Investment Perspectives 2020

Executive Summary

2019 was an exceptional year for financial markets

The past year has been an exceptional vintage for financial markets with strong performances observed across all asset classes. Recession fears and concerns over a hawkish Federal Reserve, which had triggered a severe market correction during the last quarter of 2018, were dispelled from the onset of 2019, leading to a significant rally of the equity and bond markets.

A dramatic turnaround by the US central bank, optimism over a US-China trade deal and the unwinding of pessimism about the economy were the main drivers for outstanding equity gains. The trough of the equity correction at the very end of 2018 meant that there was more room for a catch-up rebound in 2019. Accommodative central banks across the world and low inflation pressures also contributed to well above- average returns for bond and credit markets whereas fluctuations in the currency markets were generally modest, in particular for the major crosses.

Central banks to the rescue again

More than half of the central banks are now in easing mode, the biggest proportion observed since the financial crisis, and close to two-thirds of all central banks cut interest rates during the third-quarter of 2019. The dramatic reversal of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy was one of the main triggers for last year’s rally of financial assets. From a starting point where the US central bank was planning for two rate hikes in 2019, the end result was three quarter-point rate cuts and the premature ending of the contraction of its balance sheet; in fact, the Fed’s balance sheet has even been expanding again since September. The European Central Bank also added additional monetary support despite its limited room for manoeuvre. In September, the bank decided to cut rates by 0.1% to - 0.5%, to restart QE (€20 billion per month) and to introduce other supportive measures.

The outlook for the global economy appears a little brighter

The slowdown of growth observed in 2019 had been fully expected. The economic outlook, however, looks more promising now. A decline of trade tensions should finally result in the signing of a limited deal between the US and China. Recent economic data has also started to show some signs of an improvement for the manufacturing sector and solid labour markets should continue to support consumer spending. The risk of a recession has also decreased, so the combination of all these factors could result into a positive surprise for the economy in 2020.

Current market conditions are supportive for risky assets

We believe that financial markets should get off to a positive start in 2020 and we have recently boosted
our allocation to equities. Investors are more likely to continue increasing their allocation towards risky assets in view of the less attractive alternatives. One must nevertheless keep in mind that the starting point for investments’ returns is much less promising than a year ago, when the valuations of equities and high yield debt instruments had collapsed. This means that the prices of assets are more vulnerable to disappointments as monetary and fiscal policies have already brought forward a substantial amount of future growth and returns.

Table 0f contents

  • EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
  • 2019: REVIEW OF OUR INVESTMENT THEMES
  • 2019: ECONOMIC & POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT
  • 2019: THE FINANCIAL MARKETS
  • 2020 : ECONOMIC OUTLOOK
  • 2020: FINANCIAL MARKETS’ OUTLOOK
  • 2020: ASSET ALLOCATION

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Newsletter | December 2019

THE FED’S BALANCE SHEETHAS GROWN BY $293 BILLION SINCE THE END OF AUGUST

5.5% ONE-YEAR EURO/DOLLAR VOLATILITY REACHES A RECORD LOW

Investment perspective

November was a strong month for the equities of developed markets as the MSCI World Index, in local currencies, climbed by 3%. De-escalating trade tensions, merger and acquisition activity, accommodative central banks and some improving economic data contributed to push equity prices higher. In contrast, emerging market equities lagged significantly, partially due to a stronger dollar and to ongoing political tensions in Hong Kong and across other regions. Whereas EM equities initially rose on optimism over a “phase one” trade deal between the U.S. and China, they dropped subsequently and diplomatic tensions gradually resurfaced as Washington passed two bills supporting protesters in Hong Kong. Bond yields rose steeply during the first third of November with investors reducing exposure to safe haven assets; as a result the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond climbed from an end-October level of 1.69% to 1.94% before retreating to end the month at 1.78%.

The year-to-date equity rally has been quite remarkable and been driven, in large part, by the combined support of central banks across the world, as the growth of corporate earnings has tended to be anaemic. This has resulted in a significant re-rating of equity valuations and investors will be hoping that the recent pick-up of economic data will be followed by a sustainable, even if modest, rebound of economic activity in the months ahead; such an environ- ment would contribute to boost the prospects for 2020 earnings and justify some of the optimism currently priced in equity markets.

Capital markets appear to be sanguine about the upcoming UK elections which are taking place on December 12th. The pound has been appreciating as the latest polls are indicating a lead of around 10% for Conservatives over Labour; if confirmed, this could mean a majority for Boris Johnson’s party and a better chance of unblocking the current stalemate on Brexit.

