Investing in volatile times: Alphaville’s top tips


You could have missed this amid all of the speak of warmth and drought and the price of dwelling disaster, however equity markets in Europe and the US have loved a exceptional summer time bounce.

Having plummeted for a lot of the primary half of the 12 months, Wall Street’s S&P 500 has climbed 12 per cent in a month, Europe’s Stoxx 600 has risen 4 per cent over the identical interval and the MSCI All-Country World Index is up by slightly below a tenth. After a dismal begin to 2022, know-how shares are as soon as once more performing properly. As Harvest Volatility’s Mike Zigmont, says: “Bulls like to party.”

But latest investor optimism rests on shaky foundations. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to be set to set off recessions in international locations closely depending on the aggressor’s oil and fuel. Meanwhile, shopper sentiment is dire regardless of low charges of unemployment, and throughout a lot of the west inflation is as sizzling because it’s been in 40-odd years.

The US Federal Reserve and different central banks are speaking powerful consequently. Bond markets — in the US a minimum of — have turned decidedly dovish, with costs rising and yields dropping once more. Some traders clearly assume tighter financial coverage is ready to set off financial downturns, which is able to ultimately pave the way in which for decrease charges.

Elsewhere, the cryptocurrency market is in disarray, China’s economic system is slowing and a strengthening greenback has left lower-income international locations dealing with hovering debt obligations. The spectre of stagflation looms massive throughout the board.

So the place to place your money? A very tough query for British traders, with the federal government in disarray pending the top of the Tories’ management election.

Going out on a limb with funding recommendation in the illiquid canine days of August is dangerous enterprise. “The one thing that we can say with some confidence is that market volatility is likely to rise again as we move into late summer and the fall,” says UBS Global Wealth Management’s Jason Draho.

In the meantime, all eyes might be on the agenda-setting Fed, which makes its subsequent rate of interest choice in late September. “The medium-term outlook should be a little clearer after that,” Draho says, “whether it’s good, bad, or somewhere in between.”

FT Alphaville broadly agrees that proper now the one certainty is additional uncertainty. The Vix volatility index could also be at its lowest level since April, however for many traders danger administration stays the one sport to play.

Having stated that, we’re ready to share a couple of tips. We’ve chosen 5 latest Alphaville articles — masking every part from star hedge fund supervisor Daniel Loeb’s prognostications to the outlook for coal. We hope these is likely to be of assist for anybody nonetheless determined to dabble. Naturally, these in search of bona fide funding recommendation ought to look elsewhere.

Market regime change

Third Point’s Loeb penned an fascinating letter to his hedge fund’s traders summing up the temper again in May. We assume his phrases are nonetheless value pondering.

His inspiration was the 1982 movie Koyaanisqatsi, which takes its identify from the Hopi phrase which means roughly ‘life out of balance’. Loeb thought it had a well timed message. “The prescient film juxtaposes striking images of nature with urban scenes depicting the imbalances created by modern technology, set to a haunting soundtrack by Philip Glass,” he wrote. “Forty years later, this film and soundtrack make an apt backdrop for today’s investment environment. Koyaanisqatsi neatly captures current market conditions which are, in many ways, a reaction to imbalances.”

FT Alphaville’s Robin Wigglesworth famous that every one hedge fund managers love pseudo-philosophical metaphors and references, particularly if they’re slightly recondite.

But the reality is that there have been then indicators all over the place {that a} fairly profound market regime change was upon us, and that individuals had been solely beginning to grapple with the implications.

The US Nasdaq tech stock index had by this level given up all of its 2021 features, with probably the most susceptible teams being still-profitless firms that wanted the help of their equity or debt traders to remain alive. Loeb hinted that lots of the extra speculative firms that relied on stock choices to draw expertise would possibly already be getting into a loss of life loop as the worth of their equity withered.

Line chart of Cboe Vix index, implied volatility of the S&P 500 gauge showing Market volatility hits lowest point since April

Goldman Sachs’s index of unprofitable tech shares was in freefall, nevertheless it was clear that the rot was affecting greater names too. That prompted the US financial institution’s chief world equity strategist Peter Oppenheimer to publish a report on the daybreak of what he referred to as the “postmodern cycle”.

For most of monetary historical past, market cycles had been usually quick and turbulent, however through the previous 4 a long time they’ve been longer and smoother — characterised by falling inflation, unbiased central banking, globalisation, usually decrease volatility, and better company earnings. Oppenheimer calls this the “modern cycle”.

