On The Economy & This Sideways Stock Market
FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. The Economy: Sluggish But No Recession
2. Where Are The Markets Headed?
3. Managing Market Risks The Right Way
4. The Potomac Guardian Program
5. Niemann Capital Management
6. Comparing Performance
The Economy: Sluggish But No Recession
Last Wednesday, the Commerce Department released the much-anticipated GDP report for the 1Q, and it was higher than most pre-report estimates. In its advance report, GDP was up 0.6% in the first three months of this year, the same pace as in the 4Q of last year. Many expected that the 1Q number would be on the negative side. But we are yet to see a negative GDP number or a recession, as has been promised by the media and Hillary and Obama.
While the latest GDP report was stronger than expected, some analysts (no surprise) concluded that the report was not as favorable as the 0.6% increase suggested on its face. Likewise, many analysts were quick to point out that they expect GDP to go negative in the 2Q. On the day after the report, for example, The Wall Street Journal wrote:
Financial analysts and media commentators can slice-and-dice the GDP data in a variety of ways to their liking, but there was some encouraging news in the numbers. For example, consumer spending that makes up apprx. 70% of GDP actually rose 1% in the 1Q, at a time when consumer confidence fell to the lowest level in 20 years. While the latest WSJ/NBC poll found that 81% of Americans believe we are in a recession, people continue to spend money.
There seems to be an early consensus that GDP growth will fall into negative territory in the 2Q (by how much remains to be seen). But there are also those that believe the economy will rebound, at least somewhat, in the 3Q due primarily to the Bush administration’s “stimulus package,” when some 128 million American households will receive $168 billion in tax rebate checks later this month and in June and July, ranging from $600 for individuals to $1,200 or more for married couples. Numerous economists estimate that the stimulus package alone will add 1% to GDP this year.
The latest GDP report was a pleasant surprise, but the bottom line is it’s still too early to know if we can dodge a recession or not. Of course, there are plenty of people who are firmly convinced that we are already in a recession, even though the numbers don’t bear that out, at least not yet. On the other hand, there are some analysts that believe the worst of the housing/credit crisis is behind us. I’ll have more analysis on this question over the next couple of weeks.
For now, however, I want to shift our focus to the stock markets, which have picked up over the last several weeks, and what you should be doing now.
Where Are The Markets Headed?
A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the opinions of 89-year-old Peter Bernstein, one of the most respected individuals in the financial services industry. Author of the famous investment tome, “Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk,” Bernstein is different from most other market analysts in that he can relate to past market cycles as a participant, rather than today’s typical younger market analysts who can merely review historical market data.
In the WSJ interview with Mr. Bernstein, most questions centered around the subprime and housing dilemmas and their long-term effects on the stock market. In a nutshell, Bernstein says that our current economic trouble is “worse than he has seen since the Depression and threatens to roil markets into 2009 and beyond -- longer than many people expect.”
Bernstein goes on to say that he expects lenders to be extremely risk-averse for a long time to come, which will likely have a negative effect on the economy. Plus, unlike many past economic crises, he doesn’t see a high-growth exit from the subprime fiasco. Instead of a business cycle that looks like a “V,” it’s more likely to resemble an “L,” where the downside is swift, but the subsequent growth phase is more measured and gradual.
For the stock markets, this could mean an extended period of time during which the “sideways” direction that I discussed in my April 22 E-Letter continues to affect your investments. Yet, Mr. Bernstein says that the stock market may be the best place to invest during this slow recovery period. What gives? He describes it this way:
So what does this mean? Mr. Bernstein feels the stock market will have trends, probably in both directions, over the next several years. It’s this price movement that has the potential to provide what money managers call “tradable trends.” Mr. Bernstein doesn’t say exactly what types of investment strategies he employs, but he clearly believes that you need a variety of investment strategies to navigate the difficult markets he sees just ahead. You may recall that back on September 16, 2003, I wrote about how Mr. Bernstein surprised the financial world by recommending traditional “market timing,” which is just one of the active management strategies utilized by several of my recommended professional Advisors.
