We prefer dividend-paying stocks to bonds, although having an allocation to bonds in portfolios is appropriate for diversification and to reduce overall volatility. The bond market, particularly government bonds, continue to be concerning, with interest rates at record lows and over $15 trillion in international government bonds trading at negative interest rates. We continue to diversify the fixed income portion of your portfolio in non-traditional bond sectors which rebounded in the later half of the year. Within equities, we will use a sizeable market pullback to add to high-quality stocks as they become more attractive.
Our current portfolio positioning is conservative relative to your personal investment objective and risk appetite. We are holding the highest cash and lowest equity levels in accounts than we have in over 10 years. This is reflective of the current market and economic conditions, the pandemic’s negative impact, and the uncertainty around the presidential election. We expect that these factors will continue to lead to higher market volatility through the end of the year. However, we look to add to equities on any meaningful pullback. We expect that any additional government stimulus would be constructive to the economy and markets. In the interim, we continue to make adjustments to our equity holdings to improve the overall quality of your portfolio and to take advantage of attractive opportunities. Our goal is to identify companies that will create economic value in this environment and develop long-term competitive advantages.
We feel confident about the repositioning we were able to do during the pandemic and ensuing market volatility. While we are not aggressive buyers of stocks at current levels, we will likely add to high quality equities on any meaningful weakness. However, the bond market, particularly government bonds, is worrisome, with interest rates at record lows and over $15 trillion in international bonds trading at negative interest rates. Low interest rates are a negative for savers, and at these levels, Treasury bond yields cannot keep up with current and future inflation levels.
We are hopeful, like everyone, that the spread of the coronavirus will run its course as quickly as possible and that the number of human lives lost will be limited. In the meantime, we want to assure you that we remain laser-focused on client communication, planning and portfolio management to assure both current income and competitive returns through market cycles. We have taken the current market dislocation as an opportunity to upgrade our holdings into higher-quality companies with a more durable business model.
We expect spikes in volatility through the second quarter as investors assess the near-term spread of the coronavirus and other geopolitical events. While developments in any economic and human pandemic are nearly impossible to forecast, Shorepoint’s process remains thoughtful, disciplined and flexible. This is a time when experience matters. Know that the Shorepoint team is working diligently to manage risk and returns as well as position the portfolio for the long-term.
We are cautiously optimistic that U.S. equities, and in particular dividend growth stocks with high free cash flow, can continue to move higher in 2020. In an economy with modest growth, low interest rates and above average valuations, returns will likely be driven by earnings growth. Recall from last quarter’s newsletter that we lowered our return expectations in September across stocks and bonds. We expect spikes in volatility through the year as investors assess the U.S. elections, trade negotiations and other geopolitical events. While developments in any macro category are nearly impossible to forecast, Shorepoint’s process remains thoughtful and flexible as we deal with the lowest interest rates and political conditions we have not seen in years.
We don’t have a dour view of stocks. Rather than try and call the economic cycle, we continue to invest in companies with strong free cash flow, strong business models, and conservative balance sheets. While we think there may be an earnings lull, and we worry about trade wars and Washington missteps or non-steps, the historically low unemployment rate around 3.5% with modest wage growth, should provide a ballast for the overall domestic economy. Furthermore, the weakness in manufacturing is relatively small compared to the strong consumer segment of economy which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity. In many economies, and in the U.S. in particular, households are enjoying low unemployment, rising wages, and savings from refinanced mortgages. With household wealth and incomes in relatively good shape, we believe the risks to the broader economy have fallen.
As a firm we have lowered our return expectations across stocks and bonds. Our dimmer capital market assumptions will result in clients’ target returns being slightly lower going forward. We are carefully reviewing how these changes affect clients’ financial plans, and we will be reviewing these results in detail with you in our meetings and calls over the next 6-12 months. We will continue to reflect—to be thoughtful and flexible as we deal with interest rates and political conditions we have not seen in our careers. As ever, we remain focused on navigating risks and identifying opportunities.
In this moment, we are witnessing an incredibly long run of prosperity in the U.S.. Certainly one could argue that it is not as shared as it had been in past economic expansions. And it is also aided and abetted by massive government debt (not more than most other nations though) and an accommodative, if not loose, Fed printing money whenever nudged. Companies continue to grow earnings, pay low taxes, return cash to shareholders (dividends and buybacks), and provide shareholders competitive returns. Unemployment remains the lowest it has been in decades and inflation is muted. Household net worths are growing, and consumers have reasonable debt levels given their income.
Shorepoint’s core philosophy is to manage diversified portfolios of quality, reasonably valued assets based on your investment objectives and risk tolerance. This has and will continue to be a successful investment strategy over the long-term. We seek to take advantage of opportunities as they arise and generate attractive long-term returns to help our clients reach their financial goals. As always, we are available to discuss your concerns and answer your questions.
