Friday, 25 June 2010

Possible Effects of Global Imbalances on Investors

McKinsey & Company's Globalization's critical imbalances in the McKinsey Quarterly report provides a readable summary of those issues along with some implications that, though they are directed at a corporate audience, provide food for thought for individual investors.

Here are a few parts I think to be pertinent:
  • "it would be wise to be prepared for the high probability of future financial shocks. To do so, most companies need to become more adept at risk management and to err on the side of being overcapitalized, overliquid, and overprepared." By shocks they mean what is described in the next quote below. To me the implication is to hold a higher amount of fixed income with special regard to credit-worthiness. Canadian government debt seems to me to be a good bet, even better than US Treasury debt.
  • "... companies should engage in serious scenario planning around “unthinkables.” These might include the potential for significant, rapid shifts in currency values (for example, a 30 percent decline of the dollar versus emerging-market currencies); an exit from the euro by some nations; dramatic, rapid changes in commodity prices (for example, oil prices spiking to $200 a barrel); or defaults on debt by major nations." Hello major volatility in different parts of a portfolio. Currency exposure may well account for most of the variation in an internationally-diversified portfolio in future. If CAD remains strong because of Canada's production of commodities and because our government's fiscal situation is strong too (thanks again to Paul Martin and Jean Chretien who did the dirty work back in the 1990s that we benefit from today), there is a good possibility we Canadian investors won't gain much overall from such shifts, maybe even lose due to US and European holdings even though emerging markets holdings might rise even more strongly. Since emerging markets are typically a small (only 5% in my portfolio) portion, does that mean one should depart from the traditional backward-looking passive allocation according to current market value and increase the allocation looking forward. Or, an investor has two other choices - 1) try to avoid currency volatility by buying hedged funds but the question is whether such funds are effective given their typical high overhead cost and the tracking error; 2) stay exposed to currency, monitor the portfolio closely and be ready to do major rebalancing. Hmmm, what to do .... cannot say I've decided but just ignoring this stuff isn't smart.


Michael James said...

Zeroing in on your last comments, I intend to be ready to rebalance if there are major shifts in asset values between Canada and the US whether it is caused by currency fluctuations or any other reason.

Other than that, I intend to ignore scary reports. I'm not convinced that ignoring scary reports isn't smart.

CanadianInvestor said...

MJ, my worry is the Japan effect. Someone just blindly rebalancing into Japanese equities from the early 90s as that market sank into a prolonged downward path that persists even to today would not be very well off. Rebalancing only helps when asset classes bounce back.

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