The Potential Benefits of Managed Futures

Many investors don’t want to miss growth opportunities. They would like to find a solution with seemingly less exposure to loss. Altegris believes there is an asset class with a historical track record for pursuing long-term growth that may also help to potentially reduce a portfolio’s overall volatility—managed futures.

The infographic below highlights what Altegris considers to be four key features of managed futures:

ALT_MF_Benefits_Infographic_053017_APPROVED@1x

 

THE ORACLE

In May of this year, our former CEO and Chief Investment Strategist, Jack Rivkin, posted a prophetic blog post entitled, “Beginning the Look Back at What We Expected for 2016 (and Beyond).”

As many of you know, Jack will never finish his 2016 review. He passed away from pancreatic cancer this past Election Day, Tuesday, November 8th.  This was a cruel irony since there is no investment luminary, nor human being, generally, we would rather have spoken to that event on Election Day. Very few individuals come into our lives and make such a profound impact. From Jack’s intelligence, humor, empathy and love of his family, there is no comparison.

As homage to Jack, we invite you to read excerpts of his two most uncannily prescient blog posts:

The Election

In his May 2016 post, Jack led his section on the election with the late Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy.”

“I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean,
I love the country, but I can’t stand the scene.
And I’m neither left or right,
I’m just staying home tonight,
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
…I’m still holding up,
This little wild bouquet,
Democracy is coming to the USA.”

—Leonard Cohen

Jack wrote, “This may be one of the most democratic elections we have had in a long time. The constituencies have been motivated by non-establishment candidates on both sides to vote as they feel in terms of their innate fears and beliefs coming from the gut and the heart. This is in contrast to the more “enlightened” fears that would come from the head, calling for preservation of the system. This is what, historically, has been presented by the ‘Establishment.’

There have always been differences in the views between the two major parties of what really is important in the system, but the outcomes have been conventional and, ultimately, supportive of global commerce, finance, and an expanding role of government. In this election, the anti-establishment elements may end up determining what will appear to be a different path. Although, I would expect that the ultimate differences will not be long-lasting.”

 
On November 7, 2016, Leonard Cohen passed away.

 

Oil and the Environment

Many of you may not know that Jack was born in Oklahoma. He was also an avid follower of the impact of climate change on the environment. These two worlds collided in Jack’s January 2016 commentary, where he strayed from more conventional market outlooks; sounding alarm bells for the US oil market. While the price of crude has yet to be impacted by the recent spike in such earthquakes, however, this ‘tail risk” disruption could be just ahead.

 

An Earthquake on the Recently Discovered Cushing Fault causes Major Damage and throws US Oil Markets into Turmoil

“I don’t want to go the route of Iben Browning, forecasting an earthquake in late 1990 on the New Madrid fault that has yet to occur. However, we are seeing daily tremors in Oklahoma in the vicinity of the Cushing storage facility and pipeline system. In 2015 Oklahoma had more quakes of 3.0 or higher than any other state. Yes, that includes California. Some recent studies have identified a fault, named the Cushing fault, in the region where there is increased risk of a major earthquake in part from the introduction of ground water from fracking activity and tertiary recovery. I don’t know enough to make the mistake Iben did of putting a date on when an earthquake could occur, but if there is a disruption of the storage and pipeline systems in Cushing, for whatever reason at whatever time, it could push up the prices of refined product from shortages of crude and possibly lower further the price of crude as producers struggle to find storage and other shipment means for what they are producing. Gulf Coast refiners will likely bid up crude prices to keep the refineries going, but producers will need to move what they are producing by any means possible. It will be an interesting tug of war between the domestic producers and the refiners re who is in the best position to bargain. In the meantime offshore producers will step in to deliver oil to the Gulf Coast refiners who account for close to half of the production in the US.”

Cushing, Oklahoma experienced a 5.0 magnitude earthquake on November 6, 2016.  Despite a swarm of earthquakes that occurred after his post in Oklahoma, this one hit the closest to where the US stores is largest number of crude oil barrels.

 


Jack will be sorely missed. We are truly honored to have worked with him, and aim to continue his legacy in our every day.

If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and condolences, please email rememberingjack@altegris.com.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

As we approach the end of summer, here’s my perspective on economic issues worth watching.

Employment
The big new noise is the July employment report. Job growth surged, according to the Department of Labor. The US economy added 255,000 positions, according to the Department of Labor, far more than the 180,000 increase that economists had been predicting. Average hourly wages rose 0.3 percent, also higher than expected. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.9 percent.

