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After months of stock market declines, investment strategists are divided on appropriate responses.
There is a range of possible approaches, none as simple as the kind of straightforward investing that can lead to immediate rewards when the market is consistently rising.
Chris Brightman, chief investment officer at the investment advisory service Research Affiliates, for example, is currently unimpressed with most stocks.
“We do advise our investors to hold lower allocations to global equities — particularly U.S. equities — than normal,” Mr. Brightman said. He urged broad diversification into such vehicles as Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, commodities and real estate investment trusts, as well as a tax-sheltered structure known as a master limited partnership. But he concedes that with “the exception of M.L.P.s,” all are expensively priced.
Holding cash, in the form of a money-market fund, is another answer, but it is far from perfect, he said. “The problem with cash is you don’t make any money,” Mr. Brightman said. “It’s the safest place to keep your money, but you get zero real return.”
Nick Kalivas, senior equity product strategist at Invesco, said it was worth at least “thinking about” tweaking a portfolio to fortify it against risk.
He suggests funds that focus on stocks specifically selected because their fluctuations are low: They are known as low-volatility stocks, and they have outperformed the S&P 500 in 14 of the last 15 market downturns since 2011, according to Invesco.
Four times a year, Invesco compiles a list of the lowest-volatility stocks in the S&P 500. These are the companies whose shares are least affected by market turbulence. The current list features Coca-Cola as the least-volatile equity, followed by two utilities, the WEC Energy Group and Duke Energy, according to Mr. Kalivas.
Low-volatility stocks outperformed the market for most of 2018, according to Mo Haghbin, head of product research and development for Oppenheimer funds. Through December, portfolios of low-volatility stocks in the Oppenheimer Russell 1000 Dynamic Multifactor Exchange-Traded Fund lost 2.43 percent as opposed to the fund’s benchmark, the Russell 1000, which lost 4.78 percent, Mr. Haghbin said. High-quality companies — defined by superior grades on such metrics as return on assets, profits, margins and leverage — also outperformed, losing 2.68 percent.
But investors who shift toward low-volatility portfolios should remember that such portfolios have historically lagged once the market turns up.
Two low-volatility E.T.F.s that outperformed the S&P 500 in 2018 were: Hartford Multifactor Low Volatility US Equity E.T.F., which was basically flat, and Invesco S&P 500 Low Volatility E.T.F., which lost just over 2 percent. The S&P 500 was down 6.2 percent last year.
Investors may also be wondering what to do about tech stocks, especially the Faangs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), which have been losing altitude rapidly after a seemingly endless ascent.
Through December, Facebook and Netflix were both down over 35 percent from their highs of last year. Apple and Amazon were each off more than 25 percent from their 2018 highs.
Although Kevin Landis is portfolio manager of the tech-focused Firsthand Technology Opportunities fund, he said he is wary of the big tech stocks. “When companies get bigger, they start looking more and more like government agencies,” he said. “Even the biggest opportunities are at the saturation point. There’s only so many iPhones you can sell.”
With evidence of rising public concern about consumer privacy, Mr. Landis said, he expects to see greater regulation. “I spent the last 15 to 20 years being appalled at how readily people surrendered their own privacy,” he said. “I welcome the idea that they’ve become more aware.”
Mr. Landis said there were still good values in smaller tech companies. One major holding is Roku, which hopes to lure consumers who subscribe to cable. He contrasted its market cap of under $4 billion with Netflix’s $111 billion market cap and said Roku was a better value.
But many advisers say investors should simply hold tight. Brian McMahon, manager of the Thornburg Investment Income Builder mutual fund, said that in many ways, the recent downturn “is pretty normal. This is not something to panic about.” He said his largest investment, the CME Group, benefits from an active market. It makes good profits when people trade on options and futures contracts made on its platforms, he said. “CME Group benefits from volatility,” he said.
In a similar vein, Kate Moore, chief equity strategist at BlackRock, said, “This is not a time to derisk and become completely defensive.” There are still “pockets of quality” in the volatile markets, she added, citing the Chinese tech sector as one example.
But she said there were at least two major threats in the longer term. “We are increasingly concerned about long-term deficits and their impact on the bond market,” she said. Bonds, already pressured in the near term by Federal Reserve rate increases, could also face long-term rate pressure from the ballooning Treasury financing required by mounting budget deficits.
Ms. Moore also said tech stocks could eventually lose value if new regulations were imposed to protect consumer privacy. “We don’t expect any major regulatory changes in 2019,” she said. “We certainly expect the government will impose regulations over the medium term.”
Mr. Haghbin of Oppenheimer emphasized that portfolio decisions should reflect an investor’s view of the larger economy. “If an investor feels that growth will continue to slow and risk appetite continue to decline, historically he would emphasize high-quality and low-volatility companies.”
But, as Mr. Haghbin warned, investors may need to be nimble. “Things can change very quickly,” he said.
Business News - Opportunities - Reviews