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Investing Research Articles

ETFs No Better Than Mutual Funds?

Is the conventional wisdom that exchange-traded funds (ETF) are efficient, low-cost alternatives to mutual funds correct? In their September 2019 paper entitled “The Performance of Exchange-Traded Funds”, David Blitz and Milan Vidojevic evaluate the performance of a comprehensive, survivorship bias-free sample of U.S. equity ETFs. They first divide the sample into three groups: (1) broad market index trackers; (2) inverse and leveraged funds; and, (3) others. They then subdivide group 3 into equity factor subgroups (small, value, dividend, momentum, quality or low-risk) based on either their names or their empirical exposures to widely accepted factor premiums. Finally, they compare performances of value-weighted ETF groups to those of the broad U.S. stock market and specified factors, focusing on data starting January 2004 when there are at least 100 ETFs of some variety. Using trading data and descriptions for 918 U.S. equity ETFs (642 live and 276 dead by the end of the sample period) and equity factor returns during January 1993 through December  2017, they find that: Keep Reading

Do Equal Weight ETFs Beat Cap Weight Counterparts?

“Stock Size and Excess Stock Portfolio Growth” finds that an equal-weighted portfolio of the (each day) 1,000 largest U.S. stocks beats its market capitalization-weighted counterpart by about 2% per year. However, the underlying research does not account for portfolio reformation/rebalancing costs and may not be representative of other stock universes. Do exchange-traded funds (ETF) that implement equal weight for various U.S. stock indexes confirm findings? To investigate, we consider five equal-weighted ETFs, three alive and two dead:

We calculate monthly return statistics, along with compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). Using monthly dividend-adjusted prices for the 10 ETFs as available (limited by equal-weighted funds) through September 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Online, Real-time Test of AI Stock Picking?

Will equity funds “managed” by artificial intelligence (AI) outperform human investors? To investigate, we consider the performance of AI Powered Equity ETF (AIEQ), which “seeks long-term capital appreciation within risk constraints commensurate with broad market US equity indices.” Per the offeror, the EquBot model supporting AIEQ: “…leverages IBM’s Watson AI to conduct an objective, fundamental analysis of U.S.-listed common stocks and real estate investment trusts…based on up to ten years of historical data and apply that analysis to recent economic and news data. Each day, the EquBot Model…identifies approximately 30 to 125 companies with the greatest potential over the next twelve months for appreciation and their corresponding weights… The EquBot model limits the weight of any individual company to 10%. At times, a significant portion of the Fund’s assets may consist of cash and cash equivalents.” We use SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a simple benchmark for AIEQ performance. Using daily dividend-adjusted closes of AIEQ and SPY from AIEQ inception (October 18, 2017) through September 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Testing Tactical Investment Rules

How can investment strategy researchers best address the randomness inherent in market data and the ability of investors/markets to adapt to changing conditions? In his September 2019 paper entitled “Tactical Investment Algorithms”, Marcos Lopez de Prado reviews three methods for testing the performance of an investment rule:

  1. Walk-forward (WF) tests a rule against an actual historical data series, implicitly assuming that market behaviors are neither largely random nor changing (that the rule being tested is “all-weather”).
  2. Resampling (RS) addresses randomness in market behaviors by assuming that resampling of past observations can usefully generate possible future price paths. 
  3. Monte Carlo (MC) addresses both randomness and adaptation in market behaviors by simulating possible future price paths based on models of price generation derived from theory and statistical analysis of actual data.

Based on his knowledge of financial markets and testing methods, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Weekly Summary of Research Findings: 10/14/19 – 10/18/19

Below is a weekly summary of our research findings for 10/14/19 through 10/18/19. 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

Are Hedge Fund ETFs Working?

Are hedge fund-oriented strategies, as implemented by exchange-traded funds (ETF), attractive? To investigate, we consider six ETFs, all currently available (in order of decreasing assets):

  • IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy Tracker (QAI) – seeks to track, before fees and expenses, risk-adjusted returns of a collection of long/short equity, global macro, market neutral, event-driven, fixed income arbitrage and emerging markets hedge funds.
  • JPMorgan Diversified Alternatives (JPHF) – aims to provide direct, diversified exposure to hedge fund strategies via a bottom-up approach across equity long/short, event-driven and global macro strategies.
  • ProShares Hedge Replication (HDG) – seeks to track, before fees and expenses, an equally weighted composite of over 2000 hedge funds.
  • IQ Hedge Market Neutral Tracker (QMN) – seeks to track, before fees and expenses, risk-adjusted returns of market neutral hedge funds.
  • ProShares Morningstar Alternatives Solution (ALTS) – seeks to track, before fees and expenses, performance of a diversified set of alternative ETFs.
  • AlphaClone Alternative Alpha (ALFA) – seeks to track price and yield, before fees and expenses, of U.S.-traded equity securities to which hedge funds and institutional investors have disclosed significant exposures.

We consider both daily and monthly return statistics, along with compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). We use two benchmarks, SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and the Eurekahedge Hedge Fund Index (HFI). Using daily and monthly returns for the six hedge fund ETFs and SPY as available through September 2019 and monthly returns for HFI through August 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Are Equity Multifactor ETFs Working?

