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May 20th: Weathering the Coronavirus Market Downturn Thumbnail

May 20th: Weathering the Coronavirus Market Downturn

In this call recording, Simon Quick CIO, Christopher Moore, Head of Investment Research, Wayne Yi, and Head of Financial Planning, Bill Lalor, discuss the market downturn in light of the coronavirus. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions. 

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The below transcript was produced using a transcription software and may not be verbatim. Please refer to the video recording for exact phrasing or increased clarity.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:00:00] Good afternoon. And thank you for joining us for today's live call weathering the coronavirus market downturn. My name is Darcy O'Brien and I am the chief marketing officer at Simon Quick, and I will be moderating today's discussion. Our goal in hosting this call is to help you capitalize on the changes we have seen in global financial markets.

We also hope to address any of those financial concerns that may be keeping you up at night. So please do not be shy and use the Q and A function on zoom to submit your questions. You may also submit questions by emailing me at Theo, brian@simonquickadvisers.com. I would also like to mention that there is a visual component to this call.

So, if you have access to a screen, go ahead and click on the zoom link, which will allow you to see my video and some slides with useful information. Before we dive into the questions. I have a few housekeeping items to mention. The first is that we are going to stop hosting these live calls on a biweekly basis.

When we first began hosting these calls, the markets were in what seemed to be a free fall. And so, we felt that it was important to host these calls regularly in order to address our client's concerns. However, in recent weeks, as we have seen some recovery in the markets, we are going to pull back from doing these sorts of updates on a regular basis.

That being said, if the situation changes, we can always schedule additional calls. And of course, we remain available to answer any of your questions on an individual basis. So please do continue to reach out in the future. I would also like to mention that this call is being recorded and will be posted to our website and circulated for email tomorrow.

And now for a few disclaimers, this presentation is for information and discussion purposes only. Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. And there is no guarantee that the concepts and ideas discussed during the presentation will be profitable or proved successful.

Now let us introduce our panelists. Today we have with us, our chief investment officer and managing partner, Chris Moore.

Christopher Moore: [00:02:09] Hi Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:02:10] Hi Chris. Thanks for joining us. We also have our head of investment research, Wayne.

Wayne Yi: [00:02:15] Hey Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:02:17] Hi Wayne. And lastly, we have our head of financial planning Bill Lalor.

Bill Lalor: [00:02:22] Hey Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:02:23] Great to have you Bill.

So, I am going to start with the questions we have received over email, and then we will dive into the queue and respond to questions in the order in which they were received. First question comes in from Raj. I have been thinking about going to cash given the recent run-up. Do we still think there is a sufficient risk reward with equities to maintain an equity at target weight?

Christopher Moore: [00:02:47] This is Chris. I could take that one. In short, the answer is yes, we do. We do believe there is still an attractive risk reward in equities to maintain a target weight. I would highlight that we are still defensive within equities though. And what I mean by that is we continue to favor higher quality companies with more exposure towards large cap, domestic stocks, specifically sectors like technology and healthcare.

So, we do continue to believe that is an attractive place to be within equities and think the risk reward on a going forward basis is there. I might just highlight, you know, with the rally, it does feel like stocks have moved incredibly fast and significantly higher than where they were at the trough.

But, if you were to consider a roughly kind of 35% decline, if my math is correct, you would need a 50% rally to get back to where you were. Markets are still down on the year and using the S and P is kind of a proxy does not really do kind of the rest of the global equity market much justice.

And I mean that because the S and P is down about 8% or so on the year. But there's a handful of large cap tech stocks, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, that make up 20% of the index because it is a market cap weighted index. And if you look at the equally weighted S and P index, it is down closer to 18% on the year.

Additionally, a European stock index is down 22, the Russell 2000, which is a measure of small cap, us stocks down 21. Emerging markets down 17. The point I am trying to make is global equities are still down on the year. And in many cases down significantly. The rally we have experienced is in the market cap, weighted S and P index led by growth stocks, which many have believed to be including us, the place to be coming out of this pandemic. So, we are of the view that maintaining equity exposure at a target weight, make sense here, for the ability to kind of capture growth in stock appreciation. Not saying that there will not be volatility. There could easily be volatility between now and the end of the year.

I think we have said it before, we are surprised we have not seen it thus far. I certainly would have thought a 10% or 15% decline in markets along the way in this rally would have been likely. We just have not seen it yet. And the economic data is going to be bad. It is going to continue to be bad for a couple of quarters.

