In a year where the stock market has provided zero safe places to hide…you may have changed, the markets certainly have, but one thing has not; the Permanent Portfolio.
We’ve reviewed the Permanent Portfolio before but believe it’s time to check in and provide an update on how it’s doing relative to the broad markets now as well as chime in on whether the strategy still has merit going forward. For some quick background, our first original review was written in June of 2013 (click here to see that). Most recently we revisited the topic with an update in November of 2020 (click here) as we climbed out of one of the wildest years in world history amidst a global pandemic.
If you didn’t hit the embedded article links above, the Permanent Portfolio is pretty simple at face value. The Permanent Portfolio is a seemingly basic portfolio allocation strategy created by investment advisor Harry Browne in the 1980’s and outlined in his book Fail-Safe Investing back in 2001. Here’s the secret (simple) sauce and how each asset class should do during repeatable economic cycles:
We’ll open this letter to our friend “Mr. Market” by stating one thing that will be very obvious in six to 12 months. 90% of people reading this article will have gotten it wrong. It’s not your fault though…it’s the way our minds are wired and the content we’re constantly being fed.
Regardless of your current market strategy it’s times like this that will test the most patient of long-term investors. We’ve written about this countless times but no matter what the sage counsel or stock market adage is, you should be rattled right now. We could be like most “perma-bull” financial advisors and try to data mine for all the reasons to stay calm or share positive anecdotes to convince you that now is the time to invest; it won’t matter though. Putting “lipstick on a pig” won’t help you nor the current market environment. Bad news and reasons to panic will be the headline for the weeks to come and there will seemingly be no safe place to hide.
Why do we bring up this article now? Lots has changed but lots has not! More than anything we believe that our current environment has so many unknowns embedded in it after one of the wildest rides in stock market history. We won’t dig into the weeds too much but one could easily make the case that any of the following scenarios could take place over the next year:
The Stock Market could absolutely continue to defy odds and climb higher.
We could see another market crash like we saw in the spring this year as there are plenty of issues that have not gone away (Covid-19, political unrest, handcuffed economy, geopolitical concerns)
A deteriorating dollar, inflation on the horizon, a ticking time bomb of debt, and more fear of a prolonged recession, negates any appeal for stocks for quite some time.
We trade up, down, and basically sideways as this market consolidates and digests one of the most tumultuous years in history.
Without rehashing all that has transpired in 2020, we believe that being properly allocated and prepared for just about anything that comes our way seems like a wise way to go. The market is almost always unpredictable but there are times when reading the tea leaves and figuring out clear direction is even more difficult; we believe that’s exactly where we’re at right now.
If you didn’t read our old article from 2013, the basis for the Permanent Portfolio strategy is simple at face value: You divide your portfolio into four distinct and fairly uncorrelated asset classes (Cash, Bonds, Gold, and Stocks). Ideally at any point in most economic cycles one of these asset classes will stink it up but the others could compensate and outperform. During prosperous times Stocks should win. When there is inflation a case can be made for Gold. Should the opposite occur and we get deflation you would ideally see long-term Bonds do well. Lastly, during a severe recession Cash is perhaps your best friend. When coupled together you may never hit a home run but this approach can mitigate disaster and still produce modest long-term returns.