U.S. Economy Still Chugging Along

The economy South of the border continued to look positive during the month of August and now into the better part of September. This is despite continued political drama. Jobless claims are down, and job creation is up along with consumer confidence.

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) numbers for the U.S. also came in strong.  An economy is considered to be in a recession or economic slow down after 2 quarters of declining GDP.  Strong numbers are a positive sign that the U.S. economy is still chugging along.

Investors demonstrated their confidence by pushing S&P 500 to all time highs, breaking the record as the longest running bull market in history.

A point that is not lost on our management team as Croft Portfolio Managers continue to cautiously take advantage of the trend.

Canadian equities had a tough August as trade concerns between the U.S. and China impacted the materials sector, while the overturn of the Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline expansion weighed heavy on energy.

Oil as a commodity finished the month of August about where it started after some volatile swings and currently remains with in the 67 to 69 range.

Gold hit a recent low of $1170.00 but rallied quickly to settle back above $1200.00. This trading behavior continues to be heavily influenced by the swings we have seen in the U.S. Dollar as of late.

Fund Performance

TCG 531 Equity Growth Fund

In August, the Equity Growth fund finished positive 3.27% while its benchmark, TSX Total Return Index was negative 0.82% for the month.

Year to date, the Equity Growth fund is up 8.32% with the TSX TR benchmark trailing at 2.27%

With Canadian banks reporting at the end of August, and given expectations for interest rate increases, the Canadian Financials index approached a six-month peak near the end of August.  The Investment Review Committee took the opportunity to re-evaluate the Canadian bank holdings and decided to close out a position in National Bank of Canada (NA.TO).  Although this company had performed well in the past, according to lead manager Alex Brandolini, research confirmed that earnings quality has been weak, and the upside on the financial stocks is limited.  Given that view, we decided there would be better places to deploy the capital.

Over the month of August, the momentum factor continued to provide opportunities in Canada and the United States.  Canada Goose Holdings Inc (GOOS.TO), a Canadian Consumer Discretionary stock, was added to the portfolio during the mini-momentum correction.  This company exhibits super-normal growth and has a history of beating expectations, but also doesn’t trade on a lot of volume.  When a significant holder of shares in a company that trades on low volume chooses to exit the position, it often creates large moves to the downside and an opportunity to get in at a more favorable price.  Given the fundamentals of the company, its factor exposures and future prospects, we took the opportunity to buy the company on a pullback.

TCG 534 Income Fund

Our Income fund finished the month of August up 2.27% compared to the Real World Index Income benchmark, which was up 0.39%.  Year to date, the fund shows gains of 6.20% compared to its benchmark, which trails at 1.28% for the year so far.

Lead manager Mark McAdam suggests that the strong returns in the fund can be attributed to the acquisition of Enercare (ECI) by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners for a 52% premium. We’ve also seen strong, active trading returns on Constellation Brands Inc. (STZ).

Overall, the fund continues to overweight the Technology sector while reducing exposure to the Consumer Discretionary sector.

In addition, some exposure to the Telecommunication sector was introduced. According to Mark’s analysis, valuations in this sector are attractive and many companies feature high dividend yields.

Equity exposure has also been reduced in an effort to lower the risk of the Pool, and put options on the S&P 500 remain in place as part of our ongoing hedging strategy.

TCG 539 Option Writing Fund

Our Option Writing Fund is designed to drive cash flow using income generating option strategies regardless of market direction.

The fund finished August positive with a 2.26% gain, beating its benchmark, the Montreal Exchange Covered Call Writers index, which finished the month positive 0.30%.

Year to date, the fund sits positive at 4.44% compared to its benchmark, which trails slightly at 3.60%.

Lead manager Richard Croft confirms that as highlighted last month implied volatility remains at short-term lows and continued to contract in the month of August. This continued contraction has reduced the premiums collected from our option writing strategies. In response, Richard has continued to shorten the terms to expiry of these options, with a current average term to expiration of 26 days. The objective of writing option contracts with shorter terms until expiration is to benefit from the accelerated time value erosion characteristic of these options.

Richard continues to maintain a balance between Value and Momentum stocks. The fund currently has a 48% exposure to value stocks, 36% exposure to momentum stocks and 16% cash.

The current exposure to the U.S. Dollar is approximately 35% which Richard notes, depending on the outcome of the NAFTA negotiations, could be volatile relative to the Canadian Dollar over the short term.

 Current Outlook and Expectations

The length of the current bull market, now officially the longest on record for U.S. equities, concerns some investors.  According to Investment Review Committee consensus, what’s different about the new high on the S&P 500 achieved in August, relative to the peak we saw in late January is that valuation multiples look much better this time around.

Much of the volatility over the last month was sparked by risks within Emerging Markets.  Historically, weakness in Emerging Market stocks has not spilled over into U.S. markets without a significant surge in the U.S. dollar and a significant drop in oil prices.  While the U.S. dollar has strengthened this year and the price of oil has come off its peak, neither are anywhere close to the magnitude associated with previous U.S. market downturns.

To summarize, economic fundamentals continue to support a positive view on the markets.  Both macroeconomic models and bottom up forecasts, which focus on company fundamentals, indicate this bull market continues to have legs to run.

That said, although we plan to continue to be fully invested while the overall outlook remains positive, we will continue to re-evaluate and adjust as market conditions change.

