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Navigating the wall of worry with small caps

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Navigating the wall of worry with small caps

By Eric McLaughlin

US small-cap stocks lost their lead over blue chips in early October’s sell-off, which was likely prompted by fears of higher interest rates.

We believe such fears were unjustified and that the sell-off was a correction in a bull market.

The environment for investors in US equity continues to be skewed towards the positive. Recent US economic reports have been encouraging: real gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 4.2% in the second quarter of 2018, according to the second estimate by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In addition, the ISM Manufacturing Survey is reporting a reading showing robust expansion and the latest jobs report was strong, with the unemployment rate at the lowest level since 1969.

Meanwhile, the third quarter earnings season has begun well extending the run of strong realised earnings growth seen so far this year along with healthy expectations for future growth.

The continued strength of the US economy, partially driven by tax cuts and fiscal spending, meant that investor and business confidence has remained robust.

Shifting expectations for monetary policy made themselves felt

 At a press briefing in mid-September Chairman Powell was extraordinarily positive on the economic outlook. In addition he recently commented that the stance of monetary policy remains “a long way from neutral” and may ultimately need to move into restrictive territory.

While these comments should not have been a surprise to investors (they are aligned with the FOMC’s economic and interest rate projections), they do represent a change in thrust from Chairman Powell who had previously focused only on the need to normalize policy gradually over time, staying away from sharing his own view on whether policy would eventually turn restrictive.

These comments from Chairman Powell likely contributed to higher anticipated policy rates and the rise in Treasury yields.

Small caps have had a strong run… 

During the six months through August 2018 small caps outperformed large caps for five of the months. This corresponds to the period from March when the possibility of a trade war began to gain attention. Small caps’ outperformance over large caps since February is the strongest since the global financial crisis (+15.6% vs + 7.6%). In our view the idea that small-cap stocks represented a relatively safe bet under this scenario was justified. The level of outperformance left small caps due a correction versus large caps (see Exhibit 1 below).

Exhibit 1: Having outperformed in 2018 year-to-date through August small caps underperformed large caps in the recent correction

Source: Datastream, BNPP AM au 17/10/2018

Source: Datastream, BNPP AM au 17/10/2018

Early October was a correction, not the start of a bear market 

We do not view the early October market correction as the beginning of a bear market for small cap stocks. As we’ve noted, the market sell-off was primarily triggered by fears of rising rates. In this context, leverage mattered during the sell-off, when the most levered stocks underperformed their clean balance sheet peers. The current buoyant US economic backdrop should continue to support US earnings and will, in our view, more than compensate for the rise in bond yields, certainly in the short term.

Nor do we anticipate that the transition by the FOMC to a more neutral stance will be sufficient abrupt to bring the current expansion to a halt. Gradual normalisation remains a (realisable) objective given the absence of inflationary pressures. And at the same time fiscal stimulus will also continue to make itself felt.

Given the extent of the recent correction in small caps we view it as a buying opportunity.

Reaffirming the case for small caps 

In our view the rationale that has led investors to seek out smaller companies remains intact:

  • First, they are likely to remain relatively insulated from the economic impact of a trade war.
  • Second, they are expected to benefit appreciably from the recent tax cuts. Small caps have also experienced a boost from a local corporate tax cut, given the domestic nature of their revenue and earnings. We would argue the consumer tax cut has also helped since small caps tend to be more sensitive to local economic trends and demand. This is why we believe it makes sense to invest in selected small-cap stocks at this point.

Exhibit 2: Domestic nature of US small caps

Source: FactSet, as at 31/08/2018         

Source: FactSet, as at 31/08/2018

  

Let us state clearly that in our assessment, an all-out trade war will be avoided and an agreement will be reached to avoid major damage to the global economy. Given the risks, however, we think that US companies with higher levels of exposure to domestic rather than international sources of revenues look more attractive and are better insulated from trade issues. This means small-cap stocks.

