UK Markets & Compound Income Portfolio
First the good news, although it's not news by now that January proved to be a better start to the year / first quarter for investors than the dreadful fourth quarter of 2018. The FTSE All Share delivered a total return of 4.2%, which was slightly ahead of the 4% from Small caps. The stars of the show were the Mid Caps. which produced a 7.1% return on the month.
That may be encouraging as the old saying of, as goes January goes the year or something like that. I guess time, as ever, will tell on that, although it certainly worked last year after a poor January in the UK led to a poor year.
The Compound Income Portfolio also bounced back well in January, in fact it had its best ever month (see table above) with a total return of 8.8%, making up for all of last years loss in one month and beating the FTSE All Share by 4.6% in the process. This takes the total return since inception in April 2015 to 67.9% versus 19% for the FTSE All Share, which equates to 14.5% per annum versus 4.7% per annum respectively.
This just goes to show the perils of market timing and why, in the main, I have tended to adopt a fully invested approach most of the time on the basis that it is to better to try and benefit from time in the market & compounding rather than trying to time the market. This months strong bounce back seems to reinforce that view as I guess it would have been easy to have been spooked into raising large amounts of cash in the last quarter of last year, which I know some people did. That's fine if it helps you sleep at night, fits in with your risk tolerance and investment objectives, but what do you do now? Do you buy back in at higher levels potentially or are you able to stay patient and wait for a better opportunity to present itself. I'm sure there are many different views on this.
I must admit that I have some sympathy for those who have raised cash, particularly given the current economic and market circumstances. Indeed as I have grown older and my net worth has multiplied, maybe I might become a bit more cautious myself given that actuarially speaking I probably only have about 20 to 30 years to go, although I'm hoping to live to 100. So that still means I probably have a long enough time horizon (hopefully) to be able to ride out another downturn, but despite my reservations about market timing, I can see also that in an ideal world, it would be great to step aside from a bear market to a certain extent and therefore preserve more of ones wealth in the shorter term, although if you are younger and newer to investing you should probably view setbacks as opportunities rather than threats as you will have time on your side and will presumably be investing new money each month or year regardless. Any way having said all that this brings us nicely onto the next topic.
UK Market Timing Indicators update.
Now for the bad news, which is despite this months recovery this did not change the signal from these as they all remain below their respective moving averages, albeit to a lesser extent now than they were, with all of them being around 4% below at the month end when they are calculated.
The US unemployment rate has by coincidence ticked up to 4% this month, which is pretty low historically and means that after matching its 12 month moving average last month, it has now moved above the moving average. So what you might be thinking? Well this is the key indicator I have been using to either turn off / ignore the signal from the market timing indicators or turn them on / pay attention to them.
This move therefore suggests that we should now be paying attention to the timing indicators. As they remain negative, this suggests we should be reducing risk / hedging as the market is in a negative trend and a US recession may lie ahead. So more on that a bit later, but in terms of what it means, the table below shows the history of what has happened in the past when US unemployment has turned higher. While the middle chart shows this matching up with recessions and the second graph brings that chart up to date and shows the recent uptick in unemployment - if you have good eyesight.
As you can see it has been a surprisingly timely warning of impending recession in the US with anything from 0 months to 8 months lead time and an average of 3.45 months which is why it was chosen as an indicator to focus on in this regard. The market setback and near bear market in Q4 last year may also have been an early warning sign, although the US Federal reserve at their recent meeting seemed to do a U-turn on their tightening plan in light of the market sell off and seemed to imply that they could even be done on tightening.
While this has helped to further the rally that we have seen since Christmas and means that the S & P is now starting to challenge resistance levels and may seem like a reason to expect a resumption of the bullish trend. I note in this weeks update from Steve Blumenthal at CMG that the S&P typically peaks after the Fed is done tightening. So equally the Fed's halt to raising rates could also mean they see bad things coming out of the statistics that they watch perhaps?
So while it seem like everything might still be OK, especially as ISM indices are still generally above 50, and the yield curve has not yet inverted, there does seem to be plenty to be concerned about what with Trump's trade war with China and the resultant slow down there plus slowdowns / recessionary conditions in Germany, Italy and of course Britain with all it's BREXIT fiasco.
My only caveat is that perhaps the unemployment statistics might have been distorted by the recent US government shutdown perhaps? With that in mind I'll wait for one more months data to see if the unemployment rate remains above its average and to see if the stock markets remain below their moving averages next month too before implementing any hedging arrangements for the Compound income Portfolio based on these combined market timing indicators. At the time of writing the All Sahre for example is just 1% below its average now based on last nights closing value.
In light of that I've decided to skip doing any trades for the portfolio this month, as a couple were quite marginal and a bit suspect given lack of recent news, while the one clear sell is a pretty stodgy, cheap defensive any way. Thus as there may be a lot of turnover required in the next month or two if I do implement some risk reduction moves I thought I would save on trading cost this month ahead of that.
