Bonds

Bonds have two price components, yield and response of price to prevailing interest rates. How much of a return premium should investors in bonds expect? How can investors enhance this premium? These blog entries examine investing in bonds.

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Dependence of Optimal Allocations on Investment Horizon

Does optimal asset allocation, as measured by Sharpe ratio, depend on investment horizon? In their January 2015 paper entitled “Optimal Asset Allocation Across Investment Horizons”, Ronald Best, Charles Hodges and James Yoder explore the optimal (highest Sharpe ratio) mix of long-term U.S. corporate bonds and large-capitalization U.S. common stocks across investment horizons from one to 25 years. They test portfolios ranging from 100%-0% to 0%-100% stocks-bonds in 5% increments with annual rebalancing. They estimate annual returns for stocks and bonds based on 87 years of historical data. They simulate the portfolio return distribution for a given n-year holding period via 2,500 iterations for each of two methods:

  1. Randomly select with replacement n years from the 87 years in the historical sample and use the annual returns for U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills, the risk-free rate), stocks and bonds for those n years in the order selected to calculate portfolio gross compound n-year excess returns. This method assumes year-to-year independence (zero autocorrelations) of annual returns for stocks and bonds, meaning no momentum or reversion.
  2. Randomly select a year from the first 87 – (n-1) years in the historical sample and use the annual returns for T-bills, stocks and bonds for that and the next n-1 consecutive years to calculate portfolio gross compound n-year excess returns. This method preserves historical autocorrelations in return series.

Using annual returns for T-bills, U.S. large-capitalization common stocks and U.S. long-term corporate bonds during 1926 through 2012, they find that: Keep Reading

Global Stocks-bonds Glidepath during Retirement

What is the best mix of stocks and bonds to hold during retirement worldwide? In his January 2015 paper entitled “The Retirement Glidepath: An International Perspective”, Javier Estrada compares outcomes for different stocks-bonds allocation strategies during retirement from a global perspective. He considers declining equity, rising equity and static glidepaths with an annual withdrawal rate of 4% (of the portfolio value at retirement) and annual rebalancing during a 30-year retirement period. He tests the following glidepaths:

  • Four declining equity strategies that begin with 100%-0%, 90%‐10%, 80%‐20% and 70%‐30% stocks-bonds allocations and shift toward bonds linearly via annual rebalancing.
  • Four mirror-image rising equity strategies that begin with 0%-100%, 10%-90%, 20%-80% and 30%-70% stocks-bonds allocations and shift toward stocks linearly via annual rebalancing.
  • Eleven static allocations ranging from 100%-0% to 0%-100% stocks-bonds allocations maintained via annual rebalancing, with focus on conventional or near-conventional 60%-40%, 50%-50% and 40%-60% allocations.

He focuses on the failure rate of these strategies during 81 overlapping 30-year retirement periods during 1900-2009. He also considers average and median terminal wealth/bequest, tail risk, annual volatility (standard deviation of annual returns) and upside potential. He defines tail risk (downside risk) as average terminal wealth for the 1%, 5% or 10% lowest values from the 81 periods. Using annual total real returns for stocks and government bonds for 19 countries (in local currency adjusted by local inflation) and for the world market (in dollars adjusted by U.S. inflation) during 1900 through 2009 (110 years), he finds that: Keep Reading

Optimal Monthly Cycle for Simple Debt Class Mutual Fund Momentum Strategy?

In reference to “Optimal Monthly Cycle for Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy?”, a subscriber asked about an optimal monthly cycle for the “Simple Debt Class Mutual Fund Momentum Strategy”. This latter strategy each month allocates the entire portfolio value to the one of the following 12 debt class mutual funds with the highest past total return (optimally over the last two months):

T. Rowe Price New Income (PRCIX)
Thrivent Income A (LUBIX)
Vanguard GNMA Securities (VFIIX)
T. Rowe Price High-Yield Bonds (PRHYX)
T. Rowe Price Tax-Free High Yield Bonds (PRFHX)
Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Bonds (VUSTX)
T. Rowe Price International Bonds (RPIBX)
Fidelity Convertible Securities (FCVSX)
PIMCO Short-Term A (PSHAX)
Fidelity New Markets Income (FNMIX)
Eaton Vance Government Obligations C (ECGOX)
Vanguard Long-Term Bond Index (VBLTX)

