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Considering Absolute and Relative returns when investing

Investing must be done to meet a stated investing goal, in line with the risk profile of the investors.



Someone asked me, “ what assets can I buy in 2021 to make the most money with no risk”?

Someone asked me, “what assets can I buy in 2021 to make the most money with no risk”?

If you have followed me for a while, you will understand that this is an incomplete question. You cannot seek advice on what assets to buy without an understanding of what you want to achieve by investing your savings. Your objective and risk profile determine to a large extent the type or scope of returns you will receive from your investments.

For instance, if you are risk-averse, you invest in Bonds that have a very limited upside potential thus your return cannot be expected to be similar to a portfolio that is invested exclusively in equity, which is risker but has higher upside potential. Thus when an investor seeks a return, it’s essentially a bet on investing in a specific asset class or a portfolio of assets.

READ: If you had $100,000 in cash, where would you invest it in US markets?

Let’s briefly talk about returns, There are essentially two types of returns, Absolute and Relative returns. Absolute return is what the asset or commodity returned over a specific period, e.g. if I buy Apple for $100 and the price is $200 twelve months later, then my absolute return is 100%.

There is also relative return which is the difference between what my asset made and the return of the market or a similar index. For example, if I made 100% on my Apple Stock but the return on an index like the Vanguard Information Technology EFT (VGT) returned 10% in the same 12 months, then my relative return or Alpha is 90%.

When an investor is seeking a higher than the market benchmark return, he is said to be seeking Alpha, or a higher relative return. Chasing alpha is risky because the past performance of an asset class in the previous year is not an indicator of future returns. This means if stocks did well in 2020, there is no transfer of profitability, thus stocks are not guaranteed to go up in 2021, We can test this.

READ: Understanding and applying the Barbell investment strategy

Let us assume I was an investor that accepted a higher amount of risk and invested in US equities, Bonds, Emerging Market equities even cash, what would be my absolute and relative return from 2015 to date? Let’s look at the data.

abolute relative return

Sourced from various Funds: EEM, SPY, DJP, BIL, SLY, VNQ, AGG, EFA

In 2015, investors would have made an absolute return of 1.3% if invested in a fund that holds Large-Cap equities. Similarly, a -1.8% return in Small Caps, and a whopping -16% loss if he invested in the Emerging Market Equities. That 1.3% absolute would be significant as the world saw in 2015 a global stock market sell-off precipitated by a slowdown in China leading to the Yuan devaluation and a fall in petroleum prices. However, when compared to commodities, the investor made a relative return of over 27%.

What if the investor has decided to selloff his low absolute returning Emerging Market stocks and invest in Large-Cap stocks? Well, he would have incurred the transaction cost of buying and selling his EM stock and missed out as the sectors turned positive, returning an absolute return of 10.9% in 2016.

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If the investor was chasing Alpha, he would have sold in December 2016 to buy Small-Casp because of the 26.6% absolute return posted by Small Caps. However, in December 2017, he would have to sell again and invest in Emerging markers which would have returned 37.3%. Then in 2018, he would not invest but hold in cash as the markets all crashed and cash returned 1.7%. In doing this he would have lost the rise in 2019 of Large-Cap stocks which returned 31.32%.


The impatient investor without a plan, but simply chasing Alpha will incur considerable transactional fees from flowing out of one asset class to the other. If the investor had agreed on a plan and simply stayed with equities, he would have returned over ten years an absolute return of 13.8%

The point is this, investing is not done simply to earn a return, investing must be done to meet a stated investing goal, in line with the risk profile of the investors. Expectations must be relative to risk.

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  1. Naza

    February 22, 2021 at 11:43 am

    Being new to real time investment in assets, this is a handful. Thank you so much, I hope to get more tips on investments and wealth creation.


    February 22, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    Thanks for this article. This has helped me to decide to stick to my earlier plan of long term investing, rather than day trading.

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Traders’ Voice…Nigeria’s surprising Q4 2020 GDP growth

The fourth-quarter GDP performance was magical and unexpected, but there is still enough room for worry.



Let us do a quick exercise before diving into this week’s note. Need you to raise five fingers up.

