As a result, the adage ‘Sell in May and go away, stay away till St Leger’s Day’ for once may have been appropriate. The St Leger horse-racing festival opened on September 9 this year. So, how would investors have fared from May 1 to September 9?
The answer is not too well. The FTSE All-Share index fell 7.8 per cent in the period, according to data from FE Analytics, while the S&P 500 index dropped 8.5 per cent and the MSCI World declined 9.4 per cent. Not unsurprisingly, the MSCI Emerging Markets index fared the worst among the world’s major regional indices, with a fall of 22.5 per cent in just four months.
Chinese volatility in early August and the ‘Black Monday’ falls at the end of last month have clearly had the biggest impact on performance in such a short time frame, and four-month performance figures are not usually the best basis for investment decisions.
But while short-termism is something to try and avoid, the sharp drops last month certainly hurt portfolios and may have made investors sit up and take notice of what they are invested in, which is surely a good thing.
David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, says: “August was clearly an ugly month and September has not started out much better. However, it should be emphasised that, with the S&P 500 at a level of 1921 as of September 4, the index is priced at 15x forward earnings, which is below the 15.7 average of the last 25 years. In fact, a number of valuation measures now show the US stockmarket to be cheaper than average in absolute terms and much cheaper than average relative to very low interest rates and inflation.”
In global equities, he acknowledges that emerging market stocks have underperformed, with Chinese weakness “continuing to negatively impact manufacturers in East Asia and commodity producers around the world”.
But he adds: “It is worth noting that, at an overall price-to-book ratio of 1.3, emerging market stocks are now at valuations that have proven to be good entry points in the past. European stocks seem even more compelling in the short run as a falling unemployment rate and low commodity prices should spur consumer spending while a low euro boosts Europe’s share of global export markets.”
So, while the number of factors weighing on performance – from commodity prices to European elections to US monetary policy – may be outnumbering the positives, there are still some potential opportunities for investors willing to think outside the box and do their due diligence.
In this year’s Autumn Investment Monitor we delve into the Targeted Absolute Return sector, which is something of a ‘Marmite’ investment option.
Retail sales figures from the Investment Association show the popularity of these vehicles has been growing as investors look for alternatives in a low inflation, low interest rate environment, but performance has not always been as consistent as investors might expect.
In their monthly round-up covering August, the investment team at Whitechurch Securities notes there was no hiding place for investors in the wake of Black Monday, highlighting the need for more diversification.
The team stated: “Wholesale investor panic saw traditional ‘safe haven’ assets in demand and developed market government bonds were the beneficiaries of investor risk aversion. But our stance remains unchanged: we continue to see little value in government bonds with yields at current levels.” Instead, they highlighted the positive performance of assets uncorrelated to equity and bonds, such as UK commercial property.
The team added: “Absolute return vehicles also played their part. Although some of our favoured strategies lost money, much of the downside was limited. However, it was also pleasing that a number of the funds we use in this space made money in these conditions.”
With emerging markets looking likely to struggle in the coming months, and monetary and fiscal policy developments in the US and Europe remaining uncertain in terms of timing, investigating different options for clients may be the most sensible solution in volatile times.
Nyree Stewart is features editor at Investment Adviser