It is time to diversify the traditional 60/40 equity bond allocation

With interest rates trading at or close to zero percent in most of the developed world, investors have been questioning if government bonds still act as a hedge against periods of market stresses, which are usually negative for equities. One of the most important characteristics of the traditional 60/40 equity bond (and also the ‘all-weather’ portfolio risk parity) has been the negative correlation between equity returns and changes in long-term bond yields. Figure 1 shows that the 3-rolling correlation between US equity returns and the 10Y bond yield turned negative in the beginning of 2000s after being positive for decades (using weekly times series)

However, we are not confident that the correlation will remain negative (implying that bonds are rising when equities are falling) in the medium term, especially if we switch to more inflationary environment after restrictions are lifted. Even though the disinflationary forces will remain significant in the coming 12 to 24 months due to social distancing, investors must not assign a zero-percent probability of a sudden rise in inflation expectations in the future.

Figure 1

Source: Eikon Reuter, RR calculations

Why not swap some of your bond allocation, which currently offers a very limited upside, for gold, which offers ‘unlimited’ upside gains as money supply continues to grow dramatically in most of the economies. Figure 2 shows the performances (and drawdowns) of four different portfolios:

  1. A equity long-only portfolio
  2. A 60/40 equity bond portfolio
  3. A 60/35/5 equity bond gold portfolio
  4. A 60/30/10 equity bond gold portfolio

We can notice that investors would have got similar returns if they had held 5 to 10 percent of gold in their portfolio instead of bonds in the past 50 years. It is time to diversify the traditional 60/40 equity bond portfolio.

Figure 2

Source: Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

Great Chart: US Yield Curve vs. VIX (log, 30M lagged)

As a response to the recent surge in the market’s volatility (VIX), we saw lately an interesting chart that plots the 2Y10Y yield curve overlaid with the VIX (log, 30-month lagged). Even though we don’t necessarily agree with the fact that yield curves are a good predictor of recessions, we like to integrate it in our analysis as a supportive argument when presenting our outlooks as it summarizes a lot of information in a single chart. Previously, we presented the SP500 index versus the 2Y10Y yield curve (here), in which we emphasized that US equities can continue to rise (as the fundamental indicators) for weeks (2000) or months (2006/2007) despite a negative yield curve.

In this chart, we can notice another important factor, which is that the bull momentum in the equity market can persist even though market experiences an increase in price volatility (on an implied base). For instance, in the last two years of the 1990s (98/99), the VIX averaged 25%, 10 percent higher than in the last few years, while the SP500 was up 70% (the Nasdaq actually increased by 100% in the last quarter of 1999).

Hence, if we assume that the 25-year relationship between equity volatility and the business cycle holds on average, the constant flattening US yield curve over the past 2 years was suggesting a rise in the VIX.  The chart shows the persistent divergence between the two times series prior the sell-off; while the 2Y10Y had flattened by 200bps to 0.50% over the past couple of years, the VIX was averaging 10-12. The question now is: what to expect in the future for US equities, volatility and yields?

With the 10-year slowly approaching the 3-percent threshold, are US equities and volatility sensitive to higher long-term yields? As Chris Cole from Artemis pointed out in his memo Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk, there is an estimated 2tr+ USD Global Short Volatility trade (i.e. 1tr USD in risk parity and target vol strategies, 250bn USD in risk premia…). Can we experience another late 1990s period with rising LT yields, higher implied volatility without a global deleveraging impacting all asset prices?

In our view, it is difficult to see a scenario with rising LT yields combined with an elevated volatility (i.e. 20 – 25 %) without a negative impact on overall asset classes. Hence, if we see a persistent high volatility in the medium term as this chart suggests, the deleveraging in both bonds and equities by investment managers will kickstart a negative sell-reinforcing process, creating a significant sell-off in all asset classes with important outflows in the high-yield / EM investment world, hence leading to a repricing of risk.

Chart. US 2Y10Y Yield Curve vs. VIX (log, 30M lagged) (Source: Eikon Reuters)

USYield vs VIX