R N Croft Financial Group

August 2018 – Momentum Meltdown

One of the most notable headlines for the month of July was the significant sell-off in 2 of the FAANG stocks. FAANG is an acronym used to describe the tech stocks which have been leading the market for quite some time. The group includes Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.

These stocks have been very attractive to investors due to their upside momentum, however both Facebook and Netflix surprised the market with less than favorable guidance during their latest earnings report, sparking a momentum factor meltdown.

On the Canadian front, financials remained strong while materials (most notably gold) continued to sell off along side energy.

Fund Performance

TCG 531 Equity Growth Fund

For the month of July, the Equity Growth fund finished positive 0.68% while its benchmark, the TSX Total Return Index added 1.15%

Year to date, the Equity Growth fund is up 4.89% with the TSX TR benchmark trailing at 3.12%.

Lead manager Alex Brandolini confirms that broad performance within the Equity Pool was strong for the month of July except for Facebook and Netflix. Facebook detracted from pool results significantly at the end of the month leading to a drag in performance.

On July 25th, Facebook reported a beat on Earnings Per Share (EPS), but a miss on both revenue and average monthly users.  Further, CEO Mark Zuckerberg provided an outlook for operating margins
that disappointed investors.

On the back of these disappointing results, Facebook registered the largest one-day drop in market capitalization in history.

We feel concerns about margin compression are overblown since we believe Mark Zuckerberg and COO, Sheryl Sanderberg, along with their industry leading experience, will find ways to monetize content consumption.  Further, we believe there is a certain amount of conservativism built in to the guidance provided by Zuckerberg so he can return to a “beat and raise” cycle following this revenue miss.

Notable actions taken within the Equity Pool included selling Boyd Group Income Fund as it reached full valuation.  This was part of our ongoing strategy of actively managing and locking in profits on our momentum stocks. We purchased a couple of Canadian Momentum names with strong fundamentals on a pullback.  Strategic option writing also continues to be an active strategy to take advantage of highs and lows on some of the technology stocks on our watch list, as prices continues to chop about.

 TCG 534 Income Fund

Our Income fund finished the month of July up 1.20% compared to the Real-World Index Income benchmark which was down 0.15%. Year to date the fund sits positive at 3.84% compared to its benchmark which trails at 0.89%

Lead manager Mark McAdam repurchased S&P 500 put options as part of an on-going hedging strategy. Mark adds that the put options should increase in value as market fear and uncertainty increases and the value of the S&P 500 drops. This will act as a bit of an insurance policy, helping to offset some of the potential downside in the fund should the U.S. market sell off.

In addition to the re-introduction of the hedging strategy, we added to our tech sector position during the July sell-off – increasing the overall exposure by 10.3%

Profits were captured in the Financial Sector, resulting in a reduction of exposure by 11.50%

That said, the overall exposure to Equities was reduced and exposure to Bonds and Cash was increased.

The cash raised in July through the reduction in the equity exposure has been earmarked to take advantage of quality companies that experience a sell off due to short term, temporary issues.

Mark notes that the Sharpe ratio of the income fund increased to 1.85 from 1.26 in July and continues to reflect a better long-term Sharpe ratio over its benchmark as does our equity growth fund. This observation suggest that we are managing risk efficiently.

Many investors focus on returns without considering the amount of risk a Portfolio Manager has taken to achieve their numbers. The Sharpe Ratio is a metric which tracks the average return per unit of volatility or total risk.

Typically, the higher the Sharpe Ratio value, the more attractive the risk-adjusted return.

TCG 539 Option Writing Fund

Our Option Writing Fund is designed to drive cash flow using income generating option strategies regardless of market direction.

The fund finished June positive with a 0.49% gain, however, it lagged its benchmark, the Montreal Exchange Covered Call Writers index which finished the month positive 1.64%.

As of the end of July, the Option Writing Fund sits at a 2.13% return for the year, while the MXCW currently sits at 3.29%

Lead manager Richard Croft notes that the fund remains balanced between value and momentum stocks and is 77% invested with 23% in cash held for new opportunities as well as cash equivalents.

As mentioned last month, the average duration of time until expiration for the option writes remains on shorter side at 33 days.

Richard adds that shorter term options are being written more specifically on the momentum stocks where the option premiums tend to be attractive due to the increased short-term volatility. With many of the value positions paying dividends, longer dated options typically results in longer holding times and the collection of dividends.

While Facebook and Netflix acted as a bit of a drag on performance for July, positions in Apple, Amazon and Google balanced out the impact with their positive performance.

Current Outlook and Expectations

Looking forward, we feel July’s sell off in the tech sector was a positive signal for the health of the overall market as Momentum stocks typically underperform in the first month after a market correction, such as the one we saw in February, followed by strength and overvaluation in the subsequent months.

Momentum taking a breather historically has been consistent with the development of a broader bullish trend.

Evidence of this comes from current year and fiscal 2019 market expectations.

Despite Netflix and Facebook disappointing, Better than expected results in most reporting companies has caused analysts to revise their earnings and sales forecasts upwards.  This indicates that companies are still growing and makes investing in stocks an attractive opportunity.

Looking out further, we are paying close attention to margins.  In both 2011 and 2015, peaks in margin estimates accurately predicted market tops.  Given the CAPEX (capital expenditure) cycle that is underway and the potential for trade risks to slow down revenue, margins are something we continue to watch closely.

Finally, strength in the USD will continue to weigh heavy on gold and oil which will act as an anchor for the broader Canadian economy.

 As always, we will continue evaluate and adjust as market conditions change.