Investment Letters

Investment Letter – September 2018

By |2018-09-10T13:27:54+00:00September 10th, 2018|Cerno Capital, Investment Letters|

The current economic and stock market cycles are unusually long in duration and this leads to obvious questions about what will be the cause of its ending. There are several oft mentioned candidates: protectionism, a fall in historically high margins, a strong dollar and interest rates or some combination of these factors. Students of stock market valuation over time are liable to point to how highly valued equities are and this is hard to dispute. To our minds, the biggest threats to the US stock market lies within the international (non-US) outlook combined with shifts in demand for equities and their valuation. The valuation observation is notoriously difficult to narrow down in a causal sense and apply to time frames. Current high valuations are a pointer to sub-normal returns over the medium term but not the short term. Specifically, they tell us something, in a probabilistic sense, about how returns will pan out over a seven-year time frame, not a one-year time frame. (This is what our own testing has shown). Considerations of the net-demand for equities is thinly trampled terrain for the equity market analyst. It is common place in bond circles to speak of such things – they [...]

A short Investment Letter from Rome – May 2018

By |2018-06-01T08:27:41+00:00June 1st, 2018|Cerno Capital, Investment Letters|

The writer first visited Italy in 1983 and experienced the ochre strade of Florence on a tight budget. Caffè was taken al banco non al tavolo. A fruit cake from home served for lunch so an evening meal could be taken in a restaurant. It did no harm and sparked a deep affection for the place that will last this life. Italy is an effervescent place to visit but a deeply frustrating place to be a national of. It took many years and the wry books of Tim Parks to realise this. With more acquaintanceships, especially that of young Italians, the disfunction of the place became apparent. The narrowness of opportunity is a shock when compared to, for example, the UK. The most recent plot of youth unemployment was 31.7%, the second worst in the G20. Italians themselves will often point out that they have not been a country for long and in many respects the place still aligns to stati della città (city states). The preminent of which being Rome, where dark arts are practiced. Given the institutional stasis, ossified professional cabals and general sense that politics is a game for the rich played by the rich, it is [...]

Investment Letter from Hong Kong March 2018

By |2018-05-15T09:39:40+00:00March 27th, 2018|Cerno Capital, Investment Letters|

At the National People’s Congress in Beijing, 2,958 of 2,963 cowed delegates approved the change in China’s constitution to allow the Presidency to be extended beyond the two-term limit set by Deng Xiaoping in 1982. Deng’s then reform was promulgated to prevent the repeat of the Maoism’s attendant madness. In a very large country, disastrous policies have terrible effects on millions. Back then in was murder and starvation, what might be the longer-range effects of a resuscitation of one-man rule in China? For surely all dictatorships go bad, even the ones that start out well? The possible outcomes need to be understood in a modern context. In today’s world, even in China where an invisible blanket of surveillance and censorship wraps its citizens, it is possible to lampoon the leaders. Xi’s avatar is Pooh Bear: the tubby fellow attaching himself to a pot of honey. “Find the thing you love and never let go.” When you rule by fear you do not know what your friends let alone your enemies think. All the problems that bestow China from the 12th of March onwards are Xi’s to own. Cadre may be fired, booksellers disappear, businessmen and women interned with impunity but [...]

Investment Letter Feb 2018 Cobras in the Basket

By |2018-05-15T09:41:15+00:00February 5th, 2018|Asset Allocation, Cerno Capital, Cerno Capital Posts, General Investment, Investment Letters, Strategy|

Cobras in the Basket: Bonds, their curves, their relationship with equities and market tops In the last two months, we have seen a meaningful rise in bond yields. Key maturities in the US curve have crept up. The 2Y US Treasuries now stand at 2.15%, the 5s (5 years maturity) have moved up to 2.53% and the 10s to 2.73%. This has not been accompanied by any visible change in central bank policy or rhetoric. It is our belief that investors should take heed and begin to adjust their portfolios, if they have not already done so. This is not the first time in the post crisis period (a period that will soon be 10 years long) that bond yields have fluttered. During the so called “taper tantrum” that occurred between February 2013 and January 2014, those same maturities ran up considerably: 5s went from 0.63% to 1.86% and 10s 1.62% to 2.80%. There were other noticeable sell offs after the post 2008 low. The 10s moved from 2.0% points in early 2009 only to crest at 4.0% in 2010. As we can see, in those previous periods, yields then proceeded down, with the curve compressing to new lows. [...]

Investment Letter – January 2018

By |2018-01-09T11:43:05+00:00January 9th, 2018|Investment Letters, Other Posts|

2017 was a decent year for the firm’s investment strategies, all of which delivered against their objectives. A little more information can be found here: With the books closed on 2017, we reserve the rest of this short letter to matters pertinent to the near and far futures. It remains our somewhat paradoxical view that investors should be more concerned about good economic news than bad. Somewhat against the general habit of doubting the underlying forces that have been moving economies and markets, our view is that that more concern should be directed toward the consequences of the recovery being too good, too wholesome and too universal. For, the more widely accepted that conditions are positive, the more universal the bullishness and the quicker the central bank response to normalise liquidity and interest rates. The economic world is running counter to that of politics. For most folks with an international outlook, whether owed to their origins, migrations or mindsets, global politics have become stinky. Far from advancing toward the End of History suggested by Francis Fukuyama, we are snaking off in another direction. It has all been a reminder that life, especially the life of nations, is not an [...]

