Frank Barbera, portfolio manager of the Sierra Core Retirement Fund, last week chatted with me about the market. Barbera runs a fund of funds that is very risk adverse and seeks to protect capital in a down market. During the 2008 crash, his fund fell just 2.8% vs. the 37% plunge in the S&P 500.
Over the last few weeks, Barbera has see such a decline in high-yield bonds that he’s exited all his positions and is now cutting back on emerging-market debt. He also sold all his holdings in emerging-markets equities, such as iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM).
Barbera says anything linked to China has experienced a substantial decline, with emerging markets posting poor relative strength for the past six months. “There’s been no bounce,” he says, “We think Asia might slow down from both rising interest rates and higher-than-reported inflation.”
Because China’s currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar, he says our low interest rate policy is being exported to Asia and causing a lot of instability. Asia’s inflation problem and the enormous housing boom in Asia and Australia are a result of the U.S.’s loose monetary policy.
“With the reckless lending practices in those real-estate markets, we are preparing for a big downturn,” says Barbera. “Something is going to give and give big.”
He says the estimates for China’s bad loans could be as high as $5 trillion, which is nearly 100% of China’s GDP, sparking a deep recession and very hard landing. He adds that areas with strong real-estate markets, such as Australia , Hong Kong and Vancouver could soon deflate and see significant slow down.
He recommends getting rid of high-yield bonds and emerging-market debt and equities and says it’s time to move into short-term high-grade AAA corporate bonds.
For short-term high-grade bond ETFs check out Barclays 1-3 Year Credit Bond Fund (CSJ), which has an expense ratio of 0.2%, and the SPDR Barclays Capital Short Term Corporate Bond ETF (SCPB), which charges 0.125%