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Our investment professionals share and challenge each other’s views, creating a diverse marketplace of ideas for the Wellington Blog.

Over the past decade or so, there have been countless studies and articles on the inability of active portfolio management to reliably add value versus market benchmarks, even before accounting for fees. However, most of the research tends to focus on US markets, particularly US large-cap equities, and glosses over (or ignores altogether) the reality that there are other market categories where active managers have, in fact, had a great deal of success historically (and may continue to do so). The inefficient Japanese equity market is a prime example.

A good fishing pond

The proof is in the pudding, as shown in Figure 1: During 70% of rolling three-year time periods over the past 20 years (ended 31 December 2020), at least 60% of active Japan equity managers — in some years, substantially more than that — have outperformed their respective benchmarks. By contrast, and as expected, most US large-cap equity managers have struggled to consistently top their benchmarks, with 60% or more…

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Ueki Hideo
Hideo Ueki
CFA, CMA
Director of Investment Products and Strategies
Megan Kelly
Megan Kelly
CFA
Research Manager
Boston

Many investors want to be more long-term oriented — and most should be, at least according to longstanding conventional wisdom. But as we found in a recent survey, there are numerous obstacles to consistently maintaining a long-term focus, with market volatility, manager performance, corporate board pressures, and potential career risk topping the list. After all, short-term bouts of underperformance are all but inevitable when pursuing a long-term investment approach (Figure 1).

With all that in mind, I recently tackled three related questions:

  1. What exactly does it mean to be a “long-term” investor?
  2. Are there advantages to being more long-term focused?
  3. How can you identify a truly long-term-oriented…
MARKETS
Adam Berger
Adam Berger
CFA
Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston

In my October blog post, A firsthand look at Brazil’s straitjacket, I painted a rather grim portrait of Brazil’s macroeconomic landscape following my latest visit to South America’s most populous nation. The “straitjacket” metaphor arose from my sense that Brazil may be increasingly hemmed in by its elevated rates of inflation — the heaviest “tax” on the poor — along with political uncertainty leading up to its October 2022 presidential election and a host of other country-level challenges.

I still believe that. But despite my downbeat macro outlook, as an emerging markets equity investor, I think there is a decidedly more positive side to Brazil’s story. After meeting with 22 of the country’s corporate CEOs, some of whom chatted with me for more than an hour, I came away more convinced than ever that Brazil offers plenty of stock- and industry-specific investment opportunities. You just have to…

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Jamie Rice
Jamie Rice
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

Most people who visit Japan for the first time come back raving about just how “clean” it is compared to other countries – which, in my view, makes it somewhat ironic that Japan has never really been considered a fertile hunting ground for investors looking for “clean” (environmentally-friendly) companies. But that doesn’t mean that such companies don’t exist here. On the contrary, we have found (and continue to find) great numbers of them; it simply takes some time and effort to identify and properly understand them.

A multitude of factors go into that search and vetting process, but as an investment team focused primarily on smaller companies operating in niche markets internationally, we see Japan as a land of hidden environmental, social, and governance (ESG) gems.

Lingering assumptions about Japan

At both the government and corporate levels, many observers have characterized Japan as a country that is slow to change and adapt to the times. That perception rings true to some degree with regard to ESG, particularly on the…

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SUSTAINABILITY
Penn Bowers
Penn Bowers
CFA
Equity Research Analyst
Tokyo

In the wake of the latest growth stock sell-off, I’ve been reviewing my equity opportunity sets across the market sectors and subsectors that I cover, including digital advertising, e-commerce, and video games. For now, I’d like to focus specifically on that latter segment of the market. The upshot: In general, I remain positive on the future of gaming and find a number of the stocks to be potentially attractive investment plays as of this writing.

Many of these stocks outperformed amid the height of COVID-19 and the widespread physical lockdowns triggered by it — to no one’s huge surprise really, because many people were more or less “stuck” at home for months on end, with ample time (and desire) to indulge in leisure activities like gaming that they might not be able to partake of under more “normal” societal conditions. But, and again not that surprisingly, many of the same stocks have underperformed this year as much of the world (thankfully) has begun to shed or loosen the pandemic-induced shelter-in-place orders, business closures, travel restrictions, and so on.