Investment Letter – November 2017

By |2017-11-13T17:15:38+00:00November 10th, 2017|Investment Letters, Other Posts|

Stock markets could fall 10% next week. This is a perfunctorily true statement but not worth tuppence as a prediction. For it is true every week of the year. 2017, so far, is an unusual year in that it has not featured a correction of 5% or more in world stocks. It remains our view that the chief risk in front line asset classes is the gravitational pressures exerted by valuations which have crept ever higher in the past 5 years. A correction in the equity market would have the effect of clearing the air. We are of the view that it would be unwise to be active selling during such a correction. For, in the lee of any correction, the proximate fundamentals will remain shaped by a picture of synchronous global growth, rising aggregates of industrial production, recovery in Europe and rising market shares of the world’s best companies in many industries. None of this plausibly presages a recession in corporate profits, in the near future. Other fundamentals to keep well in mind are interest rates and inflation. We are in the upward swing of an interest rate rising cycle and ultimately rates may do for the market but [...]

Investment Letter September 2017

By |2017-09-15T14:57:13+00:00September 15th, 2017|Investment Letters|

Over the past 10 years - in the liberal parts of the world at least - political and financial economies have forked apart. The large scale corporate world has become stronger as government authority has paled. Doubtless, on the government side of the ledger, this is partly due to an erosion of faith in governments following their interventions to save banks and shore up the indebted after the Global Financial Crisis. Large companies which are not banks have been able to take a free ride on a progressively cheaper cost of capital and load up on cost-saving technologies. With freely available capital and cheap debt, companies have variously invested, bought out competitors, lifted their dividends and bought back their own shares. In the US, buy-backs have become a mania. Strong companies have become stronger and companies of all types have become greatly better at marshalling technologies. Technology, often spoken of as a disrupter and a general threat, has in fact facilitated a multitude of improvements in the way in which business is conducted: benefits that accrue to the adopting company if not always their customers who rightly sense they are being kept at bay. For example, by computer driven enquiry [...]

Investment Letter June 2017

By |2017-06-11T14:46:44+00:00June 11th, 2017|Investment Letters|

On the last page of his book, Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari poses the questions: “What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness? Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness. What will happen to society, politics, [investment] and daily life when nonconscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?” I have added the word investment. This book certainly sets the mind noodling. We are often being told – mainly by academics and parts of the FT – that there is little point in active asset management. Their conclusions, often as not, are based on the average performance of the average manager. We think not and wish to rebutt such a reductive line in reasoning. Who would ever be interested in the average outcome from an unsampled universe? In football, there is little point in supporting an average team – unless you happened to come from the town itself. That’s why people all over the UK (and wider) support Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal and why Mansfield Town – who finshed exactly half way down League Two last season – has an average home gate of 3,774. To our minds, the universe of – equity managers in this case – [...]

Investment Letter from Hong Kong March 2017

By |2017-03-26T14:12:54+00:00March 26th, 2017|Investment Letters|

The stimulating free port of Hong Kong remains a compelling eye glass through which to comprehend China, its politics and economy. All its 5.5 million adult inhabitants are China watchers, by inclination or necessity. Their world view was formed, to some extent, by the Cultural Revolution. The most recent arrivals in Hong Kong are investors from China and increasing numbers of economic migrants from Europe, most notably France. The latter’s response to the despoir of home is to find hope in Hong Kong. "Try Hong Kong" they used to say, not always in kindness. Like London, Hong Kong operates as a safe-haven from volatile regimes: a portal through which Chinese capital passes, sufficiently easily to slay the notion that China’s capital account has effectively closed. Somewhere in the past two years - and its is difficult to say precisely when – the authorities in Beijing ceded their former near total authority on its currency policy with respect to the renminbi (RMB). The secondary effects of running so much capital through a thin spigot into Hong Kong are increasingly bad for the bulk of the population. Property prices there are debilitating to those without established ownership, small businesses struggle and young [...]

Investment Letter January 2017

By |2017-01-31T10:05:19+00:00January 31st, 2017|Investment Letters|

The election of Donald Trump has caused perturbation from Baltimore to Beijing: a rude volte face to the graceful Obama years, a reversal of international liberal orthodoxy, a rebuttal of globalisation, an aggressive restatement of weaponised American hegemony, and on. Those that voted for him love it, much of the rest of the world is aghast. While many are offended, some are amused. In politics, the next few years will be a wild thrash. This may not last long and hopefully no warheads are loosened off. Part of the emerging mash of policy – on energy most notably – look like bizarre refutations of global trends that will not brook reversal. Others - resisting China’s claims over the Western Pacific - maybe overdue. There is more to come. Trump did not find time in the first week of his Presidency to fall out with Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve. As sure as apples is apples, that will happen. It is not a great time to be an agency wonk in America. Under the last administration, even the hunting down of Osama Bin Laden was a meditative affair, a point captured in the line from Zero Dark Thirty where a [...]