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Quarterly Investment Outlook: Growth Slowing/Inflation Accelerating


*6 minute read 

 Update on Current Bull Market: 

The Economic Expansion Cycle is now 118 months old. The record is 120 months. The average since 1950 is 40. 

 Quarterly Performance Figures as of March 31, 2019: 

The S&P 500 finished the quarter up 13.07%, the Nasdaq up 16.49%, and the Dow up 11.15%. 

 Here’s a video from Hedgeye summarizing the points made in the below commentary if you prefer to digest your content this way: 

 With the first quarter of 2019 in the books, the performance figures paint a rosy picture! In fact this was the best start to a year for the S&P 500 since 1998. That’s welcome news for investors after a poor year-end showing in which stocks and bonds underperformed cash in 2018. 

Needless to say, this market performance is quite strange in light of the soft data, weak income and spending, contracting manufacturing numbers, lower than expected GDP growth, and corporate earnings expected to slow in the latter half of the year. 

Over the past few weeks I have poured through commentary after commentary from economists and investment strategists trying to make sense of the double digit returns we have seen in such a short period. If markets are truly driven by corporate earnings, but earnings are slowing, why are markets then shrugging off this information and prices reflecting a rosier environment? Why are stocks rallying but bond yields are reflecting much lower growth? Why is the data suggesting the economy is slowing down, when logically, with cheap oil, low interest rates, tight spreads and a stable US Dollar, the global economy should be booming? So many questions to address, so let’s dive into why. 

As I suggested in my previous commentary in March, the main driver supporting this market rally is The Federal Reserve’s decision to back away from raising interest rates and its commitment to remaining patient with future increases. But we have to wonder, is this dovish Fed policy actually enough to keep the market on steady footing and will it support the current rally through year-end? Or will a recession sneak up on us in short order? 

What we do know is the bond market just gave us our first signal of a coming recession with an inverted yield curve, the first time this has happened since 2007. And this has many concerned. If it’s inevitable that a recession will occur at some point, like a broken clock is right twice a day, it’s no longer a matter of if, rather, when we get the next recession. History suggests 12-18 months after the inversion of the yield curve, so this gives us some time to prepare. 

This also brings about the question, how reliable is an inverted yield curve in predicting a coming recession? The results are compelling: 85% of the time recessions follow an inverted yield curve. Recall that last time we had an inverted curve in 2007, what followed a year later was the global financial crisis of 2008-09. Major equity (stock) markets dropped over 50%, peak to trough (top to bottom). Panic ensued, and emotions ran wild. Sensible investment strategies and carefully constructed portfolios gave way to panic selling and a rush to safe haven investments such as treasuries and cash. 

This is a time when your financial advisor should have talked you out of making emotional decisions. They should have set you up with the proper asset allocation from day 1, a mix of stock/bonds/alternatives/cash matching your risk tolerance and long-term investment goals, and kept you committed to this plan even when every part of you was ready to hit the sell button. 

Given we’re 10 years into the current bull market expansion, you must be wondering what steps you can take to protect yourself from future steep declines? 

I’ll simplify this into two common strategies that are employed. The first strategy is taken by a majority of investors and can have devastating consequences to long term returns. It involves selling all your stocks, sticking the proceeds in cash, and waiting until “things look better,” more commonly referred to as market timing. With market timing, you have to get two things right, when to buy AND when to sell. Market timing is not a repeatable process, so even if you somehow managed to sell at the top of the market in 2007, and re-entered in March of 2009 at the market lows, consider yourself lucky and don’t fool yourself into believing this is at all attributed to skill. But this is not to suggest we have to sit on our hands either. 

The second and more preferred strategy, the one I use in managing client portfolios is what we financial professionals like to refer to as “rebalancing.” Rebalancing is an opportunity to 1) bring the asset allocation back to its original mix and 2) adjust portfolios to reflect the current growth and inflationary environment. 

Let’s first address 1) bringing the asset allocation back to its original mix by providing an example of a $100,000 portfolio invested on Jan 1, 2019: 

Original Portfolio Value and Stock/Bond mix as of Jan 1, 2019 

$70,000 (70%) of S&P 500 ETF, Ticker: SPY 

$30,000 (30%) of Barclays Aggregate Bond ETF, Ticker: AGG 

Year to Date through April 5, the S&P 500 ETF is up 15.97%, while the Barclays Aggregate Bond ETF is up 2.54%. The portfolio now has a current value of $111,941. 