Why I’m bullish on video game stocks

Interestingly, however, my research and anecdotal evidence suggest that the amount of time global consumers have actually spent on gaming entertainment…

THEMES
Brian Barbetta
Brian Barbetta
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

I spent 10 days in Brazil in August 2021, visiting technology, retail, real estate, and health care companies in search of stocks to add to my potential “buy” list. I met with 22 corporate CEOs, 21 of whom told me I was the first foreign investor they’d seen in person since pre-COVID. Many of them chatted with me for over an hour — a vivid illustration of how there is just no substitute for being on the ground in emerging markets (EMs), especially at a time like this.

I departed with some valuable insights into a number of companies that led me to better appreciate the robustness of their business models. Indeed, there are plenty of stock- and industry-specific investment opportunities in Brazil, which I’ll explore in a future blog post. But at the broad country level, I left with a decidedly more negative take. The analogy that came to mind was that of Brazil being in a “straitjacket,” with all the unpleasant…

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Jamie Rice
Jamie Rice
CFA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Boston

My colleague, Derivatives Strategist Brian Hughes, recently likened today’s market behavior to a duck: placid on the surface, but legs beating like crazy below. This metaphor highlights how the alpha experience of managers has been volatile, while the activity at the market level has looked quite muted by comparison. Our team, leveraging recent insights from Macro Strategist Juhi Dhawan, believes this is a symptom of a market that changes its mind frequently regarding what path the economy is actually on. Are we heading for a sustained recovery, or will the economy wilt once the US Federal Reserve (Fed) starts to taper its asset purchases? Should we be more focused on inflation upside risk or whether China’s struggles might lead to deflation? Is there additional fiscal stimulus on the way, or will the Delta variant get us first? There are seemingly countless “A or B” narratives.

The market has appeared to be more prone to these types of shifting narratives for the past four or five years. This has particularly been the case since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. The nature of this uncertainty means there may not be clear trades from the below insights. However, we hope they provide some historical context for the market we’re experiencing and some solace for investors who feel like…

MARKETS
Gordy Lawrence
CFA
Director of Global Derivatives
Boston
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Japanese stocks have been decidedly out of favor with most investors for several years now, underperforming most recently in response to the 2020 COVID-19 crisis and Japan’s delayed economic recovery from it this year. (For more on that and related equity opportunities in Japan these days, please see Revisiting Japan from a contrarian perspective, co-authored by my colleagues, Jun Oh and Takuma Kamimura.)

Meanwhile, on a more upbeat note, the trend toward Japanese corporate governance reform is steadily proceeding apace. With Japan’s revised Corporate Governance Code calling for further improvements to the functioning of corporate boards of directors, as well as strategies for addressing global climate change, Japanese equity returns to shareholders have in many cases rebounded lately amid stronger business performances. This is an encouraging development that we broadly expect to…

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Katsuhiro Iwai
Katsuhiro Iwai
CFA, CMA
Equity Portfolio Manager
Tokyo
Soda Yuichiro
Yuichiro Soda
CFA, CMA
Equity Research Analyst
Tokyo

As China’s role on the world stage continues to loom larger, many investors are contemplating whether to separate the country from the rest of their emerging markets (EM) equity allocation. Most arguments for such separation are based on China’s fast-growing weight in broad EM equity benchmarks, but it’s not necessarily that simple. Let’s take a closer look.

The answer? It depends

We believe the key decision point here should not be China’s dominance of the EM indices, but rather, the extent to which a stand-alone China equity allocation can be viewed as similar (or dissimilar) to an EM ex-China equity allocation. If they are, in effect, more or less the “same thing,” then the relative size of one to the other will likely make…

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Samouilhan_Nick
Nick Samouilhan
PhD, CFA, FRM
Multi-Asset Strategist
Singapore
Cara Lafond
Cara Lafond
CFA
Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston
Adam Berger
Adam Berger
CFA
Multi-Asset Strategist
Boston

Question: Could rising “short-termism” actually provide an alpha opportunity for longer-term-oriented equity investors? Ironically, yes in my view. Let’s look at today’s financial technology (fintech) sector as an illustrative example.

Froth in fintech IPOs

I’m concerned about growing froth in the fintech initial public offering (IPO) market because much of the recent activity there signals that investors are continuing to take on more and more risk in pursuit of hoped-for near-term rewards. Here are some behaviors that, to me, highlight the potential for…

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Matt Ross
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston

With US stocks notching record highs this year, significantly outperforming their Japanese counterparts, the spread between the two equity markets’ valuations has widened meaningfully in recent months (Figure 1).

Why the performance dispersion? Japan’s relatively slower COVID vaccine rollout and the disappointing lack of economic support provided by the (previously) much-anticipated Summer Olympics have clearly weighed on market sentiment of late, but equity investors’ apathy toward Japan actually dates back several years. One might even say that it has become entrenched.