That could certainly create more volatility for stocks. But we do think there is a tailwind here, that the market has experienced over the last couple of weeks associated with favorable monetary policy, fiscal policy, and very heavy stimulus. So, we are cautious about equities, which is why we are target weight, but defensive within our exposure.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:06:20] Thank you, Chris. Our next question comes from Kelly. How common is it for clients to carry balances on a margin account? Do you think it is a good idea to make a practice of using margin as a source of investment capital?

Christopher Moore: [00:06:36] This is Chris. I can take that one too. We do not use margin as a source of investment capital, where we are basically leveraging long exposure to take more equity or fixed income risk. Where we do use margin is we use it to maintain cashflow, whatever cashflow needs our clients may have, whether that's associated with operating expense needs or capital calls for some of their illiquid investments, be it, private equity or distressed or venture real estate. Margin rates are sub 2% right now. So, it is a very attractive time to be using margin.

We do not use it to the point where we're saying, ‘Let's get your, your equity exposure above a hundred percent where we're actually long stocks and then borrowing against those stocks to increase your equity exposure’. We generally do it across equity and fixed income exposure and do it to meet any short term cashflow needs.

It is generally not a year multi-year strategy that we are going to suggest implementing.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:08:00] Great. Thank you, Chris. Our next question is from Jessica. How would the firm's fixed income allocations change? If negative rates became a more likely possibility in the U S.

Wayne Yi: [00:08:13] This is Wayne and I love six income questions.

So, I will take that one. Powell spoke recently and made comments that while negative rates are not a likely near-term option. He did say that there were significant tools still at the ready for the FED to use if the markets or the economy were to continue to deteriorate. So, in that vein and thinking about where Europe and Japan are with negative rates, the risk or let us call it, the potential of negative rates is possible in the U S.

It is within the realm of possibility. Having said that, how are we positioned? We had continued to move higher in the credit quality spectrum. That was not even a March effect, that really started late last year or the second half of last year and just continued on during this time.

And that part of the portfolio had been pretty protective here. What we have been seeing over the past two months or so is that fixed income managers have been taking on more credit risk. So, less interest rate sensitivity and more credit sensitivity. Still staying at the top of the credit quality spectrum but taking more of it to express their fixed income exposure. So just more spread, more return. From that perspective, even if, interest rates were to go negative, within the realm of reasons that it's not severely negative, your credit spread component will still give you a positive effect or positive interest income.

Additionally, the move from very low rates to negative rates will still cause a pull, or tightening in the yield curve, which will also create a capital gains element or a total return opportunity within fixed income instruments as well. We would say that we are pretty postured to be a conservative. We are not looking to be heroes within fixed income because it is meant to be more protective and steadier.

But I would say that there has been a move into taking a little bit more duration and a little bit more credit risk to generate some return in fixed income right now. So negative rates, as it happens will be beneficial in that moment. But at that point in time after we are now in a negative rate environment, that's where we will have to really think through, ‘where else do we reposition the portfolio’, because you do not want to be paying money on top of inflation, or I guess there is no inflation right now, but you won't pay on top of a pay out on holding any instruments.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:11:13] Thank you, Wayne. The next question comes from Paul. Why would he want to go into active equity managers at this point when the passive ETFs have been the best performers, when will active managers start to add value?

Wayne Yi: [00:11:29] This is Wayne again and I guess as a person that is trying to pilot the research effort here. It's something that we think a lot, in the sense that, we still think the view that your first investment decision should be based on the asset allocation, rather than just trying to find the right manager.

The asset allocation across fixed income or equities or alternative opportunities should be the first decisions made and then thereafter, the passive versus active conversation comes up. I would say broadly because markets have gotten very efficient, notably in exchange traded, or kind of liquid asset classes that the, the beta or the passive element of returns generation has been pretty convincing.

But we are not looking for your generic or run of the mill manager that would be a coin flip in any year, whether or not they generate excess returns. What we're looking for our managers on the active side that while yes, we want them to be a high performing, but we want to make sure that there's a process and structure around that that gives us consistency and the ability to stick with a manager through periods of volatility.

The S&P can have what is called a 15% type volatility number around it. So that is the cost of risk for owning a passive index. If we can get something that looks like the S and P or generate an S and P type of return, but can do it in a more risk controlled fashion, that's value right there, from an active manager.

So maybe your return looks exactly the same, but the amount of risk you took actually is lower. So, the unicorn there is that you find someone that outperforms the benchmark and does it in a more risk-controlled fashion. That is what we seek to attain and that is why I can understand managers processes and controls and risk frameworks are important. But, in that vein, looking at the growth equity space, like owning QQQ or owning Russell 1000 growth, you could do well from there, from that perspective. But we agnostically look for active managers that can still outperform and be persistently outperforming over a cycle's over multiple years.

