Commodity Futures

These entries address investing and trading in commodities and commodity futures as an alternative asset class to equities.

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Best Way to Trade Trends?

What is the best way to generate price trend signals for trading futures/forward contracts? In their December 2013 paper entitled “CTAs – Which Trend is Your Friend?”, Fabian Dori, Manuel Krieger, Urs Schubiger and Daniel Torgler compare risk-adjusted performances of three ways of translating trends into trading signals:

  1. Binary signals (up or down) trigger 100% long or 100% short trades. When trends are strong (ambiguous), this approach generates little trading (whipsaws/over-commitment to weak trends). The price impact of trading via this approach may be substantial for large traders.
  2. Continuously scaled signals trigger long or short trades with position size scaled according to the strength of up or down trend; the stronger the trend, the larger the position. Changes in trend strength generate incremental position adjustments.
  3. Empirical distribution signals trigger long or short trades with position size scaled according to the historical relationship between trend strength and future return. The strongest trend may not indicate the strongest future return, and may actually indicate return (and therefore position) reversal. Changes in trend strength generate position adjustments.

They test these three approaches for comparable trends exhibited by 96 futures/forward contract series, including: 30 currency pairs, 19 equity indexes, 11 government bond indexes, 8 short-term interest rates (STIR) and 28 commodities. They consider two risk-adjusted return metrics: annualized return divided by annualized volatility, and annualized return divided by maximum drawdown. They ignore trading frictions. Using prices for these 96 series from 1993 to 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

Effects of Commodities and Stocks on Currency Carry Trades

Are currency traders the last ones to know? In the February 2014 draft of their paper entitled “Cross-Asset Return Predictability: Carry Trades, Stocks and Commodities”, Helen Lu and Ben Jacobsen investigate whether commodity and stock index returns predict currency carry trade performance. They consider equally weighted carry trade strategies that each month buy (sell) one-month forward contracts for the one, two or three currencies with the highest (lowest) beginning-of-month interest rates and hold to maturity. They account for bid-ask spreads and express profits in U.S. dollars. They evaluate the power of three commodity indexes (CRB Spot, CRB Raw Industrials Spot and CRB Metals Spot) and three total return equity indexes (MSCI All Country, MSCI World and S&P 500) to predict carry trade profitability. Using monthly levels of the commodity and stock indexes and monthly one-month forward rates and spot rates for the G-10 currencies during February 1988 through December 2011, they find that: Keep Reading

Exploiting VIX Futures Roll Return with ETNs

“Identifying VXX/XIV Tendencies” finds that S&P 500 implied volatility index (VIX) futures roll return, as measured by the percentage difference in settlement price between the nearest and next nearest VIX futures, may be a useful predictor of iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-term Futures ETN (VXX) and VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-term ETN (XIV) returns. Is there a way to exploit this predictive power? To investigate, we compare cumulative performance for: (1) buying and holding XIV; (2) timing XIV to avoid times when the roll return is positive; and, (3) timing XIV and VXX to exploit both negative and positive roll return conditions. Using daily closing prices for XIV and VXX and daily settlement prices for VIX futures from XIV inception (end of November 2010) through February 2014, we find that: Keep Reading

Identifying VXX/XIV Tendencies

A subscriber inquired about strategies for trading exchange-traded notes (ETN) constructed from near-term S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) futures: iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX) and VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term (XIV), available since 1/30/09 and 11/30/10, respectively. The managers of these securities buy and sell VIX futures daily to maintain a constant maturity of one month (long for VXX and short for XIV), continually rolling partial positions from the nearest term contract to the next nearest. We consider four potential predictors of the price behavior of these securities:

  1. The level of VIX, in case a high (low) level indicates a future decrease (increase) in VIX that might affect VXX and XIV.
  2. The change in VIX, in case there is some predictable reversion or momentum for VIX that might affect VXX and XIV.
  3. The term structure of VIX futures (roll return) underlying VXX and XIV, as measured by the percentage difference in settlement price between the nearest and next nearest VIX futures, indicating a price headwind or tailwind for a fund manager continually rolling from one to the other. Roll return is usually negative (contango), but occasionally positive (backwardation).
  4. The Volatility Risk Premium (VRP), estimated as the difference between VIX and the annualized standard deviation of daily S&P 500 Index returns over the past 21 trading days (multiplying by the square root of 250 to annualize), in case this difference between expectations and recent experience indicates the direction of future change in VIX.

