Why defence makes sense

Jason Borbora-Sheen and John Stopford of Investec Asset Management, look at why, even outside of periods of increased recession risk, defence strategies that emphasise drawdown management makes good sense for investors.

At a glance

  • The worst drawdowns typically happen in recessions. Investors have experienced even worse drawdowns in this bull market than previous ones
  • This is particularly harmful to investors with nearer-term horizons, who are relying on assets they have built up previously, such as retirees who need attractive, sustainable income in their later years – especially now they are living longer
  • Why is this happening now? We believe a changing market structure caused by slower economic growth, central bank intervention and more passive investors in the market could be the culprit

Recession obsession

Many commentators are talking about an increasing risk of recession. Our own recession probability models agree, with Figure 1 showing more than a 50% chance of a recession happening in the next two years. As recessions are typically associated with much worse market returns, this increasing risk has led investors to look for defensive strategies that emphasise drawdown management.

We believe that even outside of periods of increased recession risk, defence makes good sense for investors – particularly for those whose investment horizon is limited.

US recessions and Investec two year ahead recession probability model

Forecasts are inherently limited and not a reliable indicator of future results.
Source: Investec Asset Management, 31 August 2019.

Misbehaving drawdowns

We think the nature of markets has evolved since the global financial crisis. Our analysis of markets since 1987 (the year of the Black Monday crash) shows that before 2009, outside of the ‘bear markets’ often associated with recessions – when stock markets drop 20% or more from recent highs – investors tended to see drawdowns that were ‘well-behaved’: an equal weighted bond-equity portfolio suffered very few drawdowns of more than 5%, and never as much as 10%. By contrast, in the current cycle we have so far seen six episodes of more than 5% drawdown including one of more than 10% – an unprecedented frequency and magnitude of drawdown for a bull market over the last 30 years. This can be seen in Figure 2.

Drawdown of an equal weighted bond/equity portfolio

Source: Bloomberg and Investec Asset Management, 31 July 2019.
Drawdown of equal weighted portfolio refers to MSCI ACWI & WGBI.

Is a changing market structure to blame?

We think there may be multiple drivers of this increased fragility across asset classes:

  • The rate of economic growth has been slower over this cycle than in past cycles, meaning the global economy has teetered closer to the edge of recession (and therefore to the risk of severe drawdowns) than it did before
  • To deal with this, central bank market intervention has become more significant and creative than it was previously, potentially leading to a ‘feast or famine’ environment for liquidity
  • The ability of private sector banks to absorb risk has been curtailed by regulation and shareholder demand for their business models to become more dependable
  • Passive ETFs/tracker indices make up a greater proportion of the investor base, potentially leading to more herding into and out of positions, thereby exacerbating market moves

The impact of these changes is evident in the number of ‘flash crashes’ – instances when asset values changed significantly over a short period of time – seen in this bull market. These flash crashes aren’t just confined to equity markets (as can be seen in the timeline) and are likely a consequence of liquidity becoming more susceptible to drying up than before.

Source: Redburn and Investec Asset
Management, 31 August 2019.

Why defence makes sense

The Investec Diversified Income Fund focuses on defensive returns, which we define as having a lower downside capture than upside. We believe this focus makes sense irrespective of the market backdrop to investments.

This chart shows the peak-to-trough performance of the Fund and its peers in the most severe recent drawdown episodes. The blue line shows the least dramatic falls during these challenging periods, meaning our approach shielded against capital losses more so than any of our comparative peers. By then ‘un-hedging’ risk when appropriate, we were able to recover losses more quickly and so avoided the worst of the negative impact.

Peak-to-trough performance during drawdown episodes

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results, losses may be made. Performance is net of fees (NAV based, including ongoing charges), gross income reinvested (net of UK basic rate tax pre 5 April 2016) in GBP.
Calendar year % returns for the Fund, Index and Sector, respectively 2018: 0.41, -9.47, -2.97. 2017: 4.82, 13.10, 3.89. 2016: 5.92, 16.75, 2.18. 2015: 1.97, 0.98, 2.30. 2014: 5.32, 1.18, 3.15. 2013: 6.19, 20.81, 7.93. Source: Morningstar, 31 August 2019. ‡See back page for more detail.

Conclusion

For investors, the benefit of investing in a defensive fund during a recessionary period should be clear, as the aim to reduce drawdowns in significantly falling markets makes it easier to regain capital in the future. However, with market structure changes leading to the increased frequency and magnitude of bull market drawdowns and flash crashes, a defensive strategy has an important role in an investor’s portfolio throughout the cycle, particularly for those investors with nearer-term liabilities and needs.

We believe this is why defence always makes sense.

For further information, please visit investecassetmanagement.com/DIF


Issued by Investec Asset Management

General risks: The value of investments, and any income generated from them, can fall as well as rise. Where charges are taken from capital, this may constrain future growth. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. If any currency differs from the investor’s home currency, returns may increase or decrease as a result of currency fluctuations. Investment objectives and performance targets are subject to change and may not necessarily be achieved, losses may be made.

Specific risks: Currency exchange: Changes in the relative values of different currencies may adversely affect the value of investments and any related income. Default: There is a risk that the issuers of fixed income investments (e.g. bonds) may not be able to meet interest payments nor repay the money they have borrowed. The worse the credit quality of the issuer, the greater the risk of default and therefore investment loss. Derivatives: The use of derivatives may increase overall risk by magnifying the effect of both gains and losses leading to large changes in value and potentially large financial loss. A counterparty to a derivative transaction may fail to meet its obligations which may also lead to a financial loss. Emerging market (inc. China): These markets carry a higher risk of financial loss than more developed markets as they may have less developed legal, political, economic or other systems. Equity investment: The value of equities (e.g. shares) and equity-related investments may vary according to company profits and future prospects as well as more general market factors. In the event of a company default (e.g. insolvency), the owners of their equity rank last in terms of any financial payment from that company. Interest rate: The value of fixed income investments (e.g. bonds) tends to decrease when interest rates rise. Government securities exposure: The Fund may invest more than 35% of its assets in securities issued or guaranteed by a permitted sovereign entity, as defined in the definitions section of the Fund’s prospectus.