Ottawa Investment Advisor John Bruce

First Quarter 2019  

April 12, 2019

Global capital markets reversed course after a notably difficult end to 2018, rebounding strongly to post mainly positive results for the first quarter of 2019. Equity markets appeared to be lifted by the prospect of easier monetary policy, while bond markets benefited from economic data showing slowing global growth.

The MSCI World Index, which reflects equity market results for 23 developed market economies, climbed 10.3% in Canadian dollar terms, with broad-based gains across markets in North America, Europe and Asia. In the U.S., the S&P 500 Index finished the quarter with a gain of 11.3% (also in Canadian currency), led by strong results for the information technology, energy and industrials sectors. Emerging markets equities also made gains during the quarter.

The Canadian benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index posted a robust quarterly gain of 13.3%. Although most sectors added value, Canada’s resource-heavy market was particularly buoyed by higher oil prices, while the industrials, information technology and health care sectors also performed well.

The equity rebound came despite economic data indicating growing slack in the global economy, and central banks responded by striking a more dovish tone in the first quarter. After moving to raise interest rates several times in 2018, the U.S. Federal Reserve left rates unchanged and put further increases for 2019 on hold. Yields for 10-year U.S. Treasury Bonds moved lower through the period as bond prices rose. The Bank of Canada also left rates unchanged, and 10-year Canadian government bond yields declined as investors discounted the probability of further rate cuts in the near term.  The FTSE Canada Universe Bond Index, a broad measure of Canadian government and corporate bonds, returned 3.9% for the quarter.

Since the bull market in North American equities began more than 10 years ago, investors have drawn confidence from the gradual expansion of the global economy, particularly in the U.S. where corporate earnings have been healthy and employment, housing and consumer spending data have been strong. However, late in the economic cycle, corporate earnings are slowing, along with global economic growth. While interest rates remain low and help to support business investment and equity prices in the near term, the market volatility we have seen over the past few quarters may become a more common occurrence as the cycle matures. The fourth quarter’s steep decline and the dramatic reversal in the first quarter of this year is a timely reminder of how quickly markets can turn, and underscores the importance of staying invested for the longer term.

Given this backdrop, I continue to believe investors are best served by a diversified approach to investing – one that provides exposure to a broad range of actively managed investments from equities to bonds, depending on your personal objectives.

In closing, I would like to thank you for your business. If you have any questions or concerns about your account, please do not hesitate to contact my office.


John S. Bruce
Senior Investment Advisor
Private Client Division
Direct Line- 613-491-3344
Fax- 613-491-2292
Toll Free- 866-860-4190

Assistant- Brian Donegan
Direct Line- 416-860-7787
Fax- 416-860-6841

How did the markets do in 2018?

January 16, 2019

I would like to wish you and your family a Happy New Year. With this letter, I hope to provide you with a brief overview of how investment markets have performed over the past year, as well as some perspective for evaluating your portfolio’s results in this context.

How did the markets do last year?
Well…not very well. It can easily be referred to as the year that no investment strategy worked. After an unusually calm year of solid performance for capital markets in 2017, investors experienced a much bumpier ride in 2018. Downward volatility resurfaced in the first quarter. Though markets moved generally higher through the summer months, a sharp sell-off in the fourth quarter meant that most asset classes registered negative returns for the year. For Canadian investors in foreign markets, losses were mitigated somewhat by the weakness of the Canadian dollar, which declined about 8% relative to the U.S. dollar for the year.

U.S. equities posted some of the best results among global assets in 2018, with the S&P 500 Index reaching an all-time high and setting a record for the longest bull market on record in the third quarter. After the fourth quarter sell-off, however, the index finished the year with a loss of 4.4% (a gain of nearly 4% in Canadian dollar terms). Canada’s S&P/TSX Composite Index, meanwhile, was weighed down by themes that included plunging energy prices as well as weakness in materials and financial services. The Canadian benchmark finished the year with a loss of 8.9%. From January 1, 2018 to Jan 1, 2019 the TSX went from 16,310 to 14,347.20 (a loss of 12.03%) and the Dow Jones fell from 24,824.01 to 23,346.24 (a loss of 5.95%). The MSCI World Index, a broad measure of developed market equities, fell 8.2% in U.S. dollars (-0.2% in Canadian dollars).

