This blog will serve as follow up to our previously released Q1 Investment Themes and is intended to provide an update on what we are seeing as well as our current outlook.
Here are the top three things we are covering in this week’s blog:
- Stocks bounced back from January’s losses but gave back some of those gains as treasury yields were on the rise.
- Most economic data readings point to stagnant MoM growth as the U.S. approaches one year since the initial COVID shutdown.
- With the death of the 60/40 portfolio coming to fruition, we will explore an alternative investment strategy.
The S&P was up 2.73% in the month of February. Most of the gains were front loaded into the beginning of the month as the market looked to bounce back from a volatile end to January. Driving the market was the growing optimism for an economic recovery, stimulus headlines, and a light at the end of the tunnel for COVID. Following a similar trend from previous months, the last week of February brought a spike in volatility that continued into March. The main catalyst for this was a surge in long duration treasury yields.
Hit especially hard by the rising yields was big cap tech. After gliding higher to begin the month, tech fell steeply and barely managed to eke out a minimal gain. It was a rare underperformance for the powerhouse sector and illustrates the continuous rotation into cyclical industries that struggled throughout COVID.
Small caps held up well to the spike in yields and continued to outperform the other major indices.
In line with our 2021 themes, commodities built on the legendary run in February with a gain of nearly 10%. With the consensus view that a jump in inflation is to be expected, commodities may just be getting started.
Emerging markets tend to be driven by U.S. equities but often carry heightened volatility. That trend held true in February as they surged higher to begin the month before dropping to a near flat close.
New claims decreased last week to the lowest levels since November. This was a positive countertrend decline after claims had increased in each of the previous three weeks. Throughout the month of February, there was an average of 791,000 new claims. Pandemic unemployment claims remain elevated but came in a lower level than at this point last year. It was roughly one year ago when the COVID pandemic entered the U.S. and gave way to a historic spike in unemployment. After a truly unforgettable year, total new claims sit at 1.18 million entering March.
Continuing claims fell consecutively throughout the month and currently total 4.545 million. While the drop is certainly a positive sign, the slowing rate of change presents a long-term concern. The monthly average for continuing claims came in at 4.741 million. Even as the economy has begun reopening and COVID cases have fallen, continuing claims remain well above normal levels.
Total claims for unemployment from all programs came in slightly lower than the previous month at an average of 18.91 million. The level of claims has remained relatively stagnant over the past few months as the economy struggles to recover from last year’s shutdown.
February’s Jobs Report showed a slight decrease in the unemployment rate to 6.20%, down from 6.30% in the previous month. After making strong progress over the summer, the unemployment rate has flattened out in the past few months. Since October, the rate has only fallen by 0.80%. This is a further indication of the long road ahead in the recovery process.
Nonfarm Payrolls showed an increase of 379,000 jobs in February. This was a promising reading that considerably beat analyst estimates of 210,000. However, many economists were quick to point out the glaring elephant in the room; 9.5 million jobs have been lost since the COVID outbreak.
On a positive note, of the 483 S&P companies that have reported quarterly earnings, there has been an average 5.37% growth rate. This growth is expected to grow significantly in the next quarter as companies begin reporting earnings compared to previous year COVID readings.
Consumer Sentiment ticked lower to 76.80 in February and remains far below pre-pandemic levels. This reading will likely remain suppressed until a clear pathway to economic recovery has been found.
GDP and CPI continue to show signs of significant growth in Q1 and Q2 of 2021. Because of how sharply these readings fell last year, even a small increase could have large implications for the stock market.
Death of the 60/40 Portfolio
The heightened volatility and rising interest rates seen in the past month has furthered our belief that the death of the 60/40 portfolio may be near. Throughout this period, we have witnessed both stocks and bonds sell off in correlation with rising interest rates. In contrast, a rising VIX has garnered sturdy returns for long volatility assets.
In past blog posts, we have illustrated the growing benefit of a portfolio that is diversified further than the traditional stock/bond mix through the story of Dennis Rodman. From this example, it becomes clear that adding non-correlating assets to a portfolio can transform it from average to alpha producing. At the same time, the portfolio will have a lower max drawdown and is less susceptible to volatility spikes.
To dive deeper on the topic of long volatility, check out our recent interview with The Mutiny Fund Co-Founder Jason Buck. For more information on the death of the 60/40 portfolio, check out Homer’s recent article that received a feature in Kiplinger Magazine.
 Slide 5: Markets Regain Lost Ground
 Slide 6: Tech Underperformance
 Slide 7: Small Caps Remain Strong
 Slide 8: Commodities Surge Higher
 Slide 9: Emerging Market Turbulence
 Slide 11: New Claims
 Slide 12: Continuing Claims
 Slide 13: Total Claims
 Slide 14: Nonfarm Payrolls
 Slide 15: Corporate Profits
 Slide 16: Update on GDP and CPI