Nov 11, 2018
Key Takeaways Recent market volatility has encouraged investors to position portfolios more defensively ETF Securities has a selection of products more suited to a defensive strategy ZYUS gives a low volatility approach to the US market CORE gives exposure to the historically more stable infrastructure sector GOLD provides the best-known hedge against equity market downturn and political instability Introduction Investors have battened down the hatches over the past weeks as waves of volatility have dominated the market. Maybe the market calms down and equities resurge, but now, is clear, that late cycle volatility is here and will probably become more violent at each episode. The recent equity sell-off has heightened uncertainty, with consumer sentiment nicely described by the CNN ‘Fear and Greed Index’ that looks to characterise the primary emotion driving the market (see below). Right now, this index sits at 11, or ‘extreme fear’. Why? The consensus among investors appears to be that we’re in the ‘late stage’ of the investment cycle. Wall St’s thundering run has lasted a decade – the longest ever. And the market has become increasingly wary because of that. We have seen a very large sell-off in technology sector stocks with the Nasdaq, which is often taken as a proxy for US tech, recording its worst month since 2012. This suggests that some are losing faith in the continued performance of our recent equity stars (otherwise known as team FAANG). Adding fuel to the fire, the world has been curiously watching on as China and the US continue their game of trade policy tag. As the reverberations of any decisions by these heavyweights are felt by all, this tension is creating a difficult environment for investors. Playing Defence Though we are all familiar with the old adage ‘past performance is not an indicator of future performance’, it is sometimes helpful to look back at how previous storms have been weathered. The traditional market response to a late cycle downturn can generally be characterised by a move away from higher risk equities such as technology or emerging markets, greater focus on essential sectors such as healthcare, utilities and energy, and a general movement away from equities and into cash, short-term fixed income and commodities. As the bull market nears the close of its tenth year many are considering if now is the time to reposition portfolios towards ‘defensive’ assets. So, what are the options for investors looking to rearrange their holdings into a more defensive position? ** Gold is not considered in the risk illustration for two reasons. First, there is no counterparty risk with gold whatsoever (with cash there is still sovereign risk). Second, gold has historically had low correlations with equities, so its risk characteristics work differently. Defensive Equity Solutions America If you take a glance at global headlines, the US right now may seem a difficult market to play, with high levels of uncertainty around international policy and tariffs. However, as the world’s dominant economy, many would wish to maintain some sort of equity exposure but with a defensive tilt and an eye on capital preservation as much as growth. The ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF (ZYUS) is one option that is designed to achieve this. As suggested by the name, this ETF has a low volatility filter built into its index construction. The underlying assumption is that companies that don’t exhibit aggressive price movements are less likely to be sold down heavily in a general market sell off. Specifically, the index universe (the S&P 500) is ordered to select the 75 highest yielding stocks and then the 50 least volatile of those 75 are selected creating a high dividend paying, relatively low risk portfolio based on the trailing twelve months of price data. With reference to the chart above it is clear to see that, since the VIX jumped in October, IVV has lost approximately 10% whereas ZYUS has only lost 4%. Part of the reason for this is because ZYUS has a 16% greater exposure to utilities (historically low in volatility) whilst a 17% less to information technology (historically high in volatility) (as at 30th August 2018, source: S&P). Infrastructure Another strategy investors may consider in times of heightened volatility is increasing the allocation to sectors that have historically had greater stability. One such area known for this is infrastructure. The source of this stability can be explained by looking at the industries that fall into this sector: utilities, telecoms, industrials and transport. These industries typically have high capital costs, low elasticity of demand, long business timelines and often exist as regulated oligopolies or monopolies. Their capital-intensive nature means that they are very difficult and, in some cases, like energy distribution networks, nigh impossible to disrupt. This can mean that these sectors have lower risk (as measured by standard deviation of returns) than other sectors, such as technology or real estate. The table below illustrates the substantially lower volatility of infrastructure against these sectors.
