Commentary for the quarter ended 30 September 2023
The third quarter of 2023 was unfriendly to investors both with regards to equity returns and so too bonds.
We believe that we are nearing the top of a global rising interest rate cycle, but the higher for longer mantra pushed by central banks, finally gripped market participants this quarter and bond yields rose in sympathy. Tighter monetary conditions reflected in higher positive real yields stunted equity enthusiasm and consequently, bond and equity returns were negative. The Barclays Global Bond Index fell 3.6% in Q3 and the MSCI World Index fell 3.4%.
Besides Norway, which rose by 11% based on its oil bias, developed markets delivered a poor showing with all regions negative and Europe under the most pressure, losing 4.9% in dollars for the quarter. North America fell 3.1% and the Pacific 2.6%. Emerging markets declined 2.8% in Q3. A very strong dollar remained a theme and all developed market currencies weakened relative to the dollar, with Sterling down by 4% and the Euro 3%.
The rand (-9.7%) is the 3rd worst performing currency against the dollar year-to-date after the Turkish Lira (-31.7%) and Egyptian Pound (-19.9%) but ironically, is one of the few currencies that held up well in this past quarter.
Against all these moving parts, the Northstar Global Flexible fund returned -3.30% in Q3 whereas the 60% equity and 40% bond proxy or benchmark, fell 3.43%. The fund had an average equity weighting of 64.39% for the period in question and these equities (-3.76%) slightly underperformed the MSCI World Index, which dropped by 3.4%. The stocks that added the most to performance were Blackstone, Google and Broadridge whereas the top detractors were Estee Lauder, Delta Airlines and L3Harris.
Over the past year, the fixed income component of the fund has significantly outperformed its benchmark and this trend continued over the quarter under review. This is ascribable to being underweight bonds at 22.5% versus the 40% benchmark and being shorter duration. The fund’s bond holdings lost 1.3% over the quarter, whereas the bond benchmark fell 3.6%.
As we enter the final quarter of the year, we near a possible fulcrum in economic conditions in the western world, which could be meaningfully impactful for markets. High interest rates are beginning to impact the robustness of the US economy – this is seen in credit extension, rising defaults and manufacturing surveys. If the economy falters, which it typically does at the end of a rising rate cycle, defensive sectors outperform and bond yields rally.
The Northstar Global Flexible Fund is close to double the benchmark weight in Consumer Staples (12.12% versus the benchmark at 7.35%) and has a heavy skew towards Healthcare at 20.17% versus the benchmark of 12.75%. These are defensive sectors that we anticipate will outperform in a slowing environment. Conversely, the fund is underweight more cyclical sectors such as Consumer discretionary, Energy, Information Technology and Materials.
We believe that the portfolio is appropriately positioned for an anticipated economic slowdown.