This is puzzling is because the first and third groups are inflation-loving assets, whereas the second group performs well when deflation reigns. How can the financial markets be both inflationary and deflationary?
The deflation trade is nearly over, but it has remained in a bull market due to huge inflows from investors desperate for yield.
High-dividend and low-volatility assets including FXG and XLP (consumer staples), IYR and RWR (REITs), XLU, IDU, FXU, and VPU (utilities), along with TLT and ZROZ (long-dated U.S. Treasuries) have been among the second-best performers of 2016. They have also been among the top winners of the past five years. Many of those who have retired or who need to pay their monthly expenses have become overly dependent upon income-producing investments to generate yield. That’s fine as long as high-dividend assets are either bargains or reasonably priced, but it creates a dangerous situation when they are trading at all-time highs even compared with previous historic peaks. There have been all-time record inflows into high-dividend and low-volatility funds which have far outpaced their previous records. A person who has retired with a half million or a million dollars might perceive that he or she “needs income” in order to maintain a basic lifestyle, and most of these investors don’t realize that if everyone goes to their financial advisors and wants the same level of “safe” income then they are all going to end up owning the exact same assets. What would be reasonable for a tiny minority of investors has become an inevitable catastrophe since millions of others are acting similarly without realizing the consequences of collectively being in such an overcrowded trade.
The inflation trade has only been in a bull market since January 20, 2016, and has a long way to go to recover its losses since April 2011.
Unlike most high-dividend assets which had bottomed in the first quarter of 2009, most commodity producers and emerging markets had been in severe downtrends from April 2011 through January 20, 2016, and even after their subsequent strong rebounds remain far below their previous peaks. Earlier this year, many of these assets completed multi-decade nadirs, with some of them touching levels not seen since the 1970s. Therefore, they remain substantially below fair value. Silver and gold mining shares including GDXJ, SIL, GLDX, SILJ, and GDX have tripled on average in just over a half year, and have thereby outpaced nearly all energy producers which had initially rallied but have gone out of favor along with most emerging-market equities during the past several weeks. This has created the best bargains for those assets which are in the process of completing important higher lows including URA (uranium), GXG (Colombia), FCG (natural gas), and FENY, a more diversified and less volatile fund of energy producers.
The Daily Sentiment Index for crude oil, indicating the percentage of traders who are bullish toward any asset, plummeted to 10% at the close on Monday, August 1, 2016. This is an incredibly low level for anything which is in a primary bull market, as energy commodities have been since February 11, 2016. The shares of energy producers mostly approached or reached multi-decade bottoms on January 20, 2016. Whenever it is possible to buy at higher lows during a major uptrend, this is ideal because a sequence of several higher lows is often followed by an accelerated rally.
The high-dividend and low-volatility bull markets are very stale and incredibly popular, while few know about the uptrends for commodity producers or emerging markets.
Almost everyone knows that high-dividend shares have been the biggest winners of the past several years and are still eager to jump aboard the bandwagon, while few realize how overcrowded this bandwagon has become. Historically, the most wildly trendy and popular trades have always proven to be disappointing. Although it is rarely compared with the internet bubble of 1999-2000, the Nifty Fifty overvaluation of 1972-1973, or the blue-chip top of 1929, high-dividend and low-volatility names have become the bubble of the decade. The total assets in USMV, a frequently-touted low-volatility fund, have tripled in one year. Just as in 2000, almost no one who has invested in these securities realizes that they can lose half or more of their money. Almost no analysts, even those who know how overvalued these popular securities have become, can emotionally imagine them plummeting. They might know intellectually that it is possible, but they can’t really imagine it happening any more than anyone at the beginning of the century could envision the Nasdaq plunging by more than 75% within three years. Alas, a similar fate awaits those who are participating in high-dividend and low-volatility shares and funds.
Just because you’re in the water to get exercise doesn’t mean you can ignore the great white sharks.
When I point out the dangerous of owning high-dividend and low-volatility shares, I often hear the refrain that “I’m not in these due to their extreme popularity” or “I only own these to generate the income I need to pay my expenses.” The market won’t treat you differently just because your motivations are allegedly pure. You might be the nicest person on your block, you might generously donate to charities, and you might frequently help old ladies to cross busy streets. Even if you’re swimming in the water just to get your daily exercise, you’re not magically exempt from being eaten by hungry great white sharks that are lurking nearby. If any given trade has become desperately overcrowded, then no matter why you’re involved in it, you’re going to be as badly hurt as the ignorant buyer who is doing it to keep up with his poorly-informed friends. As Warren Buffett has stated, when we strip off the clothing and pretense, we’re all fully exposed underneath. When the U.S. housing bubble collapsed in 2006-2011, as it about to do again in 2016-2021, it won’t spare those who are nice to animals or who do good deeds. I will discuss real estate in more detail in the near future.