Thus, it seems only natural to consider investment programs that have the ability to move among different asset classes and different sectors when the conditions appear to be right for gains, or go partially or fully to cash, or “hedge” positions, if no asset class looks good. I can tell you that such actively-managed programs are where a substantial part of my money is, and I suggest that you consider investments in these programs as well.
Managing Market Risks The Right Way
As I noted in my April 22 E-Letter, risk is an inherent part of placing your money into the stock market. While the amount of risk generally varies from investment to investment, if Mr. Bernstein is correct in his prediction that the current market malaise will last “longer than people think,” the biggest risk you may face is how to meet your long-term investment goals while the market may continue to be caught up in a broad trading range.
Fortunately, I might have the answer for you. Just as Peter Bernstein maintains that he is going to include various investment strategies in his portfolio, I feel it is important to include “actively managed” strategies that seek to take advantage of market trends as they occur, but also attempt to mitigate the risks of being in the market. The nine-year sideways period of time in the stock market referenced in the recent Investors Business Daily article, which I wrote about on April 22, is a good example of the value of active management.
Based on Morningstar data, the S&P 500 Index’s average annualized performance over the nine-year period from April 1999 through March 2008 was just 1.96%, including dividends - quite disappointing! But more importantly, in order to have attained this disappointing gain, anyone who invested in “index” funds tracking the S&P 500 also incurred a loss (drawdown) in value of apprx. -45% in the bear market of late 2000-2001. So, you would have had to risk losing almost half of your money in order to get a gain that was less than inflation. What a deal!
Even if you chose an “asset allocation” strategy and diversified your portfolio into a mix of stocks and bonds and held it for the last nine years, you would still have likely experienced disappointing returns. Let’s say you had a portfolio made up something like 60% S&P 500 Index and 40% Lehman Aggregate Bond Index over the last nine years. That 60/40 portfolio fared only marginally better than an all-S&P portfolio, producing a gain of merely 3.98% over the last nine years, but with a worst drawdown of -21.36%. That’s marginally better than stocks alone, but still far below what most investors need to meet their long-term investment goals.
Obviously, the net investment returns noted just above are disappointing, as we all know. But more importantly, the losses in the market indexes along the way were intolerable, at least for me. Along that line, I have some specific suggestions for what to do. What if:
As should come as no surprise, I am talking about some of the professionally managed investment programs that I recommend. Specifically, Potomac Fund Management and Niemann Capital Management. I have highlighted these programs in the past in these pages, but the recent Investors Business Daily article about the plight of index-fund investors stresses the need to review the benefits of these programs with you again.
If you follow the professional money managers I recommend, you may be thinking: “Wait a minute; I checked out these Niemann and Potomac programs when you mentioned them before, and they have lost money so far in 2008, so why should I bother looking again?” The answer lies not in the short-term results (even though the Niemann and Potomac programs are ahead of the major market indexes as of March 31), but rather in what these programs have done for over a decade in various market cycles. Note in particular how these programs have beaten the market over the last nine years, but more importantly how they have minimized losses during down markets.
The Potomac Guardian Program
In a nutshell (see details below), the primary goal of the Potomac Guardian Program is to preserve capital while at the same time delivering at least market returns, or better, in the U.S. and international equity and bond markets. Potomac has an admirable past performance record by seeking out both stock and bond mutual fund investments with reduced volatility and less risk of extensive loss.
Over the nine-year period discussed in the recent IBD article, Potomac has annualized gains of 7.44%, far above the S&P 500 Index’s average annualized gain of only 1.96% over the same period of time. Plus, Guardian’s returns noted above are net of all fees and expenses. Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.
These kinds of real market returns should be important to you, especially in light of what the market has done over the last nine years!!
Niemann Capital Management
Niemann has several investment programs that they offer to investors. Some of their programs seek to always be fully invested in the market, while others will seek the safety of cash or hedged positions during periods of market uncertainty. All of Niemann’s programs utilize proprietary active management strategies that seek to not only identify favorable market environments, but also the most appropriate mutual funds for that market environment.
