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Inflation Forecast Update

The Inflation Forecast now incorporates actual total and core Consumer Price Index (CPI) data for January 2018. The actual total (core) inflation rate for January is higher than (higher than) forecasted.

January Barometer Over the Long Run

Does long term data support the belief that “as goes January, so goes the rest of the year” (January is the barometer) for the the U.S. stock market? Robert Shiller’s long run sample, which calculates monthly levels of the S&P Composite Stock Index since 1871 as average daily closes during calendar months, offers data for testing. Because average monthly levels differ from monthly closes, we run all tests also on the S&P 500 Index. Using monthly levels of the S&P Composite Stock Index for 1871-2017 (147 years) and monthly and daily closes of the S&P 500 Index for 1950-2017 (68 years), we find that: Keep Reading

Beta Males Make Hedge Fund Alpha

Does appearance-based masculinity predict hedge fund manager performance? In their January 2018 paper entitled “Do Alpha Males Deliver Alpha? Testosterone and Hedge Funds”, Yan Lu and Melvyn Teo use facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR) as a positively related proxy for testosterone level to investigate the relationship between male hedge fund manager testosterone level and hedge fund performance. They each year in January sort hedge funds into tenths (deciles) based on fund manager fWHR and then measure the performance of these decile portfolios over the following year. Their main performance metric is 7-factor hedge fund alpha, which corrects for seven risks proxied by: (1) S&P 500 Index excess return; (2) difference between Russell 2000 Index and S&P 500 Index returns; (3) 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yield, adjusted for duration, minus 3-month U.S. Treasury bill yield; (4) change in spread between Moody’s BAA bond and T-note, adjusted for duration; and, (5-7) excess returns on straddle options portfolios for currencies, commodities and bonds constructed to replicate trend-following strategies in these asset classes. They collect 3,228 hedge fund manager photographs via Google image searches, choosing the best for each manager based on resolution, degree of forward facing and neutrality of expression. They use these photographs to measure fWHR as the distance between the two zygions (width) relative to the distance between the upper lip and the midpoint of the inner ends of the eyebrows (height). Using these fWHRs, monthly net-of-fee returns and assets under management of 3,868 associated live and dead hedge funds, and monthly risk factor values during January 1994 through December 2015, they find that:

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Doom and the Stock Market

Is proximity to doom good or bad for the stock market? To measure proximity to doom, we use the Doomsday Clock “Minutes-to-Midnight” metric, revised intermittently via the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which “conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. First and foremost among these are nuclear weapons, but the dangers include climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies, and cybertechnology that could inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation, or by accident, to our way of life and to the planet.” Using the timeline for the Doomsday Clock since inception (1947) and contemporaneous December levels of Shiller’s S&P Composite Index through early 2018 (25 distinct doom proximity judgments), we find that: Keep Reading

Weekly Summary of Research Findings: 2/6/18 – 2/9/18

Below is a weekly summary of our research findings for 2/6/18 through 2/9/18. 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

Ask for Advisor’s Personal Investing Performance?

Are financial advisors expert guides for their client investors? In their December 2017 paper entitled “The Misguided Beliefs of Financial Advisors”, Juhani Linnainmaa, Brian Melzer and Alessandro Previtero compare investing practices/results of Canadian financial advisors to those of their clients, including trading patterns, fees and returns. They estimate account alphas via multi-factor models. Using detailed data from two large Canadian mutual fund dealers (accounting for about 5% of their sector) for 3,276 Canadian financial advisors and their 488,263 clients, and returns and fees for 3,023 associated mutual funds, during January 1999 through December 2013, they find that:

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Should the “Anxious Index” Make Investors Anxious?

Since 1990, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has conducted a quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters. The American Statistical Association and the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted the survey from 1968-1989. Among other things, the survey solicits from economic experts the probabilities of U.S. economic recession (negative GDP growth) during each of the next four quarters. The survey report release schedule is mid-quarter. For example, the release date of the survey report for the fourth quarter of 2017 is November 13, 2017, with forecasts for the first quarter of 2018 through the fourth quarter of 2018. The “Anxious Index” is the probability of recession during the next quarter. When professional forecasters are relatively optimistic (pessimistic) about the economy, does the stock market go up (down) over the coming quarters? Rather than relate the probability of recession to stock market returns, we instead relate one minus the probability of recession (the probability of good times). If the forecasts are accurate, a relatively high (low) forecasted probability of good times should arguably indicate a relatively strong (weak) stock market. Using survey results and quarterly S&P 500 Index levels ( measured from survey release date to survey release date as available, and from mid-quarter to mid-quarter before availability of release dates) from the fourth quarter of 1968 through the fourth quarter of 2017 (197 surveys), we find that:

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Chess, Jeopardy, Poker, Go and… Investing?

How can machine investors beat humans? In the introductory chapter of his January 2018 book entitled “Financial Machine Learning as a Distinct Subject”, Marcos Lopez de Prado prescribes success factors for machine learning as applied to finance. He intends that the book: (1) bridge the divide between academia and industry by sharing experience-based knowledge in a rigorous manner; (2) promote a role for finance that suppresses guessing and gambling; and, (3) unravel the complexities of using machine learning in finance. He intends that investment professionals with a strong machine learning background apply the knowledge to modernize finance and deliver actual value to investors. Based on 20 years of experience, including management of several multi-billion dollar funds for institutional investors using machine learning algorithms, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Mimicking Anything with ETFs

Can a simple set of exchange-traded funds (ETF), weighted judiciously, mimic the behaviors of most financial assets? In their January 2018 paper entitled “Mimicking Portfolios”, Richard Roll and Akshay Srivastava present and test a way of constructing mimicking portfolios using a small set of ETFs as investment factor proxies. They define a mimicking portfolio as a weighted set of tradable assets that match factor sensitivities of a target, which may be a specific asset, a fund or a non-tradable variable such as an economic indicator. They state that mimicking portfolios should: (1) consist of liquid, easily tradable assets; and, (2) exhibit little return volatility not explained by the factors used. They first winnow a large number of potential factor proxy ETFs spanning major asset classes and geopolitical regions by retaining only one ETF from any pair with daily return correlation greater than 0.70. They begin mimicking portfolio tests at the end of January 2009, when enough reasonably unique ETFs become available. They test this set of ETFs by creating portfolios from them that mimic each NYSE stock that has daily returns over the full sample period. Specifically, on the last day of each month, they reform a mimicking portfolio for each stock via a regression of stock return versus factor proxy ETF returns over the prior 300 trading days (or as few as 250 if 300 are not yet available) to reset coefficients for the ETFs. They perform an ancillary test by attempting to mimic iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD) and SPDR Dow Jones International Real Estate (RWX) ETFs, which are not in the factor proxy set. Using daily returns for the large number of ETFs and 1,634 NYSE stocks from the end of January 2009 through December 2016, they find that: Keep Reading

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Quant

Want your machine to excel in investing? In his January 2018 paper entitled “The 10 Reasons Most Machine Learning Funds Fail”, Marcos Lopez de Prado examines common errors made by machine learning experts when tackling financial data and proposes correctives. Based on more than two decades of experience, he concludes that: Keep Reading

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