Oct 07, 2018
Key Takeaways: • Infrastructure assets are considered by many advisers as ideal for retirees • CORE gives a cost effective, diversified and international exposure to this sector • CORE has outperformed many active funds over the past year, debunking the myth that active is always best in this sector
Sep 03, 2018
ETFS Trade Idea: Platinum – The night is darkest before the dawn? High level summary: Platinum, one of the rarest precious metals, could correct upwards in H2 2018 to $900 an ounce This is because the platinum supply deficit is being exacerbated by today’s low prices South African politics – most platinum is mined in South Africa – has scared away mining investment, which also threatens supply Demand for platinum in auto catalysts, the mainstay of the metal’s demand, has been increasing. How to Invest: o ETFS Physical Platinum (ETPMPT) is the only pure listed exposure to platinum in Australia o MER: 0.49% p.a In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look at platinum, the rarest of the precious metals, whose price has been trending downwards in recent months. We take a look at whether platinum might be oversold and how fundamentals and macro trends support a near-term price rise. We finish by looking at ways investors can gain exposure to the rare metal. Platinum – Some background Platinum is a very rare metal. It is estimated that all the platinum ever produced would only go ankle-height in an Olympic sized swimming pool. (World Platinum Investment Council, 2018) South Africa produces 73% of the world’s platinum and has the overwhelming majority of proven reserves. Within South Africa itself, two companies – Anglo American (Amplats) and Impala – produces almost half of supply. (Thomson Reuters, 2018) Platinum’s unique chemical properties make it a choice element in industry. Industrial uses include electrics, medical equipment and, most importantly, catalytic converters in diesel cars, buses and trucks. Platinum is also a popular metal in jewellery due to its resistance to warping. A weak performance in 2018 Platinum has performed poorly in 2018, with its spot price sinking from a January peak of $1,016 per ounce to $790 as of mid-August. Year-to-date, platinum has fallen 23%, while gold has fallen roughly 10%. Taking a longer-term view, platinum’s spot price seems to have peaked – like gold, with which it correlates quite closely – in 2011 at around $1,855 per ounce. An upward correction seems possible While platinum’s recent performance has disappointed, some well reputed analysts believe it’s possible for prices to hit $900 in various points of H2 2018, for the following reasons: There could be some reversion to the mean in platinum’s parity in gold: at present platinum is only tracking gold on the downside and not the upside. Trends within South Africa itself are likely to support long-term a price hike. These include heightened political risks facing miners and higher utilities costs. Diesel engine production continues to rise in absolute terms, especially given strong demand in Asia. Diesel cars are not “dead” in Europe, as is sometimes implied in the press. Today’s platinum prices in the $790s are below production costs, data suggests. This means that miners will likely cut back on production, which will widen out the already existing supply deficit. We expect that the supply deficit will grow until prices bounce back. Parity with gold likely to be restored For most of its history platinum has traded at a premium to gold (one suspects this owes to platinum being the rarer metal). Yet at present platinum trades at a 33% discount to gold. In the current cycle, platinum has only tracked gold price falls and not its upside, widening the discount. (Gupta, 2018) In our view, some mean reversion in the near term is likely due to supply and demand dynamics (detailed below) but also due to renewed investor interest in response to these dynamics. As platinum correlates with gold, it offers similar portfolio diversification benefits and upside potential. (David Hillier, 2006) For this reason, we expect investor interest to rekindle as prices recover, helping stabilise demand. South African political risk and supply cuts South African politics is likely an additional supply side pressure. Mine nationalisations have been threatened by the Economic Freedom Fighters, (Economic Freedom Fighters, 2018) South Africa’s third-largest party, which is surging in the polls. (Umraw, 2018) South Africa is a one-party state, with the African National Congress ruling since apartheid ended, making an EFF government unlikely. But, as is often the case in politics, the danger lies not so much in the minority party seizing power but in its ability to force mainstream parties to adopt part of its platform. This year, we have already seen President Ramaphosa – under pressure from the EFF – outline proposals to give greater shareholdings to black owners, which would dilute current shareholders. These proposals, thus far, have been successfully challenged by miners in South Africa’s courts. But fears of dilution and government intervention have dried mining investment and slowed production, adding another supply side pressure. (Hodgson, 2018) Outside dilution fears, South African miners have hit a wall of difficulties: community unrest and union disputes over pay; skyrocketing electricity costs; and production disruptions from maintenance and safety stoppages. (Johnson Matthey, 2018) These ongoing difficulties – while not sufficient to drive up prices – are compounding