The two Niemann programs we recommend that will seek the safety of cash or hedged positions in uncertain markets are the “Risk Managed” and “Equity-Plus” programs. Both of these Niemann programs should be considered somewhat more aggressive than the Potomac Guardian program, as their objectives are somewhat different, and this should be kept in mind when considering these investments, especially if you are at or near retirement.
Niemann considers capital preservation to be the cornerstone of both of the above investment programs. To achieve this level of risk management, Niemann actively manages a portfolio of mutual funds using its proprietary tactical allocation methodology. This method results in Niemann phasing in and out of positions gradually, as market conditions dictate, with the overall goal being to take the smallest possible risk to secure the greatest potential return.
The basis of Niemann’s proprietary strategy is the concept of “money flow,” which simply means monitoring the relative value of the various asset classes that make up the stock and bond markets. Starting from a pre-selected universe of 2,500 mutual funds, Niemann’s strategy seeks to be invested in the strongest group of mutual funds, ranked daily based on a “risk number” assigned to each fund.
Niemann then evaluates the overall health of the equity markets based on trend analysis, market breadth, volume, technical factors and interest rates. This serves as a “market health overlay,” and results in a determination of the percentage of assets to invest. Healthier markets tend to have a greater percentage of assets invested, while a less healthy market may have a high percentage of cash or hedged positions. Once the market’s health and mutual funds are identified, assets are allocated to the Risk Managed or Equity-Plus strategies, with each program having a slightly different allocation goal.
The Risk Managed Program is designed for investors who want to participate only in the US equity markets, so it will not invest in international or bond mutual funds. During adverse market conditions, Risk Managed will go to cash, or may hedge positions using mutual funds that “short” the market. However, Risk Managed will not use short funds to have a net short position in the market.
Niemann’s Equity-Plus Program includes domestic equity mutual funds, but may also include both long and net short positions in international equity and bond mutual funds. As a consequence, Equity-Plus is considered to be more aggressive than the Risk Managed program. Even so, the wide range of potential investment allocations can provide a greater potential for gains during adverse market conditions.
One of the things we like most about both the Potomac and Niemann programs is that they move in and out of the markets gradually. While this means that they usually won’t exit right at the top of the market or buy in at the bottom, it also means that these programs are less susceptible to being “whipsawed” by short-term market volatility. We also like the fact that these programs have actual track records that stretch back over a decade, which is important in this day and time.
Niemann and Potomac have shown their ability to successfully navigate past market cycles and deliver solid, above-market returns to their investors. While there’s no guarantee that either of these firms can continue to post positive results in the future, I’d rather have my money with them than picking stocks or mutual funds on my own. And I have a significant portion of my own personal portfolio invested with both.
The true benefits of these programs really come to light when placed in comparison to each other and to major market indexes. The chart below contains a lot of information, but it provides a very good illustration of how these programs have fared in comparison with each other, and to the overall markets. Note that I have included the nine-year analysis discussed above, as well as five-year, ten-year and inception-to-date numbers for comparison. All figures are as of March 31, 2008 and are net of all fees and expenses:
* Inception-to-date return and worst drawdown for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite Indexes (with dividends), as well as the 60%/40% blend with the Lehmann Aggregate Bond Index, are measured from June of 1996, as this corresponds to the earliest inception date of the investment programs being compared. The S&P 500, Nasdaq Composite and Lehmann Aggregate Bond Indexes are all unmanaged, passive buy-and-hold approaches and cannot be invested in directly. Past results are no guaranty of future success. Be sure to read the Important Disclosures at the end of this E-Letter.
As you can see, the Niemann and Potomac programs have fared very well when compared to major market indexes and even a blend of stocks and bonds. This not only includes the period of time around the recent bear market, but even back to the go-go days of the late 1990s. Plus, all of the programs’ 2008 performance so far has shown their ability to manage the risks of being in the market. While past performance cannot predict future results, the above chart tells a story that you shouldn’t ignore – especially in light of an extended period of market uncertainty.
Some of you will look at the performance numbers above for Potomac and Niemann and focus only on the fact that both programs have small losses so far in 2008, even though those losses are considerably smaller than the 9.44% loss in the S&P 500. I would argue, however, that now might be a great time to place money with Potomac and/or Niemann, while they are down modestly. It has certainly paid off to do so in the past!
