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Investing Research Articles

Mean-Variance Optimization vs. Equal Weight for Sectors and Individual Stocks

Are mean-variance (MV) strategies preferable for allocations to asset classes and equal-weight (EW) preferable for allocations to much noisier individual assets? In their May 2019 paper entitled “Horses for Courses: Mean-Variance for Asset Allocation and 1/N for Stock Selection”, Emmanouil Platanakis, Charles Sutcliffe and Xiaoxia Ye address this question. They focus on the Bayes-Stein shrinkage MV strategy, with 10 U.S. equity sector indexes as asset classes and the 10 stocks with the largest initial market capitalizations within each sector (except only three for telecommunications) as individual assets. The Bayes–Stein shrinkage approach dampens the typically large effects of return estimation errors on MV allocations. For estimation of MV return and return covariance inputs, they use an expanding (inception-to-date) 12-month historical window. They focus on one-month-ahead performances of portfolios formed in four ways via a 2-stage process:

  1. MV-EW, which uses MV to determine sector allocations and EW to determine stock allocations within sectors.
  2. EW-EW, which uses EW for both deteriminations.
  3. EW-MV, which uses EW to determine sector allocations and MV to determine stock allocations within sectors.
  4. MV-MV, which uses MV for both deteriminations.

They consider four net performance metrics: annualized certainty equivalent return (CER) gain for moderately risk-averse investors; annualized Sharpe ratio (reward for risk); Omega ratio (average gain to average loss); and, Dowd ratio (reward for value at risk). They assume constant trading frictions of 0.5% of value traded. They perform robustness tests for U.S. data by using alternative MV strategies, different parameter settings and simulations. They perform a global robustness test using value-weighted equity indexes for UK, U.S., Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and Brazil as asset classes and the 10 stocks with the largest initial market capitalizations within each index as individual assets (all in U.S. dollars). Using monthly total returns for asset classes and individual assets as specified and 1-month U.S. Treasury bill yield as the risk-free rate during January 1994 through August 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

Are Low Volatility Stock ETFs Working?

Are low volatility stock strategies, as implemented by exchange-traded funds (ETF), attractive? To investigate, we consider eight of the largest low volatility ETFs, all currently available, in order of longest to shortest available histories:

We focus on monthly return statistics, along with compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). Using monthly returns for the low volatility stock ETFs and their benchmark ETFs as available through June 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Tests of Sy Harding’s Seasonal Timing Strategy

Does the technically adjusted Seasonal Timing Strategy popularized some years ago in Sy Harding’s Street Smart Report Online (now unavailable due to Mr. Harding’s death) generate attractive performance? This strategy combines “the market’s best average calendar entry [October 16] and exit [April 20] days with a technical indicator, the Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD).” According to Street Smart Report Online, applying this strategy to a Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) index fund generated a cumulative return of 213% during 1999 through 2012, compared to 93% for the DJIA itself. To check over a longer sample period with an alternative market proxy, we apply the strategy to SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since its inception and consider several alternatives, as follows:

  1. SPY – buy and hold SPY.
  2. Seasonal-MACD – seasonal timing per specified dates with MACD refinement, holding cash when not in SPY.
  3. Seasonal Only – seasonal timing per the same dates without MACD refinement, again holding cash when not in SPY.
  4. SMA200 – hold SPY (cash) when the S&P 500 Index is above (below) its 200-day simple moving average at the prior daily close. 

For all strategies, we use the yield on short-term U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills) as the return on cash. Using daily closes for the S&P 500 Index, dividend-adjusted closes for SPY and T-bill yield during 1/29/93 (SPY inception) through 5/13/19, we find that: Keep Reading