 

Investment strategy

Following the performance of equities in October and November, our allocation towards equities is now close to being neutral. Our assessment that global equity markets are looking expensive in absolute terms and that a lot of positive news is already discounted hasn’t changed, but the lack of more attractive asset classes means that equities could well continue to appreciate. The fact that economic data has started to show some signs of improvement will also encour- age investors to buy more shares, so we are maintaining our neutral allocation for the time being.

Our equity exposure is well diversified across the different regions and the different strategies, but we currently see stronger upside potential in certain areas; Japanese growth stocks appear well positioned to outperform the broader Japanese market due to low valuations and better earnings prospects while small caps could also perform well if signs of a recovery were to be confirmed. The equities of emerging markets are also attractive based on their valuations and on their catch-up potential relative to developed markets.

MARKETS REMAIN VERY SENSITIVE TO ANY TRADE-RELATED NEWS

Portfolio Activity/ News

November was a good month for the portfolios, largely the result of strong equity performances. The best contributions were provided by U.S. Small Caps and U.S. Value stocks as well as by the Healthcare sector fund. Several other equity funds also produced valuable returns while the detractors were few and far between. The early-month rise of bond yields did not last and the bond funds with longer durations suffered only minor monthly drawdowns. The alternative allocation made a modest positive contribution as did the dollar exposure for non-USD denominated portfolios.

We have recently added a new European Small Cap fund to our list. The fund’s management team has been investinginto the European small cap universe for many years as well as into the micro cap space; this knowledge of micro caps offers an additional source of investment ideas for the Small Cap fund. The fund has generated an outstanding track- record compared to peers and to its benchmark; it can also be qualified as being a genuine Small Cap fund in terms of the market capitalisations of the underlying positions; the fund has a 1.6bn EUR average weighted market cap vs. 3.1bn EUR for its peer group.

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Newsletter | November 2019

THE U.S. BUDGET DEFICIT HAS TOPPED $1 TRILLION SO FAR THIS YEAR

+ 5.3% THE BEST MONTH FOR STERLING/DOLLAR PARITY IN A DECADE

Investment perspective

Following a rocky start to the month, global equity markets ended October with gains. The MSCI World Index, in local currencies, appreciated by 1.8%, and Japanese equities continued to outperform. Markets were dominated by a de-escalation of trade tensions, the reporting of Q3 earnings and Brexit events which all contributed to an improvement of investor sentiment. The S&P 500 managed to record a new all-time high, but with a certain lack of conviction, in view of the low volume of traded shares and the narrow breadth of the market. Sovereign debt yields moved higher during most of the month until the last trading sessions saw them reverse on renewed trade concerns and on weak U.S. economic data. The U.S. dollar depreciated against most currencies, largely the result of optimism over trade talks.

The October meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve produced the expected outcome in terms of its benchmark reference rate, i.e. another 0.25% cut to a range of 1.50% to 1.75%. The less predictable part was how the central bank would communicate on its outlook for monetary policy. The Fed turned out to be more hawkish than expected as it signalled an end to its recent easing cycle. Fed Chairman Powell stressed that the current stance of monetary policy would be appropriate as long as incoming information remainedconsistent with the bank’s outlook. However, Powell also made it clear thattightening was very unlikely in view of below-target inflation.

Companies have been busy reporting their earnings for the third quarter and, overall, this has proved to be supportive for equity markets. With 351 out of 500 S&P 500 companies having already reported, 70% have beaten profit estimates and 60% revenue estimates. In Europe, 55% of companies have produced positive earnings surprises and 60% positive revenue surprises.

 

Investment strategy

Global equity markets have continued to edge higher despite the ongoing slowdown of economic growth and the absence of signs of any upcoming improvement. On the other hand, the risks of a recession still appear as being quite low, mainly thanks to the resilience of consumers, while trade tensions have declined. In this environment, investors are taking the view that markets are benefiting from a Goldilocks scenario, with modest, even if slowing growth, and central banks providing monetary support thanks to rate cuts and to an accommodating bias. At the risk of missing out on some potential upside until year-end, we maintain our modest underweight allocation towards equities. We view the cur- rent trend for equities as one that is lacking conviction and consider that a lot of positive news is already priced in.

The euro has recently appreciated against the U.S. dollar but we do not foresee further significant upside at this stage. So far this year currency volatility has been low and the major FX crosses have not changed much. Our allocation towards the dollar remains underweight.