Are equity multifactor strategies, as implemented by exchange-traded funds (ETF), attractive? To investigate, we consider seven ETFs, all currently available (in order of decreasing assets):

  • Goldman Sachs ActiveBeta U.S. Large Cap Equity (GSLC) – holds large U.S. stocks based on good value, strong momentum, high quality and low volatility.
  • iShares Edge MSCI Multifactor International (INTF) – holds global developed market ex U.S. large and mid-cap stocks based on quality, value, size and momentum, while maintaining a level of risk similar to that of the market.
  • John Hancock Multifactor Mid Cap (JHMM) – holds mid-cap U.S. stocks based on smaller capitalization, lower relative price and higher profitability, which academic research links to higher expected returns.
  • iShares Edge MSCI Multifactor USA (LRGF) – holds large and mid-cap U.S. stocks with focus on quality, value, size and momentum, while maintaining a level of risk similar to that of the market.
  • John Hancock Multifactor Large Cap (JHML) – holds large U.S. stocks based on smaller capitalization, lower relative price and higher profitability, which academic research links to higher expected returns.
  • JPMorgan Diversified Return U.S. Equity (JPUS) – holds U.S. stocks based on value, quality and momentum via a risk-weighting process that lowers exposure to historically volatile sectors and stocks.
  • Xtrackers Russell 1000 Comprehensive Factor (DEUS) – seeks to track, before fees and expenses, the Russell 1000 Comprehensive Factor Index, which seeks exposure to quality, value, momentum, low volatility and size factors.

Because available sample periods are very short, we focus on daily return statistics, along with cumulative returns. We use four benchmarks according to fund descriptions: SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), iShares MSCI ACWI ex US (ACWX), SPDR S&P MidCap 400 (MDY) and iShares Russell 1000 (IWB). Using daily returns for the seven equity multifactor ETFs and benchmarks as available through September 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Investment Strategy Development Tournaments?

Is there a way that asset managers can share knowledge/data across proprietary boundaries with many researchers to advance development of investment strategies? In their September 2019 paper entitled “Crowdsourced Investment Research through Tournaments”, Marcos Lopez de Prado and Frank Fabozzi describe highly structured tournaments as a crowdsourcing paradigm for investment research. In each such tournament, the organizer poses one investment challenge as a forecasting problem and provides abstracted and obfuscated data. Contestants pay an entry fee, develop models and provide forecasts, retaining model ownership by running calculations on their own hardware/software. Based on this hypothetical tournament setup and their experience, they conclude that:

Keep Reading

Sector Breadth as Market Return Indicator

Does breadth of equity sector performance predict overall stock market return? To investigate, we relate next-month stock market return to sector breadth (number of sectors with positive past returns) over lookback intervals ranging from 1 to 12 months. We consider the following nine sector exchange-traded funds (ETF) offered as Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipts (SPDR):

Materials Select Sector SPDR (XLB)
Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE)
Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF)
Industrial Select Sector SPDR (XLI)
Technology Select Sector SPDR (XLK)
Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR (XLP)
Utilities Select Sector SPDR (XLU)
Health Care Select Sector SPDR (XLV)
Consumer Discretionary Select SPDR (XLY)

We use SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) to represent the overall stock market. Using monthly dividend-adjusted returns for SPY and the sector ETFs during December 1998 through August 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Compendium of Recent “Long Run” Research

The following list links to summaries of recent (since 2010) investment research using long data samples. These summaries may be helpful in developing strategic allocations and tactical wariness for long-horizon investments.

Another long run source is the annual update of the work summarized in Triumph of the Optimists (Chapter-by-Chapter Review).

Some general cautions regarding such studies are:

  • Reconstruction of price series from, for example, old newspapers involves missing data and potentially inconsistent reporting approaches. In other words, quality of old data is suspect.
  • The number of asset class price series available may be small in early parts of sample periods.
  • Some studies may impound survivorship bias via omission of assets that were important in the past but are no longer tracked in source databases.
  • For studies using Shiller data, monthly levels are averages of monthly values, blurring monthly statistics and modestly blurring annual statistics. Results based on end-of-month values may differ.
  • Reported returns are gross, not net. Accounting for costs of maintaining a tracking fund for a portfolio/index of commodities would reduce returns. Also:
    • Studies involving shorting (such as factor premium analyses) typically do not address the cost/feasibility of shorting.
    • Costs of maintaining tracking funds may vary by asset class, by country and over time, confounding comparisons. For example, commodity futures indexes generally assume monthly rolling of many contract series.
    • Investment capacities of some assets may be especially limited early in sample periods.
    • Tax consequences of trading vary considerably across countries and over time.
  • Historical timeliness of data collection/processing for periodic trading (for example, for portfolio rebalancing) may be especially problematic in early parts of sample periods.
  • Economies and markets change over time, making it difficult to assess the relative importance of older versus newer data.
  • Distant past availability of retrospectively constructed indexes may have altered contemporaneous market behaviors (induced market adaptations).
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