Usefulness of Published Stock Market Predictors

Are variables determined in published papers to be statistically significant predictors of stock market returns really useful to investors? In their November 2018 paper entitled “On the Economic Value of Stock Market Return Predictors”, Scott Cederburg, Travis Johnson and Michael O’Doherty assess whether strength of in-sample statistical evidence  for 25 stock market predictors published in top finance journals translates to economic value after accounting for some realistic features of returns and investors. Predictive variables include valuation ratios, volatility, variance risk premium, tail risk, inflation, interest rates, interest rate spreads, economic variables, average correlation, short interest and commodity prices. Their typical investor makes mean-variance optimal allocations between the stock market and a risk-free security (yielding a fixed 2% per year) via Bayesian inference based on a vector autoregression model of market return-predictor dynamics. The investor has moderate risk aversion and a 1-month or longer investment horizon (reallocates monthly). Stock market returns and predictors exhibit randomly varying volatility. They focus on annual certainty equivalent return (CER) gain, which incorporates investor risk aversion, to quantify economic value of market predictability. Using monthly U.S. stock market returns and data required to construct the 25 predictive variables as available (starting as early as January 1927 and as late as June 1996 across variables) through December 2017, they find that:

Keep Reading

Momentum Strategy, Value Strategy and Trading Calendar Updates

We have updated monthly Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) winners and associated performance data at “Momentum Strategy”. We have updated monthly Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy (SACEVS) allocations and associated performance data at “Value Strategy”. We have also updated performance data for the “Combined Value-Momentum Strategy”.

We have updated the “Trading Calendar” to incorporate data for May 2019.

Weekly Summary of Research Findings: 5/28/19 – 5/31/19

Below is a weekly summary of our research findings for 5/28/19 through 5/31/19. These summaries give you a quick snapshot of our content the past week so that you can quickly decide what’s relevant to your investing needs.

Subscribers: To receive these weekly digests via email, click here to sign up for our mailing list. Keep Reading

Preliminary Momentum Strategy and Value Strategy Updates

The home page“Momentum Strategy” and “Value Strategy” now show preliminary Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) and Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy (SACEVS) positions for June 2019. For SACEMS, the top three positions are unlikely to change by the close. For SACEVS, allocations are unlikely to change.

Optimal Intrinsic Momentum and SMA Intervals Across Asset Classes

What are the optimal intrinsic/absolute/time series momentum (IM) and simple moving average (SMA) measurement intervals for different asset class proxies? To investigate, we use data from the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy for the following eight asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF), plus Cash:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

For IM tests, we invest in each ETF (Cash) when its return over the past one to 12 months is positive (negative). For SMA tests, we invest in each ETF (Cash) when its price is above (below) its average monthly price over the past two to 12 months. Since SMA rules use price levels and IM rules use returns, IM measurement interval N corresponds to SMA measurement interval N+1. For example, a 6-month IM measurement uses the same start and stop points as a 7-month SMA measurement. We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key metrics for comparing different IM and SMA measurement intervals since earliest ETF data availabilities based on the longest IM measurement interval. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash over the period July 2002 (or inception if not available by then) through April 2019, we find that:

Keep Reading

Consumer Sentiment and Stock Market Returns

Business media and expert commentators sometimes cite the monthly University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index as an indicator of U.S. economic and stock market health, generally interpreting a jump (drop) in sentiment as good (bad) for future consumption and stocks. The release schedule for this indicator is mid-month for a preliminary reading on the current month and end-of-month for a final reading. Is this indicator in fact predictive of U.S. stock market behavior in subsequent months? Using monthly final Consumer Sentiment Index data and monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index during January 1978 through April 2019 (496 monthly sentiment readings), we find that: Keep Reading

Test of Seasonal Risk Adjustment Strategy

A subscriber requested review of a strategy that seeks to exploit “Sell in May” by switching between risk-on assets during November-April and risk-off assets during May-October, with assets specified as follows:

On each portfolio switch date, assets receive equal weight with 0.25% overall penalty for trading frictions. We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) measured at 6-month intervals and Sharpe ratio measured at 6-month intervals as key performance statistics. As benchmarks, we consider buying and holding SPY, IWM or TLT and a 60%-40% SPY-TLT portfolio rebalanced frictionlessly at the ends of April and October (60-40). Using April and October dividend-adjusted closes of SPY, IWM, PDP, TLT and SPLV as available during October 2002 (first interval with at least one risk-on and one risk-off asset) through April 2019, and contemporaneous 6-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the risk-free rate, we find that: Keep Reading

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