However, the approaching postmodern market period is more likely to be characterised by quicker inflation, increased bond yields — each nominal and actual — better regionalisation relatively than globalisation, pricier labour and commodity prices, and extra activist governments, the Goldman strategist argues.

Will the brand new period truly look that a lot completely different? It’s all the time tempting however usually fallacious to over-extrapolate present circumstances into the very long run. Yet the sense of “Koyaanisqatsi” is unmistakable. As Loeb says:

“Since I started Third Point 27 years ago, I have seen many investors (including myself) stumble after years of success because they did not adapt their models and frameworks quickly enough as conditions shifted. I have said before that they don’t ring a bell when the rules of the game are changing, but if you listen closely, you can hear a dog whistle. This seems to be such a time to listen for that high-pitched sound.”

Who are we, at Alphaville, to disagree?

Crypto collapse

© FT montage / Getty

Of all of the sectors and shares to have suffered through the first half of the 12 months, cryptocurrencies imploded maybe most spectacularly. Alphaville’s Alexandra Scaggs wrote lately about how crypto’s efficiency was more and more correlated with that of the S&P 500 — undermining hopes digital currency property would possibly function a diversifier in equity-based portfolios.

Why? A pair of lecturers — Luciano Somoza and Antoine Didisheim of the University of Lausanne — analysed knowledge from a random pattern of shoppers of Swissquote, one of many few regulated banks that additionally provides crypto-trading companies. Of the 77,364 lively accounts they studied, about 21 per cent traded cryptocurrency.

In quick, they argue that cryptocurrency and stock costs have been extremely correlated as a result of risk-hungry retail punters have been buying and selling shares and cryptocurrencies collectively.

The lecturers discover that the pattern began “suddenly” in the early days of the pandemic in 2020, when the correlation between bitcoin and the S&P 500 jumped from zero to just about 60 per cent.

Somoza and Didisheim attribute this to retail merchants utilizing US authorities Covid help funds — although Alphaville couldn’t assist however discover that the soar in retail buying and selling occurred at a time when many gamblers’ regular arenas had been restricted, with casinos closed and most sporting occasions cancelled.

No matter the rationale, the crypto merchants captured by the survey do look like the playing kind. The report says: “Looking at the stocks favoured by agents who hold cryptocurrencies, we observe a strong preference for growth stocks and speculative assets. When agents open a cryptocurrency wallet, their overall portfolio becomes riskier.”

The lecturers additionally discover that the shares most favoured by crypto merchants are usually probably the most extremely correlated with crypto costs. These traders are both shopping for each crypto and speculative shares directly, or promoting each directly.

Of course, if we assume that frequent buying and selling is dangerous for a person investor’s efficiency and that individuals who crave monetary danger usually tend to open a cryptocurrency account, that consequence is smart. If traders get their volatility repair from crypto, there’s much less have to make wild leveraged bets on meme shares akin to GameStop.

Alphaville’s hunch is that notably in frothy markets, the extra folks hope to make use of crypto as a portfolio diversifier, the much less of 1 it is going to develop into.

Cut-price tipples

© FT montage / Getty

People are likely to drink extra once they’re confused. But what they drink is dependent upon how flush they’re feeling. As RBC Capital Markets has famous, Americans shopping for liquor moved a bit upmarket on the peak of the pandemic, once they had extra money in their pockets as a result of there have been fewer options for his or her leisure spending. But in latest months the rising value of gas and meals is driving US customers to modify again to cheaper drinks.

The pandemic candy spot in the spirits market was $30-$74 a bottle, which is Cîroc vodka and Hennessy VSOP territory, Alphaville’s Bryce Elder wrote in July.

Stimulus cheques and lockdown boredom mixed to push mid-market manufacturers share up by about 2.5 share factors, which got here largely on the expense of the most cost effective stuff.

That pattern reversed in early 2021 and has been strengthening since March 2022 as inflation has chewed into incomes.

The shifts are clearest amongst poorer folks, who seem to have elevated their alcohol consumption greater than the wealthy on the peak of the pandemic solely to chop again extra later. Citing Numerator Insights knowledge, RBC says that for decrease revenue households (outlined as on $40,000 a 12 months or much less), consumption peaked through the apocalyptic days of March 2020. Repeat purchases of beer and wine have since been declining.