To investigate, we compare 21 variations of the strategy based on shifting the monthly return calculation cycle relative to trading days from the end of the month (EOM). For example, an EOM+5 cycle ranks funds based on closing prices five trading days after EOM each month. We use the historically optimal two-month fund momentum measurement interval. Using daily dividend-adjusted closes for the 12 funds during mid-December 1994 through mid-January 2015 (241 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Debt Class Mutual Fund Momentum Strategy

A subscriber requested confirmation of the performance of a simple momentum strategy that each month selects the best performing debt mutual fund based on total return over the past three months. To investigate, we test a simple strategy on the following 12 mutual funds (those with the longest histories from a proposed list of 14 funds):

T. Rowe Price New Income (PRCIX)
Thrivent Income A (LUBIX)
Vanguard GNMA Securities (VFIIX)
T. Rowe Price High-Yield Bonds (PRHYX)
T. Rowe Price Tax-Free High Yield Bonds (PRFHX)
Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Bonds (VUSTX)
T. Rowe Price International Bonds (RPIBX)
Fidelity Convertible Securities (FCVSX)
PIMCO Short-Term A (PSHAX)
Fidelity New Markets Income (FNMIX)
Eaton Vance Government Obligations C (ECGOX)
Vanguard Long-Term Bond Index (VBLTX)

As proposed, we allocate all funds at the end of each month to the fund with the highest total return over the past three months (3-1). We determine the first winner in February 1995 to accommodate momentum measurement interval sensitivity testing. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the 12 funds during February 1994 (as limited by VBLTX) through December 2014 (251 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Four-factor Model of Corporate Bond Returns

Do factor models predict returns for corporate bonds as they do for stocks? In their October 2014 paper entitled “Factor Investing in the Corporate Bond Market”, Patrick Houweling and Jeroen van Zundert develop and test a four-factor (size, low-risk, value and momentum) model of future corporate bond returns. Each month for investment grade and high yield bond market segments separately, they construct an equally-weighted long-only portfolio consisting of the 10% of bonds with the highest exposure to each factor. They hold portfolios for 12 months, resulting in 12 overlapping portfolios for each segment and factor. Specifically, the factor portfolios are:

  1. Size – the 10% of bonds with the smallest company index weights, calculated as the sum of market value weights of all company bonds in the index that month.
  2. Low-risk – a combination of rating and maturity. For investment grade, the portfolio holds the 10% of bonds rated AAA to A- and having the shortest maturities. For high yield, the portfolio holds the 10% of bonds rated BB+ to B- and having the shortest maturities. On average, the maturity threshold is 2.8 (3.7) years for investment grade (high yield).
  3. Value – the 10% of bonds with the largest percentage gaps between actual credit spread and credit spread indicated by monthly regressions of credit spread on rating.
  4. Momentum – the 10% of bonds with the highest return relative to duration-matched U.S. Treasuries from six months ago to one month ago (with a skip-month to avoid reversal).

They evaluate factor portfolio performance based on excess return of constituent corporate bonds versus duration-matched U.S. Treasuries (thereby focusing on the default premium component of corporate bond returns). To estimate trading frictions, they model bid-ask spreads based on maturity and rating (the longer maturity or the lower the rating, the larger the estimated trading friction). Portfolio-level trading frictions are sums of frictions for all bonds traded. Using monthly data for all bonds in the Barclays U.S. Corporate Investment Grade index and the Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield index during January 1994 through December 2013 (about 800,000 investment grade and 300,000 high yield bond-month observations), they find that: Keep Reading

Optimal Rebalancing Method/Frequency?

