VEGA: 1st Quarter 2021 Portfolio Manager Review

Performance data quoted represents past performance and is no guarantee of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data quoted. Investment return and principal value will fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than original cost. Returns less than one year are not annualized. For the fund’s most recent standardized and month-end performance, please click www.advisorshares.com/etfs/vega.

Portfolio Update

  1st Qtr. 2021 YTD
VEGA NAV 3.07% 3.07%
MSCI AC World Index 4.57% 4.57%
Cboe S&P 500 Buy Write Index (BXM) 5.73% 5.73%
Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index (AGG) -3.37% -3.37%

As of 03.31.2021.

While the markets remained steady overall, the first quarter of 2021 saw equities continue their upward trend that started in late second quarter 2020, and fixed income started to soften and begin a downward trajectory. U.S. equites outperformed developed international equities – the S&P 500 Index had performance of 5.77%, while MSCI AC World Index only gained 4.57% during the first quarter. These overall trends were reflected in the performance of VEGA’s underlying securities, and therefore VEGA’s overall performance.

Winners

The U.S. small cap area, as represented by the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) in VEGA’s portfolio, had the best overall quarterly performance of the underlying holdings with a gain of 12.90%. Since VEGA did not have exposure to IWM until the end of March, IWM did not contribute significantly to VEGA’s overall quarterly portfolio return. The other notable standouts for positive performance during the first quarter were the Communications Service Select Sector SPDR Fund  (XLC) and the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) with returns of 8.84% and 6.35%, respectively.

 Laggards

As noted above, fixed income did not fare as well as equities during the first quarter. The largest negative performance attribution was seen by the iShares Core Total USD Bond ETF (IUSB) and U.S. treasuries represented by the iShares U.S. Treasury Bond ETF (GOVT) with negative returns of -3.30% and -3.71%, respectively. Since these positions were added to the portfolio in late March 2021, VEGA did not experience the same declines.

Top Holdings

Ticker Security Description Portfolio Weight %
SPY SPDR S&P 500 ETF TRUST 35.20%
EFA ISHARES MSCI EAFE ETF 16.87%
EEM ISHARES MSCI EMERGING MARKET 7.02%
GOVT ISHARES US TREASURY BOND ETF 6.96%
IWP ISHARES RUSSELL MID-CAP GROW 6.15%
IUSB ISHARES CORE TOTAL BOND ETF 5.97%
IWM ISHARES RUSSELL 2000 ETF 4.15%
IXN ISHARES GLOBAL TECH ETF 4.06%
LQD ISHARES IBOXX INVESTMENT GRA 4.01%
XLK TECHNOLOGY SELECT SECT SPDR 3.00%

As of 03.31.2021. Cash not included.

Activity

Covered Calls: The covered call writing done in the first quarter of 2021 was fairly unexciting compared to the covered call writing done throughout 2020. During January, February and March, all expiring covered calls expired worthless. This allowed VEGA to pull in additional premium from selling the covered calls. It is worth noting that VEGA continues to write covered calls with a delta of 0.30 or less. Deltas are considered a measurement of the likelihood of assignment prior to expiration. A delta of 0.30 translates roughly to a 30% chance of assignment from the time the covered call is written to expiration of that covered call.

Protective Puts: Going into 2021, VEGA had protection on 10% notional value of the overall portfolio. This was because protective puts continued to be richly priced compared to covered calls after the massive spike in volatility during early 2020. During February’s expirations, an additional 10% notional value of protection was added to the portfolio as the volatility continued to abate to typical levels. At the close of the quarter, VEGA still maintained a 20% notional exposure of protection.

Tactical Shifts: VEGA participated in several tactical shifts toward the end of the quarter. The largest overhaul came in fixed income. VEGA moved out of ultra-low duration holdings and into intermediate duration holdings. The positions held for the fixed income allocation of the portfolio at the beginning of the quarter are reflected below.

TIcker Description Target Allocation
AGG ISHARES CORE U.S. AGGREGATE 3.50%
LMBS FIRST TRUST LOW DURATION OPP 3.50%
IGSB ISHARES 1-5Y INV GRADE CORP 3.50%
JPST JPMORGAN ULTRA-SHORT INCOME 3.50%
MINT PIMCO ENHANCED SHORT MATURIT 3.50%

After the tactical shift the new fixed income allocation was updated to the below.