Spirits stayed stronger for longer in these poorer households, presumably as a result of customers purchase robust alcohol much less usually, however such purchases have been hit by the latest inflation surge.

Meanwhile, high-income households — with yearly incomes above $125,000 — have continued to make merry.

It appears that liquor firms have been proper to maintain extolling the defensive qualities of premium branding — and the high-priced offers it has generated, akin to Diageo’s $610mn acquisition in 2020 of Aviation American Gin (priced at about $30 a bottle). Much of Diageo’s latest development has come from higher-end tequila manufacturers Casamigos (round $50 a bottle) and Don Julio (round $85), which collectively account for practically 10 per cent of group gross sales.

So let’s not name an finish fairly but to up-trading. NABCA Spirits knowledge for May (which covers 17 states, so provides a gross sales snapshot of practically 1 / 4 of the US market) confirmed Diageo’s tequila manufacturers up 39.5 per cent by quantity, properly forward of the 5.5 per cent common achieve in their market class.

King Coal’s comeback

Much of this 12 months’s market downturn is in fact attributable to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Economies beforehand reliant on Russian oil and fuel are actually, sadly, turning to outdated king coal, although costs for the black stuff had been on the rise lengthy earlier than the battle broke out.

Demand for coal final 12 months ended up surpassing 2019 ranges by 6 per cent, in line with BP’s newest Statistical Review of World Energy. China and India — the world’s two greatest producers and shoppers — accounted for greater than 70 per cent of the additional urge for food. Coal-fired energy vegetation nonetheless gas greater than a 3rd of worldwide electrical energy manufacturing.

Prices for Newcastle coal are at simply over $400 a tonne. Anticipating Putin’s latest transfer to slash provides of eye-wateringly costly pure fuel to international locations together with France, Italy and Slovakia, and forward of a ban on Russian coal that got here into impact in August, Brussels in May gave the EU the all clear to fireside up its personal mothballed coal vegetation.

Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands say they haven’t any different alternative. Imports from the US, South Africa, Australia and Colombia are more likely to rise consequently, and the European Commission now expects the EU will use 5 per cent extra coal than beforehand anticipated over the subsequent 5 to 10 years.

Russia, for its half, is unlikely to really feel a lot of a success from the EU’s ban given what number of different international locations nonetheless need what it’s promoting. China, for one, imported 54Mtpa of coal from Russia in April, “representing a near doubling of March levels and the highest level on record,” BMO says.

Europe and coal-dependent rising markets, however, might properly undergo. Perhaps it’s time to assume twice about investing on the continent. Some traders could even be tempted to tiptoe again into coal — although we’re not going to advocate investing in such a extremely polluting gas.

The tuber trade

© FT montage / Getty

As inflation hedges go, root greens aren’t the obvious candidate.

But after a 12 months that may pretty be described as an omnishambles, US hedge fund supervisor Chase Coleman is desperately making an attempt to mitigate the tech stock losses of his Tiger Global portfolio and restrict the heavy losses in his flagship fund this 12 months.

The newest 13F regulatory filing, masking the second quarter, reveal his plan: out went Robinhood, Zoom and DocuSign, and in got here, er, potatoes.

Coleman added a $12.8mn place in a small firm referred to as Lamb Weston. Eagle, Idaho-based Lamb Weston is likely one of the world’s greatest producers of frozen potato merchandise, such because the french fries yow will discover in your native American grocery store. It was once owned by ConAgra, till it was spun out and listed in 2016, and is now valued at virtually $12bn. Trivia followers would possibly admire that Lamb Weston invented the water-gun knife method that revolutionised the commercial manufacturing of fries for the reason that Sixties.

Despite a professed dedication to what the corporate calls “Potatovation”, Lamb Weston would possibly look like a bizarre funding for an enormous hedge fund overwhelmingly targeted on fancy tech bets. We scoured the web site for any point out of machine studying, leveraging the blockchain, quantum computing or huge knowledge, nevertheless it actually does appear devoted to simply delivery gargantuan quantities of frozen fries (80mn parts a day on common, apparently).

Alphaville suspects it’s merely only a small however doubtlessly canny inflation hedge for Tiger, one thing which may assist counter among the ache elsewhere if inflation continues to pummel its portfolio. Readers in investing in staples ought to take word.

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