Author: Mark Sloss (Page 1 of 7)

WCM Chart of the Week for October 19, 2020

Wildfire has had profound implications both for and because of climate change, for ecosystems, for communities, and for public health and safety. Wildfire has also had major economic consequences. Loss of housing, loss of commercial space, loss of public infrastructure, loss of crops, and loss of tourist revenue all add up to tens of billions of dollars a year just in the United States. The risk of wildfire conspiring with a lack of adequate governance and safety practices led to devastating financial losses and convictions on 84 counts of manslaughter for one of the largest utilities in the country. This week’s chart is from Munich Re and NatCatSERVICE by way of the Insurance Information Institute showing wildfire losses over the last decade (expressed in millions). Note that the spike in 2017 was so significant that the data from prior years is swamped by scale. While 2019 appears to have been a more modest loss year on par with earlier in the decade, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (nifc.gov) as of October 19th this year nearly twice as many acres have burned as by the 19th of last year, on pace with 2018 and 2019. The tale has yet to be written but that would suggest another likely spike in insured and uninsured losses. Economic loss is as much about the incidence of wildfire as it is the private encroachment on wild spaces. People increasingly work, farm and live in vulnerable forested and grassed spaces based on a history of relative fire scarcity that no longer exists. Without addressing both the climate systems issues to mitigate fire risk, and the resiliency of communities and businesses in the face of more frequent and prevalent fire, economic losses will continue to climb.

WCM Chart(s) of the Week for October 12, 2020

The popular, if you can call it that, view of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere is that the carbon problem is primarily an industrial problem. Oil, coal, and gas extraction and refining, power generation, factories, automobiles, chemicals, concrete, do all contribute to atmospheric CO2, and the trajectory of climate consequences tracks well with the Industrial Revolution. But what is far less well understood, but may be of much greater consequence, is global soil health. Modern agriculture, driven by feed lots, monocultures, tilling, chemical pesticides, and off-season bare soil has been systematically eliminating healthy soil as a global carbon sink. From an economic perspective what is really stunning is that these practices actually don’t result in more profit and productivity per acre for farmers. This week’s images are from Kiss the Ground, an initiative to help the world transition (back) to regenerative agriculture, which is better for both planet and profit. Become a soil advocate at www.kisstheground.com, and check out the documentary now streaming on Netflix. #kissthegroundmovie

WCM Chart of the Week for September 26, 2020

As we close out Climate Week, we need to check in on global temperature. It is climbing. Climate scientists, environmental advocates, legislators, etc. have taken to talking about “climate change” because there has been so much rhetorical pushback about “global warming”. But as the data shows, global average annual temperatures are demonstrably higher as compared to the long-term average over the last century, and decisively trending higher from the pre-Industrial period. In finance we use charts that look like this to argue the benefits of investing in stocks. Trend followers would consider this a definitive and stable factor. Climate change is the outcome and global warming is the driving factor. From a capital markets point of view a professional investor would be derelict for ignoring this data. Scientists still believe mean reversion is possible if we withdraw greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the system. Prudent investment involves deploying capital for mitigation – the reduction in GHGs to reduce climate volatility – and resilience – improving infrastructure, businesses and communities to be able to handle or ideally prevent climate-related damage. [chart courtesy NOAA, August 2020 – https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature]

New WCM monthly newsletter format

We are pleased to present the last stage of our updates and improvements to our monthly newsletter. You will now find a greater emphasis not just on our views of where we just were, but on where we are and where we are headed, with a deeper discussion of the episodic and structural risks we see driving our investment decisions. We also now include a topical discussion of ESG considerations that have emerged as priorities over the period covered by the newsletter.

As always, you will find our newsletters in the Library, available to all.

Updates to our monthly newsletter format

WCM has made some changes to our monthly newsletter to make it more engaging and useful for our readers. First, we have moved our interpretive analysis of the month gone by to the front and expanded it. We follow that with our current portfolio positioning and what we see as the capstone risks to our stance. Lastly, we close with a performance survey of capital markets for the prior month, calling out what we see as the most consequential returns which played into both our thinking and our results.

As always, you can find our latest newsletter in the Library, along with an archive of prior newsletters. Thank you for reading!

