First Quarter Investment Pulse

Contributed by: Angela Palacios, CFP® Angela Palacios

During the first quarter of the year, managers and strategists are eager to travel and get the word out on what they think is to come in the New Year. This quarter was no exception. Here is a summary of some of the standout guest speakers we were able to host at the Center!

Priscilla Hancock, Global Fixed Income Strategist of JP Morgan

Priscilla Hancock stopped by to visit our office to discuss the current state of the municipal bond market. Priscilla’s insight into this market is both logical and insightful. She discussed that, for the most part, municipal bonds are less expensive now. Investors often worry about the performance of their municipal bonds in an environment of falling tax rates—which it seems we are on the verge of. Investors have sold off the space recently for that reason. But she has found there is very little to no correlation between municipal bond performance and tax rates over the long term. The municipal bond market is driven primarily by the retail investor, so you or I. We can benefit from the tax-advantaged status that the interest from municipal bonds produces. As rates fall, municipal bonds tend not to experience as much price appreciation because retail investors focus more on the yield a bond provides rather than the total return aspect they can provide. So as rates fall, the retail investor tends to sell. As rates rise, they experience the opposite effect. Rates then start to look attractive again, so investors may resume buying and help prevent prices declining, as much as treasuries, while rates rise.

Wendell Birkhofer, Senior Vice President, Investment Policy Committee Member of Dodge & Cox

Wendell Birkhofer brought Dodge & Cox’s unique value-based outlook to discuss equity markets both here in the U.S. and abroad. They are seeing value in financials here in the U.S. and also in Europe. Regulation changes and interest rate increases are a couple of the market forces that tend to be favorable to bank stocks—and are occurring right now. There is pent-up cash on hand at banks that could potentially get paid to shareholders in the future—if regulations loosen under the new Trump administration. In the U.S. markets, they see middling valuations (although some pockets are expensive). This tends to be a favorable environment for active management over passive management from their perspective. They also continue to find good value in emerging markets, while countries like Japan still struggle with corporate governance headwinds.

Ted Chen, Portfolio Manager and Aditya Bindal, Ph.D, Chief Risk Officer with Water Island Capital

Short volatility and the illusion of diversification were the topics we discussed with Mr. Chen and Mr. Bindal. They shared their groundbreaking research on the topics to a packed conference room of Center staff. They discussed how since the 2008 market crisis, the volatility of volatility has been off the charts (this is how much the VIX, a measurement of volatility in the equity markets, has, itself, been volatile). The markets have seen volatility spikes to the tune of two standard deviation events fourteen times over the past nine years! Alternative investment strategies are supposed to be uncorrelated to equity markets; however, they showed us that during these volatility spikes, most investment strategies lost value. This is what they call “short volatility.” They went on to share that true alternative strategies should possess characteristics, such as: low beta, market neutrality, and a lack of correlation regardless of low or high volatility time periods. These concepts are something we explore in our own portfolio construction process, and they have given us some excellent food for thought to chew on in the coming months and years!

Angela Palacios, CFP® is the Director of Investments at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Angela specializes in Investment and Macro economic research. She is a frequent contributor The Center blog.

The information contained in this blog does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Angela Palacios and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Municipal securities typically provide a lower yield than comparably rated taxable investments in consideration of their tax-advantaged status. Investments in municipal securities may not be appropriate for all investors, particularly those who do not stand to benefit from the tax status of the investment. Please consult an income tax professional to assess the impact of holding such securities on your tax liability. International investing involves special risks, including currency fluctuations, differing financial accounting standards, and possible political and economic volatility. Investing in emerging markets can be riskier than investing in well-established foreign markets. Investing involves risk and investors may incur a profit or a loss. Alternative Investments involve substantial risks that may be greater than those associated with traditional investments and may be offered only to clients who meet specific suitability requirements, including minimum net worth tests. These risks include but are not limited to: limited or no liquidity, tax considerations, incentive fee structures, speculative investment strategies, and different regulatory and reporting requirements. There is no assurance that any investment will meet its investment objectives or that substantial losses will be avoided. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. Raymond James is not affiliated with Priscilla Hancock, JP Morgan, Wendell Birkhofer, Dodge & Cox, Ted Chen, Aditya Bindal and/or Water Island Capital.