The good news? The valuation gaps between Japan equity and its global peers have arguably reached…

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THEMES

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Jun Oh
Equity Portfolio Manager
Hong Kong

In their June 2021 paper, Why fragility is the new reality for the stock market, our colleagues Brian Hughes and Gordy Lawrence conclude that: ”An imbalance has developed between the supply of and demand for liquidity, and as a result we’ve seen a significant increase in the potential for the public equity market to jump from a state of calm to one of chaos.”

Within our global trading department, we couldn’t agree more. Here are our latest thoughts from a trading perspective on ways to potentially navigate those states of “chaos” that may arise, often unexpectedly, amid market shocks or bouts of heightened…

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Plagued by a combination of disappointing returns, heightened volatility, global trade wars, and (most recently) the COVID-19 crisis and regulatory uncertainty, emerging markets (EM) equities have been decidedly unpopular with many investors for years now. But during that time, the EM investment opportunity set has grown and expanded significantly, making EM equities fertile ground for investors seeking enhanced portfolio diversification and strong performance potential.

We believe differentiated actively managed investment strategies rooted in fundamental research are best positioned to access and capitalize on this attractive, but often-inefficient, asset class. In fact, we think investors who adhere to passive, benchmark-driven EM equity allocations may be missing out on full exploitation of the available opportunity set.

Here are seven reasons why, in our view, EM equity investors should favor active management, in spite of…

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Andrew Sharp-Paul
Investment Director
Singapore

US utilities stocks have trailed the broader equity market by a wide margin so far in 2021, having just posted their poorest first-half relative performance since 1997. In fact, the underperformance has become chronic: The sector has now lagged the market by roughly 40% over the past three years – its worst multiyear stretch going back to the tech bubble of the late 1990s.

Neither I nor any other member of the utilities team here has seen anything like this during our careers. So what gives? Utilities were neither COVID “winners” nor “losers” in 2020. And then the US stock market’s persistent “seesawing” between the value and growth styles has left utilities out of this year’s market gains. Increased inflation and fears of higher interest rates have also hurt the group to some degree in recent months.

But there is a silver lining. In the wake of their underperformance, US utilities have been trading at a big discount to…

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Juanjuan Niska
Juanjuan Niska
CFA
Global Industry Analyst
Boston, MA

Figure 1 highlights the six-month trailing correlation between the S&P 500 Index and the 10-year US Treasury bond as of 20 July 2021. This stock-bond correlation has shot up over the past six months or so from near all-time lows to its highest levels since before the 2008 global financial crisis. What does it mean?

Figure 1

Six-month stock-bond correlation

First, one caveat: The equity-bond correlation can be volatile, particularly amid fears of monetary policy tightening — for instance, a sharp spike around the…

MACRO
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Nick Petrucelli
Nick Petrucelli
CFA
Portfolio Manager
Boston

Over the past several weeks, a number of high-profile individual stocks have experienced what many observers see as retail-driven, options-assisted “melt-ups.” Most of these stocks have rallied at least 25% – 50%, including one outlier that has garnered the most attention with its breathtaking run in recent weeks and a quadruple-digit year-to-date return as of this writing.

This meteoric stock rise and others have seemingly defied logic and left many institutional investors scratching their heads, concerned that we may be in for a replay of what we saw earlier this year. I think that’s unlikely.

In January 2021, a handful of “meme stocks” experienced similar upside moves, which caught many hedge fund managers by surprise, triggering widespread…

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Gordy Lawrence
CFA
Director of Global Derivatives
Boston

The US stock market appears dramatically different to me now than it did just 12 months ago. Equity issuance by US-listed firms has gone up since then, while cash returned to shareholders has gone down. Based on net cash flow, I believe the market is starting to look overvalued and even bears some resemblance to the tech-stock bubble of 1999 – 2000, with stocks offering little reward potential but plenty of risk. As of this writing, I would suggest that US equity investors consider overweighting defensive, cash-producing stocks.

Is it 2000 all over again?

For 10 years following the 2008 global financial crisis, the US equity market was more or less a “cash cow,” reliably returning cash to shareholders via dividends and share repurchases. Broadly speaking, the market’s annual cash yield was around 3%, with a dividend yield of 2% and net repurchases of 1%. That changed in recent months, with net cash flow turning…

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Owen Lamont
Owen Lamont
PhD
Associate Director of Quantitative Investment Group Multi-Asset Research
Boston
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