Institutional investors face a slew of challenging market signals arising from recent inflation spikes, the potential of reduced fiscal and monetary support, continuing low interest rates and high equity valuations. In addition, the recent shift to a positive correlation between bond and equity performance has challenged the negative-correlation regime of the past decade.
“It’s important for investors to assess what returns they should expect from bond and equity portfolios going forward. And whatever is next may not offer the same diversification that has worked for them in the past,” said Adam Rej, head of macro research at Capital Fund Management (CFM). “This is a good time to diversify your portfolio away from buy-and-hold strategies, and systematic global macro strategies can be a great source of diversification.”
Systematic global macro (SGM) “strategies could offer excellent low correlations with bond and equity markets. They can potentially offer solid long-term returns, and they also offer exposure to other asset classes, such as commodities and foreign exchange,” said Rej, noting that CFM is a fully quantitative and systematic fund manager.
“At CFM, our strategies are informed by a slew of leading-edge data sets, many of which require substantial computing power in order to become useful. This allows us to glean insights that the more traditional active managers might struggle to identify.”
Deciphering inflation signals
With the recent breakthrough of the Consumer Price Index above the low levels of the past decade, investors are trying to read the inflation tea leaves, as well as the Federal Reserve’s intentions around the tapering of its asset purchase program to support the economy.
“There are several factors pointing to higher-price appreciation — there are monetary and fiscal policies, supply chain disruptions and appreciation in the housing market,” Rej said. “There’s also the base effect due to the drop in prices in the early months of the pandemic. All of those factors cause current inflation readings to be strong by recent standards.”
But “for inflation to be back, long-term inflation expectations would have to shoot up. A commodity super-cycle, for example, could be a trigger. We do not see a sign of a substantial shift in long-term inflation expectations just yet,” he said. However, “there are definitely risks to the upside,” he added.
Reversal in correlations
While bond and equity valuations are relatively rich by historical standards and have, thus far, provided strong returns for core portfolios, Rej said he is not as sanguine about their future performance. “We still don’t know how the Fed will respond to inflationary risk over the mid-term,” he said. “The withdrawal of fiscal and monetary support could challenge, or be the litmus test of, those valuations.”
In addition, investors have relied on the negative correlation between bond and equity performance of recent years as a hedge against each other. However, the duration and magnitude of the positive correlation between stocks and bonds in 2021 could suggest a potential return to the pre-2000 positive bond-equity correlation regime, he warned. “If that’s the case, it is bad news for portfolios concentrated in bonds and equities. The benefit of investing in those two traditional asset classes rests in their negative correlation,” he said. “The lower it is, the better.”