Overall, Shorepoint is constructive on the current investment landscape. Low interest rates, solid corporate margins, significant corporate cash returned to shareholders (dividends and buybacks), low inflation and steady economic growth have driven strong equity returns since the Great Recession. Valuations as measured by price/earnings multiples are in line with historical averages and are not excessive. We continue to invest in a variety of investments across asset classes that potentially offer sound long-term, if not spectacular, returns to patient investors.
As contrarians, we have added and continue to add to international, developed market equities and emerging market equities/bonds, which we feel are still undervalued even with the 2019 rebound. We are employing a “buy the dips” approach by adding to high-quality, attractively-valued companies that have robust cash flow, strong earnings growth prospects and solid balance sheets. We are investing more in the underperforming healthcare sector which has been in the cross hairs of politicians and allocating to selective special situations that offer favorable risk-adjusted return potential. Individual stock price volatility enables us to perform tax harvesting in companies that are temporarily depressed but that we feel are excellent long-term investments such as CVS Health and Kraft Heinz.
The bond side of our portfolios has rebounded strongly with the Fed moving to the sidelines on further interest rate increases in the near-term. The Fed’s policy change has allowed us to reinvest some of our client’s money market balances into higher-yielding bonds. Overall, our clients continue to benefit from our diversified approach to producing income by investing in Emerging Market Bonds, Floating Rate Loans, REITs, Preferred Stocks, etc. instead of investing just in U.S. treasuries.
Shorepoint’s core philosophy is to manage diversified portfolios of quality, reasonably-valued assets based on your investment objectives and risk tolerance. This has been and will continue to be a successful investment strategy over the long-term. We seek to take advantage of opportunities as they arise and generate attractive long-term returns to help our clients reach their financial goals. As always, we are available to discuss your concerns and answer your questions.
Shorepoint believes that this is a buying opportunity and not the start of a bear market but a “normal” pullback as part of a secular bull market. Based on our assessment, we don’t anticipate a domestic recession and are adding about 5% to equities in our client accounts. However, we will first consider your cash needs, risk tolerance, etc. before increasing equities. Please read on for more details!
Below you will find a variation of the missive we sent out just before Christmas. We believe the majority of the content still pertains, but we have adjusted and added additional comments and information.
The U.S. stock market hit all-time highs on September 20th. Since that time the market (S&P 500 Index) dropped almost 15% and finished 2018 down 4.4%. During this correction, over 70% of the stocks in the S&P 500 Index were down over 20% (traditional bear market territory) and the average stock was down 29%. Domestic mid-cap and small-cap indices finished down over 11% for the year while international, developed and emerging market, were down over 13%. Bonds slightly rebounded in fourth quarter with major indices barely in positive territory for the year.
While the trade wars and accompanying global tensions that follow such a policy are troubling, we are hopeful that the current administration is being political ahead of the mid-term elections and hoping to activate its base. A little softening in rhetoric and trade policy or better trade deals would go a long way to alleviating the troubling policy ramifications of picking fights with our economic partners. Given the history of the current President, it would seem likely that he would be “transactional” and give the markets what they want.
In addition, we would argue that growth is still growth, although the most significant gains of the cycle may be behind us. That does not mean that we can’t find attractive opportunities for capital in both stocks and bonds and earn patient investors competitive returns in the months and years to come. We do NOT believe the domestic economy is headed for a recession in the near-term. Fiscal stimulus provided by tax reform should continue to fuel economic growth and enable companies to grow earnings in 2019. In addition to the domestic opportunities we see, the poor performance of international and emerging markets may produce long term vindication for those of us who have remained disciplined and diversified, despite the short term drag those positions have had on recent performance. We also remain positive on our outlook for dividend paying companies with defendable business models that are benefiting from secular growth and have the ability to generate strong cash flow.
The bond side of our portfolios was hurt by Fed rate increases but bonds should eventually settle in and provide a higher income level for more moderate and conservative investors. However, our clients continue to benefit from our use of a diversified approach to fixed income instead of investing just in U.S. treasuries. Other bond sectors, such as floating rate leveraged loans, actually produced positive returns and have higher yields than Treasuries with less volatility. Also, with money market yields increasing, we may utilize money market investments as an alternative to some of the bond allocation which will reduce portfolio risk and volatility.
As contrarians, we are adding to attractively valued international developed market equities, and emerging market equities/bonds which have not performed well in 2018. We continue to advocate a “buy the dips” approach and will add to high quality, attractively valued companies that have robust cash flow, strong earnings growth prospects and solid balance sheets.
Overall, Shorepoint’s core philosophy is to manage diversified portfolios of quality, reasonably valued assets based on your investment objectives and risk tolerance. This has and will continue to be a successful investment strategy over the long-term. We seek to take advantage of opportunities as they arise and generate attractive long-term returns to help our clients reach their financial goals. As always, we are available to discuss your concerns and answer your questions.