EQUITIES ARE CLIMBING THE WALL OF WORRY BUT ARE STILL LACKING CONVICTION

Portfolio Activity/ News

The portfolios ended October slightly higher thanks largely to the positive performances of equity positions. The rebound of bond yields meant that the overall contribution of the fixed-income asset class was close to neutral. The global contribution of alternative investments was detrimental as trend-following, Global Macro and Risk Premia strategies ended with small negative performances. For a second consecutive month, the best contribution was provided by our U.S. value fund which continued to benefit from the regained interest for value stocks. Japanese and emerging markets equities also fared well as they made up some of their year-to-date underperformance.

We added a new short duration credit fund to the portfolios in October. The strategy of the fund is based on a diversified portfolio of credit instruments and composed of three sub- strategies: carry (buy-and-hold), market timing (trading in new issues) and derivative strategies (pair trades, creditcurve, capital structure...). The track-record of this fund since its inception has been outstanding and it ended 2018 with a gain, quite an achievement in a very challenging year. The main purpose of this fund is to offer a low-risk alternative to cash for portfolios denominated in euros and Swiss francs.

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Newsletter | October 2019

THE GLOBAL STOCK OF NEGATIVE-YIELDING DEBT REACHES $17 TRILLION

10% THE OVERNIGHT REPO LENDING RATE SPIKES

Investment perspective

Risky assets fared well during September as trade tensions eased somewhat. The MSCI World, in local currencies, appreciated by 2.2%, with Japanese and European equities outperforming, whereas government bonds pared back some of their strong year-to-date gains. Gold was also in consolidation mode as a result of higher yields and of a firmer U.S. dollar. The past month wasmarked by a major attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure which triggereda spike of oil prices; this proved to be only temporary however as the release of strategic reserves and a faster-than-expected recovery of production then pushed prices below their end-August levels. Politics continued to be a key driver for markets; the formation of a new coalition government in Italy and a series of defeats for Boris Johnson’s U.K. government, deemed as reducing the chances of a no-deal Brexit, were taken positively by investors.

The September meetings of the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve were highly awaited by the markets. The ECB decided to cut rates by 0.1% to - 0.5%, to restart QE (€20 billion per month) and to introduce “tiering”for banks in order to limit the impact of negative rates on their profitability. The ECB will also offer banks new TLTROs (targeted long-term financing) with favourable terms. On its side, the Fed cut rates by 0.25% to a range of 1.75%to 2% but said that it didn’t expect further rate cuts this year. Members of theFederal Open Market Committee (FOMC) were much divided on the bank’snext move, with seven members wanting at least one more reduction in 2019.

The global stock of negative-yielding debt surpassed $17 trillion at the onset of September. According to Bloomberg, thirty percent of all investment-grade securities are trading with sub-zero yields, including corporate bonds. With global economic growth slowing and central banks back in easing mode, this stock of negative-yielding debt could well keep on expanding.

Investment strategy

Since the beginning of the year, the consensus of the market anticipated an improvement of the global economy in the second half of the year. This optimistic scenario has been in- creasingly put into doubt as macroeconomic data has failed to show signs of a rebound. We have been quite surprised that markets have brushed these concerns aside so easily and placed so much faith in the ability of central banks to offer sufficient additional support to extend the economic cycle. Indications that the so-far resilient consumer sector is also starting to show some weakness would likely only amplify the current growth concerns. The upcoming reporting of third- quarter corporate earnings is likely to focus on the impact of the economic environment on capital investment and on the outlook for future earnings. These factors largely explain why we are sticking to a more cautious portfolio positioning as we look to protect strong year-to-date gains.

As we had expected, bond yields rebounded from their year- lows as investors took some profits and the bond rally had clearly been overbought. However a big rise of bond yields is not our main scenario, in a context of softening economic activity and of easier monetary policies.

ECONOMIC WEAKNESS LIKELY TO WEIGH MORE ON MARKETS

Portfolio Activity/ News

The portfolios ended September higher thanks to the positive performances of equity positions. The rebound of bond yields meant that the overall contribution of the fixed-income asset class was close to neutral. The past month’s best contributionwas provided by our U.S. value fund which benefited from the rotation out of momentum and growth stocks into deep value ones. It is still too early to know whether this shift will prove just to be a temporary trend or a more sustainable one, but what is certain is that value stocks are trading at a record discount compared to growth stocks. Our allocation into Japanese equity funds was another strong contributor in view of the monthly outperformance of Japanese equities. The much discussed trend-following strategy was the biggest detractor in the portfolios as it suffered from the impact of rising bond yields, but still stands around + 20% YTD.

We added a defensive global equity fund to the portfolios in September. The fund has a value approach and its current defensive positioning is reflected by a significant exposure to cash and to gold. At a time when certain market factors appear to be running out of steam, the fund could benefit from renewed demand for value stocks and from a normalisation of bond yields.