Current Portfolio Value and Stock/Bond mix as of April 5, 2019 

81,179 (73%) of S&P 500 ETF, Ticker: SPY 

30,762 (27%) of Barclays Aggregate Bond ETF, Ticker: AGG 

When the stock market rises sharply like it has year to date, the portion of stocks in your portfolio grows to a larger amount (percentage) of the overall portfolio, which may expose you to more risk than you’re comfortable taking should the markets drop substantially. In this example, what started as a 70% Stock/30% Bond portfolio is now a 73% Stock/27% Bond portfolio only 4 months later. You can imagine that over a 3 or 5-year period of solid stock market returns, and average bond market returns, the portfolio doesn’t come close to resembling its original mix! 

After the asset allocation has been addressed, I look to implement item 2) adjusting portfolios to reflect the current growth and inflationary environment as another risk management strategy. 

This is where I turn to the research team at Hedgeye for their quality, independent, data driven research to help me implement decisions through a repeatable rules-based process, not guesswork. 

Recently the research team over at Hedgeye suggested we are in a slowing growth and accelerating inflationary environment, which they call #Quad3. 

They suggest “overweight(s),” to asset classes you should consider increasing exposure to, and “underweight(s)” to asset classes you should consider decreasing exposure to. 

Here is a list of the overweight’s and underweights they recommend for Quad 3: 

Asset Class Overweight(s): 

  • Fixed Income

Equity Sector Overweight(s): 

  • Utilities, Tech, Energy, and REITs

Equity Style Factor Overweight(s): 

  • Low Beta/Minimum Vol., Growth, and Quality 

Fixed Income Overweight(s): 

  • Long Duration Treasuries, Taxable Munis, and TIPS

Asset Class Underweight(s): 

  • Equities and Credit

Equity Sector Underweight(s): 

  • Financials, Materials, Communication Services, and Consumer Staples

Equity Style Factor Underweight(s): 

  • High Dividend Yield, Value, and Small Caps

Fixed Income Underweight(s): 

  • Convertibles, Leveraged Loans, and High Yield Credit

As long as the data continues to reflect this combination of slowing growth/inflation accelerating, we will boost our investments in asset classes above labeled “overweight.” These are some of the modifications that we can implement to help improve the overall risk adjusted returns of your portfolios. 

Aaron L. Hattenbach, AIF®

[email protected]

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Late Cycle Investing Playbook


Late Cycle Investing Playbook


“You can’t predict, however you can prepare”

Howard Marks on The Tim Ferris Show


It’s now been 2,416 days (or 6.5 years) since the last 20% market correction.  In secular bull market cycles, the average is 1,105 days before a 20% correction occurs.  While we may not know what lies ahead, investors can enhance their likelihood of success if they base their actions on a sense for where the market stands in its cycle.

So where are we in the current market cycle?  The economic recovery in the US post 2008-09 has now entered its 10th year.  It’s worth noting that the longest U.S. recovery on record lasted just ten years.  While there certainly is no hard-and-fast rule that limits economic recoveries to 10 years, it seems reasonable to assume based on history that the odds are against a ten-year-old recovery continuing for much longer.

With it being the 10th year of the economic recovery, you may be wondering what one should do at the later stages of the economic cycle?  Move to cash and wait for the next market correction and opportunity to buy low?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  If you fool yourself into believing you can time the market successfully, know that even the smartest of professional investors with the best technology and teams of research professionals can’t do this consistently.  However, if you’d like to apply a sensible investment strategy that has performed well on a relative basis in the 7th, 8th, and 9th (later) innings of the economic cycle, continue reading.

But first, an update on the US economy, and it’s mostly good news… 

  • We’re about to hit 9 consecutive quarters of accelerating US GDP growth (from 3Q 2016 to 3Q 2018), an unprecedented streak in US economic history.
  • Corporate profits have grown at a staggering 25% year over year, which is important because the US has never experienced a recession when corporate profits have been increasing.
  • There’s never been a recession in the US when the leading indicators have been rising as they are now.

While the S&P 500 was up nearly 9% this year (through September 30), the bulk of returns was driven by a few large tech stocks, not broad market participation.  On a recent conference call, Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock (one of the world’s largest asset managers) was quoted as saying, “If you strip out a handful of outperforming tech stocks, the lack of breadth in the equity markets is troubling.”  And the numbers are very much alarming.  Apple and Amazon were responsible for nearly 30% of the S&P 500’s nearly 9% gain so far this year, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

There are certainly risks to weigh…

I’m concerned that investors have largely ignored the glaring risks associated with major tech companies, such as potential punitive measures that could affect Apple’s manufacturing in China or cost increases that could hurt Amazon’s e-commerce sales, both risks to constituents that contributed 30% of the current returns to the S&P 500.  We’ll obviously need broader participation overall, and in particular from the financial sector to keep this bull market chugging along.

