Market Notes

December 20, 2018

Eagle, Colorado

Do you remember 1931?

This was the year that...

·         May 1 Empire State Building opens in New York City

·         Oct 18 American gangster Al Capone convicted of tax evasion

·         Nov 7 Chinese People's Republic proclaimed by Mao Zedong

·         Mar 14 1st theater built for rear movie projection (NYC)

·         Sep 2 Bing Crosby makes his solo radio debut

Yeah... I don’t remember any of that either (although I’m sure a few of you do!).

1931 was the last time stocks had this bad of a start to December - and that doesn’t include yesterday’s drop of around 1.5% which came after being up as much as 1%, early in the day. For anyone who thought that the Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell was going to come the rescue of falling markets and deliver a Santa Claus Rally, they were mistaken.

For the month of December, the S&P 500 is down 9.33% and for the year 2018 it is down 7.01%. Since reaching an all-time high of 2930.75 on 9/20/2018, the index is down 14.46%. This is a touch better than the performance of global stock markets with the All-World Index (excluding US) down more than 15% for the year. For most of 2018, global markets have been down and with the US being the lone bright spot. In December, the script has flipped but global markets are still down 3.76% for the month.

As global markets have sold off, we have followed our exit strategy rules across all portfolios and now have substantial cash to allocate to new investments. Many of the investments that we have sold along the way continue to be fundamentally sound long-term investments and we constantly monitor these positions for technical re-entry signals. And, along the way many of the stocks that we have had our eye on for several years but have always been too expensive for our liking have come back into buy-range from a valuation perspective – which is exciting. When I looked yesterday, across our entire book of business we held roughly 37% of our assets in cash, treasuries and CD’s. This is highly unusual and won’t last for long – but it is great evidence that our rules-based strategy works extremely well when it comes to capital preservation. Should markets continue to sell off, we will continue to raise cash. If markets turn around and run higher from here, we will still be in our best positions and we’ll act quickly to redeploy capital into our best ideas.

SOURCE: click to enlarge

This is an example of how our rules-based strategy would have worked if you had used it on shares of Apple (AAPL) over the past 10 years. There is a lot going on in this chart, but essentially, we would have been invested when the stock was going up, and not invested for most of the downturns. The idea is to preserve capital and invest more when the odds are in our favor. Combined with proper position sizing, our portfolio design is (intentionally) extremely resilient.

SOURCE: click to enlarge

In this example, the orange line represents a 30% trailing stop-loss which is what we have manually set and used for our AAPL position going back to our days at Northwestern Mutual. It shows that since 2009, we would have only been stopped-out of the position once, and only for about 9 months overall. And yes, it also means we just hit our stop yesterday.

On the bright side, bonds have reclaimed their position as a hedge against a falling market in this quarter with the Barclays Aggregate Bond index up 1.39%, and up 1.59% for the month of December. We have been adding treasuries yielding around 2% (annualized) and will continue to use these instruments to generate a reasonable yield on our cash position while we wait for the markets to settle down.

To be clear, we have no interest in predicting or picking the bottom of this event any more than we were keen to call the top, 3 months back. As I mentioned in my last blog, timing the market doesn’t mean being all-in, or all-out. It just means correctly assessing the situation and behaving rationally and in accordance with a sound and rigorously developed rules-based strategy.

Right now, there is more debt built up in the global financial system than there ever has been before. The amount of debt carried by households, companies and governments is at unprecedented levels and was never “reset” during the financial crisis. Far too many companies that should have gone bankrupt long ago have been able to borrow more, and more, and more – perpetuating a malinvestment cycle that is also unprecedented (in my opinion). The survival of these companies starves our economy of true innovation by burning capital that would otherwise have been invested in other innovative ideas – both good and bad.

If you have a few minutes, I would encourage you to watch this interview of Jeff Gundlach on CNBC the other day. There is more but I can’t seem to find the full interview. Additionally, Jim Chanos was recently interviewed (also by CNBC) and this short clip is worth your 90 seconds.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned. But there are also reasons to be optimistic. We are more than ¾ of the way to marking an “official” bear market (-20% from highs), and history is full of examples where markets go down 20% only to stop going down there and charge much higher over the years to come – and there are always reasons to be concerned.

This too shall pass – perhaps like a kidney stone. The only question is when.

Every bear market (20% drop) doesn’t need to be accompanied with a “financial crisis” or “great depression”. In fact, most are not. So, there are plenty of reasons to think we are close to the end of the sell-off. If that is the case, we will be ready to scoop up valuable investments with our cash. If not, we will continue to follow our predetermined but dynamic volatility-based stops, and this will preserve our capital for the future.


Shane Fleury

Chief Investment Officer



Legal Information and Disclosures

This commentary expresses the views of the author as of the date indicated and such views are subject to change without notice. Elevate Capital Advisors, LLC (“Elevate”) has no duty or obligation to update the information contained herein. This information is being made available for educational purposes only. Certain information contained herein concerning economic trends and performance is based on or derived from information provided by independent third-party sources. Elevate believes that the sources from which such information has been obtained are reliable; however, it cannot guarantee the accuracy of such information and has not independently verified the accuracy or completeness of such information or the assumptions on which such information is based. This memorandum, including the information contained herein, may not be copied, reproduced, republished, or posted in whole or in part, in any form without the prior written consent of Elevate. Further, wherever there exists the potential for profit there is also the risk of loss.