Central banks in North America continued to gradually raise interest rates throughout 2018. Ten-year U.S. and Canada government bond yields rose and peaked early in the fourth quarter, but fell through November and December to end lower for the year. The FTSE TMX Canada Universe Bond Index, which broadly reflects results for the Canadian government and investment-grade corporate bond market, gained about 1.4% over the 12-month period.

Some perspective on volatility
Although it is always difficult to pinpoint a single reason, several economic and geopolitical developments have been linked to 2018’s market gyrations. These include increasing trade friction between the U.S. and its trading partners, particularly China, and the fraught Brexit negotiations between the U.K and the European Union. Rising short-term interest rates in North America are leading to tighter financial conditions, while slower economic activity has weighed on commodity prices – particularly oil – and the materials and energy sectors.

Regardless of the cause, there is no doubt that market turbulence can be unsettling for investors, and last year’s volatile performance was particularly surprising following last year’s steadiness. The reality, however, is that downside market volatility is normal.

The chart below shows that in most years, the S&P 500 will experience several days in which the value of the index drops by 2% or more. In this context, 2017 was an outlier with nearly non-existent volatility. Last year, with 15 days registering losses of 2% or more, the level of volatility for the index returned to a more “normal” range.

Downside volatility is normal
The number of days the S&P 500 fell by -2% or more

The fact is, market volatility is not always a bad thing. Professional money managers often welcome market declines as a necessary ingredient for positive returns as it creates opportunities to add to existing positions or buy higher-quality businesses at reduced prices. In 2017, asset prices remained elevated, providing few opportunities to shop for “bargains.”

Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to predict when market swings will occur. Studies have shown that investors who attempt to time the market – that is, sell before a downturn and reinvest when markets are poised to rise – often end up missing the best upside days and underperform relative to those who stay invested. Markets do not advance in a straight line, but historically the long-term direction for equities has been up.

What’s in store for 2019?
In contrast to last year’s consensus outlook that pointed to a synchronized global economic expansion, many experts now believe we are in the late stages of the economic cycle, with global growth slowing and downside risks increasing. Nevertheless, developed economies are expected to grow throughout the coming year and inflation remains moderate. Global interest rates are low by historical standards, allowing corporations the flexibility to strengthen their balance sheets and invest in the future of their businesses. These conditions suggest a cautiously optimistic outlook for markets in 2019.

My advice: stay diversified, and invest for the long term

It can be difficult to set aside short-term distractions and maintain a long-term perspective when negative headlines dominate as they have in recent weeks. But looking back over the longer term, the most recent market decline can be seen as a setback in a strong run upward. From its lows reached following the financial crisis in March 2009 to the end of last year, for example, the S&P 500 was still up more than 270%.

I believe the most important action to take as an investor is to create a sound, diversified investment plan that takes your time horizon and tolerance for risk into account, and then to stick to that plan through periods of short-term volatility. As asset classes do not typically perform in a correlated fashion, diversification can help to insulate your portfolio from the highs and lows, and provide a smoother experience over time.

In closing, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to work with you as your Investment Advisor. If you have any questions or concerns about your investments, or if your personal circumstances have changed, please do not hesitate to contact my office, toll free at 1-866-860-4190 or directly at 613-491-3344.


John S. Bruce
Investment Advisor

Time to buy discounts

November 22, 2018

With the markets selling off and giving back all their gains for the year on the Dow Jones in the last two months, and the TSX going back to levels of 2016, I have been looking for a conservative approach to buying into these discounted areas with the use of specific mutual funds that have an excellent assortment of many of the companies that are on sale yet still have strong earnings and a promising future.

I see a strong economy that is not over heated by any inflationary definitions and believe that the recent shakeout and selling is once again a very good opportunity to buy into a discounted market for the longer term.

What people don’t understand is that if you are a long term investor you WANT the market to be down and stay down when you are buying and then when it reverses you can sell bits and pieces as it peaks again. That is what I have done with you and that is why we have been sitting on cash for quite a while.

The market may go lower, it may take off. Who knows? What I do know is that in the long run it always goes higher and when the economy is still strong you want to buy at discounted prices.

I will be sending you one page summaries of the specific mutual funds that I have assembled for you and will call you to discuss allocation of cash to them.

I am also looking at placing many of our holdings that qualify, into a dividend reinvestment plan so we can use the income our stocks pay us to acquire additional shares at these lower prices. This too I will discuss with you when we speak.