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Newsletter | September 2019

+ 18%: THE PERFORMANCE OF GOLD IN 2019

1.50% THE END-AUGUST YIELD ON 10-YEAR U.S. TREASURIES

Investment perspective

The month of August proved to be much more volatile, largely thanks toDonald Trump’s Twitter activity going into overdrive; according to the New Yorker, Trump tweeted six hundred and eighty times during the month. Equity markets reacted to all kinds of headlines, at times violently, as trade tensions between the U.S. and China ratcheted up to another level and as political risks spiked across the world; markets were also weighed down by recession fears as the closely-observed 10-year/2-year Treasury yield curve briefly inversed. Global equities recorded four consecutive negative weekly returns before staging a rebound at the end of the month. The decline of high-quality sovereign debt yields accelerated, with that of the 10-year U.S. Treasury note dropping by 0.52% to 1.50%, its lowest level since July 2016, while the yield on 10-year Bunds reached a new all-time low of - 0.72%.

Once again, the tweeting activity of Donald Trump had a major impact on the capital markets; in early August, the U.S. President announced 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of imports from China, up to then not subject to levies. This triggered a drop of the Chinese yuan in retaliation and the tensions between both countries continued to intensify. Trump was also very busy attacking the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, whom he referred to as“clueless Jay Powell” and whom he accused of a “horrendous lack of vision”.As often in the past, when markets had been under pressure, Trump adopted a more conciliatory tone towards China later in the month, which contributed to equity markets regaining part of their August losses.

Another issue often mentioned during August was the possibility that fiscal stimulus could increase significantly, especially as the monetary policies of the main central banks appear to be reaching their limits. The fact that German officials openly talked about what kind of fiscal support they could introduce was very revealing of the impact that the downturn of the economy is having.

 

Investment strategy

During the summer, we maintained our disciplined approach as we stuck to our relatively defensive asset allocation and even added some equity protection. Over the recent period we have observed rising market volatility, another flare-up of political risks in Europe and higher trade tensions at a time when data has been showing economic weakness. Rather than betting on strong support from central banks and on a positive resolution to the U.S.-China trade conflict, we prefer to err on the side of caution and maintain our underweight equity allocation. This stance is also explained by our focus on active risk management in a context where year-to-date performances have exceeded most of our expectations.

The trend of bond markets has continued to reflect rising concerns over recession risks and anticipations of further rate cuts by the major central banks. While we agree that the weakening of economic data justifies part of the recent rally of bonds, we think that it has likely overshot and would ex- pect a rebound of yields in the near term.

WE MAINTAIN OUR UNDERWEIGHT ALLOCATION TOWARDS EQUITIES

Portfolio Activity/ News

In August the portfolios ended in negative territory but the late-month rebound of global equity markets meant that the monthly drawdown was limited. The best contributions were provided by fixed-income exposures as well as some hedge funds, in particular the trend-following strategy, thanks to its high exposure to rates. The steep decline of bond yields was the main driver for long duration fixed-income funds, with some reaching double-digit year-to-date performances, quite an achievement! Most of our equity funds outperformed their benchmarks and ended with positive monthly returns. Amongst the laggards, the U.S. value and Japanese growth positions fared the worst.

During the summer, we protected the portfolios by buying a put warrant on the S&P 500 Index. This was carried out at a time when volatility was cheap, enabling to limit the cost of this transaction. The main interest of this put warrant is thatit has a “lookback” feature, meaning that its 95% strike will be fixed at the peak level of the index during the lifetime of the warrant. In the case of an equity rally followed by a correction, this solution would offer much better protection than a plain vanilla put where the strike is never ajusted.

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Investment Perspectives 2019 | Mid-Year Review & Outlook

Executive Summary

In this mid-year publication, we review our January expectations and analyse some current key economic indicators before outlining the asset allocation that we recommend for the second half of the year.

Our equity exposure has been reduced since the beginning of the year

Our assumption that markets were overpricing risks of a recession during the December correction led us to start the year being overweight equities, as we had not cut our equity allocation despite the high level of market stress. This proved to be rewarding as the strong rebound observed in the first four months of 2019 contributed to the strong performance of the portfolios, especially with bond markets also rallying.