I am going a bit out on a limb here, but I go back to what appears to be some changes in the pattern of hiring and layoffs as the US has shifted from an industrial to a service economy. Ordinarily July is a big layoff month as factories historically shut down for a good part of that month to install new, more productive equipment. In addition, some service entities, including educational facilities, also have reductions in force around that time. But the times they are a-changin’. School facilities are altering their schedules, and factories don’t necessarily have to close for upgrading. Typically, close to one million people leave the work force in July. That gets seasonally-adjusted to a positive number about which we all talk. As I have said, I have never met a seasonally-adjusted person. It will be interesting to see what happens this year with the labor market relatively tight and the patterns changing. This affected the numbers in May and June with May being understated while June more than made up for that understatement. The pattern YTD is about 100,000 short between the seasonally-adjusted numbers and the unadjusted numbers. Let’s see how the job numbers play out in coming months—revised numbers will be released in September. Meanwhile, I think we should pay more attention to the wage numbers, which are rising. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.6 percent. Higher wages are a big component of the Fed’s inflation gauge. Both the July employment numbers and higher wages could affect the Fed’s thinking in September.

Brexit
In the meantime Brexit continues to be newsworthy. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has taken precautions to ease the potential downside for Britain. In response, instead of punishing the UK, the EU has an opportunity to move toward a more United Europe. It has to take a harder look at what has to be done throughout Europe on the fiscal side and with regard to the debt and negative rates. The question is, will it? I think it has to. Raw democracy may get in the way.

What else?
As I have previously observed, I think the emerging markets with some volatility are where the growth is. India has to fall in that camp. The reform steps are a start. One has to remember that India is the world’s largest democracy. Whether Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi can navigate his way through this is another question. I think he can, but it will be a volatile road.

As I have said before I find the Americas the most interesting set of markets. They have had quite a run in anticipation of change from Cape Columbia to Tierra del Fuego. Just think if our focus was to make America great in the broadest sense of the definition. We still have long-term issues of growth globally. It will be a slower pace overall, but the opportunities may prove to be broader. Maybe a measure of stability in real assets and some understanding of the value of illiquidity premiums become a focus. So, pay attention to the Americas, all of them.

Macro, Markets, and Malarkey

Stocks and Bonds
It feels like forever ago, but back in February, the S&P 500 hit its lowest level since 2014 as global growth fears spooked investors, leading to liquidations and deleveraging—most notably for sovereign wealth funds.

Fast forward to now…as of the end of July 2016, the S&P 500 closed at 2,173.60—up 7.5% from the beginning of the year. And, 10-year treasury yields started the year at 2.24%; as of the end of July 2016, rates were at 1.46%—a 35% decline in yield from the beginning of the year. These are big movements in both domestic stock and bond markets which investors shouldn’t take lightly.

Fig1_S&P+10yrTreasury

Also, more than $11 trillion in negative yielding bonds are outstanding, largely in Europe and Japan. The Financial Times wrote a great piece recently highlighting the post-Brexit surge in investor bond purchases.[1]

Fig2_GlobalNegYieldSovDebt

This means that if an investor holds one of these bonds until maturity, they actually lose money. They are also paying the issuer for the right to own these bonds, versus receiving some sort of payment in return—as Finance 101 teaches us should be the case. Governments with massive stimulus policies (ECB, Bank of Japan, and now the Bank of England) are buying up bonds, bidding up the price of these bonds and thus sending yields negative. Accelerating the decline in yields is the fact that the supply of such bonds is not ample enough to meet this demand. Negative yields are supposed to entice investors to invest in other assets, since they clearly lose money by investing in such bonds. This hasn’t happened. And yes, this is completely backwards and deflationary.

Currencies and Commodities
Currency markets have not been immune to this storyline; as Europe and Japan use monetary policy to help grow their economies, foreign investments flow to the US for its higher yields. Since May, foreign buying coupled with more hawkish Fed speak has strengthened the US dollar versus other currencies.

Fig3_USDollarIndex

If the US dollar continues to strengthen or simply stays strong on a relative basis, this has the potential effect of placing a lid on US inflation. The stronger the US economy gets versus its global counterparts, the stronger the dollar looks versus other currencies.

A strong dollar is usually a negative for commodities. And in fact, the strong dollar has kept commodity markets mostly in check since early May, as we wrote about in Commodities at a Crossroads. Of note, crude oil fell to under $30 a barrel earlier this year, sliding alongside the S&P 500, touching its lowest levels since May of 2002. It then spiked to above $50, and now hovers just north of $40 due to dollar related price pressure—nearly 20% below its peak in June of $50.11.