How much performance improvement comes from rebalancing a stocks-bonds portfolio, and what specific rebalancing approach works best? In their August 2014 paper entitled “Testing Rebalancing Strategies for Stock-Bond Portfolios Across Different Asset Allocations”, Hubert Dichtl, Wolfgang Drobetz and Martin Wambach investigate the net performance implications of different rebalancing approaches and different rebalancing frequencies on portfolios of stocks and government bonds with different weights and in different markets. With buy-and-hold as a benchmark, they consider three types of rebalancing rules: (1) strict periodic rebalancing to target weights; (2) threshold rebalancing, meaning periodic rebalancing to target weights if out-of-balance by 3% or more; and, (3) range rebalancing, meaning periodic rebalancing to plus (minus) 3% of target weights if above (below) target weights by more than 3%. They consider annual, quarterly and monthly rebalancing frequencies. They use 30 years of broad U.S., UK and German stock market, bond market and risk-free returns to construct simulations with 10-year investment horizons. Their simulation approach preserves most of the asset class time series characteristics, including stocks-bonds correlations. They assume round-trip rebalancing frictions of 0.15% (0.10% for stocks and 0.05% for bonds). Using monthly returns for country stock and bonds markets and risk-free yields during January 1982 through December 2011 to generate 100,000 simulated 10-year return paths, they find that: Keep Reading

Best Safe Haven ETF?

A subscriber asked which exchange-traded fund (ETF) asset class proxies make the best safe havens for the U.S. stock market as proxied by the S&P 500 Index. To investigate, we consider the the following 12 ETFs as potential safe havens:

Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU)
SPDR Dow Jones REIT ETF (RWR)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)
iShares Core US Aggregate Bond (AGG)
iShares TIPS Bond (TIP)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking ETF (DBC)
United States Oil (USO)
iShares Silver Trust (SLV)
PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest ETF (DBV)

We consider three ways of testing these ETFs as safe havens for the U.S. stock market based on daily, weekly and monthly return measurement intervals:

  1. Contemporaneous return correlation with the S&P 500 Index during all market conditions.
  2. Return/performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as specified by the index being below its 200-day/40-week/10-month simple moving average (SMA) for the prior measurement interval.
  3. Return/performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as specified by the index being in drawdown from a prior high-water mark by more than some percentage (baseline -10%) for the prior measurement interval.

Using daily, weekly and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the 12 ETFs from their respective inceptions through July 2014, and contemporaneous daily, weekly and monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index from 10 months before the earliest ETF inception through July 2014, we find that: Keep Reading

Real Bond Returns and Inflation

A subscriber asked (more than two years ago): “Everyone says I should not invest in bonds today because the interest rate is so low (and inflation is daunting). But real bond returns over the last 30 years are great, even while interest rates are low. Could you analyze why bonds do well after, but not before, 1981?” To investigate, we consider the U.S. long-run interest rate and the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) series from Robert Shiller. The long-run interest rate is the yield on U.S. government bonds, specifically the 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) after 1953. We apply the formula used by Aswath Damodaran to this yield series to estimate the nominal T-note returns. We use the CPI series to calculate the inflation rate. We subtract the inflation rate from the nominal T-note return to get the real T-note return. Using annual Shiller interest rate and CPI data for 1871 through 2013, we find that: Keep Reading

Credit Spread as a Stock Market Indicator

A reader commented and asked: “A wide credit spread (the difference in yields between Treasury notes or Treasury bonds and investment grade or junk corporate bonds) indicates fear of bankruptcies or other bad events. A narrow credit spread indicates high expectations for the economy and corporate world. Does the credit spread anticipate stock market behavior?” To investigate, we define the credit spread as the difference in yields between and Moody’s seasoned Baa corporate bonds and 10-year Treasury notes (T-note). Using average daily yields for these instruments by calendar month and contemporaneous monthly closes of the S&P 500 Index for April 1953 through June 2014 (735 months), we find that: Keep Reading

New Active Bond ETF Skims the Cream?

Do new funds have the latitude to concentrate in the best opportunities while they remain small? In his June 2014 presentation package entitled “How Long Might An Active Bond ETF’s ‘Best Ideas’ Outperformance Window Last?”, Claude Erb compares the performance of the PIMCO Total Return ETF (BOND), an exchange-traded fund (ETF) introduced in March 2012, to that of its parent mutual fund PIMCO Total Return Institutional Class (PTTRX). Using monthly total returns for BOND and PTTRX during March 2012 through May 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

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