WCM appointed lead advisor for two new impact-oriented donor advised funds

We are very proud to announce that we are joining forces with HealRWorld, Angels.Inc., and the SDG Impact Fund as the lead advisor for two new donor advised funds (DAF). Each DAF is driven by a specific mission to direct capital in pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The first DAF, the HealRWorld SDG Impact Fund, is focused on improving access to financial resources to fuel business and capital formation and catalyze growth for women- and minority-led small businesses. According to MPAC Solutions, a scant 1.3% of $70 Trillion of institutional capital is allocated to women and diverse management teams. The HealRWorld fund is raising capital through the charitable structure to make mission- and program-related investments in these small businesses that demonstrate strong ESG attributes and an orientation toward attaining one or more of the SDG targets. HealRWorld’s proprietary data and analysis has demonstrated that small businesses with strong ESG attributes are up to 3X more credit worthy than the typical small business, making them both good businesses and good risks.

The fund will also make strategic investments in community- and small business-oriented targets, both through lending and taking equity stakes, in order to further align investment with mission and amplify the potential outcomes from capital raised in the DAF, as well as bring coinvestment capital to the table to multiply the available resources for these businesses.

Equally exciting is the Angels.Inc SDG Impact Fund. The Angels.Inc fund is focused on funding media projects and ventures that are contributing vastly to innovation for the betterment of society and our future as well as contributing to our well-being, mental health and amplifying the positive messages and goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The investment mandate for the Angels.Inc. fund is more expansive than the HealRWorld fund, committing to investing in the same small businesses, but will also invest in and fund media-related targets consistent with Angels.Inc’s “Media For Good” mandate.

For more information or to make a commitment to these amazing charitable efforts geared at empowering and ennobling business and media to lift up and serve everyone equally and inclusively, please visit our Philanthropic Services page, email the Funds at funds@healrworld.com, email us at contact@wildecapitalmgmt.com, or call us at 866-894-5332.

WCM Chart of the Week for June 5, 2020

Economic fault lines run deep across America. Many of these lines have been laid bare as a consequence of the economic crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 outbreak, but the lines were there long before, and will continue long after. Those sitting on the bottom rungs of the prosperity ladder not only were among the most vulnerable as business, trade and service ground to a halt, they are in the worst position to participate in the recovery. Access to capital is critical to household and business formation, maintenance and growth. As recently as 2017, the last time the FDIC released its biennial national survey, 18.7% of American households were underbanked (relying on payday lenders, rent-to-own, pawn shops, refund anticipation loans, and other non-bank resources), and a full 6.5%, or nearly 8.5 million households, were completely unbanked. Without access to the financial infrastructure enjoyed by nearly 70% of the population, the road ahead will be difficult if not impossible, and investing in community financing through CDFIs and other non-traditional conduits will be critical to an inclusive recovery.

WCM Chart of the Week for May 1, 2020

This past week we witnessed two of the worst US economic reports many of us have ever seen. On Wednesday, it was reported Q1 GDP contracted 4.8% on an annualized basis, and Thursday’s unemployment report brought the total number of newly unemployed to over 30 million, consuming all of the jobs gains since the depths of the Great Recession. But, even with all the bad news on the economic front over the past several weeks, the US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 posted its strongest monthly gain since 1987. At least for now, the stock market is looking beyond the current rut to the potential for prosperity on the other side. That is certainly reasonable considering the amount of monetary and fiscal stimulus being injected into the economy and capital markets as we have been discussing for several weeks. Against this backdrop we are still compelled to ask ourselves what the trigger for re-testing the March equity drop might be. It could be an acceleration of virus cases, a state-level bankruptcy or two, or China-related backlash or retaliation. Current state of mind – hopeful but watchful. [chart courtesy Standard & Poors and Bloomberg LP © 2020]

A new definition for “systemically important” businesses

At the peak of the Financial Crisis in the stretch from 2007 to 2009, we became familiar with the notion of systemically important institutions. With the failure of major banks and investment banks like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide and Washington Mutual, the private and public sectors had to come to grips with the idea that for-profit businesses could be so essential to the orderly functioning of the overall capitalist system that they could not be allowed to fail, even if that required the rescue of a public company with taxpayer money. This notion gave rise in part to a series of laws and regulations including the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Certain financial institutions were too important either by virtue of function or size or both to be allowed to fail, undermining confidence and the orderly conduct of our economy and markets. These institutions would be protected, but they would also be more critically regulated to mitigate the risk of failure.

Whether standing in long lines of anxious neighbors to stock up on staples or watching a public address from the White House rose garden, we have been presented with a new and really more fundamental notion of what a systemically important business is. In fact, the shelter-in-place approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 has created a new class of systemically important businesses as we redefine, on the fly, what used to be luxuries like working from home or having household staples delivered as now being existential.