We took advantage of the strong rise of equity markets to reduce our equity allocation significantly from overweight to underweight, reflecting our cautious outlook in view of the rising level of uncertainty. Whilst we had not expected government bond yields to climb much, the year-to-date collapse of yields has been a big surprise and a major contributor to the strong returns of fixed- income exposures

U.S. policies are a source of increasing uncertainty for markets

The high level of market stress observed at the end of 2018 was quickly replaced by a four-month period of declining volatility where markets proved to be relatively immune to negative headlines. This changed significantly in May when the optimism over a trade deal between the U.S. and China gave way to concerns over a major breakdown of trade talks following a series of “tweets” by Donald Trump. This was compounded by restrictions placed on business between U.S. companies and the Chinese tech giant Huawei and tariff threats on imports from Mexico. This list of destabilising market factors is far from exhaustive but their common point is that they all originate from the White House which has been flexing its muscles to achieve some of its objectives. With the launch of the U.S. presidential election campaign, this is likely to continue to represent a source of uncertainty and of volatility for the markets.

Markets have been boosted by the end of monetary policy normalisation

The 180-degree turn of the Federal Reserve, in announcing a pause of its cycle of rate hikes and the
end of its balance sheet reduction, has been one of the key drivers of the bond and equity markets this year. Under the end-2018 pressure from the markets, the Fed abandoned its pre-set path of one rate hike per quarter and announced that the shrinking of its balance sheet would formally end in September, much earlier than planned. At its June 18-19 meeting, the Fed turned even more dovish and opened the door for a rate cut as early as July. The European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has also been trying to reassure market participants about the bank’s ability to act amid growing doubts on the real effect of monetary policy in case of a recession. Another key driver of the markets’ rally has been the huge provision of liquidity by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), equivalent to 60% of the creation of credit over a 12-month rolling period.

We have a cautious positioning ahead of the second half

At the onset of the second half we have modest underweight allocations towards debt instruments and equities and an overweight cash position. We feel that markets are on a sugar high as a result of increasingly dovish central banks. They also appear to be consciously ignoring a number of risks including, but not limited to, disappointing corporate outlooks, weaker economic trends, delayed central banks’ actions and a deterioration of the relationship between the U.S. and the rest of the world. At the risk of missing some short term upside we prefer to focus on the management of risk, especially when considering the appreciable year-to-date portfolio returns.

In the next section of the document, we will evaluate the macro environment and the prevailing financial conditions by highlighting several key indicators that we observe. Following a brief overview of the first half returns of the different asset classes, we will outline our current market outlook and asset allocation.

Table 0f contents

  • EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
  • THE MACRO ENVIRONMENT
  • FINANCIAL CONDITIONS
  • FINANCIAL MARKETS
  • MARKETS’ OUTLOOK
  • ASSET ALLOCATION 2nd HALF 2019

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Newsletter | June 2019

- 17%: THE PERFORMANCE OF THE PHILADELPHIA SEMI- CONDUCTOR INDEX IN MAY

2.06% - THE EARLY-JUNE YIELD ON 10-YEAR U.S. TREASURIES

Investment perspective

The four-month rally of global equity markets came to a screeching halt in May. The early-year optimism over a trade deal between China and the U.S. gave way to concerns over a major breakdown of trade talks and growing fears of an economic slowdown. The prices of risky assets depreciated across the board; the MSCI World Index in local currencies fell by 6%, the spreads of credit and emerging market debt widened and commodity prices weakened, with oil down by 16%. Significant flows into safe-haven assets contributed to strong returns for high-quality sovereign debt, gold and defensive currencies such as the yen and the Swiss franc. The yield of the 10-year U.S. Treasury note declined by 0.38% to 2.10%, its lowest level since September 2017, while the yield on 10-year Bunds reached an all-time low of - 0.21%.

Once again, the tweeting activity of Donald Trump has been a major driver of financial markets; the U.S. President blamed China for trying to renegotiate certain terms, placed restrictions on business between U.S. companies and Huawei, decided to delay tariffs on European automakers and finally added new tariffs on imports from Mexico. The latter decision came out of the blue, with tariffs gradually rising if Mexico did not help to limit the flow of migrants. The 2020 re-election has started in earnest, with Trump seeing a multi-front trade war as a good way to play to his political base. For market participants, the rise of uncertainty makes the outcome of investment decisions much less predictable, hence the shift towards more defensive assets.

Apart from trade headlines, global macroeconomic data did not provide much support to the markets as forward-looking indicators tended to disappoint, in the U.S. in particular. The outcome of the much-awaited European elections was taken in its stride by the markets as the worst-case scenario was avoided; gains made by populist and far-right parties failed to match projections and the new European parliament will reflect the fragmentation of politics which has already been observed in many European countries.

The month of May was dominated by headlines over trade talks and a U.S. ban on the Chinese tech giant Huawei, limiting the business U.S. companies could do with it. This ban had a ripple effect on the whole technology sector, with semiconductor companies being the most severely impacted. The chart above shows that the reference Philadelphia Semiconductor Index fell by 17% in May, its worst monthly performance since November 2008.

