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Allocations for January 2020 (Final)
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Bonds

Bonds have two price components, yield and response of price to prevailing interest rates. How much of a return premium should investors in bonds expect? How can investors enhance this premium? These blog entries examine investing in bonds.

Optimizing the Combination of Economic Growth and Price Trends

Does combining an economic growth variable trend with an asset price trend improve the power to predict stock market return? What is the best way to use such a combination signal? In his December 2019 paper entitled “Growth-Trend Timing and 60-40 Variations: Lethargic Asset Allocation (LAA)”, Wouter Keller investigates variations in a basic Growth-Trend timing strategy (GT) that is bullish and holds the broad U.S. stock market unless both: (1) the U.S. unemployment rate is below its 12-month simple moving average (SMA12); and, (2) the S&P 500 Index is below its SMA10. When both SMAs trend downward, GT is bearish and holds cash. Specifically, he looks at:

  • Basic GT versus a traditional 60-40 stocks-bonds portfolio, rebalanced monthly, with stocks proxied by actual/modeled SPY and bonds/cash proxied by actual/modeled IEF.
  • Improving basic GT, especially maximum drawdown (MaxDD), by replacing assets with equal-weighted, monthly rebalanced portfolios with component selection optimized in-sample based on Ulcer Performance Index (UPI) during February 1949 through June 1981 (mostly rising interest rates) and tested out-of-sample during July 1981 through October 2019 (mostly falling interest rates). His ultimate improvement is his Lethargic Asset Allocation (LAA), which has relatively very low turnover and small allocation to cash.

He considers two additional benchmarks: GT applied to the Permanent portfolio (25% allocations to each of SPY, GLD, BIL and TLT) and GT applied to the Golden Butterfly portfolio (20% to each of SPY, IWN, GLD, SHY and TLT). He applies 0.1% one-way trading frictions in all tests. Using monthly unemployment rate since January 1948 and actual/modeled monthly returns for ETFs as specified since February 1949, all through October 2019, he finds that: Keep Reading

Smart Money Indicator for Stocks vs. Bonds

Do differences in expectations between institutional and individual investors in stocks and bonds, as quantified in weekly legacy Commitments of Traders (COT) reports, offer exploitable timing signals? In the February 2019 revision of his paper entitled “Want Smart Beta? Follow the Smart Money: Market and Factor Timing Using Relative Sentiment”, flagged by a subscriber, Raymond Micaletti tests a U.S. stock market-U.S. bond market timing strategy based on an indicator derived from aggregate equity and Treasuries positions of institutional investors (COT Commercials) relative to individual investors (COT Non-reportables). This Smart Money Indicator (SMI) has three relative sentiment components, each quantified weekly based on differences in z-scores between standalone institutional and individual net COT positions, with z-scores calculated over a specified lookback interval:

  1. Maximum weekly relative sentiment for the S&P 500 Index over a second specified lookback interval.
  2. Negative weekly minimum relative sentiment in the 30-Year U.S. Treasury bond over this second lookback interval.
  3. Difference between weekly maximum relative sentiments in the 10-Year U.S. Treasury note and 30-year U.S. Treasury bond over this second lookback interval.

Final SMI is the sum of these components minus median SMI over the second specified lookback interval. He considers z-score calculation lookback intervals of 39, 52, 65, 78, 91 and 104 weeks and maximum/minimum relative sentiment lookback intervals of one to 13 weeks (78 lookback interval combinations). For baseline results, he splices futures-only COT data through March 14, 1995 with futures-and-options COT starting March 21, 1995. To account for changing COT reporting delays, he imposes a baseline one-week lag for using COT data in predictions. He focuses on the ability of SMI to predict the market factor, but also looks at its ability to enhance: (1) intrinsic (time series or absolute) market factor momentum; and, (2) returns for size, value, momentum, profitability, investment, long-term reversion, short-term reversal, low volatility and quality equity factors. Finally, he compares to several benchmarks the performance of an implementable strategy that invests in the broad U.S. stock market (U.S. Aggregate Bond Total Return Index) when a group of SMI substrategies “vote” positively (negatively). Using weekly legacy COT reports and daily returns for the specified factors/indexes during October 1992 through December 2017, he finds that: Keep Reading

SACEVS-SACEMS for Value-Momentum Diversification

Are the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) and the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) mutually diversifying. To check, we look at three equal-weighted (50-50) combinations of the two strategies, rebalanced monthly:

  1. SACEVS Best Value paired with SACEMS Top 1 (aggressive value and aggressive momentum).
  2. SACEVS Best Value paired with SACEMS Equally Weighted (EW) Top 3 (aggressive value and diversified momentum).
  3. SACEVS Weighted paired with SACEMS EW Top 3 (diversified value and diversified momentum).