the pressures caused by low platinum prices. In response to these difficulties, the past two years has witnessed industry rationalisation. Lonmin, the third largest platinum miner, sold off much of its platinum assets to another miner. (Sanjeeban Sarkar, 2017) Impala, the second largest platinum miner, shut several platinum mines in March 2018 and has indicated it will fire 13,000 staff over 2018 and 2019. (Miller, 2018) Platinum Group Metals closed a major platinum mine mid-2017 due to it being unprofitable. (Seccombe, 2018) These shaft closures and production cuts, in our view, add to the likelihood of a sharpening platinum supply deficit, which in turn will place upward pressure on pricing. Platinum trading below production costs There is also evidence that platinum prices below $790 an ounce, as they are at present, are unsustainable as they fall below production costs. By general consensus, the all-in sustainability cost (AISC) to pull an ounce of platinum out of a South African mine is above $900 an ounce. (Thomson Reuters, 2018) A recent report from Anglo American – the world’s largest and South Africa’s most efficient platinum miner – said that its AISC was $955 an ounce in 2017. (Anglo American Platinum, 2017) Production costs in North America and Zimbabwe where platinum is also mined – albeit in significantly smaller quantities – are estimated to be similar. (Statista, 2016) Only in Russia, which is currently under strict US and EU trade sanctions, is platinum trading at below AISC. Russia produces platinum in too small a quantity to alter the world average. Historically, commodities can and have traded below their AISC or marginal costs. But a situation where platinum is trading significantly below production costs – as it appears to be at present – will incentivise supply cuts and add upward pressure on prices. Demand Diesel cars and trucks are not dead The most crucial pocket of demand for platinum comes from car catalysts in diesel engines in developed economies, especially Europe. Yet diesel cars are losing market share, thanks largely to the Volkswagen scandal of 2015. According to data from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), the European car industry lobby, in H1 2017 sales of gasoline powered cars in Europe overtook diesel for the first time since 2009. (ACEA, 2018) This trend has been taken by some commentators as signalling the “death of diesel”. (Topham, 2018) In our view, diesel cars will likely continue to lose market share in developed economies, but warnings of “dead” diesel seem overblown. In its GFMS Platinum Group Metals Survey 2018, the most comprehensive survey of its kind, Thomson Reuters noted that platinum use in diesel catalysts rose 7.1% in 2017 thanks to strong demand from Asia offsetting declining demand in Europe. (Thomson Reuters, 2018) While in decline in Europe, European diesel cars still have a lot of “dying” left to do. According to the same numbers from the ACEA, diesel cars still make up 45% of Western European passenger cars. And although diesel’s market share may be declining, in absolute sales terms the number of diesel cars being sold globally is increasing, suggesting the mainstay of platinum demand is well supported. ETFS Physical Platinum (ETPMPT) – One of a kind For any investors dicing up the opportunity platinum affords, ETFS Physical Platinum ETF (ETPMPT) offers a one-of-a-kind solution. ETPMPT is 100% physically backed by platinum bullion, held in HSBC’s vaults in London. Every bar of platinum meets the London Platinum and Palladium Association's rules for Good Delivery, and every bar is segregated and allocated. As ETPMPT is physically backed there is zero credit risk. And because it can be redeemed for platinum bars, any deviations from platinum’s spot price will be quickly arbitraged out. ETPMPT is the only product of its kind available in Australia and offers a uniquely secure play on platinum. How to invest in physical platinum? ETFS Physical Platinum (ETPMPT) MER: 0.49% p.a. - ETPMPT is the only physically-backed platinum tracking ETF in Australia - As ETPMPT is redeemable for physical bullion, it is anticipated to track to the platinum spot price - ETPMPT trades on the ASX just like shares, meaning it is settled and held in brokerage accounts
Jul 23, 2018
ETFS Trade idea: Five reasons to consider an investment in TECH now In this week’s ETFS Trade idea we focus on the ETFS Morningstar Global Technology ETF (TECH) and look at five reasons why you might want to consider an investment in technology in the current market. High level observations: Technology stocks have continued their strong run in 2018Technology firms may be more resilient to a global trade war TECH includes valuation and quality features that may alleviate concerns of some investors Investors considering the technology sector should look at TECH The sector has proven to be robust in changing market conditions over recent years
Jul 02, 2018
