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Last month’s ‘crisis’ was short lived as equity markets swiftly returned to all time highs in
October, leaving global equities 20% higher than where they started the year. Investors were buoyed by positive earnings data in the US as well as positive economic data elsewhere after a summer lull. In addition, there was some respite from negative news regarding China’s beleaguered property sector after Evergrande made an interest payment within the 30 day grace period afforded to firms before default.
Investors’ attention should instead be drawn to the bond market, where yields were volatile over the month as investors continue to grapple with a phenomena that is completely new to a significant portion of them; inflation. The 10y US treasury yield reached as high as 1.70% before retracing all the way back to 1.55%. Of equal note were the much larger increases in shorter-dated yields, which caused curves to flatten significantly, further exacerbated by numerous hedge funds being stopped out of ‘steepener’ trades. The yield curve phenomena will be written on more extensively in the Get Him To The Greek to be published this month, but suffice to say the eccentric moves seen in curves, not for the first time in the past 18m, perhaps illustrate how investors are struggling to price risk in an asset class that has been considered more or less riskless for so long.
The Fund was down 0.45% over the month.
The biggest detractors, unsurprisingly, were the rates curve strategies, two of which are US yield curve ‘steepeners’. The US yield curve flattened at its most aggressive rate since 2011 during the month. From here, if inflation does prove transitory, one would expect that the front end has gone too far, and the curve to steepen courtesy of the front retracing. If it is persistent, then the front end is correct and it is the back end that needs to catch up, again steepening the curve.
Elsewhere, the rates volatility strategies were the most profitable, benefitting from the turbulence in bond markets, which it should be noted still remains minor whilst the transitory narrative is widely accepted.
The Fund’s remaining equity quality exposure was sold during the month. Companies with weaker balance sheets in the US have been rewarded thus far this year. However, if inflation is to prove non-transitory, and debt does become more burdensome for a highly leveraged financial system, it is likely that there will be stress in credit markets, something already being seen in China. Therefore, the position has been replaced with a purer protection against volatility in credit markets, through long CDS positions on both European and US credit markets, bought at historically low levels.
To the end of October, the Fund is down 1.39% for the year, albeit some of this has already reversed out in November. This type of drawdown is not unusual for the strategies, particularly when equities are running at 25% annualised, and has been seen before; from 2011 to 2013 there was a drawdown of ~ 3%.
It would seem that the worst of the headwinds of commodities steepening into record backwardation, yield curves flattening at their fastest rate in a decade, and companies with the weakest balance sheets being rewarded the most look to have likely passed. And, looking at the current environment of rising inflation concerns, the inevitable re-emergence of Chinese liquidity issues in its property market, and a general consensus that the performance enhancing drugs of endless money printing and artificially low rates are going to have to be taken away from the market at some point. Structural uncorrelated diversifiers with some more convex defensive trades are likely to serve investors well; it may be the only diversification that is left.
|Hong Kong 50||-4.6%||3.3%|
|US Equity Income||n/a||7.0%|
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