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Preserving Wealth in a U.S. Downturn

We should always keep an eye on preserving our wealth, but now is a particularly good time to review our holdings given market forecasters have upped their odds of a U.S. recession in the next year.

And we should be particularly careful not to be lulled into a false sense of security. The run up in the S&P 500 to all-time-highs suggests that all is well. But consider investors around the world are snapping up safe haven government bonds at negative yields. That’s a sign of desperation.  

Plus, top billionaire investors such as George Soros have recently made bearish bets against U.S. stocks, and turned to gold to preserve wealth.

A model from Deutsche Bank analyst Steven Zeng suggests the yield curve is now signaling a 55% chance of a U.S. recession within the next 12 months. That marks the highest probability generated by the model so far.

And Michael Feroli and the economists at JP Morgan say their model predicts chances of a recession before the end of 2017 are 67%, and the chances of recession within three years are 92%.

Our Global Income Edge service focuses on dividend paying stocks so that investors can earn stable income in different economic scenarios. We continue to advise buying our globally diversified multinationals in industries with pricing power, such as in healthcare and utilities.

But we recognize wealth preservation and liquidity are also important.

Here’s how well some of the world’s historical safe havens are faring in delivering wealth preservation:

Commodities  

Since the beginning of time, gold has been the go-to safe haven against calamity. We believe having some gold in the portfolio is a good strategy now  given ultra-low and negative yields, and with the backdrop of slowing global growth. 

However, if the Federal Reserve raises rates at the end of the year gold would be less likely to hold its value. Just a hint of a possible rate hike in June caused major declines in gold prices. But given weak global growth,  a rate hike likely would be small.

I view gold as more a store of wealth or insurance against the unknown.. And only investors with high risk tolerance should use gold as a speculative investment.

I would also stay away from other commodities, given many major commodity producers continue to produce at levels that oversupply the market.

One theory of why this is happening is many commodities companies have taken on so much debt that they must sell at any price to service that debt. The 5,000 biggest publicly-traded companies tracked by Bloomberg in the iron and steel, metals and mining, and energy sectors have a combined $3.6 trillion in debt, double what they had at the end of 2008, according to their most recent financial reports,

Currencies

The U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency. But there are concerns that the greenback’s value has been artificially boosted by investors seeking safe havens from Brexit and other economic calamities, and that the dollar is  primed for a fall—especially if the U.S. falls into recession.

The problem is that alternative safe haven currencies, such as the Japanese Yen and the Swiss Franc, aren’t what they use to be. Japan’s new status as the largest debtor nation changes the calculus, and the Swiss Franc has become more volatile and proved less than an ideal safe haven after Brexit compared to gold and other assets.

Given many governments are devaluing currencies to boost exports I would stay away from currencies now.

Government Debt

Many investors have chosen to focus on creditor nations as the best bet to preserve wealth. Creditor nations are nations that have invested more resources in other countries than the rest of the world has invested in them.

The top six creditor nations are Singapore, Norway, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Taiwan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Denmark and Germany.

But Germany pays negative rates on its government debt, and a recent  Wall Street Journal story speculation that Austria and the Netherlands might also cross into negative yields, followed by Belgium.


If you like government debt, the U.S. is still a good bet. Yields may be paltry, but they’re positive (for now, at least).

And if you’re worried about capital preservation now, the smart play would be to not depend on any one strategy—unless that strategy is to diversify among many assets.

 

 


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