Through the present market turmoil, it is difficult to see this new order clearly, but in the months and years to come we will collectively be forced to reflect on what we are learning through experience now. There are fundamentals to the orderly functioning of communities and societies that we all know intuitively, and yet we continually fail to prioritize until we are tested. Right now we are sitting at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, focusing on physiological and safety needs. That’s health, food, water, shelter, personal security, financial security, and so on. Our current situation is depriving us of the ability to climb further and focus even on social belonging because of the paramount importance of the first two.

We can make light of the run on toilet paper, canned goods and hand sanitizer, but that is as explicit a manifestation as there is of what matters right now – health and hygiene and nutrition. The systemically important are food producers and grocery stores, pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, hospitals and laboratories. They are also the providers of basic infrastructure, public and private, that keep the lights on, the water flowing, and goods and services moving from point A to point B so we can be home and be socially distant. We are also going to get a graphic look at how fragile the bottom of the economic ladder is where access to basic physiological and safety needs is not assured on a good day much less in the midst of a crisis.

From an investor’s perspective, this will cause a re-rating of securities according to what really matters when we are against the wall. From municipal finance to support hospitals and emergency workers to ownership of companies that are essential to the food supply chain, we will have a renewed and clarified sense of where our investment capital is the most needed and where it should be treated with the highest levels of stewardship and oversight, whether or not it is backstopped by government, because these companies and services are simply too systemically important to fail. And with that, there is an opportunity for companies and for governments to rethink stakeholder rights and responsibilities, and to provide best-in-class transparency and good governance and prioritize quality and longevity over short term rewards.

The view from here

In these last hours before the US markets open for this week’s sessions, here are a few more thoughts we have shared in our community.

Global markets finally caught up, in the negative sense, to China’s stock markets as worries about the COVID-19 “novel” coronavirus spread to the developed West faster than the disease itself. A contagion of concern overtook markets and left us with a week of returns we have not experienced since the Financial Crisis in 2008. What is materially different from our perspective is that this correction is not a response to a lack of faith in the system itself. During the Crisis, securities prices collapsed on the fear that it was actually impossible to value many of them, and that large parts of the system were in fact worthless. In certain cases this did prove to be the case as a sudden disappearance of liquidity exposed a large quantity of bad loans and mortgages that had been ingested by major financial institutions, causing the collapse of systemically important operations like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Washington Mutual and Countrywide. There was absolutely widespread panic that we could be facing a new Great Depression as the financial system itself seized.

This past week was very different. As we have previously explained, COVID-19 of course has and will continue to have economic consequences, but it does not call into question the soundness of markets, banks and whole economies as we experienced a dozen years ago. We find it likely that the response to the virus will impact company earnings and the GDP of nations. Shutting down the 2nd largest economy (China) for weeks if not months would never have gone unnoticed and unpriced. Reasonably, that demands revisiting what companies are worth and whether yesterday’s prices reflect tomorrow’s realities. Prior to the outbreak, fundamentals were reasonably solid around the world. Not boom, but certainly not bust. The situation we find ourselves in could take that optimism down to modestly solid, or perhaps slightly weakened. But even a mild global recession triggered by this moment does not call into question the fundamental underpinnings of finance and commerce. We are seeing steep and sudden drops in stock markets that remind us of 2008, and nearly unprecedented lows in interest rates, without anywhere near the breakage that brought about those kinds of corrections historically.

So, in a word, why? We see a few different forces at work which all feed our collective response to unconstrained uncertainty. Emotion, namely fear, is always a powerful motivator. Fear of the virus, fear of losing money, reasonably make people want to be safe. 2008 still looms large in the minds of investors and a PTSD-type response is not out of character. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

That emotion is being fed by a toxic brew of real, or worse, real but incomplete, data without framing or context, and quite a lot of false narratives. Add to that the markets are now patrolled and exploited by algorithms and artificial intelligence engines that can actually capture and quantify shifting sentiment and strong moves one direction or another in prices, and exploit or even amplify or aggravate those moves for profit. We have seen numerous isolated examples of this played out in the “Flash Crash”, the “Fat Finger”, and other moments over the last many years which show how quickly and to what extremes things can break loose on little information or bad information. Throw something at the market like the novel coronavirus and we could experience those types of extreme (over)reactions again and again.

We anticipate that clarity and greater understanding around the virus’ pandemic qualities and impacts will help markets firm up, and would not be surprised to see a fair price for securities settle at something less than the peaks from just a couple weeks ago after accounting for the drag from lowered economic activity. It is also our expectation that we will see some manner of coordinated global response across the major central banks to compensate not for falling stock prices but for potential lost GDP from less commerce, less travel, and less work. Depending on the magnitude of the response this could put a floor in prices, or at least slow the descent and tamp down volatility while investors regain their footing.

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