Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Have a plan for 2012

Sometimes the investment process is more important than the investment decision. In the past few days, I have outlined:
I urge all investors to have a game plan for the year ahead and beyond. Despite all of our best efforts, our forecasts can and will fail and how you react to the change in direction is more important than the decision you take today.

Strategies for different parts of the cycle
Barry Ritholz recently showed a series of charts of the economic cycle and how investors should react to them, two of which I show below. However you approach the market, whether it's asset and sector rotation, or stock picking, recognizing your investment environment is key to alpha generation. This chart shows the analytical framework for the asset and sector rotators:

And this one is a framework for the stock pickers:

Be tactically aware of the investment environment
My approach is to become more tactical in my asset allocation using my Asset Inflation-Deflation Trend Model. An article in Registered Rep shows how many investment advisors are turning to tactical asset allocation as an investment solution to dampen portfolio volatility:
Following the twin market implosions of the past decade—first tech, then real estate—many retail financial advisors are looking for more tactical, meaning active, asset allocation solutions for client portfolios to dampen volatility, improve total returns and avoid market catastrophes. At least some of them fear that if they don’t dramatically change the way they allocate client portfolios, moving away from traditional buy-and-hold investing strategies, they could lose clients. So say a handful of advisors and an investing expert. 
Not becoming more tactial could pose a business risk:
Things could get especially bad if another bear market hits, says Ron Carson, founder and CEO of Carson Wealth Management Group. “[Investors] are hanging on by a thread right now, and I don’t think they’re going to forgive.” A Natixis Investor Insights Study found that 63 percent of investors are now paying more attention to risk than ever before. If the market nose-dives, advisors are going to want to have a different story to tell. They can’t just tell clients to hang on and wait it out like many of them did in 2008.
The movement to tactical asset allocation has turned from a trickle to a flood:
According to a survey by Cerulli Associates, the number of FAs using either a pure tactical allocation or strategic allocation with a tactical overlay is now at 61 percent, up 8.3 percent from 2010. A Jefferson National survey from September 2011 found that 75.5 percent of advisors believe that active portfolio managers can outperform an index over the long term. In Jefferson National’s 2010 survey, 66 percent of advisors said clients were more confident with a tactical asset management strategy, while only 34 percent said clients were more confident with a traditional buy-and-hold strategy.

Are you betting the farm?
Stocks didn't go anywhere in 2011. In fact, they haven't gone anywhere since the NASDAQ peak in 2000. In the current low-return environment, advisors find that clients are less forgiving of draw-downs in their portfolio.

In days past, the practice of overweight a portfolio with a manager to make a big style or macro bet that "looks through the economic cycle", e.g. a value manager, was perfectly acceptable. The downside to managers that make such style bets is they tend to badly underperform during certain periods when their style is out of favor - and investors are far less tolerant of such draw-downs in the current volatile and low return environment.

As an example, there were numerous managers who were wary of internet stocks during the Tech Bubble runup. I had watched many good managers and strategists go down in flames because they were one or two years early because their investors couldn't stand the underperformance. Today, investors are highly intolerant of negative volatility, largely because of the low return environment that we have been stuck in for the last decade.

Have an investment plan
The message is clear. Take control of your portfolio. Be aware of the investment environment. Your investment philosophy and objectives are up to you. However, you should make sure that you have engineered your portfolio's risk profile sufficiently so you survive to get to your objective.

Cam Hui is a portfolio manager at Qwest Investment Fund Management Ltd. ("Qwest"). This article is prepared by Mr. Hui as an outside business activity. As such, Qwest does not review or approve materials presented herein. The opinions and any recommendations expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or recommendations of Qwest.

None of the information or opinions expressed in this blog constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security or other instrument. Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice and any recommendations that may be contained herein have not been based upon a consideration of the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific recipient. Any purchase or sale activity in any securities or other instrument should be based upon your own analysis and conclusions. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Either Qwest or Mr. Hui may hold or control long or short positions in the securities or instruments mentioned.

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