Can you Guess the Top Performing Country Last Year?

January 31, 2017 — Leave a comment

Quiz!

Brazil is in the midst of a devastating recession – the worst on record, with GDP of -3.5% for 2016 following -3.8% for 2015. Can you guess the returns of Brazil’s stock market for 2016?

  1. -70%
  2. -62%
  3. -14%
  4. 0%
  5. +24%
  6. +66%

Can you Guess the Top Performing Country Last Year?

As an Investment Advisor, a fiduciary that is responsible for the life’s savings of entire families, you would expect to count on me to follow the economic news closely and be ready to react to any new developments. Do I do this? I do the exact opposite – I separate my investment decisions from economic news. If I were to depend on the news for investment decisions, I could hurt your life’s savings badly.

A recent example from 2016 can demonstrate this counterintuitive point. Brazil spent the entire year in a devastating recession – the worst on record (over more than 100 years). Unemployment climbed throughout the year from 9% to 11.9%. The president was impeached and there were numerous corruption scandals. Predicting this year could have made you a fortune by shorting (making money when stocks decline) Brazilian stocks in 2016, right? Not so fast. The Brazilian stock market gained +66% in 2016. Not only did it not decline – it was the top performing country for the year.

How is it possible to get stellar returns during the worst economic decline on record? The answer is simple – ignoring prices. The consensus view was for a long and deep economic decline, which would hurt Brazilian companies. In reaction, people sold Brazilian stocks to avoid the declines. The problem was that people kept selling these stocks without regard to prices. Why is this a problem? Say that in normal times a basket of Brazilian stocks is worth $100. Now comes a big recession, and the new realistic value is, say, $80. You would expect rational people to sell until the price reaches $80. But many investors see a struggling economy and sell with disregard to the price. Others cannot imagine a turnaround and sell to reflect a multi-year depression. So, the continued selling brought the basket to a much lower value, say $40. This reflects an unusually bad expectation – far worse than reality. Now comes additional moderately negative news, lowering the realistic value from $80 to $75. With the news being far less negative than expected, people become more positive, and are more likely to accept a value closer to reality. They are ready to correct some of the excess decline, leading to a surge from $40 to, say, $66.40 (a gain of 66%), all while the economy is doing poorly. While the numbers in this example where made up, the mechanism explains what could have led to the surge of Brazilian stocks.

As of 9/30/2016, Brazil represented 6.82% of emerging markets, while the allocation to it in the emerging market portion of QAM’s portfolios was 9.19%. This emphasis reflects the deep value focus (a focus on low priced stocks) of these portfolios, something that often leads to outperformance compared to the general market during recovery years.

Quiz Answer:

Brazil is in the midst of a devastating recession – the worst on record, with GDP of -3.5% for 2016 following -3.8% for 2015. Can you guess the returns of Brazil’s stock market for 2016?

  1. -70%
  2. -62%
  3. -14%
  4. 0%
  5. +24%
  6. +66% [The Correct Answer]
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

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Gil Hanoch

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