The US Economy and Election
That’s not all. We’ve barely discussed the domestic economy. Here at home, despite anemic GDP growth of 1.2% for Q2, economic growth is indeed expanding as evidenced by the latest payroll and hiring figures. Non-farm payrolls increased by 255,000 in July on a seasonally-adjusted basis, with the unemployment rate at a very healthy 4.9%. Wage growth and labor market improvements here in the US makes a strong case for the Fed to raise rates. Our view is they should raise rates in September, ahead of the election. Whether they will or not remains another question.

Lastly, and as an homage to Vice President Biden’s favorite saying, “malarkey,” rhetoric around the US election has truly captured the American public, including ourselves. We are seeing raw democracy at work here and elsewhere. People are voting against the establishment; it’s a small segment of the human race, but it affects us all. In the meantime, it may become clearer that at extremes, when enough of the populace is truly feeling disadvantaged, capitalism has to make some changes. Otherwise capitalism and democracy are not going to work when the rule of law favors a few as opposed to the many. While this line of thinking may be too philosophical for a financial markets blog, it merits consideration because it does affect one’s view on investing.

Thus far financial markets have not reacted to the election news melee, but investors should pay attention. Should the Republicans lose their majority in the House and Senate, and Hillary Clinton is elected, this could have a dramatic impact on GDP as government spending will very likely increase…then again, it will also increase if Trump builds his wall.

What Should Investors Do?
Stocks can be at record highs throughout the year. The reality is that it doesn’t take much of a move to set a new record high when you have just made one. Odds are we will see low growth for the rest of the year, maybe the rest of the decade. One should expect dispersion by country and company with thoughtful, well analyzed decisions to make on what to own. This is going to take real professionals who are either doing real fundamental analysis or machine learning or can take advantage of the volatility and the anomalies. It’s going to be a different market. We all know that global and country growth comes from demographics and technology (of which productivity is a subset if you can measure it). But, there is a payback when the easy money goes away, causing slower growth than the demographics and technology would suggest.

In light of this, our view is that investors should have two areas of their portfolio well covered. First, there are downside risks to the market right now. Ignoring this fact would potentially leave one’s portfolio without a buffer, and we believe every portfolio needs uncorrelated assets. While it is self-serving to advocate for managed futures, Altegris has a focus on managed futures because time and time again they have performed during some of the worst periods for traditional equity markets.
Fig4_PR_ManagedFuturesPerfDuringEquityMarketStress_1288-NLD-882016

Equity markets could continue to push for new highs, but we believe they are also susceptible to periods of steep losses. Managed futures performance has historically been uncorrelated to the performance of the broad stock market, and we strongly believe all investors with risk capital should consider this diversifying return stream, given the current macro picture.

The second bookend to investors’ portfolios, given the market environment, is private equity. Private equity was one of the few areas that didn’t sell off when investors panicked earlier this year, and whose returns can be orthogonal to the returns of traditional markets. Now, private equity is not a liquid investment option, so investors must be thoughtful in terms of just how much they allocate. But it is the forgoing of frequent liquidity that makes private equity attractive in our opinion. This is what is commonly referred to as the illiquidity premium, which is essentially the potential reward of enhanced returns—over time. This potential for enhanced returns may be particularly attractive for investors given the uncertainty in traditional equities at present.

The bottom line is that investors should aim to diversify portfolios. Look for ways to grow and preserve capital in your portfolio and seek returns in areas where investment managers have a real edge and understanding of the underlying investments. Pay attention, and invest for the future of your portfolios.

 

Data sourced from Bloomberg unless otherwise specified.

[1] Financial Times, June 29, 2016: http://www.ft.com/fastft/2016/06/29/negative-yielding-sovereign-debt-rises-to-11-7tn-globally/

REITs vs. Your Home

Many people don’t have an investment allocation to real estate investment trusts (“REITs”) because they believe they already have “enough” exposure to “real estate” through ownership of their home. REITs and your home are very different asset classes with very different characteristics. REITs invest primarily in commercial real estate, which is any non-residential property used for commercial profit-making purposes. Your home is an investment in residential real estate, which is a type of property, containing either a single-family or multifamily structure, which is available for occupation and non-business purposes.

Performance

Over the past 20 years publicly-traded REITs have returned an annualized 11.23% total return and homes have returned 3.47%, or just a little more than inflation. Over these 20 years, REITs returned more than 7x (740%) while homes didn’t quite double (98%). Publicly-traded REITs have been one of the top performing asset classes and homes have been one of the worst over the past 20 years.

