All Asset No Authority
At the beginning of the year, we liked the chances for the “Donut Portfolio” to break its 10-year losing streak against the S&P 500. As a refresher, the Donut holds six of seven key assets in equal weights. The S&P 500 is excluded—a decision probably only suitable for allocators who are self-employed.
Diversified, multi-asset portfolios have been weak performers for many years. The ultra-flexible, macro hedge-fund manager represents one extreme of the asset allocation continuum. At the other extreme would be the passive holder of multiple asset classes. It’s been a tough three years for this breed, too.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the “sell-side” investment community get about as cautious as it ever gets, recommending investors to “trim risky holdings on ‘up’ days” and “stay diversified.” However, these cheerleaders’ idea of diversification is usually to hold more equities in different sizes and styles.
The past 26 months have been wild ones for equity investors, but one could have essentially matched the S&P 500’s healthy return of +18.1% with a portfolio that was evenly split between the “fear” assets of Treasury bonds and gold. REITs have been solid, too, but EAFE and the Russell 2000 are now both total return losers since the beginning of 2018.
It’s no surprise that U.S. Large Caps were the #1 asset class performer in 2019. We were surprised that last year was the only one of the decade in which the S&P 500 won the annual performance derby. Here we review the annual performance of “Bridesmaid” asset class and sector, “Perfect Foresight,” and Lowest P/E sector.
It’s been one of the worst years on record for diversification, with our hypothetical All Asset No Authority (AANA) portfolio down 7.2% YTD through yesterday. That’s the second-worst year for AANA since 1972, and there’s probably not enough time left for performance to undercut 2008 (-24.9%) for the bottom spot.
Whatever one’s preferred leftovers from yesterday’s feast, the odds are good you’ll find them more appetizing than the slop served up by global asset markets this year. Stocks have obviously been turkeys, but all the surrounding trimmings that help diversify a portfolio have proven anything but complementary to the main course.