Volatility Effects

Reward goes with risk, and volatility represents risk. Therefore, volatility means reward; investors/traders get paid for riding roller coasters. Right? These blog entries relate to volatility effects.

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Timing VIX Futures with the Futures-Spot Ratio

Is the return on CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) futures predictable? In his preliminary paper entitled “The Expected Return of Fear”, Ing-Haw Cheng investigates whether the relationship between VIX futures prices and VIX level predicts the return on VIX futures. He focuses on monthly returns to a continuously-invested position in the nearest available VIX futures contract. He considers several different explanations for the behavior of VIX futures prices. Using VIX futures daily settlement prices during March 2004 through July 2014 (125 months), he finds that: Keep Reading

Global Low-volatility Stock Portfolio Performance Predictors

Are there times when investors should avoid low-volatility stocks? In their August 2014 paper entitled “Tactical Timing of Low Volatility Equity Strategies”, Sanne De Boer and James Norman investigate which factors predict the performance of low-volatility stocks relative to a capitalization-weighted index globally since 1980. They focus on two concerns: (1) will low-volatility stocks perform poorly when they are relatively expensive compared to the rest of the market; and, (2) will low-volatility stocks, which tend to pay high dividends, underperform when interest rates rise. Their low-volatility portfolio is a capitalization-weighted collection of country sectors processed quarterly in three steps designed to achieve a balance of low risk and sufficient diversification. They do not account for quarterly portfolio reformation frictions in return calculations. Using weekly data for all country sectors included in the MSCI Developed Markets Index during January 1975 through March 2014, they find that: Keep Reading

Harvesting Volatility Generated by Naive Investors

What is the best way to harvest asset mispricings derived from aggregate overreaction/underreaction by naive investors? In his July 2014 presentation package entitled “Betting On ‘Dumb Volatility’ with ‘Smart Beta'”, Claude Erb examines strategies for exploiting the “dumb volatility” arguably generated by naive investors who buy high and sell low, temporarily driving prices materially above and below fair values. These strategies generally involve periodically rebalancing portfolios to equal weights or some version of fair value weights (smart beta). Using monthly returns for a variety of indexes and funds during December 2004 through June 2014 (since the advent of smart beta research), he finds that: Keep Reading

VIX and Future Stock Market Returns

Experts and pundits sometimes cite a high Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX), the options-implied volatility of the S&P 500 Index, as contrarian indication of investor panic and therefore of pending U.S. stock market strength. Conversely, they cite a low VIX as indication of complacency and pending market weakness. However, a more nuanced conventional wisdom considers both very high VIX and very low VIX as favorable for future stock market returns. Does evidence support belief in either version of conventional wisdom? To check, we relate the level of VIX to S&P 500 Index returns over the next 5, 10, 21, 63 and 126 trading days. Using daily and monthly closes for VIX and for the S&P 500 Index over the period January 1990 through July 2014 (296 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Sensitivity of Risk Adjustment to Measurement Interval

Are widely used volatility-adjusted investment performance metrics, such as Sharpe ratio, robust to different measurement intervals? In the July 2014 version of their paper entitled “The Divergence of High- and Low-Frequency Estimation: Implications for Performance Measurement”, William Kinlaw, Mark Kritzman and David Turkington examine the sensitivity of such metrics to the length of the return interval used to measure it. They consider hedge fund performance, conventionally estimated as Sharpe ratio calculated from monthly returns and annualized by multiplying by the square root of 12. They also consider mutual fund performance, usually evaluated as excess return divided by excess volatility relative to an appropriate benchmark (information ratio). Finally, they consider Sharpe ratios of risk parity strategies, which periodically rebalance portfolio asset weights according to the inverse of their return standard deviations. Using monthly and longer-interval return data over available sample periods for each case, they find that: Keep Reading

Sources of Active Equity Mutual Fund Risk

Are the sources of active mutual fund risk mostly common (systematic) or unique (idiosyncratic)? In his July 2014 paper entitled “Components of Portfolio Variance: R2, SelectionShare and TimingShare”, Anders Ekholm decomposes mutual fund return variance (risk) into three sources: (1) passive systematic factor exposure (R-squared); (2) active security selection or stock picking (SelectionShare); and, (3) active systematic factor timing (TimingShare). He demonstrates estimation of these three components based on mutual fund returns (reflecting daily manager actions) rather than holdings (known only via quarterly snapshots). He employs the widely used four-factor (market, size, book-to-market, momentum) model of stock returns to define systematic risk. Using daily returns for a broad sample of actively managed U.S. equity mutual funds and for the four factors during 2000 through 2013, he finds that: Keep Reading

VVIX as a Return Indicator?