ETFS Trade idea: US Defensive Equities Starting to Look Well Valued ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF ASX Code: ZYUS U.S. market has been high growth since Trump’s election This cycle looks like it may be turning Investors wanting to retain U.S. exposure but remove the high growth/high volatility companies should look at ZYUS In this week’s ETFS Trade idea, we look at opportunities in defensive U.S. equities and show how it may be a good entry point for ZYUS, which under performed the broader market in 2017, but has picked-up in recent months and had standout performance in 2016. ZYUS tracks the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index, which selects a portfolio of the lowest volatility stocks from amongst the highest yielding names in the S&P 500. The story in 2017 - defensives appeared to be out of favour For most of 2017 the U.S. economy was in expansionary territory with GDP growth rising above 4%, the S&P 500 returning 22%, volatility remaining persistently low and normalisation of monetary policy accelerating. Information technology stocks dominated, returning 39%, but other traditional growth sectors also outperformed. Materials, consumer discretionary and financials all beat the benchmark. Defensive sectors, which traditionally include utilities, consumer staples, health care and real estate, on the other hand, suffered on two fronts. Firstly, the economic conditions of a growing economy and rising interest rates were not conducive to above-market performance in sectors such as utilities, consumer staples and telecommunications. Secondly, many companies in these sectors had become over-bought and over-valued in the post-crisis scramble for stable returns and yield, where low volatility and equity-yield strategies gained significant popularity. With rates rising and bonds starting to look more attractive, asset allocations shifted causing under-performance in defensives in 2017 and into early 2018. What has happened so far in 2018? 2018-to-date has seen the U.S. move further into expansionary territory, with GDP growth now sitting at 4.7% and the Federal Reserve having raised rates twice so far. However, signs of the expansionary cycle moving into a later phase have started to appear in recent months. Long-term bond yields have stabilised, inflation has picked-up and the S&P 500 has returned only 2.6% year-to-date. In addition, through a combination of geo-political and economic events, volatility has returned, with the VIX peaking at 37.3 in February and averaging 16.3 in 2018 compared to a maximum of 16.0 and an average of 11.1 for the whole of 2017. Defensives are currently looking more attractive on a valuations basis than at any time in recent years. On a relative-PE basis, utilities, consumer staples, telecommunications and health care sectors are all currently trading at lower multiples than the S&P 500. Even if the bull market still has further to run, now could be a good opportunity to re-allocate back towards defensive sectors. While the economy is not yet showing any signs of slowing, if you believe the U.S. is currently in a late-cycle boom, then it may be prudent to prepare for a sell-off in risky-assets. How does ZYUS’s sector allocation look? As can be seen in Chart 1, ZYUS is currently most overweight real estate and utilities along with smaller over-allocations to consumer staples, energy and telecoms. Information technology, health care and financials are the biggest under-weights. Overall, relative to the S&P 500, ZYUS is 34% overweight to the traditional defensive sectors, despite being 10% underweight health care, which is no longer considered to be as defensive as it once was. How has ZYUS performed relative to the S&P 500? In 2017 ZYUS underperformed the S&P 500 by nearly 9.6% as technology stocks accelerated away. This continued into early 2018 with ZYUS under-performing heavily in both January and February as the sell-off in defensives picked-up pace. This contrasts with 2016, where ZYUS outperformed by 8.8% . Monthly performance differentials are shown in Chart 3, below. Since the end of February, however, ZYUS has outperformed in three of the four months and added 4.7% to the S&P 500 on an AUD total return basis. Volatility-wise, on a 90-day historic basis, the spread between the S&P 500 and the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index is currently at its lowest since 2012, as shown in Chart 3. Recently the low volatility screening is providing a degree of risk-reduction even in a more concentrated, 50-stock portfolio. On a yield basis, the S&P 500 Low Volatility High Dividend Index is currently yielding 4.3%, which is more than double the yield on the S&P 500 at 1.9%. Lastly, it is worth recalling that, despite the recent under performance, the low volatility/high dividend strategy has outperformed the S&P 500 by over 6% pa since the beginning of 2000, which demonstrates its ability to outperform across cycles. How ZYUS invests ETFS S&P 500 High Yield Low Volatility ETF (ZYUS) follows a rules-based strategy, tracking its benchmark Index, and has the following features: ZYUS captures the performance of a selection of the high yielding companies from the S&P 500 Index and aims to provide stable returns with regular income. ZYUS selects the 50 lowest volatility names from a list of the 75 highest yielding stocks at each rebalance. ZYUS is rebalanced semi-annually in January and July. ZYUS is weighted in proportion to the dividend yield of each constituent, meaning that the stocks with the highest yields receive the highest weightings. ZYUS applies individual stock and sector caps to ensure diversification. ZYUS has an MER of 0.35% p.a. ZYUS has a Recommended rating by Lonsec. Summary While low volatility and defensive sector strategies have underperformed over the past 12 to 18 months, with the U.S. possibly moving towards the latter stages of the current economic cycle, it could be a good time to revisit these strategies. ZYUS provides a generally more defensive sector allocation than the broader market, uses a low-volatility screening and produces a consistently higher yield.