlook – What Exactly Is It that You Guys Do? Over the next few pages, we shall, as we usually do around this time of year, provide you with a brief summary of how we view next year’s outlook for various asset classes. In our second feature article, we try to respond to a frequently asked question: “What is it exactly that you guys do?” We hope you will find it insightful.
November – Has Oil Gone Off the Boil? – Hedge Funds – Should You or Shouldn’t You? Recently, we have come across some very interesting research on oil prices which we would like to share with you. If "our" thesis is right, oil prices could actually drop a little bit further in the short term, which should provide a welcome boost to equity prices. In our second feature article, we take a closer look at the hedge fund sector.
October – It’s Not the Economy, Stupid! – Dispelling the Hedge Fund Myths – The War on Terror We focus on the U.S. elections which are scheduled for the 2nd November. We usually don’t comment on politics, but given the profound effect this particular election is likely to have on all of us, we decided to dedicate this month’s letter to the subject of politics. In our second article, we bring the results of an interesting new survey on hedge funds. We finish with an essay on terrorism, from a game theoretical point of view. We argue why the War on Terror is a very different war to the ones we have fought in the past and we discuss how best to prepare for it.
September – What Is the Bond Market Telling Us? – Risk-Adjusted Returns In the first article, we take a closer look at the mixed signals we are getting from the bond market at the moment. The second article is dedicated to a theme that we often get questions one, namely the meaning of the term risk-adjusted returns. We touch on a lot of related terms, such as standard deviation, Sharpe ratio, etc.
July – How Far to Go? – Twin Peaks Revisited We take a closer look at how high interest rates are likely to go. We also take a closer look at the similarities – and dissimilarities – between the stock markets of the U.S. and Japan.
May – Not Quite as it Seems – The Burden on Our Children What a difference a month makes. On 1st April, with 10-year U.S. Treasuries yielding 3.88%, compared with € and £ bonds of similar maturities trading at 3.97% and 4.77% respectively, the investment community was not the least bit concerned about inflation. Then, in the U.S., the CPI numbers for March were released, showing that consumer prices had gained considerable momentum with an overall increase of 0.5%. Shortly thereafter, Greenspan presented the Fed’s view of the economic outlook to the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress. When he uttered the now famous words: “…the worrisome trend of disinflation […] has come to an end”, the bond market threw up. In our second article we continue to explore the topic of demographical changes, we will take a look at the magnitude of these changes in the United States, Japan, and Western Europe.
April – The Case for Higher Oil Prices, Part Two – The Bull versus the Bear Last month, we wrote extensively on the long-term outlook for oil prices. We suggested that, over the next several years, oil prices are likely to rise significantly from current levels. In fact, we predicted that oil prices could reach $100 per barrel within 10 years. In our first article, we will look at the implications of such a rise in oil prices.
February – Not the Bubbles We Would Normally Prefer – UK Property Prices – A Bubble About to Burst? – A Note on Structured Products There is preciously little we can say about 2004 that we feel absolutely convinced about. The only thing we know with almost complete certainty is that 2004 will, just like any other year, deliver a few unpleasant surprises.
December – Get Long and Get Loud It is a wonderful expression. It represents the oldest trick in the book. First you load yourself with the very best investment idea that you can find. Then you tell everyone (who cares to listen) that this is indeed the best idea you have ever come across. It happens over and over again and since we are all human beings, we often fall for it. Take China. We are struggling to find any bears on China (other than ABN-Amro Bank, Marc Faber and perhaps one or two others if we really push ourselves). Why are we so concerned about China? Isn’t it the land of opportunity? Isn’t it the country that keeps the world from slumping back into recession? Perhaps, but there are signs on the horizon that the good days are coming to at least a temporary end.
November – The Ageing Disease Two important concepts played a key role in the bull market of the 1990s. Both represent fundamental flaws in logic. Both are demonstrably untrue. First, many investors believed that ear-nings could grow faster than the macro-economy. In fact, earnings must grow slower than GDP because the growth of existing enterprises contributes only part of GDP growth; the role of entrepreneurial capitalism, the creation of new enter-prises, is a key driver of GDP growth, and it does not contribute to the growth in earnings and dividends of existing enterprises. During the 20th century, growth in stock prices and dividends was 2 percent less than underlying macroeconomic growth. Second, many investors believed that stock buybacks would permit earnings to grow faster than GDP. The important metric is not the volume of buybacks, however, but net buybacks less new share issuance, whether in existing enterprises or through IPOs. We demonstrate, using two methodologies, that during the 20th century, new share issuance in many nations almost always exceeded stock buybacks by an average of 2 percent or more a year.
October – The Dollar – Debacle or Opportunity? Two highly distinguished financial newspapers. Same weekend. Same subject. Two very different conclusions. No wonder some investors find it difficult to decide what to do next.