High levels of investor optimism, without a healthy level of skepticism also indicate we’re nearing a peak in the cycle, and that the easy money has been made.

A few more anecdotal pieces of evidence to support this extreme optimism:

  • At the beginning of 2018, 2,296 private equity funds were in fund-raising mode, seeking $744 Billion of equity capital. These are all-time highs. (Financial Times)
  • According to Crunchbase, there have been 268 venture capital mega-rounds ($100 million rounds), invested during the first seven months of this year, almost equal to a record of 273 mega-rounds for the entire year of 2017. And during the month of July alone, there were 50 financing deals totaling $15 billion, which is a new monthly high.” (The Robin Report)
  • Personal loans are surging. The amount outstanding reached $180 billion in the first quarter, up 18%.  “Fintech companies originated 36% of total personal loans in 2017 compared with less than 1% in 2010, Chicago based TransUnion said.” (Bloomberg)

Remember that every single economic cycle ends with wage growth accelerating; and every single US recession starts with wage growth accelerating (Hedgeye).  So while Amazon raising its hourly minimum wage to $15 seems positive for the economy, its likely a signal of where we stand in the market cycle.

While the US economy is doing quite well, it’s important to not overlook the market and economic structural concerns that remain.  Increasing federal debt will eventually cause interest rates to rise sharply and stifle housing and capital spending.  Higher tariffs imposed by the US are punishing already ailing Europe and the rest of the world where growth has been contracting.

In Europe, where the economy was growing at close to 2% last year, business activity has tapered off.  The UK is growing at only 1%, or one half of its growth rate prior to Brexit.  And in this globally interconnected economy, our markets, and specifically the S&P 500 generates more than 40% of their earnings from abroad.  So when the rest of the world catches an economic cold, we aren’t necessarily immune.

Now that you’ve had time to digest the good and the bad, let’s get to the main objective of this commentary—sharing with you, the strategies that are more effective at the later stages of the market cycle.  Stocks that have historically exhibited lower risk and higher quality characteristics, which will likely lag in a stronger market environment like the one we’re currently in, but over a full market cycle, could expect to earn a better risk-adjusted set of returns than the overall market.  Which is why, going into year-end, I’m beginning to trim my client’s exposure to cyclical growth sectors (Tech, Consumer) and re-allocating to sectors and stocks that demonstrate lower volatility and higher quality factors.

Specifically, here are some investment strategies for further consideration:

  1. USMV. iShares Edge MSCI Minimum Volatility USA ETF

USMV is a strategy designed to track an index composed of U.S. equities that as a whole have lower volatility characteristics in relation to the broader U.S. equity market.  This strategy carries a beta of 0.67 in relation to the S&P 500.  Beta is a measure of the tendency of securities to move with the market as a whole.  A beta of 1 indicates that the security’s prices will move with the market.  A beta less than 1 indicates the security tends to be less volatile than the market, while a beta greater than 1 indicates the security is more volatile than the market.

Important to note, and taken directly from the fact sheet of this fund: Historically, USMV has declined less than the market during market downturns.

  1. VIG. Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF.

VIG is a strategy designed to track the performance of the NASDAQ US Dividend Achievers Select Index, an index of companies that have a record of growing their dividends year over year for a period of at least 10 consecutive years.  The strategy targets highly profitable U.S. dividend paying stocks, reducing the fund’s exposure to stocks with weak fundamentals.  The fund’s tilt toward more stable stocks has helped it shine during market downturns.

By no means should you entirely abandon the technology and consumer discretionary sectors, rather, if adding new cash to the markets at these levels, look to the above strategies providing exposure to companies with more stable cash flows and “boring businesses” that are less sensitive to the ebbs and flows of the economy.


Warm Regards,



Aaron L. Hattenbach, AIF®

Managing Member

Rapport Financial

[email protected]


The opinions expressed herein are those of Rapport Financial, LLC (RF) and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is not a guarantee or indicator of future results. Consider the investment objectives, risks and expenses before investing.  You should not consider the information in this letter as a recommendation to buy or sell any particular security and should not be considered as investment advice of any kind. You should not assume that any of the securities discussed in this report are or will be profitable, or that recommendations we make in the future will be profitable or equal the performance of the securities listed in this newsletter. These securities may not be in an account’s portfolio by the time this report is received, or may have been repurchased for an account’s portfolio. These securities do not represent an entire account’s portfolio and may represent only a small percentage of the account’s portfolio. partners, employees or their family members may have a position in securities mentioned herein.  Rapport Financial was established in 2017 and is registered under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940. Additional information about RF can be found in our Form ADV.