In that very selective process, we will pick one or two managers that can be active and still generate strong returns and that is what we seek to do in creating portfolios.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:14:15] Great. Thank you, Wayne. We have a couple more questions in the queue. So, for those of you on the line, if you are sitting on a question now would be a great time to go ahead and submit that on the Q and A function. Our next question is from Colleen. What impact could the upcoming election have on estate planning?

Bill Lalor: [00:14:33] Hey Darcy, it is Bill, I will take this one. The upcoming election could definitely impact the estate planning.

In 2017, the current administration passed the tax cuts and jobs act. This act significantly increased the state gift and generation skipping tax exemptions for U.S taxpayers. The current exemption amount is over an 11 and a half million dollars for an individual and you double that for a couple.

It is adjusted annually for inflation. This act also kept the step up in basis and portability provisions. Step up in basis eliminates gains, assets when transferred at death, and portability allows the transfer of a deceased spouses. I used exclusion amount to the surviving spouse. No, both these provisions are very beneficial in estate planning.

Currently the estate tax rate tops off at about 40%. Under these current laws, you know, the higher exemption amounts are going to sunset in 2025. So, starting in 2026, the exemption amounts will return to $5 million, adjusted for inflation, which at that time would be between $6 and $7 million.

However, with the change of an administration and possible control of the Senate added on top of today's political climate, changes to any of all or all of these provisions could be on the table. Recently we saw in Joe Biden's tax plan, he proposed taxing unrealized appreciation on the assets past a death. Effectively this eliminates the step up in basis. Step up in basis is an important estate planning tool and its loss would significantly impact a lot of planning that has been done today.

So, we encourage everyone to take advantage of the tax laws this year and consider making gifts if you are going to be impacted by any changes. Now is the time to make outright gifts, at the current exemption amounts. You also have the added benefit of depressed asset prices.

I would add, it is very unlikely that anything done this year would not be grandfathered in under new taxes if the administration were to change. Back to your Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:17:13] Thank you, Bill. Our next question comes from Keith, is now a good time to refinance my mortgage, given the FED has set interest rates to zero, it feels like mortgage rates should be lower.

Bill Lalor: [00:17:27] I will take that one too Darcy. Mortgage rates, if looking at them historically, they are at lows. Earlier, before this crisis, they were at rates probably a little lower than they are now, which is leading a lot of people to feel like maybe the rates are going to trend low over time where they should be lower.

But the truth is mortgage rates are not really tied to a specific index. They are really set by supply and demand. Most mortgages written today are sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, where they are bundled into mortgage backed securities to investors. The rates in these securities have to be high enough to incentivize investors so that the banks can sell the loans.

Then the banks can get the money back again and let them lend it out to another mortgage buyer. For some of the larger nonconforming jumbo loan, some of those banks do hold those loans on their books. However, from what we are hearing, you know, these banks, are not interested in writing long term loans for much lower than today's rates.

So, I think the answer is yes, if it makes economic sense to you now, that is the good time to refinance because you know, it's really hard to tell if rates are going to go any lower and they could easily trend up higher. Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:18:48] Great. Thank you, Bill. Our next question comes from Vicky. What do you recommend if you have lost your healthcare coverage due to this crisis?

Bill Lalor: [00:19:00] Well, okay. I will take this one too, Darcy. Thanks. For most individuals, the answer is going to be Cobra. If you have lost your health care coverage, Cobra allows employees and the families to have access to their employers group health coverage.

You are able to purchase the same health coverage you had for you and your family for up to 18 months. After you lose your job, there is a special enrollment period that is open for 60 days.   

Although coverage through Cobra is not perfect. It can be expensive. Costs can be up to 102% of the full annual costs. Most employers only pay a portion of the employee’s costs. So, by going on Cobra, you could be responsible for the employee portion, the employer portion, and there is even a 2%, charge that could be added on top of that. However, I mean, this may seem like a lot, but you are still getting group rates.

So, it is still probably going to be cheaper than going out to the marketplace and trying to get an individual policy. Also, an added benefit is you are able to keep your current network of doctors and healthcare providers.

Unfortunately, Cobra, the option is only available if the company and health plan are still in existence.

If the company were to go bankrupt and shut down the plan, Cobra's not going to be available and if that happens, then you are going to be forced to go out to the marketplace, which is very state dependent. At that point, you know, I recommend you look up your local state's health exchange or go on healthcare.gov to see what options are available in your state.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:20:58] Thank you, Bill. Our next question comes in from Casey and he asks, where are we seeing opportunity in this environment?