 

Investment strategy

We are sticking to our relatively defensive asset allocation in view of a rising level of uncertainty and concerns over weaker economic data. We will not pretend to have been expecting such a steep reversal of equity markets, but we had felt that they were pricing in an overly optimistic scenario. We observe that markets are once again looking for some help from the Federal Reserve and that the odds of a Sino-American trade deal in the short term have significantly lengthened. In this environment, it is difficult to justify adding more risk to the portfolios and we therefore maintain our underweight equity allocation.

The recent trend of bond markets has been quite dramatic, in view of the collapsing yields, as has been the significant shift in expectations on rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. Markets are now pricing in a 55% probability for 3 rate cuts of 0.25% this year, compared to a 2% probability only a month ago! The market’s divergence with the position of the central bank is becoming quite extreme and the Fed will need to tread carefully to manage the growing pressure from the markets.

WE MAINTAIN OUR UNDERWEIGHT ALLOCATION TOWARDS EQUITIES

Portfolio Activity/ News

In May the portfolios gave back some of their strong returns recorded during the first four months of 2019. This resulted mainly from weak equity markets and from a widening of credit spreads. The more defensive fixed-income positions ended in positive territory while the best contribution was provided by the trend-following strategy, thanks to its high exposure to rates. In relative terms, most equity funds fared better than their benchmarks, with only some exceptions. Our fund investing into U.S. value companies was the largest detractor as it lost all of its early-year outperformance. Despite this setback, we maintain our confidence in the manager and have topped up positions in some portfolios.

The latest addition to our list of funds is an “out-of-the-box”Swiss franc bond fund investing into investment grade quality. The distinctive feature of this fund is that it invests both into higher duration top quality bonds and into up to a maximum of 30% of global investment grade convertiblebonds; this “barbell” approach enables the fund to benefit from its higher duration and top quality in risk-off periods and from its equity sensitivity when equities are rising.

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Newsletter | May 2019

+ 27%: THE PERFORMANCE OF THE U.S. TECHNOLOGY SECTOR IN 2019

2’946 - THE S&P 500 CLOSES APRIL AT A NEW RECORD HIGH

Investment perspective

The rebound of global equity markets was extended in April with European stocks outperforming and U.S. indices reaching new records. The MSCI World Index in local currencies gained 3.6% during the month to bring its year-to- date performance to 16%; growth stocks outperformed value ones, with the technology sector faring the best, on the back of well-received first quarter earnings. The strong demand for risky assets was also reflected by tighter credit spreads and by the weakness of the Swiss franc, which depreciated by 2.4% against the euro and the U.S. dollar. The rally of G-7 sovereign debt came to a halt as yields moved higher, even if this rise remained modest when compared to the plunge of yields over the last quarters.

Companies have been busy reporting their earnings for the first quarter and, overall, this has proved to be supportive for equity markets. With 290 out of 500 S&P 500 companies having already reported (73% of the index’s marketcap), 75% have beaten profit estimates and 52% revenue estimates. Analysts had significantly downgraded their earnings’ expectations, especially for the technology sector, so the beat rate must be seen in that context. The results of many tech giants were well received by investors, nevertheless, and companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Apple saw their stock prices trade up and push indices higher.

Global macroeconomic data continues to be mixed but improvements have been observed in the Eurozone and Chinese economies. Euro-area GDP for the first quarter showed a brightening picture, while the latest data in China suggest that policy measures are starting to bear fruit. The initial estimate of U.S. Q1 GDP was 3.2%, above forecasts, but it was driven by two of the more volatile components of GDP, inventories and exports. In contrast, household consumption and fixed investments only rose by 1.2% and 1.5%, respectively, signalling that U.S. GDP growth could slow in the next quarters.

The recovery of global equity markets in 2019 has been spectacular and the chart shows that the S&P 500 Index is back into record territory. After briefly dropping below 2’350 in late December, the index has rebounded by morethan 25% and erased all of its fourth quarter losses. It is interesting to note that the index has been driven by cyclical sectors, with the IT-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index up by 22%, compared to a 14% gain for the Dow Jones Index.

Investment strategy

Following the two-phase shift of our equity allocation from overweight to underweight since the beginning of the year, there have been no changes to our asset allocation in April. That means that portfolios are holding an above-average level of cash, while our fixed-income allocation is still under- weight. As a reminder, our investments across the asset class are well diversified, including unconstrained fixed-income strategies, investment-grade and high-yield bonds, senior secured loans and convertible bonds. Our cautious equity positioning reflects a macro-economic environment that is unlikely to benefit from any significant pick-up of growth, and equity markets already discounting a lot of positive news; wealso have some concerns about earnings’ expectations forthe remainder of the year in a context of slower growth.

