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A Prudent Approach. Actively Managed

The BakerAvenue Prudence IndicatorTM

09 Sep 2020: Prudence Says Neutral


Last week, the market closed out an eventful summer with the best August in thirty-four years. However, depending on where a business sits in the new Covid-19 economy, they could be booming or struggling just to survive. Overall, the recovery is well on its way, but the road has been uneven and often volatile. The “K-shaped” recovery should ultimately converge into a broader, more inclusive expansion, but it is clear it will take time.

For those who have been following our weekly market updates (click here to see the videos), you will be familiar with several of our key concerns and opportunities. We have previously stated that the unprecedented retrenchment in economic activity caused by the pandemic will keep market volatility elevated. However, we also noted most of the shutdown is self-inflicted, not structural, and prone to snapping back once social distancing guidelines are lifted (see The Road Back, Resilient, or Delusional?, Turning the Corner here and Escape Velocity here).

At BakerAvenue, we maintain analytical independence from pre-written market narratives. We remove preconceived biases from the equation and defer to our analytical output. Ultimately, our views are only as optimistic or pessimistic as our technical, fundamental and macroeconomic market analyses indicate. Currently, our short-term metrics are in a neutral position, while long-term trends, which are influenced by our recessionary and bear market views, have healed (also neutral).

The macro discussion centers around policy. The world’s central banks (e.g. the Fed, the ECB, etc.) have provided the monetary fuel to help boost the recovery. Low interest rates, government support packages and a commitment to highly-accommodative policies buffeted the pandemic shutdowns and laid the groundwork for a recovery. The market took notice last month, as interest rates drifted higher, yield curves steepened slightly and the US Dollar fell.

We believe intensifying US-China tensions have increased uncertainty but, much like last year’s trade war, will ultimately avoid the most-dire scenarios. Election-related volatility is sure to pick up as the days tick by, but, like most elections, will most likely play second fiddle to the economic backdrop (expect more from us on politics as the election nears).

Technical trends have improved significantly from the March 23rd lows but have further work to do. Large-cap stocks (particularly mega-cap technology stocks) have been doing the heavy lifting but, as the past few days have highlighted, remain vulnerable to profit-taking. Investor sentiment remains subdued (a good thing). There is still over $1.5 trillion in money market funds and, despite the advance, flows into equities remain negative year-to-date.

Fundamentally, we are focusing on the trend in corporate profits and credit metrics. Mirroring the economic contraction, we suspect the pullback in corporate profits troughed in April. Visibility remains limited (more than half of the companies in the S&P 500 have withdrawn guidance), but is improving as reopening gains steam. Valuations are stretched in some pockets of the market, but only slightly above long-term averages in most. Of course, historically low interest rates make the earnings yield offered by stocks attractive relative to bonds and provides a counter-point to valuation concerns. The credit backdrop has improved with both investment-grade and high-yield spreads more than halfway back to their pre-crisis levels. Continued tightening here is consistent with the ongoing rally in stocks.

Our investment philosophy is based on a dual mandate of growing, and protecting, client assets. With our cash positions now residual in nature, we are focusing on strategy positioning vs. our respective benchmarks to control risk. We have championed a ‘barbell’ approach by investing with secular winners (the top line of the “K”) while simultaneously allocating capital toward assets that will benefit most in a recovery. Should our base case hold, we plan to hold our positioning steady. Of course, should the backdrop start to de-stabilize, we will take a more defensive stance.

Given the volatile and ever-changing backdrop, we believe a strategy that combines disciplined fundamental, technical and macro analyses has the best chance of generating superior risk-adjusted returns. While our forecasts are subject to revision, our commitment to client service is rock solid. Should you have any questions, please reach out to us. We are happy to share our thoughts in greater detail and welcome your questions or comments.