In addition addition to Steve Blumenthal's piece above the other thing I would recommend is The Investors Podcast which featured Jonathan Tepper this week topically discussing bear markets and how they can differ depending on the circumstances in which they take place. His comments about the early 2000's one and the ability to shelter in old economy value stocks certainly resonated with me as I remember doing the same back then myself. The 2007-8 one was much more painful and widespread as far as I recall, unless you were smart and brave enough like Mr Tepper to be shorting US sub prime etc. or of course to have spotted the trouble in time and gone to cash in a big way early on. The other point he made which resonated with me was that in addition to sheltering in value you can also ride them out in quality stocks and obviously avoid the financially challenged etc. which is the type of stocks that the Compound Income Scores seek to identify.
The only thing I would add to that, from my own personal experience, is to also be wary of momentum in a downturn as when I worked at JP Morgan we had momentum as part of a quantitative investment process along with value, growth and quality factors, and suffered big draw downs and gave back a lot of prior out performance as momentum stopped working and crashed during downturns and through the trough until it then started working again. So any followers of Stockopedia stock ranks might want to take note of that and beware if we have or do eventually enter a bear market. However, I would stress that in the long term momentum seems to be a powerful factor but worth being aware of the downside in a downturn.
Summary & Conclusion
We have seen a decent recovery in markets and the Compound income Portfolio since Christmas and this has been spurred on recently by the U-turn from the Federal reserve in terms of halting rates rise and varying hopes that there may be a resolution to the US/ China or Trump trade war. Whether this proves to have been a short lived correction without a recession occurring remains to be seen and it was certainly of the right kind of percentage and duration to have been a correction in an on going bull market.
This conundrum may be answered in the next few weeks and months ahead if markets can continue to climb and break back into positive trends and challenge the previous highs. This view would be supported by the fact that ISM indices still remain above 50 which generally suggests on going growth is likely and valuations, especially in the unloved UK market, are not as expensive as generally perceived and therefore also supportive of gains in the longer term.
The alternative view would be that the market and Fed's move may be the harbinger of something worse or a recession ahead perhaps as the market and economic cycles remain extended and possibly overdue or perhaps may have even started on a path to correct excesses via a recession. The indicator that I have been following to indicate this (US Unemployment) has now triggered and suggests that the US could, if the past is any guide, be in recession this year. I have been following this and using it as a trigger for taking avoiding action in a mechanistic way.
So if it remains like that next month, I'll be looking to put some hedging in place for the Compound Income portfolio to protect against possible downside from a potentially serious bear market that would result from a US recession occurring. This does however go against my natural inclination to stay fully invested and benefit from time in the market, but does dovetail quite well with the fact that the Compound Income portfolio is designed to be a mostly rules based / mechanical system based on picking shares from the top quartile of the Compound Income Scores to demonstrate their efficacy at picking decent growing dividend stocks. Thus by doing this too may also help to demonstrate whether the timing indicators in conjunction with US Unemployment has any merit or not. If you are interested in the back ground to this then check out this incredibly detailed post from Philosophical Economics where I got the model from originally. If I do implement it I plan to put 50% into cash and or hedging type instruments & retain 50% in CIS type stocks to see how these two elements fare if we do end up in a bear market or to see how much it costs the portfolio if it turns out to be a false alarm.
Thus my head says everything may be fine and one should stay fully invested versus my gut which tends to suggest that this cycle is quite extended and that we are overdue a correction as there are quite a few straws in the wind being kicked up by the bulls. While as ever for most people it will come down to greed versus fear as to which way they want to jump or not as the case may be. Whatever happens it will be fascinating to see how this all develops in the months ahead and where interest rates end up if we do enter a downturn.
Thanks for reading if you got this far, well done and don't forget if you want to shelter in quality growing and financially secure stocks then the Compound Income Scores can help you identify potential candidates, as I believe this is a good pond in which to fish. This is as per the final graphic that I shared on twitter recently and which I'll leave you with today.
This is why I focus on dividend growth & other factors as well as yield. Picture shows: Average Annual Returns and Volatility by Dividend Policy in S&P 500 (1/31/72–12/31/17).
A quick update & reminder for Scores Subscribers after last weeks Red December update. Just in case you missed it in that post or didn't read to the end. As a subscriber to the Scores you will now have access to the Portfolio and transaction details along with the Scores. For this there is no extra charge so effectively a free upgrade. In addition in case you have not noticed the Scores are also now being updated on a daily basis too.
We hope to maintain this service level with the exception of quiet holiday times or when I am away myself, although this should in all be no more than about 4 weeks in a year in total accounting for Bank Holidays and public holidays too. Thus with around 48 weeks worth of Scores or 240 a year it works out at a bargain price of just 20 pence a day.