Is implied volatility of implied volatility, interpretable as a measure of changes in investor fear level, a useful indicator of future stock market returns or VIX futures returns? To investigate, we examine relationships between the CBOE VVIX Index, a measure of the expected volatility of the 30-day forward level of the S&P 500 Implied Volatility Index (VIX) derived from prices of VIX options, and future returns for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures (VXX) and VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (XIV). Using daily levels of VVIX and daily adjusted closes for SPY, VXX and XIV as available during January 2007 (VVIX inception) through April 2014, we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Volatility Harvesting?

Findings in “Add Stop-gain to Asset Class Momentum Strategy?” suggest that systematic capture of upside volatility may enhance the strategy. Does this conclusion hold for a simpler application to a single liquid asset over a longer sample period? To investigate, we apply a stop-gain rule to SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) that: (1) exits SPY if its intra-month return exceeds a specified threshold; and, (2) re-enters SPY at the end of the month. Using monthly unadjusted monthly highs and closes (in stop-gain calculations) and dividend-adjusted closes (in return calculations) for SPY during February 1993 through March 2014 (254 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Estimating Snooping Bias for a Multi-parameter Strategy

A subscriber flagged an apparently very attractive exchange-traded fund (ETF) momentum-volatility-correlation strategy that, as presented, generates a optimal compound annual growth rate of 45.7% with modest maximum drawdown. The strategy chooses from among the following seven ETFs:

ProShares Ultra S&P500 (SSO)
SPDR EURO STOXX 50 (FEZ)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets (EEM)
iShares Latin America 40 (ILF)
iShares MSCI Pacific ex-Japan (EPP)
Vanguard Extended Duration Treasuries Index ETF (EDV)
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)

The steps in the strategy are, at the end of each month:

  1. For the first six of the above ETFs, compute log returns over the last three months and standard deviation (volatility) of log returns over the past six months.
  2. Standardize these the monthly sets of past log returns and volatilities based on their respective means and standard deviations.
  3. Rank the six ETFs according to the sum of 0.75 times standardized past log return plus 0.25 times past standardized volatility.
  4. Buy the top-ranked ETF for the next month.
  5. However, if at the end of any month, the correlation of SSO and EDV monthly log returns over the past four months is greater than 0.75, instead buy SHY for the next month.

The developer describes this strategy as an adaptation of someone else’s strategy and notes that he has tested a number of systems. How material might the implied secondary and primary data snooping bias be in the performance of this system? To investigate, we examine the fragility of performance statistics to variation of each strategy parameter separately. As presented, the author substitutes other ETFs for the two with the shortest histories to extend the test period backward in time. We use only price histories as available for the specified ETFs, limited by EDV with inception January 2008. Using monthly adjusted closing prices for the above seven ETFs and for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) during January 2008 through February 2014 (74 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Shorting VXX with Crash Protection

One finding of “Identifying VXX/XIV Tendencies” is that shorting iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX), with crash protection, may be attractive. To investigate further, we consider applying a simple crash protection rule to three VXX shorting scenarios: (1) shorting an initial amount of VXX and letting this position ride indefinitely (Let It Ride); (2) shorting a fixed amount of VXX and resetting this fixed position monthly (Fixed Reset); and, (3) shorting an initial amount of VXX and adjusting the size of the short position monthly according to the prior-month gain or loss (Gain/Loss Adjusted). For comparison, we also test a more complex set of trend detection rules proposed by a subscriber. For tractability, we ignore trading frictions, costs of shorting and return on cash proceeds from shorting/gains. Using monthly closes for the S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) and both daily and monthly reverse split-adjusted closing prices for VXX from January 2009 through January 2014 (61 months), we find that: Keep Reading

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