Wayne Yi: [00:21:07] This is Wayne. I could talk a little bit about that and not to be too self-serving, but there is significantly more opportunity today than there were just a few months ago. You kind of think about where we were postured, we were underweight equities at that time. We were unexcited about credit, broad generic credit at that time. We were leaning more into alternatives. We still like alternatives, but that's just kind of one element into some of the earlier questions about going to cash. I think go to cash now.

I think it is just being cash now. If people were unexcited about equities or had now gotten to an overweight position, there are opportunities to rotate. The opportunity set has really opened up to kind of really provide a lot of different ideas and ways of generating returns based on kind of risk appetite, risk tolerance, and the tenor or the length of your investment horizon.

And I kind of framed that as, there's dislocation opportunities, there's distressed opportunities, and there's just longer-term alternatives, private equity opportunities, or dislocation opportunities. There are high quality assets that just because maybe there was a structural inefficiency or immediate liquidity need that caused high quality assets to sell off. These are high quality, very low default risk assets, that is sold off dramatically because the investor or the individual that held the asset had to sell it because they needed to raise cash. That opportunity is short term. It will not last for a long time, but there are opportunities to make a kind of high-quality risk adjusted returns in that, over the course of the next few quarters.

Low-mid double digits let us call it something around that area. But, with the very low and downside expectation there. Then distressed companies are going to go through restructuring. Like we saw the stock market rip back a lot or come back a lot, but the economy is still trying to figure itself out in the sense that the stock market's trying to predict what's going happen in the future.

What does that mean into 2020 or end of 2021 or 2022? But the economy, for those businesses that need to pay interest payments, need mortgage payments, have salaries, or just seeing a kind of fall off of revenues. Those companies will have to go through a restructuring process. Now they are probably good businesses.

There are a mix of good businesses and bad businesses. Bad businesses will get impaired much more dramatically. But there are good businesses that just need liquidity help for a two-quarter type of period, just to get to a more normalized kind of operating environment, then that is another opportunity.

So those do not require heavy restructuring but will require some liquidity infusion. Then there are businesses that need to be equitized. That is another opportunity where you are making multiples of your money, but it will probably take 5-10 years to fully realize that return potential. So that is coming from short term to medium term. In the long-term, there are those distressed restructurings, as well as private equity. Private equity exposures today, the sponsors are looking through their portfolios and saying what companies need to restructure in a more active way.

But then there are also whether it is in venture capital growth equity, or in buyout, those that have capital that have not yet deployed. This is going to be a dramatic opportunity for them to put money to work and generate significant returns through this vintage. So, they will be able to buy somewhat risky for businesses but have the opportunity to generate significant returns because evaluations are finally falling more within reason, particularly in the middle markets, smaller caps state.

So, I think that is pretty interesting and it does create an opportunity. And really, I think it just allows for greater engagement with clients and individuals to say, what is your risk tolerance? What is your appetite? How much liquidity do you need? We can build something around that because there is more to do and there is more optionality out there.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:25:47] Thank you, Wayne. The next question comes from Scott. Following up on the election estate planning question. What is your view of how the market is pricing in? If at all the possibility of a Trump win or a Biden win.

Christopher Moore: [00:26:02] This is Chris. I can take that one. I think at the moment, despite of Trump's, you know, lower approval ratings, the market is likely pricing in a Trump victory at this point.

The market does not like surprises. So, if Biden were to win in the fall, the market would certainly have to digest the potential for reduction in corporate tax rates and potentially some tightening of regulations across corporate America.

You know, the truth is with all the kind of COVID activity, the administration has certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way. But it has been, you know, without debates, in person debates, or rallies and Trump really getting kind of a lot of the television time, the market is certainly acting as if there's going to be a Trump victory in the fall.

And I think as we have seen over the last couple of weeks here, markets have just skyrocketed higher without really any downside volatility. That could certainly change as we head into the fall and there is more activity on the election front. But at this point, I am of the view personally that the market is not assigning a high probability to a Biden victory.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:27:47] Thank you, Chris. Our next question comes in from James. Does Simon quick plan to reopen its office in Morristown anytime soon, what would reopening look like?

Christopher Moore: [00:28:00] This is Chris. I could take that one. Good question. We have a subgroup of folks that are actually tasked with kind of coming up with the process for reopening and how we envision doing it and over what period of time. We have not come to a final decision yet but I feel comfortable saying we're not going to be opening the office anytime soon or mandating that employees be in the office anytime soon. When we get to the point at which we feel comfortable having folks come back into the office, it will be staggered.