We identify predictive power by relating daily VXX and XIV returns over the next 21 trading days to daily values of each indicator. Using daily levels of VIX, settlement prices for VIX futures contracts, levels of the S&P 500 Index and split-adjusted prices for VXX and XIV from inceptions of the ETNs through February 2014, we find that: Keep Reading

Financialization and the Interaction of Commodities with the Economy

Has easy access to commodity allocations via exchange-traded instruments (financialization) changed the way commodity prices interact with the economy? In his February 2014 paper entitled “Macroeconomic Determinants of Commodity Returns in Financialized Markets”, Adam Zaremba investigates relationships between commodity returns and economic conditions in pre-financialization (before 2004) and post-financialization (2004 and after) environments. He defines an increase (decrease) in the nominal U.S. Industrial Production Index as economic growth (contraction). He employs the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) to measure inflation. Using monthly levels of various global and sector commodity indexes in U.S. dollars as available, the nominal U.S. Industrial Production Index and CPI during December 1970 through November 2013, he finds that: Keep Reading

Futures Momentum Strategies and Financial Crises

Do trend following strategies widely used by managed futures funds break down during financial crises? In the December 2013 version of their paper entitled “Is This Time Different? Trend Following and Financial Crises”, Mark Hutchinson and John O’Brien examine the effectiveness of trend following strategies as applied to futures contract series during and between financial crises. They define a financial crisis interval as the two to four years after the start of the crisis. They consider six global crises: (1) the Great Depression commencing 1929: (2) the 1973 oil crisis; (3) the third world debt crisis of 1981; (4) the crash of October 1987; (5) the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000; and, (6) the sub-prime/euro crisis commencing in 2007. They also consider eight regional crises during 1977 through 2000. They calculate momentum returns for each asset class by each month weighting constituent contract series proportionally to their excess return over the past one to 12 months and inversely to an estimate of their volatility based on lagged data. They include estimates of transaction costs proportional to the value traded that vary by asset class and time period. They also incorporate management and incentive fees (based on high water mark) of 2% and 20%, respectively. Using actual and modeled futures prices encompassing 21 equity indexes, 13 government bonds, nine currency exchange rates and 21 commodities (and contemporaneous risk-free rates) during January 1921 through June 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

Intrinsic Momentum Diversified across Futures

Is simple momentum the secret sauce of Managed Futures funds? In their 2013 paper entitled “Demystifying Managed Futures”, Brian Hurst, Yao Ooi and Lasse Pedersen examine how well simple trend-following strategies based on time series (intrinsic or absolute) momentum explain the performance of Managed Futures funds. Their simple intrinsic momentum strategy goes long (short) a contract series with a positive (negative) return relative to the risk-free rate over 1-month, 3-month and 12-month look-back intervals. They apply the strategy to a liquid universe of 24 commodity futures, 9 equity futures, 13 government bond futures and 12 currency forwards. They adopt a simple diversification weighting that targets 40% annualized volatility for each position. They rebalance the diversified portfolio weekly at the Friday close based on data from the Thursday close. They ignore rebalancing/roll frictions. Using daily and weekly prices for 58 futures contract and currency forward series during January 1985 through June 2012, they find that: Keep Reading

Diversification Power of Financialized Commodities

Have investors overwhelmed commercial traders in commodity futures markets, thereby depressing the value of commodity futures as a diversifier of stocks and bonds? In his November 2013 papers entitled “Implications of Financialization for Commodity Investors: The Case of Roll Yields” and “Implications of Financialization for Strategic Asset Allocation: The Case of Correlations”, Adam Zaremba examines the effects of commodity futures market financialization on the potential diversification benefit of a passive allocation to commodities. He quantifies financialization as the share of open interest in commodity futures contracts held by non-commercial traders per Commitments of Traders reports of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He investigates specifically the effects of financialization on: (1) roll return, the return from continually shifting from expiring to longer-term commodity futures contracts to maintain a position; and, (2) the correlations of commodity futures returns with those of stocks and bonds. Then, in a mean-variance optimization framework from the perspective of a U.S. investor, he examines how these effects alter the diversification benefit of adding a commodity futures position to stocks and bonds. Using monthly returns of index proxies for the broad U.S. stock market, U.S. government bonds and a broad set of commodity futures from the end of 1991 through 2012, he finds that: Keep Reading

Comparing Precious Metals as Safe Havens

Are other precious metals more effective than gold as safe havens from turmoil in stock and bond markets? In their September 2013 paper entitled “Time Variation in Precious Metal Safe Haven Status — Evidence from the USA”, Brian Lucey and Sile Li compare and contrast the effectiveness of four precious metals (gold, silver, platinum and palladium) as safe havens from sharp declines in U.S. stocks (the S&P 500 Index) and U.S. bonds (a 10-year U.S. Treasury note index). They define an asset as a safe haven from another if returns of the former exhibit zero or negative correlation with returns of the latter when the latter experiences a sharp drawdown. A safe haven is different from a hedge, which has zero or negative return correlation with another asset or portfolio on average. They calculate returns for precious metals based on a continually rolling position in nearest month futures. They calculate return correlations quarter by quarter and focus on the worst 5% of drawdowns in stocks or bonds. Using daily futures contract prices for gold, silver, platinum and palladium and daily returns for the stock and bond indexes from the first quarter of 1989 through the second quarter of 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

Platinum as an Investment

Is platinum as good as gold? In the September 2013 version of their paper entitled “Analysis of the Investment Potential of Platinum Group Metals”, James Ross McCown and Ron Shaw evaluate the investment value of platinum group metals (platinum, palladium, rhodium, iridium, ruthenium and osmium). Using daily spot prices for platinum group metals, gold and crude oil, daily levels of a broad U.S. stock market index, monthly U.S. consumer and producer price indexes and monthly U.S. industrial production levels during July 1992 through December 2011, they find that: Keep Reading

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