The recent bout of volatility brought on by the Coronavirus has caught many investors unprepared, with the US market recording its fastest correction in history, notwithstanding this week’s largest-ever points gain for the Dow Jones.
Last week also saw discussion around the potential for an emergency interest rate cut from the Federal Reserve. Combined with the emerging risks relating to the global spread of the virus, and the impact on the supply chain of many large companies, we took this opportunity and closed out most clients’ equity positions in the International Growth Portfolio and move into cash.
While we would normally favour an approach that sees us retain core equity holdings as opposed to cash, we considered the above developments would represent a dramatic and unanticipated shift in acknowledging the vulnerable status of the global economy.
Since then, the Federal Reserve has now followed through on this notion and delivered an out-of-cycle 50 basis point cut. As such, we will further refine our investment strategy in order to adopt an approach that we believe will serve as the most likely means of protecting the value of the International Growth Portfolio, while also offering upside potential.
What happens next?
From here, our strategy at this point is to leverage ‘cash-covered puts’ in order to generate income as we wait for opportunities to emerge in the market. We will be looking to sell put options on the stocks that we want to own. This gives us an obligation to buy the holdings that we’d like to underpin the International Growth Portfolio at a designated price that we think represents long-term value.
As we are not overly intent to hold cash for any extended period of time, owing to its long-term underperformance and the mechanics that work against it when interest rates are low, a strategy centred on selling puts provides us with two distinct advantages.
First, this strategy ensures that we remain ‘active’ in the market so that we may retain exposure to any significant liquidity events. Secondly, this strategy is based on hedging, which helps us manage risk yet still allows us to achieve our core goal of investing in companies that offer long-term sustainable growth.
We will be targeting similar exposure to the stocks that we exited last week, which means that there will be a bias favouring high-growth tech-oriented stocks. As these stocks are also among those that the market might consider as prone to corrections on account of their high P/E ratios, it is in our benefit to exercise such strict discipline with the strategy we use to re-enter such positions.
Should the prices of these stocks appreciate, leading to a situation where the other party does not exercise the option, we can earn income in the form of the entire option premium. However, if desired stocks continue to depreciate, then we will also be happy to buy them at the strike price, which is reduced by the value of the option premium we retain. As both outcomes align with our overall investment objectives, we believe this is a prudent, risk-adjusted strategy that is appropriate for the near-term.