Fig1_REITs_vs_Homes_08-2016

There are many differences between REITs and your home that contribute to this notable difference in performance. The largest contributor is that commercial real estate can generate positive cash flows but the residential home you live in cannot. By living in your home, you are effectively consuming the market rate rent that your home might have procured. If you forgo rent, as you do by living in your home, the return profile changes to be basically little more than an inflation hedge.  Performance of real estate follows the following formula: Total Return = price change + rent collected

Fig2_TBL-REITvsHome_080116

Diversification

With your home, 100% of the asset is in one property type and in one geographic market – this is concentration in its purist form, the opposite of diversification. On the other hand, with publicly-traded REITs, investors can choose from dozens of property types (including, but not limited to, specialized real estate sectors such as data centers, cell phone towers, casinos, medical research labs, infrastructure, prisons, ski areas, etc.) across any market in the U.S. and most major markets in the world. The opportunity for diversification in publicly-traded REITs vastly exceeds that of a single home.

Liquidity

Homes are relatively illiquid compared to public REITs that can be traded every day the stock market is open and settle to cash virtually immediately. This is in stark contrast to the home market, which may be illiquid for months, seasons, or even years, and can take months to settle to cash.

Transaction Costs

Transacting a home is much more costly than transacting in publicly-traded REITs. When you sell a home, the typical transaction cost is more than 6% of the home’s sale price (for perspective, based on data from the last 20 years as shown in the Total Return chart above, this is equal to about five years’ worth of your home’s price appreciation after inflation). In contrast, it costs little more than pocket change to trade shares of a public REIT ($7.95 per trade at Fidelity[1] and $4.95 per trade at Scottrade[2]).

Flexibility

Home ownership is not flexible. The entry price for a home is typically six-figures and you can’t really buy or sell a percentage of a home – it is binary: either you are in all the way or you are completely out. With publicly-traded REITs you can buy almost any amount you wish in single share increments (typically $20-$50/share) on the stock market. With public REITs you can trim, add or change a position in almost any amount on almost any day.

Supply & Demand

Perhaps the single most impactful factor that undermines home price appreciation is the ability of developers to add new product to the market. In our opinion, homes are the type of real estate most likely to be oversupplied because we believe they are the cheapest, smallest, quickest and least complicated real estate product type to build. AACA also believes that whenever the cost to build new homes is below the current market value of existing homes, builders will build new homes, which could create a price ceiling on the appreciation of your home. Additionally, in recessions, construction costs (materials and labor costs) decrease, which makes building new homes less expensive and creates additional new supply. This combination of factors could dampen your home’s price rebound out of a recession relative to public REITs, as shown in the historical graph below.

Volatility

Let’s look at volatility of publicly-traded REITs and homes. Below is a graph of the past 10 years, which includes the financial crisis. Since public REITs trade on the stock market, the share price of these REITs are subject to fluctuation in the stock market and as such experience volatility. However, we would argue the underlying physical real estate owned by the REITs can’t be much different in volatility than your physical home. The difference is that your home isn’t bought and sold every day and marked to that market price. That being said, in the graph below we see that homes sold off -32.81% and public REITs sold off -58.89% in the financial crisis. However, looking at a longer period of time, homes captured 56% of the downside and 8% of the upside of public REITs over the past 10 years – homes have been asymmetrical to the downside. And public REITs have since gone on to return 105.17% over the past 10 years while homes have returned 8.56% in that same time period.

Fig3_REITs_vs_Homes_08-2016

Final Thoughts

We believe you should think of your home first and foremost as the place you and your family live and second as an inflation hedge for your invested principal – nothing more than that. You should not think of your home as an investment in real estate (as history shows there has been almost no meaningful return after inflation). Publicly-traded REITs and your home are very different asset classes with very different characteristics.

But what if I rent my home out?

But what if I buy a home and rent it out? That would be good, right? Sure, you will grab the warranted rent (assuming you can find a good renter), but you may also be the one grabbing a plunger to fix the toilet on Christmas Eve when your renter calls. Also, you still need a place to live so you will presumably either be buying or renting a home to live in. Additionally, it is probably unlikely that you can rent one house as efficiently as a public REIT that has professional leasing, revenue optimization software, economies of scale, expert experience, market knowledge and real-time industry data. Lastly, if you want to buy a home and rent it out, there are several publicly-traded REITs that do that.