For the majority of portfolios, we have not been exposed to gold for some time but it is obviously one amongst the many assets that we continuously monitor. Its recent price decline still leaves it some distance away from our target of around $1’200 per ounce, but we would not exclude the possibility that the precious metal could make a comeback within the portfolios at some stage.

WE MAINTAIN AN UNDERWEIGHT ALLOCATION TOWARDS EQUITIES

Portfolio Activity/ News

In April, the portfolios continued to appreciate, largely the result of strong equity contributions. Fixed-income positions all ended in positive territory and added more modestcontributions to the portfolios’ performance. Within thealternative space, the trend-following strategy maintained its positive momentum to record another valuable monthly gain. U.S., European, emerging markets and Japanese equity funds all produced noteworthy returns relative to their respective benchmarks; when looking at year-to-date performances, it is reassuring to observe that a majority of our funds have produced significant alpha.

We added a new healthcare fund to our list of approved funds. This fund invests in companies active in the medical technology and healthcare services sector, but excludes drug makers. Healthcare represents 10% of global GDP and is an above-average growth sector which benefits from favorable demographics and the rise of global prosperity. Digital health, minimally invasive technologies, gene-based diagnostics and managed healthcare concepts figure amongst the principal themes that the managers will invest into. In our model portfolios, this fund has replaced a defensive global equity fund.

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Newsletter | April 2019

+ 12%: THE BEST QUARTER FOR THE MSCI WORLD LC INDEX SINCE Q3 2009

- 0.07% - THE YIELDS OF 10-YEAR BUNDS ARE BACK INTO NEGATIVE TERRITORY

Investment perspective

The first quarter has ended with a well above-average quarterly gain for global equity markets, a significant contraction of credit and EM debt spreads and a plunge of sovereign debt yields. It has also seen the main central banks turn increasingly dovish in the light of growth slowdown concerns and a lack of inflation pressures. Following a 13.5% correction during last year’s fourth quarter, the MSCI World Index in local currencies has made up most of its losses thanks to a 12% year-to-date rebound. Credit spreads have also fared well, with those of U.S. and European high yield bonds tightening by 1.35% and 1.09% respectively. These trends have been primarily driven by the unwinding of excessively pessimistic sentiment, the Federal Reserve’s change of tone and optimism over a sino-american trade deal.

The past month was marked by the steep drop of bond yields in a context of weak economic data and the announcement of even more accommodative monetary policies. PMI Manufacturing data continued to show widespreadweakness, in Europe in particular, with Germany’s number dropping to 44.1from 58.2 a year earlier; one must nevertheless point out that China’s latestmanufacturing data has started to show signs of improvement. At its last meeting, the Federal Reserve proved to be even more dovish than expected by the markets; the bank announced the end to its balance sheet reduction for 30 September and its members no longer anticipate any rate hikes this year. Furthermore, it downgraded its GDP growth outlook for 2019 from 2.3% to 2.1%. On its side, the European Central Bank had already spooked markets at the beginning of March due to its bleaker economic outlook and by the announcement of a number of measures to support the Eurozone’s economy. These more dovish stances triggered much lower bond yields, with those of 10-year Treasuries and Bunds dropping from end-February levels of 2.72% and 0.18% to 2.41% and - 0.07% respectively.

One of the most hotly debated issues in financial markets is the current shape of the U.S. yield curve. The chart above shows that it is now partially inversed, as some longer-term yields are lower than shorter-term ones. The inversion of the yield curve is seen as a forward indicator of an upcoming recession, even if there is no consensus over which terms’ spread is the most relevant. We can observe that neither the 10/2 years spread nor the 30Y/3months spread have inverted and conclude that it is still premature to get overly concerned.

Investment strategy

In March we decided to take additional profits on equities, meaning that our equity allocation has been cut this year from an initial overweight to now being slightly underweight. This decision was driven not only by the desire to protect some of the strong year-to-date portfolio performance but also by the feeling that markets might be getting carried away. A lot of positive news appears to be priced in at a time when global GDP growth is slowing and when uncertainty over corporate earnings is high. The markets also appear to be totally ignoring the risks related to a no-deal Brexit. We therefore prefer to err on the side of caution ahead of the reporting of first quarter earnings, which starts mid-April.

The first quarter has been quite exceptional in terms of performance as both equity and bond markets have rallied simultaneously. We do not believe that this situation will last and expect a decrease of the correlation between both asset classes going forward.