  • Put a finger down if you were not shocked by the Q4 GDP output.
  • Put a finger down if you expect a FY GDP of -1.92% YoY or less.
  • Put a finger down if you expected Nigeria to be out of a recession in Q4 2020.
  • Put a finger down if you expected the agricultural sector to experience its strongest output in 16 Quarters.
  • Put a finger down if you expected that the agricultural and service sector will outperform in Q4 2020.

If you still have all five or four fingers up, you are not alone in this as the Q4 2020 GDP figures came as a shock, beating consensus expectation of another decline in Q4 2020. If you have all your fingers down, I would like to know where you got your crystal ball. Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 0.11%(year-on-year) in real terms in the fourth quarter of 2020, representing the first positive quarterly growth in the last three quarters. Overall, in 2020, the annual growth of real GDP was estimated at –1.92%, (vs IMF’s -3.2% YoY). To avoid responses like, “it’s the Lord’s doing”, we will be diving into the sectors that were responsible for this growth.


The 2020 fourth-quarter GDP numbers were a sort of “wow moment” for most people, as the real GDP growth rate surprisingly climbed back into the growth region. Had anyone posited an expectation of a GDP recovery in the final quarter of 2020, many would have causally likened such an outlook to a futile attempt to build castles in the sky. Especially with all the events that took place in 2020, ranging from the Covid-19 pandemic, EndSars protest and, not to forget, the level of insecurity witnessed in the country. Nevertheless, it can be observed that the growth recorded was largely hinged on the non-oil sector recovery, as it rode on the back of improved economic activities to record a growth rate of 1.69%. This number represents an improvement when compared to the preceding quarter’s performance, which stood at -2.51%.

We will resist the temptation to lean into unproven narratives of statistical manipulation but rather attempt to demystify the GDP numbers by identifying the activity sectors that spurred the reported growth. An examination of the performance of the sectoral trinity, consisting of Agriculture, Industrial, and Service, helps provide a sense of meaning to the reported growth. In the review quarter, the Agriculture and Services sectors grew by 3.42% and 1.31%, respectively, and these two sectors jointly contribute 81.23% to the GDP of the country, hence, driving the overall GDP growth.

The growth recorded in the agricultural sector is the highest seen in sixteen quarters, but we unfortunately, cannot attribute the improved performance to the huge influx of funds that the fiscal and monetary authorities have been pumping into the sector through schemes like the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. Rather, the lid placed on food importation via the border closure and the limitations on FX access for certain categories of food importers tipped the scales of demand and supply in favor of domestic agricultural players. Also, agricultural growth was underpinned by a 3.68% and 2.38% improvement in crop production and livestock subsectors, respectively. So, you can seek solace in the agricultural sector growth when next you go food shopping and are faced with soaring prices. For the service sector, the improvement was driven by the growth in the Information and Communication (14.70%) and Real Estate (2.81%) sectors, both of which jointly account for 40% of the service sector. The real estate performance marked the end of a six-quarter decline.

The GDP recovery offers no thanks to the oil sector, as it only deepened its downtrend. The oil sector in the fourth quarter of 2020 recorded a real growth rate of -19.76%, which makes the -13.89% recorded in the second quarter of the year look somewhat good. The blame for this poor oil performance can be largely attributed to lower production levels, as we recorded a YoY production decline of 22.00%, with oil production averaging 1.56mbpd in the review quarter as against 2.00mbpd recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2019. The explanation for the drop in production can be traced to domestic production disruptions, as well as output limitation by OPEC+. Back in 2017, a recovery in the oil sector was instrumental to the emergence of the country from the recession, but over the years, the non-oil GDP contribution has gradually encroached into the oil sector’s quotient, increasing from 91.21% in the second quarter of 2017 to 94.13% in the fourth quarter of 2020. This helps provide more meaning to the recent GDP growth seen, as a non-oil recovery weighs more on the performance of the overall GDP, while the oil sector’s impact gradually diminishes.

The fourth-quarter GDP performance was magical and unexpected, but there is still enough room for worry. The weak recovery recorded is expected to be the first of many tepid growth rates, and such economic sluggishness should last through 2021. The structural problems of the economy remain, hence, the chances of the economy recording sustainable growth seem bleak.