 Scope for continued optimism 

We remain upbeat on small caps following the broad-based strength in earnings reports and continued expectations for earnings growth acceleration into the final quarter. We also view valuations as attractive following the recent correction. Valuations are below their long-term averages.  Russell 2000 PE is back to levels prior to the 2016 elections. Yet, the index has gained over 40% during that time frame. Thus, earnings have been the driver. Assuming the geopolitical backdrop does not worsen and derail economic expansion, we expect the US Federal Reserve to continue to raise policy rates slowly, bond yields to climb and the US dollar to firm modestly over the coming months.

To emphasise the point, underlying macroeconomic conditions are sufficiently robust in our view so as to justify a small-cap tailwind. As consumers and companies continue to feel the positive effects of economic expansion, the fundamentals are likely to keep improving as well, which should also buoy small-cap stocks.

In our judgement, the fundamentals suggest this equity bull market will continue. While a recession would likely end the bull run, we see little evidence of a deteriorating environment. To the contrary, economic growth is accelerating. Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent correction small caps are trading at a discount to their long-term relationship with large caps.

Investing

Revitalising the token market

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Revitalising the token market 1

By Gavin Smith, CEO at Panxora

With interest rates near zero and fears that whipsawing stock markets are set for further plunges, many investors are turning to alternative markets in the search for returns. Money flowing into cryptocurrency hedge funds and trusts like Grayscale is at all-time highs and the large cap coins seem to be entering a bull phase, but that capital is not trickling down into new token projects. Why are blockchain token projects struggling to attract funding?

Seed investor scepticism

Setting aside the reputational issues with mainstream investors, even those educated in blockchain tech are not signing on the dotted line. This is certainly due in part to the hangover from the early token market.

During the heady days of 2016/17, investors could buy tokens during the token sale, and if the project was legitimate – even if the business case wasn’t particularly strong – prices would soar based on market enthusiasm. Early investors purchased at a discount and cashed out almost immediately for a handsome profit – and then repeated the process again. The token sale allowed founders to amass a war chest large enough to finance the entire token project – without having to give up a large chunk of company equity. Everyone got what they needed out of the deal.

Running a token sale is far more expensive today than it was during the boom. Getting the attention of the token buying public in a market where advertorial has replaced editorial is expensive. This coupled with a regulatory framework that requires the advice of accountants, solicitors and information gathering of KYC details for investors all comes with an escalating price tag.

To accommodate the change in cost structure, tokens now need to acquire funding in two rounds. Frequently there is a first round where capital is raised from a few, large investors. This cash is then used to finance setup and marketing the main token sale. The token sale, in turn, provides the capital needed to run the entire business project.

Bridging the gap between token projects’ needs and early stage investors

To successfully get a token through the capital raising process, founders must acknowledge the risk assumed by those very early investors and reward them appropriately. And given that tokens may stagnate or fall in price post token sale means that a deep discount in token price is not necessarily attractive enough to get investors to commit.

Many tokens have turned to offering equity in the business in the effort to raise that first tranche of capital. If you look at the number of successfully concluded token sales, the downward trend has continued since Q2 2018, so offering equity is not sufficiently stimulating the market.

Two sides of the coin

So, what is the answer? It’s a complex question but one thing is certain. Any solution must be rooted in a deep understanding of what both parties need to successfully conclude the deal.

Gavin Smith

Gavin Smith

On the one hand, token founders’ needs are clear: they need enough capital to get the token ready for and through a successful liquidity event that will provide sufficient funds to build the project. The challenge lies in striking the right balance between accruing that capital and making sure not to offer so much project equity that give up either the control or the incentive founders need to drive the project forward.

On the other hand, while the needs of the seed capital investors are more complex, there are two areas of key concern: transparency and profit incentives.

Transparency can mean many things, but almost always includes providing more informative cost and profit projections, as well as answers to a whole range of questions, not least the following:

  • What happens to investor capital if the token sale event fails? Token founders must be transparent from the outset. The token market is highly speculative and early investors run the risk of losing their money should the project fail. Therefore, investors require a well-established fund governance process in place throughout the fundraising so they can make informed decisions on whether the project is worthwhile.
  • How are the assets for the entire project managed? Investors need to know that their money is in good hands and that proper treasury management techniques are being used to manage cryptocurrency volatility risk. Ideally, an independent custodian will be used to hold the funds and limit founders’ ability to draw down the capital – releasing funds to an agreed-upon schedule of milestones.
  • How are the rights of investors protected, for instance in the case of a trade sale? Investors need to know what happens if the company they are investing in is sold. What impact could this have on the value of their stake? Would a separate governance framework need to be established? These are critical questions and investors aren’t likely to settle for any ambiguity in the answers.