TIcker Description Target Allocation
LQD ISHARES IBOXX INVESTMENT GRADE 4.00%
GOVT ISHARES US TREASURY BOND ETF 7.00%
IUSB ISHARES CORE TOTAL BOND ETF 6.00%

This tactical shift for fixed income increased the duration from approximately 2.31 to 7.10 and reflects an increase in risk exposure to fixed income. In addition to moving up duration on fixed income, VEGA added back exposure to mid and small cap U.S. equity via the iShares Russell Mid-Cap Growth ETF (IWP) and IWM. IWP and IWM now have target allocations of 5% and 6%, respectively.

Lastly, developed international equity exposure was increased from 8% to 17% and the Xtrackers MSCI Europe Hedge Equity ETF (DBEU) was removed from the allocation. International exposure is now represented exclusively by the iShares MSCI EAFE ETF (EFA). Alongside the increased developed international equity exposure, emerging markets were reintroduced into the portfolio increasing from 0% to 7%. This marks the first time emerging markets have been in the VEGA target allocation since the brief re-entrance into the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) in mid-February 2020.

Volatility-Based Reinvestment (VBR): There has not been a volatility based reinvestment since March 2020. Going into January, the 200-day moving average on the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) was 30.13. There will need to be a significant increase in the VIX before deploying another volatility based reinvestment. More specifically, VEGA will wait for the 200-day moving average to double, which means spiking to a value of roughly 60, before putting cash back to work in the portfolio.

Beta: As VEGA closed out the first quarter of 2021, the beta of the portfolio was approximately 0.71 when compared to the S&P 500. This is a larger than typical deviation away from a long-term target beta of 0.60. Given the continued strong performance in equity markets coupled with the introduction of vaccines to the broad population and reopening of many economies, there is a strong economic outlook going forward.

Market Outlook

The Market

After a volatile month, the S&P 500 finished at a record high when the markets closed on March 31st. The index finished the month up 4.24% and is now up 5.77% on the year. As the economic recovery continues, the Dow Jones Industrial Average led the monthly performance numbers as it finished up 6.62% and is now up 7.76% on the year. The technology heavy NASDAQ finished the month in positive territory, but it continues to lag the other two indices after outperforming both in 2020. The index finished the month up 0.41% and is now up 2.78% on the year. Small cap stocks continued to inch higher as the Russell 2000 ended the month up 0.88% and is now up 12.44% on the year. The MSCI EAFE index is up just under 3% on the year after a positive month, however the MSCI Emerging Markets index fell 1.70% during the month and is now up 1.95% on the year. The Bloomberg Barclay’s U.S. Aggregate Bond index fell 1.25% in March and is now down 3.37% on the year.1

Index Returns (as of 3/31/2021) Closing Price Level March QTD/YTD
S&P 500 3972.89 4.24% 5.77%
Dow Jones Industrial Average 32981.55 6.62% 7.76%
NASDAQ Composite 13246.87 0.41% 2.78%
Russell 2000 2220.52 0.88% 12.44%
MSCI EAFE 2208.32 1.82% 2.83%
MSCI Emerging Markets 1316.43 -1.70% 1.95%
U.S. Aggregate Bond -1.25 -3.37%

Source: https://www.investing.com/indices/major-indices

The Economy

As has been the case for much of the last year, the economy is shaped in large part by the pandemic and our country’s policy response to challenges that have come to light because of the virus. The first quarter of 2021 was one of transition. There was the transition in the White House and on Capitol Hill, and towards implementation of the Covid-19 vaccine. The transition in Washington, D.C. will dictate our country’s policy response to the virus while the vaccines have taken center stage regarding the pandemic.