[1] https://www.fidelity.com/trading/commissions-and-margin-rates?s_tnt=76947:8:0

[2] http://welcome.tradeking.com/scottrade-comparison/?engine=google&campaign=ckws+-+scottrade+-+phrase&adgroup=scottrade+-+phrase&network=g&device=c&model=&keyword=scottrade&matchtype=p&position=1t2&adid=112556498471&ADTRK=sgo+ckws+-+scottrade+-+phrase+-+scottrade+-+phrase&gclid=CjwKEAjw5cG8BRDQj_CNh9nwxTUSJAAHdX3fPoZt6xE0DtdNphAY9XH6vkU3v3Kz-Yvhl8TO8_aeGRoCNW_w_wcB

Buy the (P/NAV) Dip

Burl East is a very experienced participant in and student of the real estate industry. As CEO of American Asset Capital Advisers (AACA), he is the sub-adviser for the Altegris long/short real estate strategy, of which REITs are an important part. He has recently written a blog for the AACA website on REITs and how they have historically traded relative to actual net asset values. Burl spends a lot of time looking at individual real estate companies, many of which are REITs, running long only separately managed accounts and, for us, looking at both sides of the markets—long and short—for opportunities. He makes an interesting case about the historical patterns of REIT stock performance relative to net asset values. Worth paying attention. —Jack Rivkin

Net asset value (“NAV”) is one of the core valuation metrics for real estate investment trusts (“REITs”). The metric aims to determine the inherent value of a REIT by assigning approximate liquidation values to the underlying real estate. To do so, investors must derive a series of go forward expectations such as net operating income (NOI) and cap rate assumptions to estimate a current market value of the underlying real estate.

As one may expect, general bouts of market volatility allow for share prices of publically traded REITs to deviate from their underlying net asset value. Thus, REIT shares typically trade at either a premium or discount price to net assets value (“P/NAV”). Generally, whenever REITs are trading at an elevated premium P/NAV, we expect lower go forward rates of return; and whenever REITs are trading at a deep discount P/NAV, we expect go forward rates of return to be higher. Fluctuations in P/NAV can create opportunity when REITs are trading at a premium to consider reducing positions or consider incorporating hedges, particularly in those REITs that are poorly positioned in their respective markets. Additionally, as evidenced by the recent pick up in announced REIT M&A activity, P/NAV discounts can grant opportunity to a variety of external buyers. These opportunistic buyers can generate a profit by selling off individual assets in the private market at an amount greater than the price they paid for the company in the public market. Hence, all else being equal, we believe it to be prudent to invest in REITs when they are trading at a discount P/NAV.

The SNL US Equity REIT Index (“REIT Index”) P/NAV has historically been somewhat mean-reverting with share price trading within a band of the underlying NAV. Looking at the “post-financial crisis” time period (trailing five years, 4/30/10 to 3/31/15), the mean P/NAV of the REIT index over this period was a 6.3% premium. As of the most recent month end (9/30/15), The REIT index was trading at an 8.5% discount to NAV (about 14.8% below the REIT index’s mean P/NAV for the trailing 5-year period studied).

In the study time period, when the REIT Index was trading at a discount P/NAV, the forward six-month returns of the REIT Index were positive 100% of the time. When the REIT index was trading at a premium P/NAV, the forward six-month returns of the REIT Index were positive 73% of the time during the study time period. Negative forward six-month returns of the REIT Index during that period only occurred when the REIT Index had been trading at a premium P/NAV.

Blog_REITs_Charts+Tables_101515-01_Scatter

As of the most recent month end (9/30/15), the REIT Index was trading at an 8.5% discount P/NAV, which we believe may suggest a positive forward six-month return.

02_Blog_REITs_Charts+Tables_101515_LineCharts-Correlation

This is a summary and does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any securities. The performance data featured in this document represents past performance, which is no guarantee of future results. Views are as of the dates indicated and are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions. All data in this document, including that used to compile performance, is obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed. Data is unaudited.

This document may contain forward-looking statements that are based on current expectations, forecasts and assumptions that involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual outcomes and results to differ materially. The following factors, among others, could cause actual results to differ from those implied by the forward-looking statements in this presentation: changes in general economic conditions; changes in specific real estate markets; legislative/regulatory changes (including changes to laws governing the taxation of real estate); and changes in generally accepted accounting principles, including policies and guidelines applicable to real estate funds. While forward-looking statements reflect American Assets Capital Advisers, LLC’s (“AACA”) good faith beliefs, assumptions and expectations, they are not guarantees of future or actual performance. Furthermore, AACA disclaims any obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement to reflect changes in underlying assumptions or factors, or new information, data or methods, future events or other changes.

The SNL US Equity REIT Index. The SNL US Equity REIT Index (“REIT Index”) is an index comprised of all the publically traded US equity REITs and is considered to be generally representative of the US real estate market as a whole. Results for the REIT Index include dividends and the reinvestment of all income and are presented gross of fees. At times, the volatility of your investment may be greater than the volatility of the REIT Index. Unlike the REIT Index, your investment may be actively managed.

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