Manager commentary - December 31, 2018

Despite an exceptional rise in U.S. business profits, the decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) to continue normalizing its monetary policy and the escalation of U.S.ÔÇÉChina trade tensions have created a highly volatile environment on Wall Street. This resulted in the S&P 500 Index posting a drop of nearly 15% in the fourth quarter of 2018, its worst quarterly performance in a decade. The last month of the year was particularly painful, recording a drop of 9.2% – the worst December since the 1930s.

Brexit was the centre of attention during the last quarter of the year. The U.K. parliament’s vote on Brexit was postponed to January 2019 because there was clearly not enough support in December, creating more uncertainty around the globe.

In Canada, the main factor that contributed to the economic slowdown was the weakness in Canadian oil prices. Not only have oil prices been under severe pressure across the world in the fourth quarter (the price per barrel of American crude fell from $75 to $45 in Q4 of 2018), but the price per barrel of Western Canadian Select slid to under $13 in late November. The reason for this major price difference was the difficulty in transporting heavy Canadian crude to export destinations (mainly the U.S.) because pipeline capacity and rail transportation were lacking, leading to a stockpile in Alberta.

The fourth quarter was marked by high volatility across all stock markets. The U.S. stock market, represented by the S&P 500 Index, had a total return of -13.5% in the fourth quarter (-8.6% in Canadian dollar terms). The Canadian stock market, represented by the S&P/TSX Composite Index, suffered a decline of 10.1%.

As the macroeconomic environment became more uncertain in the fourth quarter, investors lowered their expectations for Fed and Bank of Canada rate increases in 2019. The risk-off environment drove flows into safe-haven investments such as bonds, which lead to a significant decrease in yields, thereby elevating returns in the bond market. The Canadian bond market, represented by the FTSE Canada Universe Bond Index, posted a gain of 1.7%. The FTSE Canada Short Term Bond Index rose by 1.4% and the FTSE Canada Long Term Bond Index by 1.9%.

IA Clarington Maximum Growth Portfolio may invest across all asset classes, including fixed income, Canadian equity and foreign equity funds. The Fund’s return is primarily determined by the mix and performance of the underlying funds.

The fund manager actively manages the asset mix of the Fund as well as the allocation within the asset classes. The Fund may invest 80–100% of its assets in equity holdings and was overweight foreign equities and underweight Canadian equities during the quarter. This contributed to the Fund’s performance as foreign equities outperformed Canadian equities during the quarter.

IA Clarington Strategic Equity Income Fund, IA Clarington Dividend Growth Class and IA Clarington North American Opportunities Class were the core holdings in the Fund’s Canadian equity allocation. Two of the three funds, IA Clarington Strategic Equity Income Fund and IA Clarington Dividend Growth Class, contributed positively to the Fund’s performance as they both outperformed their respective benchmarks.

The Fund also typically invests more than half of its assets in four foreign equity funds: IA Clarington U.S. Dividend Growth Fund, IA Clarington Global Equity Fund, IA Clarington Global Value Fund and IA Clarington Global Opportunities Fund. During the fourth quarter, these funds posted negative returns.

The fund manager took several measures to minimize the Fund’s volatility. Firstly, the fund manager dynamically managed the Fund’s exposure to the U.S. dollar through currency forwards. The Fund ended the quarter with a partially hedged position. The fund manager made tactical use of ETFs to add exposure to gold miners, which normally act as a safe haven in a risk-off environment. Put options were used to provide protection in a market downturn; this benefited the Fund early in the quarter, as the market fell by approximately 7%. As the market slid, valuations became more attractive and the fund manager redeployed the profits from the protective puts into equity funds. The market then fell again by more than 10%, reaching a trough on December 24, 2018. The fund manager also tactically managed the Fund’s duration through government fixed-income ETFs.

 

Fund and benchmark performance as at December 31, 20181 yearSince inception (Apr. 2016)
IA Clarington Maximum Growth Portfolio – Series B-8.3%3.3%
30% MSCI World Index,1 35% S&P/TSX Composite Index and 35% S&P 500 Index-1.8%8.5%

 

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1Source: MSCI Inc. MSCI makes no express or implied warranties or representations and shall have no liability whatsoever with respect to any MSCI data contained herein. The MSCI data may not be further redistributed or used as a basis for other indices or any securities or financial products. This report is not approved, reviewed, or produced by MSCI.

The Fund’s strategy is to invest in other investment funds. The performance data comparison presented is intended to illustrate the Fund’s historical performance as compared with historical performance of widely quoted market indices. There are various important differences that may exist between the Fund and the stated indices that may affect the performance of each. The benchmark is a blend of 30% MSCI World Index, 35% S&P/TSX Composite Index and 35% S&P 500 Index. The blended benchmark presented is intended to provide a more realistic representation of the general asset classes in which the Fund invests. The MSCI World Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization weighted index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets. The MSCI World Index consists of 24 developed market country indices. The S&P/TSX Composite Index is the premier indicator of market activity for Canadian equity markets, with 95% coverage of Canadian-based, TSX-listed companies. The index includes common stock and income trust units and is designed to offer the representation of a broad benchmark index while maintaining the liquidity characteristics of narrower indices. The S&P 500 Index includes 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy and is widely regarded as the best single gauge of the U.S. equities market. The Fund’s sector and geographic exposure may differ from that of the benchmark. The Fund may have different currency risk exposure than the benchmark. The Fund may hold cash while the benchmark does not. It is not possible to invest directly in market indices. The performance comparison is for illustrative purposes only and does not imply future performance.