Since March of 2020, the economy has experienced a massive drop followed by a surge and we continue to inch forward in our new social distancing driven economy. Final numbers for GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 came in at 4.3%.2 The month of March closed with strong economic numbers and estimates for first quarter GDP growth are now at 6%. GDP numbers are seasonally adjusted annual rates. In March, personal consumption growth increased from 5.6% to 6.9% and private investment growth increased from 2.4% to 6.9%.3 The ISM Index also reaching its highest level since 1983 as it climbed to 64.7 in March, up from 60.8 in February.4 Goldman Sachs now estimates GDP to finish the year up 8% year over year which would signal a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels. For reference, U.S. GDP has not grown 8% in a year since 1951.5

Nonfarm payrolls increased by almost 1,000,000 in March and the unemployment rate fell to 6.0%, an improvement from 6.2% in February.6 Unemployment reached its pandemic peak of 14.8% in April of 2020. After the announcement of the most recent stimulus package in March, the Fed estimated inflation will reach 2.4% this year, above its previous estimate of 1.8%.7 Earnings for companies in the S&P 500 were down 11% in 2020, however, they are projected to increase by over 25% in 2021.8 That is positive news for equities, but we do want to exercise caution as we look at estimates in 2022. Higher interest rates could cause wage growth, there is the potential for higher corporate taxes, and the economy could slow as we enter 2022. Regarding the Fed, following their recent meeting on St. Patrick’s Day in March, they plan to maintain the target federal funds rate of 0-0.25 bps through 2023 and continue bond purchases throughout the remainder of 2021.9 If the economy does perform as well as expected to close out 2021, it’s possible that the Fed may need to taper back bond purchases in 2022 to curb fears of inflation. As of now, inflation is still in a relatively comfortable range, but it is worth monitoring as more financial stimulus enters the economy.

The Virus

As the first quarter came to an end in 2020, we were still in the early stages of the pandemic, local governments were just starting their lockdowns, and every news station had a permanent number on the side of their screen tracking the growth of coronavirus cases. Twelve months later we are still tracking cases and fatalities, but just as important is tracking our progress towards herd immunity. Herd immunity can potentially be achieved through a combination of tracking those that have been infected by the virus along with those that have been vaccinated. The first image below shows the large decrease in cases and deaths on a 7-day moving average in the first quarter of 2021 due in large part to the roll out of the vaccines. As you can see in the second image, the total number infected by the virus is starting to plateau and the number of those vaccinated is beginning to increase.

    

Source: 10

The percentage of the population experiencing immunity has increased to over fifty percent at the end of the first quarter, and J.P. Morgan’s analysts project that we will enter the 60-80% zone of herd immunity in April (65%) and surpass the zone by the end of the second quarter (85%).11 These numbers are supported by the image below showing the results of a recent Gallup poll. The percentage of Americans willing to get the vaccine has increased from 50% in September of 2020 up to 74% in March of 2021.12 The important note is that we are making progress towards herd immunity. These numbers lead us to believe that we will be in a much better spot regarding the pandemic as we enter the third quarter of 2021.

Source: 11

Policy Response

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan on March 11th. It provided direct $1,400 payments to Americans making under $75,000. It also provided aid to state and local governments, extended unemployment benefits, expanded tax credits, provided aid to small business, and helped with the Covid-19 response.13

Source: 13

The plan was an economic aid package designed to help Americans and businesses survive the pandemic downturn. However, the plan did little to advance Biden’s long term economic agenda when it comes to infrastructure and transitioning to renewable energy, so on Wednesday, March 31st, President Biden introduced the American Jobs Plan. The bulk of the plan is to be spent on infrastructure with over $600 billion dedicated to transportation infrastructure (highways, public transit) and another $600 billion going to community infrastructure (clean drinking water, housing, schools, VA hospitals). $580 billion will go towards research and development, manufacturing, and workforce development. The plan is rounded out with $400 million dedicated to improving elderly care.14 The plan will still need to go through Congress, but it is likely that at least some trimmed down version of the plan is passed. How is the plan going to be funded? The likely solution is Biden’s Made in America Tax Plan that would undo a lot of changes from former President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017. The main change is raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% which is expected to raise the $2 trillion needed for funding over the next 15 years. The American Jobs Plan is the first of two plans that Biden will introduce following the passing of the American Rescue Plan. The next plan, likely to be introduced in April, will be the American Family Plan that will aim to address healthcare and education.15 This plan will also try to extend benefits to lower and middle-income earners targeting three programs: expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to help more Americans over the age of 65, the Dependent Care Credit for help with daycare allowing both spouses to return to work, and the Child Tax Credit.11

