Financial markets are artificially priced. In the bond market, there is nothing normal about a three year German Bund yielding a “minus” 10 basis points. Similarly, UK Gilts and U.S. Treasurys have in recent years never experienced such low yields and therefore high prices. The same comparison can be applied to stocks. While profits in many cases are at record highs, the discounting of future profit streams by an artificially low interest rate results in corresponding high P/E ratios. Real estate cap rates, which help to price homes and commercial shopping centers, are affected in the same way. While monetary policy with its Quantitative Easing and forward guidance for low future interest rates have salvaged a semblance of growth and job gains – especially in the U.S. – they have brought prosperity forward in the financial markets. If yields can’t go much lower, then bond market capital gains are limited. The same logic applies in other asset categories. We have had our Biblical seven years of fat. We must look forward, almost by mathematical necessity, to seven figurative years of leaner: Bonds – 3% to 4% at best, stocks – 5% to 6% on the outside. That may not be enough for your retirement or your kid’s college education. It certainly isn’t for many private and public pension funds that still have a fairy tale belief in an average 7% to 8% return for the next 10 to 20 years! What do you do?
Well the obvious advice on a personal level: Retire later, save more, accept a revised standard of living. But the financial advice varies with your age and willingness to take risk. Younger investors with a Texas Hold’em “all in” attitude could push all of their chips onto the equity table. Boomers nearing retirement probably cannot afford to. A lengthy bear market could force them permanently out of the game. So, one size does not fit all here. It never has.
What might be applicable for most generations, however, is an “unconstrained strategy” that I managed well for the past few years at PIMCO and which now provides me the opportunity for 100% of my time at Janus. An unconstrained strategy sounds very open-ended, and it is. But it allows a professional and experienced investment firm like Janus to select the most attractive alternatives across many asset categories while hopefully diminishing the risk of bond and stock bear markets. The strategy seeks to protect principal while providing an acceptable return in this low yielding, low returning world that I have just described. Unconstrained investors should expect a shorter average maturity for bonds; an ability to profit from currency movements currently taking place with the euro and the yen fits the description as well; taking advantage of what is known as “optionality” and investing in what I have successfully applied in the past with what is called “structured alpha,” would be an important component too. The simple explanation of an unconstrained strategy:
Take your best ideas within the context of a low duration/short maturity portfolio and try to help investors achieve what they consider to be an acceptable return. Watch the fees as well.
Whatever your risk/return persuasion, whether it be stocks, bonds, unconstrained, real estate, or “other,” an “intelligent investor” (as initially described by Benjamin Graham in the late 1940s) should be aware that returns almost necessarily cannot equal the magnificent prior decades that some of you might have experienced during my days at PIMCO. But I/we look forward, with the same intensity and “client comes first” attitude that led to my second marriage at Janus. James Bond famously said that “you only live twice.” I hope to emulate Mr. Bond as Janus Denver and Janus Newport Beach link hands and ideas to improve your financial balance sheet, and ultimately provide a better life for you and your family. Perhaps you only dance twice too. Sue and I would like that.