The law of unintended consequences is defined as the actions of people (especially governments) that will usually have an unanticipated impact. In fact, the harder we try to achieve something quite often the exact opposite occurs. In the investment world it is very hard to foresee outcomes beforehand, so the final results can sometimes be surprising.
Some of the greatest investing blunders of all time came from the consequences of unforeseen events. Since one of the primary objectives of investing is to grow your wealth, unintended outcomes are very dangerous to investors’ future wellbeing. While the traditional culprits for potential disaster are “get-rich-quick” schemes or penny stocks, a historically safe harbour is slowly entering the lexicon of potential problems for many investors; bonds.
Traditionally, bonds have been seen as safe, low risk investments and the principal means of preserving wealth. They are also viewed as being an excellent way to diversify your portfolio. While this is normally true over the long run, there are distinct periods where bonds have been simply ineffective at building wealth. Considering today’s very low yields and increasing interest rates, investors’ returns on bonds after inflation, fees and taxes, are minimal. So, unless investors are comfortable with only the safe harbour feature of bonds and unconcerned with the less than stellar return opportunities going forward (or you have more money than you need), the only realistic solution is to hold a higher weighting in equities.
For the vast majority of investors, a balanced approach to asset allocation is normal. Historically, as clients age and approach retirement, they become more conservative and seek safety. Traditionally, this has meant more bonds and fewer equities. This is exactly the wrong approach for efficient portfolio growth or to even maintain the purchasing power of assets given inflation. However, this way of thinking is completely opposite to most aging clients’ mindsets of protecting what they have achieved over their lifetime. So a battle is brewing between the markets and peace of mind and unfortunately the markets are always right.
Retirees or near-retirees are scared to death of losing the value of their assets so they have in the past shifted the majority of their assets into GICs and bonds for “safety”. Of course, for the first few years of retirement this works fine. However, with the steady onslaught of inflation, fees and taxes they are slowly dwindling their nest egg. With people living longer and spending more years in retirement the probability of running out of money increases. The decision to become safer has made them less safe and has created a whole new level of risk; running out of money.
There is no such thing as taking no risk. There is only the choice of which risks to take and when to take them. The risk from owning bonds shows up later in your investment life, while the risk of owning equities can show up earlier. Without assuming risk, meagre results are all that is left to investors. In fact, there is a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin that summarizes this nicely: “those who give up return for security deserve neither return nor security.”
While bonds in the near future are not likely to be wealth builders, they are however necessary. The question is: how much? They do dampen volatility during downturns and are an excellent source of liquidity. Also, since investing often comes down to an emotional decision rather than an analytical one, bonds can act as a form of insurance against panicking when things turn ugly in the markets.
With this situation bearing down on all investors, we have created an entirely new fixed income investment structure that benefits from the strengths of bonds (risk reduction) and the benefits of equities (potential for higher returns). The Provisus Multi-Strategy High Yield Fixed Income Fund is designed to target the risk of short term bonds, but generate greater performance. It attempts to provide an attractive cash yield and stable returns, while investing in a broad range of non-equity assets: corporate bonds, convertible bonds, preferred shares, income trusts, REITs, mortgages, secured real estate backed lending, infrastructure products and alternative investment strategies.
It keeps fees client-friendly using the Pay-for-Performance™ model with a fixed annual management fee of 0.25% (which is less than the pro-rata average MER for all the fixed income ETFs in Canada, 0.28%) plus a performance fee only if the fund outperforms a pre-set benchmark (50% FTSE Short Bond Index and 50% FTSE Mid Bond Index). This fee philosophy provides a very strong incentive for the fund to achieve positive results for clients. In this day and age, it may be one of the few solutions available that plays it safe but still generates meaningful returns.