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Compound Income Scores Portfolio
Well I say year end, but I should point out that the performance numbers I am about to talk about are based on closing prices up to 28th December 2018 as I was visiting family and in laws over the New Year period and therefore not around to collect the figures after the last half day of trading on 31st December. As I'm sure you are all aware December was another pretty tricky month for investors and Santa singularly failed to arrive with his rally.
As a result the FTSE All Share provided a total return of -3.74% in the month to the 28th & -9.47% for the year to the same date. By comparison the Compound Income Scores Portfolio (CISP) produced -5.12% in December which meant it produced or rather lost 8.52% for the year to the 28th December. So another year of outperformance, this time by 1% or so, but you can't live off of relative performance, although the portfolio will have produced between 3 & 4% in income which could be used to live off of. Still overall OK but not a lot to write home about as I know some who are prepared to run with much more concentrated portfolios and who have may be made use of stop losses etc. may have produced positive results even in this negative market background.
Now these type of losses may have come as a shock to more recent investors who have become accustomed to steadily rising equity markets on the back of low interest rates and Quantitative Easing by central banks. It is however quite a regular occurrence to see occasional bad years and in a proper recession induced bear market you can get falls of up to or in excess of 50% which you need to be able to stomach or take action to avoid or mitigate losses if you can't.
The CISP is designed to be a demonstration of whether the Scores they are based on are any good at selecting quality, growing dividend stocks and as such is generally run on a fully invested basis to allow it to do this. So far in the relatively short three and three quarter years or so it has been running, it has done a reasonable job by producing Compound returns of +54.4% in total or +12.3% per annum over that period. This compares with +14.3% or 3.6% per annum from the FTSE All Share. Again I'm sure people with more concentrated and actively traded portfolio may well have done better, but for a relatively relaxed monthly approach I don't think it's a bad result for limited effort. It certainly compares pretty well with what one could have got from investing in the index or an actively managed main stream fund for that matter, although here the CISP is probably benefiting form being more concentrated and active than most main stream funds.
Market Timing Indicators & other matters.
Regular readers will know that I have been producing these for the UK market since January 2014 despite my own reservations about trying to time the market. This was after reading some useful research which helped to eliminate the whip sawing that you can get by following these moving average / trend based indicators by adding economic indicators to them to keep you in the market for longer.
Given the falls in markets in December and during 2018 it will come as no surprise that these ind actors, based on moving averages, continue to be negative. Indeed after December they have mostly moved to the most extreme negative position that I have seen since I started producing them in 2014. FTSE 100 is the only one that has seen a more negative reading back in September 2015, so may be it has been helped more this time around by the overseas exposure it brings and the benefits or weak Sterling perhaps?
So these are all very negative and the markets are looking quite oversold, so I guess it is possible we could see a counter trend rally in the short term which could take us back up by 5 to 10% perhaps. I say this because the economic indicators that I track along side these are all still painting a more positive picture, although clearly there have been some signs or economies coming off the boil & some other more local difficulties with BREXIT and trade / growth in China more generally.
It is also worth noting that the US yield Curve (2 Year minus 10 Year) has not yet inverted, which is something that has been a precursor to previous recessions and something that everyone has suddenly become an expert on this year. I guess that's the power of the internet and information being more widely available. If however you don't know what I'm going on about, or even if you do, I would highly recommend this piece from dear old John Mauldin, whose writing I have followed for years and which acts as a great teach in on the subject with lots of useful links on the subject too.
One of the other things I have been following along side the timing indicators, as in the past it was shown to be a good coincident indicator of a turn in the economy, is the trend in US Unemployment. Now this has been firmly trending down and shows no signs of turning up just yet. So again that would also suggest that it too soon to panic or take evasive action.
One thing that did give me pause for thought on this though was a very good video below, which looks at the confluence of the current economic and debt cycles and issues coming out of the demographic situation in the US with baby boomers coming up to retirement. This had some interesting observations on possible trends in employment and other things coming out of that and is well worth a watch in my view. It did therefore call in to question whether the unemployment trend will be such a useful coincident indicator this time.
Monthly Screening for the CISP
This was also carried out just before the end of the year given my travel schedule. It resulted in two sales, the proceeds of which were reinvested into two new positions and a top up to an existing holding which had been halved after it had doubled on risk control grounds, but which had now come back to earth and was therefore now a smaller holding despite still scoring very well. I am not going to be detailing these changes here on the Blog anymore as I am giving a Free New Year upgrade to existing Scores subscribers who will now be able to view the full Compound Income Scores Portfolio together with details of the transactions each month alongside their weekly Scores updates. If you are not a subscriber or are not familiar with the Scores and if that is something that interests you then you can find out more about them and how to sign up here.