It will be with all of the social distancing efforts enforced that we want to create an environment for the team where everyone feels like they have maximum flexibility and that their health and safety is the highest of concerns. We want to be certainly thoughtful as we think through the reopening, but we also have the luxury that throughout this period, our business has been able to perform and respond quite well working from home. Everyone has been unbelievable throughout the last, I guess it is 10 weeks now, using Zoom and Microsoft teams and getting everything done that they have been getting done in a very efficient and effective way.

So, with that in mind and seeing how effective we have been, management feels comfortable that, you know, we could take this slow and steady.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:29:46] Thank you, Chris. Next question also comes from James. What is the impact of companies rethinking use of office space on opportunities zone investing?

Wayne Yi: [00:29:58] That is a good question.

And maybe I will kind of expand that into kind of real estate broadly where the prior question I addressed in the opportunity that is in front of us across corporate entities. Real estate is going to be still a big unknown there because if we think about real estate, kind of locked down and shut down procedures didn't really happen until very late March and people were still paying their rent for the most part for the end of March to pay for April.

April and May and going forward, now that is where the biggest concerns are. What are rent collections going to look like? Now seeking very broadly, real estate is going to have to figure out how to manage kind of liquidity needs balanced with the shortfall in rent collections without wanting to just push out tenants.

Because it is hard to just kind of refill a space versus maintaining a tenant. But you still have mortgage requirements on top of that, where a traditional big building will have anywhere between 60, 75, and 80% of debt on top of it. So, again, there is more a scrutiny around the appropriateness of kind of real estate today.

Now obviously lenders are working with real estate sponsors. But hotels are going to be highly transformed, venues are going to be highly transformed, and office space, same thing. We will not be at full capacity in any kind of short term and the floor plans will look a lot different.

So, kind of saying all that, multifamily seems to be doing pretty well. Logistics and industrials are doing really well because I'm pretty sure everyone's been ordering a lot more from Amazon and what have you. But hotels are under significant pressure. Parking garages is another element that you do not really think about.

Like that is under significant pressure too, because if no one's driving or there has not been enough foot traffic, then there have been no rent collections at all. So that is another element of pressure that we are seeing out there. I think investors will have to be very choosy in terms of what is the right asset and what are break evens there and what is the viability over the long-term.

Now, obviously there will be kind of lender concessions and renegotiations there. But that will not happen for all of them. So, there will be some distress opportunities in that vein as well. That being said, given another question is around opportunities zones. Opportunities zones is a really new concept that has really only started taking off last year.

So, 2019 is where that is where you saw the most amount of kind of opportunity or investing or initial deployment has come in. The benefit on that front is that because of the tax element and the tax treatment that you need to get to make sure that you got the full benefit of the OD investment and kind of structure.

You wanted to buy cheaply, you are buying land or tear downs and looking to build assets that would be resilient for a decade, essentially. So, from that perspective, lots of these properties are still in very early stages, whether it is drafting or starting to dig the hole. So, there is the ability to rework some of those assets now.

Some places, construction slowed down. Some places if construction has not yet started is going to be reworked. That will potentially eat into your IRR a little bit but because these are meant to be 10 year plus assets, the company will recover and that back end will still create a lot of opportunity.

Technically real estate is an inflation hedge as well. So, for those that are concerned about kind of the inflationary effects, their real estate will be a benefit there, particularly if you are building ground up and can adapt to the go-forward environment. Now, some of the OZ properties that our investments have partaken in, there is some multifamily in there.

There is some industrial in there. There is one hotel that is being reworked in there. So, we are early enough that nothing has been fully stabilized or ready to go, the flexibility is what is going to be the benefit to OZ investments specifically. But real estate broadly will be a heightened area of focus, of dislocation, and potential opportunity in the coming quarters.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:35:15] All right. At this time, there are no remaining questions in the queue. I would like to thank everyone on the line for taking some time out of their day to participate in today's call. Thank you, Chris.

Christopher Moore: [00:35:29] Thank you Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:35:30] Thanks Wayne.

Wayne Yi: [00:35:32] Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:35:33] And, thank you Bill. Hold on. Oh, we have got a thanks on the line.

Thank you, one of our participants just sent a message wanting to make sure I was not missing a question. Thanks Bill.

Bill Lalor: [00:35:45] Thanks Darcy.

Darcy O'Brien: [00:35:46] If you have any additional questions that we were not able to address during the call, please do not hesitate to send them to me at dobrien@simonquickadvisors.com and we would be happy to address them offline.

Thanks again for joining us and have a great evening.



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