WE HAVE OPTED FOR MORE CAUTION IN THE PORTFOLIOS

Portfolio Activity/ News

In March, the portfolios added to their early-year gains, with both equities and bonds contributing positively. In contrast to the previous months, the overall contribution from hedge funds was also positive. This was mainly due to the strong return recorded by the trend-following strategy, which benefited from its high exposure to long-term rates, to credit and to equities. Other strong portfolio contributors includedemerging and frontier markets’ equities, as well as bondfunds, especially those with a long duration positioning. Our underweight exposure towards the U.S. dollar represented a modest opportunity cost for portfolios denominated in euros and pounds, due to the weakness of these currencies.

During the past month, we took profits on our U.S. Small Cap fund and also on a fund investing into Swiss equities. The reasons for these transactions include strong year-to-date performance, portfolio risk management and the view that markets might be getting a little frothy in view of economic uncertainty and excessive optimism over the impact of the sino-american trade deal.

 

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Newsletter | March 2019

THE CHINESE CSI 300 INDEX RISES MORE THAN 30% BY EARLY MARCH

$621 billion - THE U.S. TRADE DEFICIT IN 2018, A 10-YEAR HIGH

Investment perspective

The positive trend for risk assets observed since the beginning of the year extended throughout February. The MSCI World Index in local currencies gained another 3.2%, bringing the year-to-date performance up to 11%. The spreads of credit and emerging market debt also continued to contract, with high-yield bonds now having erased most of their losses of November and December. Logically, the more defensive assets such as government debt and gold ended the month on a weaker note, with yields moving higher and the price of gold dropping back to its end 2018 level. The major currency crosses evolved within tight ranges to remain little changed so far this year.

The rising trend of equity markets was not derailed by macro-economic data that showed ongoing weakness, in Europe and China particularly. There has been, nevertheless, some signs of improvement recently, with PMIs appearing to trough and confidence indicators also rebounding. The positive sentiment within markets was supported in part by additional liquidity provided by the central banks this year, but also by more optimism over the negotiations between the U.S. and China, with Donald Trump extending the March 1stdeadline for an increase of tariffs. For obvious reasons, both countries appear intent on reaching an agreement, even if it did not immediately resolve all the issues. The end of the reporting of 4Q earnings was another factor that has proved to be overall supportive for equities, as a majority of companies were able to beat lowered expectations.

The ECB has just announced that it would keep interest rates on hold until at least the end of the year; it will also provide another round of cheap lendingfor Eurozone banks due to start in September. This reflects the central bank’s increasing concern about the strength of the Eurozone economy as it now projects GDP growth of 1.1% this year, revised down from 1.7% previously.

The chart above shows that the Shanghai Shenzen CSI 300 Index has got off to a strong start in 2019 following last year’s 25% correction. Chinese equities figured amongst the worst performers in 2018, amidst an economic slowdown and trade tensions with the U.S. The early year rebound has been supported by strong international inflows, a series of stimulus measures taken by the Chinese leadership, additional central bank liquidity, and optimism about a trade deal as well as by valuations which had become excessively cheap.

Investment strategy

We recently reduced our overweight equity allocation to neutral as markets appeared to be overbought. The strong move of equities this year, as well as high alpha generated by some funds, have provided a good opportunity to lock in some profits. A lot of positive news has been priced in and we expect markets to take a breather at this stage, especially as the valuations of U.S. stocks are back in line with long- term averages. There is a risk that markets could focus more on concerns about future economic growth now that most companies have reported their results for the fourth quarter.

The decision of the ECB to turn even more dovish has taken the markets by surprise and, following an initial positive market reaction, the promise of more cheap funding has appeared to spook investors. Bond yields have dropped, equities are weaker and the euro has lost ground. We will be closely monitoring the behaviour of the euro due to our underweight exposure for non-USD portfolios.

EQUITY MARKETS AT RISK OF STALLING IN THE SHORT TERM

Portfolio Activity/ News

The portfolios performed well in February as they continued to benefit from supportive markets for risk assets. The main contributions were provided by a wide range of funds within the equity asset class, while convertible bonds and credit also added to the performance; hedge fund strategies proved to be modest detractors, which was to be expected considering their positioning. U.S. small caps and Japanese equities were the strongest contributors, thanks to significant generation of alpha relative to their benchmarks.

During the past month, we carried out a number of transactions. Firstly, we topped up some of our existing equity positions in emerging markets and Japan. In the wake of strong gains for equity markets since the beginning of the year, we also took some profits by top-slicing some out- performing funds, investing in the U.S. and Europe in particular. Finally we added a new credit fund with a flexible approach. The manager can invest into corporate bonds in a global manner, but can also position the portfolio much more defensively when market conditions deteriorate. The fund has a very strong track-record and managed to end 2018 with a positive performance in USD.

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