Most of you, I hope, will appreciate how Potomac and Niemann have delivered solid, above-market returns for over a decade, with much smaller drawdowns than either the S&P 500 Index or the Nasdaq Composite Index which lost 44.7% and 75.0% respectively in the 2000-2002 bear market. Of course, past performance, however, cannot predict future success, but where would you have rather had your money?
I see these programs as viable alternatives for serious investors because sitting in cash or “buy-and-hold” index investing just do not appear to be very attractive at this point in time, and possibly not for years to come, if Peter Bernstein is correct. If we are to continue in a broad sideways market, it will be very important to have proven professionals directing your money into the asset classes and market sectors that offer good opportunities.
For all these reasons, I strongly suggest that you check out the actively managed programs from Potomac and Niemann. The minimum to invest in Potomac is $50,000; Niemann’s minimum is $100,000. Be sure to read the Important Disclosures at the end of this E-Letter.
Here’s how to get started: For more information about the Niemann and Potomac investment programs, you can go to our website at http://www.halbertwealth.com/advisorlink/programs.php. Just click on the program’s name to be taken to a more detailed performance and strategy discussion. You can also CLICK HERE to access our online request form for these and our other programs. This will result in your receiving the same material that is on our website along with the necessary paperwork to establish an account.
To talk to one of our Investment Consultants about these programs, feel free to give us a call at 800-348-3601, or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Plus, if you missed out on the free, no obligation risk tolerance assessment that I offered in my April 22 E-Letter, just click on the following link to access our Confidential Risk Tolerance Profile questionnaire.
Why We Want Obama To Be The Dem’s Nominee
Very best regards,
Gary D. Halbert
Where’s the recession we were promised this year?
The Housing Crisis Is Over (one analyst’s opinion).
Economy May Face Prolonged Pain (one analyst’s opinion)
In Praise of the Dem’s ‘Long’ Campaign (very good read)
Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. (HWM), Potomac Fund Management (PFM) and Niemann Capital Management, (NCM) are Investment Advisors registered with the SEC and/or their respective states. Some Advisors are not available in all states, and this report does not constitute a solicitation to residents of such states. Information in this report is taken from sources believed reliable but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Any opinions stated are intended as general observations, not specific or personal investment advice. Please consult a competent professional and the appropriate disclosure documents before making any investment decisions. There is no foolproof way of selecting an Investment Advisor. Investments mentioned involve risk, and not all investments mentioned herein are appropriate for all investors. HWM receives compensation from PFM and NCM in exchange for introducing client accounts to the Advisors. For more information on HWM, PFM or NCM, please consult HWM Form ADV Part II, PFM Form ADV Part II and NCM Form ADV Part II and Niemann’s Annual Disclosure Presentation, 2006, available at no charge upon request. Any offer or solicitation can only be made by way of the Form ADV Part II. Officers, employees, and affiliates of HWM may have investments managed by the Advisors discussed herein or others.
As benchmarks for comparison, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Stock Index, the NASDAQ Composite Index (which include dividends) and the Lehman Aggregate Bond Index represent an unmanaged, passive buy-and-hold approach. The volatility and investment characteristics of the S&P 500, the NASDAQ Composite Index and the Lehman Aggregate Bond Index may differ materially (more or less) from that of the Advisor. The performance of these Indexes is not meant to imply that investors should consider an investment in the Potomac Guardian Program or the Niemann trading programs as comparable to an investment in these Indexes, none of which can be invested in directly. The 60% S&P 500 and 40% Lehman Bond numbers are for illustrative purposes only.
Returns illustrated are net of the maximum management fees, custodial fees, underlying mutual fund management fees, and other fund expenses such as 12b-1 fees. They do not include the effect of annual IRA fees or mutual fund sales charges, if applicable. All dividends and capital gains have been reinvested. No adjustment has been made for income tax liability. Some Funds also charge short-term redemption fees and excess transaction fees (Special Fees), which are billed to shareholders at the time of the event causing the fee. All of these fees are in addition to Potomac and Niemann’s advisory fees.