Call me if you have any questions at 613-491-3344 or toll free at 1-866-860-4190.

It may be challenging times for the current market, but I for one like to see the companies I want for the long run encounter short term drops so I can get more.

Remember this quote from Warren Buffett- “Price is what you pay, value is what you get. Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”

John S. Bruce
Investment Advisor

November 2018 Update

November 2, 2018

I would like to prepare you for what is likely a decline in your accounts from the previous month. This recent sell- off, like most sell- offs, has occurred fast and with an apparent fury that it has created fear with investors. As of today’s date the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 have given up all their advance for the year. The TSX has fared worse and gone back to levels achieved two years ago.
The markets are moved by fear and greed and fear has taken hold.
I saw this coming and prepared you for this event with previous letters in July and August and again in October. We took profits when we could and built up our cash. What we have that has gone down has not necessarily gone down because of anything intrinsically bad within the investment. What has happened is that we have more sellers than buyers and that is sending the market lower.
That is the good news in so far as it is giving us a chance to buy the best companies in the market at sale prices.
Many are saying it is the end of the bull market, or it’s 2008 again. It is not 2008 again. We are in a very different set of circumstances than we were in 2008. I have attached a report (click on this underlined area) from Drummond Brodeur, CFA, Senior Vice-President and Global Strategist with Signature Global Asset Management. He is one of a few fund managers that I value and respect.
His perspective is encouraging and factually supported. I invite you to read it.
Please call me if you have any concerns at (866) 860-4190 or direct at (613) 491-3344.

John S. Bruce
Investment Advisor

Third Quarter 2018

October 18, 2018

During a period characterized largely by trade uncertainty, global asset markets delivered mixed results for the third quarter of 2018, with the U.S. equity market reaching new highs and outpacing many of its global counterparts.

U.S. equities posted strong results, supported by positive economic data, healthy corporate earnings and favorable business conditions that included corporate tax cuts. The S&P 500 Index, a broad measure of U.S. equities, gained 7.7% for the quarter and was up 10.6% for the year-to-date in U.S. dollar terms. Although the Canadian dollar has lost ground relative to its U.S. counterpart over the course of the year, it strengthened moderately in the most recent three-month period, resulting in a 5.9% quarterly return for the index in Canadian dollars and 14.1% for the year-to-date.

The MSCI World Index, which represents large and mid-cap equity performance across 23 developed market countries, also posted positive results for the period, gaining 5.1% for the quarter and 5.9% for the year-to-date in U.S. dollars. However, much of the gains for the global index resulted from the outperformance of U.S. stocks, as several local markets in Europe and Asia posted moderate losses for the quarter. Emerging markets also continued to sell off on rising interest rate concerns, as they have since early in the year.

The Canadian S&P/TSX Composite Index dipped slightly, losing 0.6% for the quarter, but the benchmark remained up about 1.4% for the year-to-date. The Canadian market’s muted performance for 2018 resulted from weakness in the energy and materials sectors, the uncertainty of trade talks with the U.S. and a slight decline in the value of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar.

Interest rates continued to move upwards over the quarter. The Bank of Canada left its benchmark interest rate steady at 1.5% in September following a 25-basis point hike in July. The U.S. Federal Reserve, meanwhile, responded to the labour market’s strength and the continued growth of economic activity by raising its target rate to 2% to 2.25%, its highest level since April 2008. Ten-year government bond yields in Canada and the U.S. rose throughout the period, with the FTSE Canada Universe Bond Index, which measures government and corporate bonds in Canada, returning -1.0% for the third quarter and about -0.4% for the year-to-date.

Equity markets around the world have made a strong recovery in the more than 10 years since the global financial crisis, and in August the current bull market became, by some measures, the longest in history. Though the economic cycle is entering its later stages, business conditions in many regions remain constructive, and it is impossible to predict when the next downturn will occur. Some studies, in fact, have shown that attempting to “time the market” by selling your investments before a downturn can be counterproductive, as investors often miss out on significant market gains after they have cashed out. Rather, having a personalized long-term investment plan that reflects your objectives – and staying true to that plan through market highs and lows – typically yields better results.

In closing, I would like to thank you for your business and remind you that Brian and I are here to help. If you have any questions about your portfolio, please feel free to contact my office.

John S. Bruce

Investment Advisor

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