Profit incentives are important when it comes to encouraging early participation in a project. Investors need convincing that the proposition will keep risks to a minimum and focus on providing a strong probability of a return. This means that founders need to be able to defend the case for the increase in the value of their token.

But this isn’t the only incentive that matters. Investors can also be incentivised by preferential offerings such as early access to projects and services that might help their own business.

Let’s not forget that investors don’t support just any project. What really matters is that there is something special and unique about the business being underwritten by the token. Preferably something that could be shared upfront and directly benefit the investor – proof that the investment is really worth it.

And that’s what it all comes down to. Ultimately, while token projects are having a hard time finding funds at the moment, if they can prove their worth and provide full transparency and clear profit incentives to ease investors’ concerns, the money is out there. And deals can be done.

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Achieving steady returns in challenging times for later life planning

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Achieving steady returns in challenging times for later life planning 2

By Matt Dickens, Senior Business Development Director at Ingenious

The macro-economic conditions of the last five years have presented a relentless challenge for money managers seeking to produce consistent returns. It seems an all too distant memory that UK markets were caught in a happy period of low volatility and positive growth since the recovery from the financial crisis started in 2009. Enter 2016 and we have since found ourselves in an era of exceptional uncertainty. An acrimonious Brexit referendum and the following ambiguity, pressure on sterling, repeated challenges to the UK Government, a trade war between two of the world’s super-powers and now a global pandemic. All this as the world is going through a digital revolution.

Under these exceptional conditions, many investment strategies have understandably struggled to sustain the growth that investors had previously enjoyed without taking on elevated levels of risk and experiencing greater volatility and its associated negative impact. However, Ingenious Estate Planning has been operating alternative investment strategies for several years, which have produced a steady return with low volatility over this time as they possess little correlation to the main listed markets.

Real Estate

The affordable end of the UK’s residential real estate market has proven to be extremely robust during the recent uncertainty. The market benefits from some core fundamentals that have assisted it withstanding a lot of the pressures experienced by other sectors. Firstly, a large and sustained supply deficit. In 2018 the UK built 80,000 fewer houses than the actual requirement of 300,0001. This strong, inherent demand poses a clear investment opportunity to investors who can fund construction projects in the safe knowledge that there is an established demand on completion.

Secondly, this supply deficit has been recognised by Governments for several years and there has been a raft of policies enacted, all supportive of building more houses. For instance, the Help to Buy scheme has enabled many, often first-time buyers onto the property ladder. This scheme means there is a well-established and subsidised group of buyers ready to buy whenever developers complete construction. Thirdly, and more recently, the Government has acted quickly to identify the property sector as one that is key to the UK’s recovery from Covid-19. Through relaxing planning laws and offering stamp duty holidays, both the construction and sales market are being given valuable incentives that support an ongoing return for real estate investors.

Secured lending model

Despite these positive forces however, there remain some risks with investing in the property market, so a conservative investment strategy is key to protecting investors. Rather than take a 100% equity, or ownership, position in a house-builder, developer or single property, a portfolio-based, secured lending model, has a number of clear risk-mitigating benefits. For instance, by lending to a portfolio of developers, carefully selected on a project-by-project basis, and by earning a fixed rate of interest, rather than taking equity risk, there is inherently lower volatility in returns given the protection of a senior debt position on each development. Contracts set out clear loan terms meaning that regular interest is paid on the investment and upon final sale the repayment is made in full, all with the benefit of banking-style security protections. By contrast, equity investments and associated valuations can fluctuate over time as the asset price changes and so it is far more vulnerable to market conditions and sentiment, and ultimately any drop in value is suffered by the investor. In the lending model, any loss is initially felt by the borrower.