All Yields are heading north…

It seems we are not the only country experiencing a rise in fixed income yields. The yield on the United States benchmark 10-year Treasury notes climbed to a one-year high of 1.36% on Monday. Since the beginning of February 10-year yields have risen about 26 basis points, on track for their largest monthly gain in three years. Unlike the Nigerian fixed income yields which have been on the upward trajectory largely due to a sharp decline in the market liquidity chasing excess supply of securities. The rise in US Treasury yield has been hinged on inflation expectations as the vaccination programme gains momentum while stimulus expectations continue to drive a positive outlook for the economy in the near to medium term. The stock market also felt the brunt of the fast rise in yields as the S&P 500 was down 0.22%, while the Nasdaq Composite slumped 1.53% on Monday. However, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.39% or 144 points.

US 10-Year Treasury vs S&P 500

Looking at the chart above, it seems the United States defied the theory that states that there is an inverse relationship between the yields in the fixed income market and the equities market, as yields in the fixed income markets and equities market had a positive correlation between the period of August 2020 to January 2021. (One word, Reflation Trade)

Reflationary trades involve buying assets exposed to faster economic growth, price pressures, and higher yields. Riskier equities tend to benefit at the expense of haven assets such as the U.S. Treasury. Equities that benefits are small caps and cyclical sectors such as banks and energy producers. It also includes cruise operators, airlines, and other travel and leisure companies that will benefit from an end to lockdowns. It’s the go-to trade when economies emerge from a recession. This begets the question, “would we see reflationary trades in Nigeria given that we just came out of a recession?”

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Spread Analysis (US 10-year yield, NIGERIA 31 and NIGERIA 49)


If U.S. Treasury yields continue to rise, central banks in emerging markets may need to hike rates to sustain foreign inflow. We might be looking at an end to the global central bank dovish stance sooner than expected. From the Eurobond perspective, the NIGERIA 31, NIGERIA 47, and NIGERIA 49 have traded at a three 3-year average spread of 670 bps, 650 bps, and 720 bps of the U.S. 10-year yield in the past 3 years.

Given the U.S. 10-Year yield current spread differential of 600 bps, 520 bps, and 650 bps between the NIGERIA 31, NIGERIA 47, and NIGERIA 49s, we expect a further rise in yields across the Nigeria sovereign papers.

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Real estate sector GDP positive in Q4 2020, but still in the woods

The real estate sector like many other sectors of the economy suffers deeply from a dip in macro economic conditions of the country.



Real Estate in Lagos

According to the Q4 and full-year 2020 GDP data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), real estate sector returned to positive growth of 2.81% y/y in Q4 2020 following six consecutive quarters of negative growth since the last positive growth posted in Q1 2019 (0.93% y/y).

The significant recovery in Q4 2020 reflects the full reopening of the economy as many residential and commercial projects began operations fully following the suspension of activities during the national lockdown. Overall, the real estate GDP FY 2020 contracted by 9.22% y/y which was well below our 2020 estimate of a 13.7% contraction.

The real estate sector like many other sectors of the economy suffers deeply from a dip in macro economic conditions of the country. In 2016, when the economy went into recession, the sector declined by 6.86% compared with the growth of 2.11% recorded in 2015.

READ: Where to buy Real Estate in Lagos in 2021

Subdued activities in the real estate and construction industry had a spillover effect on the cement sector where growth slowed drastically to 5.4% in 2016 from 22.1% in 2015 on the back of weak private sector investments and low government spending.

In 2020, as the pandemic ravaged the economy, the real estate sector was not left behind as the unprecedented crisis elevated vacancy rates in existing commercial properties, reduced average footfalls across retail centres and slowed the completion time of many residential developments and infrastructure projects in the country.

This led to an all-time high of a 21.99% contraction recorded by the real estate sector in Q2 2020. The impact of the restrictive measures put in place during the second quarter was apparent in the financial performance of two key cement players (Dangote Cement and Lafarge) as both top and bottom-line performances were pressured.

READ: How to own your home in 5 years without a mortgage

Looking ahead, we expect growth in the sector to remain weak due to a plethora of factors from high inflationary figures and devaluation which continue to pressure consumer purchasing power to little access to finance which has continued to undermine the demand for housing. Despite efforts geared towards improving mortgage financing or consumer credit, the rate of mortgage financing to housing development in the country remains very low compared to peers in the emerging market.

CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

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