Conclusion

It has now been a full calendar year since markets experienced their massive correction due to the pandemic, and the S&P 500 ended the month of March at a new record high. It was a bumpy ride as there were concerns regarding the potential for higher inflation and rising bond yields, specifically the 10-year treasury. As alluded to earlier, corporate earnings are set to see growth of over 25% in 2021, the economy is likely to continue its expansion as U.S. real GDP is estimated at 8% growth in 2021, and more Americans are financially stable with money to spend due to a combination of financial stimulus along with pent up demand. All of those bode well for equities. However, potential inflation could prove negative for equities, and it will likely mean increased volatility throughout the remainder of the year. Even though rising yields are not a good sign for bonds, it is wise to maintain fixed income exposure due to its low correlation to equities. We recommend staying in your asset allocation driven risk-based portfolios due to the uncertainties regarding the economic recovery. We have never experienced a recovery from a pandemic in modern times, so we can’t confidently predict exactly how things will unfold. We do know that value stocks usually perform better in higher inflationary environments, but also that we do need exposure to growth as the year comes to an end and the economic recovery begins to slow. International equities still look relatively cheap from a valuation perspective and should yield higher dividends compared to their counterparts in the United States. International fixed income and emerging market debt are also providing stronger yields with higher credit quality than past years. The important take away is that there are meaningful reasons to maintain a diversified approach based on your risk tolerance, and why each asset class should have some exposure in your portfolios. It is imperative that you have the right expectations for how your portfolio should perform. If you’d like to review those expectations or revisit your risk tolerance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Thank you for your continued trust in VEGA.

Respectfully,

 

Rebecca Valdez
ChangePath, Portfolio Manager
AdvisorShares STAR Global Buy-Wrtie ETF (VEGA) Co-Portfolio Manager

 

Robert Kellogg, CFA
ChangePath, Investment Officer
AdvisorShares STAR Global Buy-Wrtie ETF (VEGA) Co-Portfolio Manager


1 – https://www.investing.com/indices/major-indices
2 – https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/gross-domestic-product-third-estimate-gdp-industry-and-corporate-profits-4th-quarter-and
3 – https://www.frbatlanta.org/cqer/research/gdpnow
4 – https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/01/ism-manufacturing-march-2021.html
5 – https://www.axios.com/goldman-sachs-us-economy-grow-8-per-cent-2021-eb7e1d84-b6fa-483a-9e19-37a7faddadc0.html
6 – https://www.cnbc.com/2021/04/02/us-jobs-report-march-2021.html
7 – https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/17/heres-where-the-federal-reserve-sees-interest-rates-the-economy-and-inflation-going-in-the-future.html
8 – https://www.factset.com/hubfs/Website/Resources%20Section/Research%20Desk/Earnings%20Insight/EarningsInsight_032621A.pdf
9 – https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/monetary20210317a1.pdf
10 – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins CSSE, Our World in Data, J.P. Morgan Asset Management.
*Share of the total population that has received at least one vaccine dose. **Est. Infected represents the number of people who may have been infected by COVID-19 by using the CDC’s estimate that 1 in 4.6 COVID-19 infections were reported. ***Est. Infected & vaccinated only assumes those infected equally likely to be vaccinated as those not infected.
Guide to the Markets – U.S. Data are as of March 31, 2021.
11 – https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/protected/adv/insights/market-insights/guide-to-the-markets/
12 – https://news.gallup.com/poll/342431/satisfaction-vaccine-rollout-surges.aspx
13 – https://www.statista.com/chart/24395/composition-of-the-american-rescue-plan-act/
14 – https://www.investopedia.com/what-s-in-joe-biden-s-usd2-trillion-american-jobs-plan-5120273
15 – https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/biden-american-jobs-plan/

 

Past Manager Commentary

Information is from sources deemed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed.

*Performance and pricing data used for VEGA ETF is based on the indicated value of the ETF at the close of the day.


Definitions:

Beta measures the sensitivity of an investment to the movement of its benchmark. A beta higher than 1.0 indicates the investment has been more volatile than the benchmark and a beta of less than 1.0 indicates that the investment has been less volatile than the benchmark.

