Rudi's View | Nov 28 2019
Dear time-poor reader: Quality has proved the absolute winner in Australian equities, but has the time come to diversify through Value?
Time To Diversify The Portfolio?
By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor FNArena
As another calendar year is drawing to its natural end, time has arrived to once again reflect upon what might have been and what has actually transpired since the world was staring into the abyss this time last year. If not now then when, n'est-ce pas?
Last year an overconfident Federal Reserve, alongside other central bankers around the world, thought it had successfully manufactured an escape from the economic straight jacket that has kept economies into a slower-for-longer framework post GFC, with occasional bouts of threatening mini-crises along the way.
It looks like a strange aberration today, but the Fed actually thought it could continue to hike interest rates while also running down the size of its balance sheet and the world would never notice a difference. Odd.
Maybe the most apt description is the one I have been using in my on-stage presentations to investors throughout years gone by: in theory there is no difference between economic theory and practice, yet in practice there is.
Luckily, for all of us who participate in financial markets, central bankers quickly realised the error in their plans and policies and swiftly reversed into providing further support through abundant liquidity. More than 20% in equity markets return later, here we now are, still dependent on excess liquidity sloshing through the global financial system.
The key question has not changed: how on earth will we ever get off this drug?
This dilemma will remain on central bankers' mind as they worry about a distorted world, constantly in change, with long term future problems accumulating while politicians play the "nothing to see here"-game.
With the stakes this high, and answers so few the best advice anyone can provide to investors today is most likely don't feel too comfortable after what might turn out the best investment year post GFC.
Next year is bound to be different.
On the micro level, it appears growing parts of the investment community are preparing for a resumption of the so-called "reflation"-trade. These experts see global indicators improving. Some are even boldly predicting economic growth, inflation, bond yields and corporate profits will all noticeably rise as we travel through calendar year 2020.
And on the back of this resumption in global growth miners, energy producers, banks, building materials, contractors, cyclical industrials and discretionary retailers, even the agri-sector (as long as it rains), could turn into Must Have-exposures for investors looking for outperformance next year.
Count me among the sceptics.
This is not to say this narrative of hope cannot temporarily conquer the mindset of financial markets. It has done exactly that on multiple occasions over the decade past.
The most violent switch in market momentum occurred in the second half of calendar 2016 when stocks like Transurban ((TCL)), NextDC ((NXT)) and CSL ((CSL)) lost -20% in a heartbeat and CommBank ((CBA)), Woodside Petroleum ((WPL)) and BHP Group ((BHP)) lifted by similar magnitude at the same time.
But it never lasts for long. It didn't back then, and it hasn't on every other occasion, including in recent months.
Some of you, regular readers of my Weekly Insights, might think I am the closest to a typical Growth investor you'll ever meet. I never hesitate to warn that buying "cheap" stocks in today's environment is not necessarily the smartest thing to do. The truth is I am not your typical Growth investor. I am all about Quality.
One of the untold stories about the Australian share market post 2013 is that despite all the attention (and criticism) that has centred around Growth vs Value, Small Caps vs Blue Chips, Momentum and Overvaluation/Exuberance, the true outperformers have been that selective little basket of domestic High Quality companies including CSL, Macquarie Group ((MQG)), REA Group ((REA)), ResMed ((RMD)), Altium ((ALU)), and TechnologyOne ((TNE)).
CSL is now the undisputed number two for the local index, while Macquarie is inside the Top8, REA Group has climbed into the Top30 and TechnologyOne is part of the ASX200 too.
You don't get there unless you put in a consistent and prolonged outperformance against the rest of the market.
Starting from a Top Down approach that tried to incorporate most of the threats and challenges that have remained with the world and global markets post GFC, it has consistently been my view the best risk-reward investment strategy was through companies with exceptional qualities, including the ability to sustainably deliver for shareholders, no matter the weather out there.
Certainly, my research and managing the All-Weather Model Portfolio have made me truly realise the value of owning "Quality" in the share market. Not as a throw-away label too oft used by professional fund managers every time they discuss their top holdings or recent purchases, but "Quality" in the only sense it counts for long term, Buy & Hold investors: the ability to continue creating added value for shareholders, time and again.
The reason as to why this places me closer to Growth than to Value investors is because I quickly learned such High Quality stocks never trade at genuinely cheap valuations on the stock market. They are literally too High Quality for that. This is one key insight most investors misinterpret.
Assuming you are a longer term investor and your preferred holding period is "forever" (wink to all the Warren Buffett fans out there), then good investing seldom starts with a beaten down, kitchen-sink low valuation.
Good investing starts with discovering which companies on the stock exchange are the Special Ones. Then pick your strategy and your entry point, and don't get side-tracked by all the noise and movement around you.
To those who now are confused, insulted, or both I have one simple message: read the two quotes below. They are from Charlie Munger. Yes, that Charlie Munger. Then tell me again where my analysis and observations are different from Charlie's?
"If you're right about the companies, you can hold them at pretty high values."
"Over the long term, it's hard for a stock to earn a much better return that the business which underlies it earns. If the business earns 6% on capital over forty years and you hold it for that forty years, you're not going to make much different than a 6% return - even if you originally buy it at a huge discount. Conversely, if a business that earns 18% on capital over twenty or thirty years, even if you pay an expensive looking price, you’ll end up with one hell of a result."
Je suis Charlie.