Benefits for estate planning

Ingenious Estate Planning Private Real Estate utilises this secured lending investment strategy. The Business Relief- qualifying service is commonly used by clients planning for later life. As savers and investors reach retirement and decumulation, they present wealth managers with a unique set of investment problems. Without careful planning, the start of this phase for many could signal the end of any capital growth and herald their savings being eroded to pay for life’s needs. Any investment offering both high volatility and potential drawdowns may therefore become unpalatable. And while many would wish to gift savings to their children to mitigate the risks to their beneficiaries of paying a hefty inheritance tax bill upon their death, the thought of losing both control and access to these savings when they may still need them, means many feel uncomfortable in taking that step.

However, this does not need to be a fate accepted by savvy investors and planners who can utilise a proven trading strategy that continues to both carefully and predictably grow their investment while also providing potentially full relief from inheritance tax.

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Getting ahead in 2020: Why building an emergency fund is the way forward

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Getting ahead in 2020: Why building an emergency fund is the way forward 3

By Shahid Munir, co-founder of MintedTM, an investment platform which allows individuals to buy and sell gold bullion.

2020 has forced a lot of changes, especially where personal finances are concerned; attitudes towards investment have shifted and financial security has taken priority. Knowing that high-risk investments won’t guarantee profit, individual investors are considering longer-term alternatives and opportunities to save. So, at a time when stock markets are volatile, where should individuals be investing their money for the best returns?

While no one could have predicted the coronavirus crisis or the widespread economic devastation that has come with it, tension has been growing across global marketplaces for some time. Back in 2018, there were talks of a financial crisis and, even before the pandemic, unsecured debt hit a new peak of £14,540 on average per household. Now, with the UK entering into the deepest recession on record, unemployment climbing, and government support dwindling, the true value of quick-access ‘emergency’ funds has come to the fore.

Whether it’s a failed MOT, a broken boiler, or redundancy, in the event of a financial emergency, individuals are less likely to have the time or inclination to research the options available; many may resort to quick-fixes such as a high-interest payday loans to get themselves out of a difficult situation. According to research from Which?, 30 percent of people earning up to £28,000 a year were unable to save during lockdown. However, as recovery gets under way, it’s clear putting money aside to cover any large, unforeseen expenses can help to preserve existing finances and keep stress to a minimum.

Shahid Munir

Shahid Munir

Despite there being plenty of investment options available, very few lend themselves to building an emergency fund. With government premium bonds currently yielding virtually nothing and interest rates on cash ISAs sitting far below inflation, what was once considered safe is not only under-performing but is costing investors money in the long run. To reduce risk, investors should be diversifying their portfolios and investing in cryptocurrency or physical assets such as gold. For example, gold Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) are popular with some individuals because they provide an easy way of gaining exposure to any increases in the precious metal’s value, while still allowing easy access to the funds if they are needed

With new types of technology platforms offering easy-to-use mobile savings apps, individuals can look further than traditional ISAs and bonds and begin to start investing in precious metals, something that may not have seemed possible in the past. Being based on an average rate of return and outperforming inflation, gold isn’t just a safe haven risk-off asset, it’s a key step towards establishing a watertight emergency fund.

While many people are looking for innovative ways to maximise saving potential, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Often, taking a step back and considering both personal and financial objectives can work wonders. This may involve analysing personal expenditure, taking stock of any outgoings and gauging their appetite for risk. It is wise to work towards building an emergency fund that covers three to six months’ worth of bills and expenses or to save around 10 percent of an annual salary.

Treating an emergency fund like any other fixed cost on pay day and separating it from day-to-day bank accounts and transactions will make it easier to commit to investing. For example, taking advantage of any platform-specific features, such as setting up a minimum standing order, can take the pressure off investing a lump sum. Often, it’s easier to reach an end goal by saving smaller, regular amounts, and topping them up where possible – autosaving apps are a perfect example of how these costs can add up over time.

Kickstarting an emergency savings fund is one of the first steps investors can take towards financial health, future planning and getting out of any debt cycles. While gut instinct may tempt people to keep money in the bank, investment in physical assets, such as gold, offers individuals the opportunity to benefit from greater returns and peace of mind, providing that all-important safety net for whatever the future may hold.

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