China trade war headlines drove a volatile, whiplash August

Our strategies are designed to protect against two types of investment risk:

Headline risk: Same-day stock market response to a news item with implications for equity investors

Economic risk: Longer-term deterioration in economic activity or outlook that can impact equity market fundamentals and investor sentiment

Headline risk arises quickly and can dissipate quickly, while economic risk takes longer to reveal itself clearly and lasts longer with more severe impact. In August, trade-related headline risk emerged on three occasions, and dissipated quickly each time.

Analysts at JP Morgan and BofA noticed this and analyzed the daily market impact of the most prominent source of the headlines, President Trump’s tweets. The bottom line: his Tweets have significant market impact. Read more here: JP Morgan creates index to track Trump tweet impact; Bank of America: On days when Trump tweets a lot, stock market falls

Our investment strategies use portfolio composition designed to protect against headline risk, and use our volatility prediction & market stress indicators to switch to bearish positioning designed to protect when real economic risk emerges.

Because of the magnitude of August’s equity market responses to the trade-related headlines, both of our stress indicators switched to bearish positioning. Our equity market stress indicator switched back to bullish each time the headline risk dissipated; our derivative market stress indicator stayed bearish throughout the month, as shown below.

190916 Derivs indicator vs Short Vol Index.png

The outcome in August for our active derivatives portfolios is that they avoided most of the month’s drawdown and volatility.

Frequent bullish - bearish reversals such as those in August are the most challenging environment for our active equity portfolios. Our Capital Preservation portfolio, which is designed with the most cushion against headline risk, outperformed the Russell 1000 index in August. But our Moderate and Aggressive portfolios, which have less of that protection, underperformed it.