2023 concluded with a major fourth quarter rally in all areas of the markets, with both equities and bonds experiencing meaningful gains.
This was in contrast to the previous quarter as expectations around future interest rate cuts by the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada accelerated. Persistent inflation notwithstanding, the consensus view is for a sharp reversal in restrictive monetary policy in both timing and magnitude. While we may not necessarily agree with this view, we remind everyone that we never predict, yet always prepare, for uncertainty and fragility of markets over full business cycles and for a wide range of outcomes.
Beginning in late 2021, the markets experienced a significant regime change that is now firmly in place – higher inflation and higher interest rates. As a result, two main trends have emerged:
the global cost of capital is substantially higher; and
traditional stock and bond correlations have been increasing.
Here are two charts to illustrate these trends.
1. Historical Treasury Bill yields as a proxy for the global risk-free rate and base rate for cost of capital. All else being equal, a higher cost of capital means lower valuations for most asset classes. This effect is substantial given the risk-free rate has been ultra-low for most of the post-global financial crisis period and effectively zero during the COVID years.
2. Rolling correlation of US equities and bonds. Portfolio diversification over the past 40+ years has rested on the fact that equities and bonds had little and sometimes negative correlation with one another. With these correlations rising, investors will need other uncorrelated assets to achieve a proper level of diversification going forward.
We are pleased to say that our ‘fortress portfolios” continued to work to your benefit over the past year. A fortress is a highly fortified and strategically designed stronghold or defensive structure constructed to provide a secure base for operations. In the same manner, your portfolio is strategically designed to provide a secure base for your financial operations.
We are now elevating this illustration through the re-branding of our comprehensive multi-asset client investment portfolios from the more generic characterizations of Moderate, Balanced, and Growth, to the “Anchor Pacific Fortress Portfolios”. It is important to stress that nothing in the way we construct and manage investment portfolios will change – this is simply the formalization of a name that we had been using to describe the portfolios for many years now.
Year-to-date performance and 3-year risk and return of Reference Portfolios, for comparison, have been updated as follows:
If you are looking to compare the performance of your portfolio to its proper Reference Portfolio, most clients will fit into either the Moderate or the Balanced risk profile. It is also worth mentioning that our Fortress Portfolios are structured to provide a comparable long-term return to their respective Reference Portfolios with approximately 25-35% less risk. We elaborate in more detail in the following section.
Defining risk is complicated. To make it easier for clients to understand, we typically explain it by highlighting three distinct metrics for risk measurement:
Standard deviation is a statistical measure to quantify the amount of variation in returns of the investment portfolio over time. A higher measure indicates a greater degree of volatility, suggesting higher risk. Diversifying a portfolio by including assets with low correlations to one another can reduce the overall standard deviation and lower overall portfolio risk.
Since the firm’s inception in January 2016, our Fortress Balanced Model Portfolio standard deviation has been 26% below the Reference Portfolio.
Beta measures the portfolio’s sensitivity to movements in the underlying equity market (we use the S&P 500 as the market proxy), allowing one to assess risk relative to the broader equity market.
Our Fortress Balanced Model Portfolio beta is 0.35 since firm inception. Meaning that if equity markets are up (or down) 10%, the portfolio would be expected to gain (lose) approximately 3.5%. This compares to the Reference Portfolio beta of 0.49, suggesting it has been 40% riskier than ours.
Maximum drawdown is a risk metric used to assess the largest percentage drop in the value of a portfolio from its highest point (peak) to its lowest point (trough), providing insight into the historical worst-case scenario.
The historical maximum drawdown of the Reference Portfolio has been 1.5x that of the Fortress Balanced Model Portfolio.
Portfolio Positioning and Outlook
Our investment process is adaptive in nature – we analyze, implement, monitor, and improve. The adjustments we make over time tend to be subtle and are meant to fortify the portfolio. Think of it like thickening the walls and widening the moat of the castle or fort.
The changes that we implemented in 2023 were the result of addressing portfolio needs and seeking attractive opportunities – we accomplished this by adding a few strategies entirely new to the portfolios, increasing allocations to existing favorable strategies, and recycling capital within other segments of the portfolios.
Here are the major highlights:
added Private Equity (~6% allocation between private funds and replication using public securities)
added an Energy Income strategy (part of the Real Asset Equity segment, ~2.5% allocation)
Increases to existing strategies
Increased our Private Credit allocation (within Fixed Income Extended segment) from ~2% to 6%.
We revamped the Hedge Strategies allocation of the portfolio by adding some new managers and reducing and/or eliminating some existing manager allocations.
Our existing asset allocation for the Fortress Balanced Model Portfolio is below.
We have two additional exciting developments to share.
Firstly, we have engaged in a new and mutually beneficial strategic partnership with a fellow Aligned Capital investment advisor whereby we will be managing substantially all of their client assets on a co-sourced basis utilizing our Fortress Portfolios for Advisors. This serves as further endorsement of our entire investment philosophy and approach to portfolio construction and risk management.
There are many ways to serve the retail investor as a fiduciary and we feel strongly that the advisor partnership model will be powerful in shaping the future of wealth management. We have been positioning ourselves to fill a marketplace void with this role for the last several years and believe that there is a great deal of operational leverage and room for mutually beneficial growth for advisors and retail clients alike .
Secondly, our investment process is powered by the proprietary risk and analytical technology developed by our sister company Anchor Pacific Financial Risk Labs (“Fin Labs”). Fin Labs has invested heavily in these systems, and for the past two years, has been developing commercial solutions for third-party financial professionals, advisors, and allocators of investment capital. During the first quarter, Fin Labs plans on soft launching two innovative cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that will give us expanded reach to a community of finance professionals serving investment consumers.