Summary & Conclusion
So after the first difficult year for a while for investors one can't help feeling nervous as we come into 2019. That being said I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some kind of rally in the first quarter although no guarantees of course, as the FTSE chart looks a bit like a top and seems to be in a pretty bearish trend in the short term. If anything I'd personally be more tempted to view any such rally as a selling opportunity as we may have entered into a more major bear market as the stock market anticipates the next recession, but as ever time will tell on that.
As for the CISP it will remain fully invested and continue to focus on the top quartile of Compound Income Scores stocks until such time as the economic indicators flash negative too, when I'll then think about what action I want to take for the portfolio on the back of that.
After Red October we have had something of a Black & Red November in so far as there was Black Friday & the Compound Income Scores Portfolio (CISP) ended in the black too. While the red came from the FTSE All Share which ended November in the red and the Monthly timing indicators which remain in negative territory too. Please see the Portfolio Menu at the top of the site or in the three bar menu if you are on a mobile device & want to see the full table of returns or other summary details about the portfolio.
In terms of this months screening for the CISP it was another mixed bag as three potential sale candidates came up as their scores had slipped below the 75 level that I use for reviewing holdings. I decided to retain two of these as their scores were only slightly below 75. One of these was again Alliance Pharma (APH) which I have already given one stay of execution to, but given the volatile markets I would expect it to be a bit more defensive from here. The other was Bloomsbury Publishing (BMY) which is a classic dividend growth stock & has the stronger second half trading period to come so here I was also reluctant to ditch it on limited news flow. The one I did choose sell was Ferrexpo (FXPO) which apart form appearing to be very cheap, I don't feel that strongly about. It could well suffer badly if we see an economic downturn (which may be what the rating is discounting) plus the portfolio retains a holding in Rio and therefore some exposure to the sector. Given the way economies are shaping up it doesn't seem like a bad time to be reducing this type of exposure.
To replace this I selected a different type of miner that scores highly, in this case a data miner as it were called D4T4 Solutions (D4T4). This £74m market cap. company seems to be a play on internet / big data type of thing and as such may be interesting after all the GDPR stuff earlier this year. Indeed their recent interim results were exceptionally strong, although this was to some extent offsetting a big drop off in business that they saw last year. So it may just be a lumpy type of business or perhaps this could be the start of a more rapid growth phase given the actions they have taken since last year.
If they can repeat the strong growth in h2 then I suspect there could be bigger upgrades down the line, but as ever time will tell on that. Nevertheless they look quite good value on around 15 to 16x predicated on a strong bounce back from last years fall in earnings. The yield is lower than I would normally look for at 1.5% or so, but otherwise it seemed like the most attractive addition to the portfolio which brings something different to the party.
It does also seem to have momentum as it is threatening to break above recent highs and maybe could even go onto hit all time highs around 280p that it set around the year 2000 if the second half proves as strong as the first half, or not as the case may be! Any way I guess it will not be every ones cup of tea and I'm not sure I can bring myself to buy it personally, so we'll have to see how it goes for the CISP.
I've talked a bit recently about high yielding UK share that I'd avoid based on their Scores. So today as it's Black Friday I thought I'd flag up:
This led them to forecast a minimum level of total revenue of £102m for the whole of their 2018-19 financial year with an EBITDA margin comparable with that achieved in 2017-2018. This looks to be about 4% ahead of current revenue forecasts and given the margin comments this should, I would have thought, flow through to the bottom line too. Thus some upgrades here seem likely. I would also note that they have set this as a minimum expectation, so presumably they may under promise and over deliver.
The shares look good value on around 12x earnings and come with forecast yield of 5% based off of 8% forecast dividend growth, which is reasonably well covered, although that is the weakest thing in their score. They make a decent operating margin of around 17% and a huge return of capital, although that's probably not that relevant for a people / service business such as this. They have had upgrades already this year and as discussed I suspect we should see some more on the back of this update or when they actually report their first half numbers in January 2019. Putting it all together they come out with a Compound Income Score of 96 (where 100 is the best) and as such they will remain in the Compound Income Scores portfolio and in my own portfolios too, as I eat my own cooking as it were.
So there you go there's a buying idea for you sourced from the Scores and as mentioned at the start don't forget you can read more about and sign up for a free trial of the Scores by clicking here. Once you sign up you'll get your Free e-book explaining the research and rationale behind the Scores. You can then try them for free for the next three weeks if you then cancel by the 16th December 2018. If you like them you won't need to do anything as your payment will be taken on 21st December 2018 for you to then enjoy a whole year of Compound Income Scores at the equivalent of just £1 a week.
Cheers, mind how you go in all the Black Friday bargain hunting mayhem, but I don't think you'll find a better value offer than our 1-2-3 Free offer get it while it's hot this weekend.