NIEMANN ONLY DISCLOSURES:
Historical performance data is provided by the Advisor in compliance with the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS). See the Annual Disclosure Presentation, 2006 for more details. Statistics for “Worst Drawdown” are calculated as of month-end. Drawdowns within a month may have been greater. PAST RESULTS ARE NOT NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. Any investment in a mutual fund carries the risk of loss. Mutual funds carry their own expenses which are outlined in the fund’s prospectus. An account with any Advisor is not a bank account and is not guaranteed by FDIC or any other governmental agency.
When reviewing past performance records, it is important to note that different accounts, even though they are traded pursuant to the same strategy, can have varying results. The reasons for this include: i) the period of time in which the accounts are active; ii) the timing of contributions and withdrawals; iii) the account size; iv) the minimum investment requirements and/or withdrawal restrictions; and v) the rate of brokerage commissions and transaction fees charged to an account. There can be no assurance that an account opened by any person will achieve performance returns similar to those provided herein for accounts traded pursuant to these Niemann trading programs.
In addition, you should be aware that (i) the Niemann programs are speculative and involve risk; (ii) the programs’ performance may be volatile; (iii) an investor could lose all or a substantial amount of his or her investment in the program; (iv) Niemann will have trading authority over an investor’s account and the use of a single advisor could mean lack of diversification and consequently higher risk; and (v) the Niemann programs’ fees and expenses (if any) will reduce an investor’s trading profits, or increase any trading losses.
In selecting Funds in which to invest, Niemann considers the nature and size of the fees charged by the Funds. Niemann will select a Fund only if Niemann believes the Fund’s performance, after all fees, will meet Niemann’s performance standards. Consequently, Niemann may select Funds, which have higher or lower fees than other similar Funds, and which charge special fees. When deciding whether to liquidate a Fund position, Niemann will take into consideration any special fees which may be charged. Niemann may decide to sell a Fund position even though it will result in the client being required to pay special fees. Money market funds are not bank accounts, do not carry deposit insurance, and do involve risk of loss. The results shown are for a limited time period and may not be representative of the results that would be achieved over a full market cycle or in different economic and market environments.
POTOMAC ONLY DISCLOSURES
Potomac’s performance results are based on the Model Portfolio. The Model Portfolio is an actual account that is considered representative of the majority of client accounts with similar investment objectives. Returns for the Model Portfolio are time-weighted, total returns that reflect the reinvestment of dividends and capital gain distributions. Statistics for “Worst Drawdown” are calculated as of month-end. Drawdowns within a month may have been greater. PAST RESULTS ARE NOT NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. Any investment in a mutual fund carries the risk of loss. Mutual funds carry their own expenses which are outlined in the fund’s prospectus. An account with any Advisor is not a bank account and is not guaranteed by FDIC or any other governmental agency.
When reviewing past performance records, it is important to note that different accounts, even though they are traded pursuant to the same strategy, can have varying results. The reasons for this include: i) the period of time in which the accounts are active; ii) the timing of contributions and withdrawals; iii) the account size; iv) the minimum investment requirements and/or withdrawal restrictions; and v) the rate of brokerage commissions and transaction fees charged to an account. There can be no assurance that an account opened by any person will achieve performance returns similar to those provided herein for accounts traded pursuant to the Potomac Guardian’s trading program.
In addition, you should be aware that (i) the Potomac Guardian trading program is speculative and involves a moderate degree of risk; (ii) the Potomac Guardian’s trading program’s performance may be volatile; (iii) an investor could lose all or a substantial amount of his or her investment in the program; (iv) PFM will have trading authority over an investor’s account and the use of a single advisor could mean lack of diversification and consequently higher risk; and (v) the Potomac Guardian’s trading program’s fees and expenses (if any) will reduce an investor’s trading profits, or increase any trading losses.
Money market funds are not bank accounts, do not carry deposit insurance, and do involve risk of loss. The results shown are for a limited time period and may not be representative of the results that would be achieved over a full market cycle or in different economic and market environments.
Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.