The Barclays Capital U.S. Intermediate Government Bond Index measures the performance of U.S. Dollar denominated investment grade U.S. corporate securities that have a remaining maturity of greater than one year and less than ten years.

The Cboe S&P 500 BuyWrite Index (BXM) is a benchmark index designed to track the performance of a hypothetical buy-write strategy on the S&P 500 Index.

The Consumer Sentiment Index is a monthly survey of U.S. consumer confidence levels conducted by the University of Michigan. It is based on telephone surveys that gather information on consumer expectations regarding the overall economy.

covered call option involves holding a long position in a particular asset, in this case shares of an ETP, and writing a call option on that same asset with the goal of realizing additional income from the option premium.

Delta represents the rate of change between an option’s price and a $1 change in the underlying asset’s price. In other words, the price sensitivity of an option relative to the underlying.

Duration is a measure of the sensitivity of the price of a bond or other debt instrument to a change in interest rates.

The MSCI ACWI World Index is is an unmanaged free float-adjusted market capitalization weighted index that is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed and emerging markets.

An option is a privilege, sold by one party to another that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call) or sell (put) a stock at an agreed upon price within a certain period or on a specific date.

Exercising an option means to put into effect the right specified in the option contract.

An option premium is income received by an investor who sells or “writes” an option contract to another party.

A call option is considered Out Of The Money when the call option’s strike price is higher than the prevailing market price of the underlying stock. A put option is considered Out Of The Money when the put option’s strike price is lower than the prevailing market price of the underlying stock.

protective put is an option strategy which entails buying shares of a security and, at the same time, enough put options to cover those shares. This can act as a hedge on the invested security, since matching puts with shares of the stock can limit the downside (due to the nature of puts). 

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector; below 50 indicates contraction.

put option is a contract that gives the owner of the option the right to sell a specified amount of the asset underlying the option at a specified price within a specified time.

A short position is the sale of a borrowed investment with the expectation that it will decline in value.

Theta is a measure of the rate of decline in the value of an option due to the passage of time.

Volatility is a statistical measure of the dispersion of returns for a given security or market index. Volatility can either be measured by using the standard deviation or variance between returns from that same security or market index. Commonly, the higher the volatility, the riskier the security.

Implied Volatility is the estimated volatility of a security’s price. In general, implied volatility increases when the market is bearish and decreases when the market is bullish. This is due to the common belief that bearish markets are more risky than bullish markets.

The Volatility Index (VIX) is the ticker symbol for the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, which shows the market’s expectation of 30-day volatility. It is constructed using the implied volatilities of a wide range of S&P 500 index options. This volatility is meant
to be forward looking and is calculated from both calls and puts. The VIX is a widely used measure of market risk and is often referred to as the “investor fear gauge”. The VIX is a contrarian sentiment indicator that helps to determine when there is too much optimism or fear in the market.


Before investing you should carefully consider the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting www.advisorshares.com. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, distributor.

There is no guarantee that the Fund will achieve its investment objective. An investment in the Fund is subject to risk, including the possible loss of principal amount invested. Other Fund risks included: allocation risk; derivative risk; early closing risk; Exchange Traded Note risk; liquidity risk, market risk; trading risk; commodity risk; concentration risk; counterparty risk; credit risk; emerging markets and foreign securities risk; foreign currency risk; large-, mid- and small- cap stock risk. Please see the prospectus for detailed information regarding risk. The Fund is also subject to options risk. Writing and purchasing call and put options are specialized activities and entail greater than ordinary investment risk. The value of the Fund’s positions in options fluctuates in response to the changes in value of the underlying security. The Fund also risks losing all or part of the cash paid for purchasing call and put options. The Fund may not be suitable for all investors.

Shares are bought and sold at market price (closing price) not NAV and are not individually redeemed from the Fund. Market price returns are based on the midpoint of the bid/ask spread at 4:00 pm Eastern Time (when NAV is normally determined), and do not represent the return you would receive if you traded at other times. 

Holdings and allocations are subject to risks and change.

The views in this commentary are those of the portfolio manager and many not reflect his views on the date this material is distributed or any time thereafter. These views are intended to assist shareholders in understanding their investments and do not constitute investment advice.