We also test sensitivity of results to deviating from equal SACEVS-SACEMS weights. Using monthly gross returns for SACEVS and SACEMS portfolios since January 2003 for the first strategy and since June 2006 for the latter two, all through November 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Misleading Mutual Fund Classifications?

Are Morningstar mutual fund profiles accurate? In their October 2019 paper entitled “Don’t Take Their Word For It: The Misclassification of Bond Mutual Funds”, Huaizhi Chen, Lauren Cohen and Umit Gurun examine whether aggregate credit risks of actual of U.S. fixed income (corporate bond) mutual fund portfolios match those presented by Morningstar in respective fund profiles. They focus on recent data (first quarter of 2017 through second quarter of 2019), during which Morningstar includes percentages of fund holdings by risk category. Using Morningstar profiles, actual holdings as reported to the SEC, detailed credit ratings of holdings and returns for 1,294 U.S. corporate bond funds during January 2003 through June 2019, they find that:

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Add REITs to SACEVS?

What happens if we extend the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) with a real estate risk premium, derived from the yield on equity Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT), represented by the FTSE NAREIT Equity REITs Index? To investigate, we apply the SACEVS methodology to the following asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF), plus cash:

3-month Treasury bills (Cash)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD)
SPDR Dow Jones REIT (RWR) through September 2004 dovetailed with Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ) thereafter
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)

This set of ETFs relates to four risk premiums, as specified below: (1) term; (2) credit (default); (3) real estate; and, (4) equity. We focus on the effects of adding the real estate risk premium on Compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and Maximum drawdowns (MaxDD) of the Best Value (picking the most undervalued premium) and Weighted (weighting all undervalued premiums according to degree of undervaluation) versions of SACEVS. Using lagged quarterly S&P 500 earnings, monthly S&P 500 Index levels and monthly yields for 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill), the 10-year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury note (T-note), Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds and FTSE NAREIT Equity REITs Index during March 1989 through August 2018 (limited by availability of earnings data), and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the above asset class ETFs during July 2002 through September 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

SACEVS with Quarterly Allocation Updates

Do quarterly allocation updates for the Best Value and Weighted versions of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) work as well as monthly updates? These strategies allocate funds to the following asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF) according to valuations of term, credit and equity risk premiums, or to cash if no premiums are undervalued:

3-month Treasury bills (Cash)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)

Changing from monthly to quarterly allocation updates does not sacrifice information about lagged quarterly S&P 500 Index earnings, but it does sacrifice currency of term and credit premiums. To assess alternatives, we compare cumulative performances and the following key metrics for quarterly and monthly allocation updates: gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR), gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD), annual gross returns and volatilities and annual gross Sharpe ratios. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closes for the above ETFs during September 2002 (earliest alignment of months and quarters) through September 2019, we find that:

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Bond Returns Over the Very Long Run

Do bonds have a bad rap based on an unfavorable subsample? In the September 2019 revisions of his papers entitled “The US Bond Market Before 1926: Investor Total Return from 1793, Comparing Federal, Municipal, and Corporate Bonds Part I: 1793 to 1857” and “Part II: 1857 to 1926”, Edward McQuarrie revisits analysis of returns to bonds in the U.S. prior to 1926. He focuses on investor holding period returns rather than yields, considering U.S. Treasury, state, city and corporate debt. Specifically, he estimates returns to a 19th century diversified bond portfolio comprised of all long-term investment grade bonds trading in any year (free of contaminating factors such as circulation privileges and tax exemptions). Returns assume:

  1. Weights are proportional to amounts outstanding.
  2. Bonds are far from before maturity.
  3. Calculations use actual bond prices.

In other words, he calculates performance of a diversified index fund tracking actual long-term, investment-grade 19th century U.S. bonds. He also calculates returns to sub-indexes as feasible. He further constructs a new stock index for the period January 1793 to January 1871 and revisits conclusions in Stocks for the Long Run about relative performances of stocks and bonds. Using newly and previously compiled U.S. bond and stock prices extending back to January 1793, he finds that:

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Term Premium End-of-Month Effect

Does the term premium as measured by returns to zero-coupon U.S. Treasury notes (T-notes) concentrate during some part of the monthly cycle? In their August 2019 paper entitled “Predictable End-of-Month Treasury Returns”, Jonathan Hartley and Krista Schwarz examine the monthly cycle of excess returns on 2-year, 5-year and 10-year T-notes. Specifically, they calculate average excess return by trading day before end-of-month (EOM), with excess return measured as raw T-note return minus general collateral repo rate. Using modeled daily prices for the specified T-notes and daily general collateral repo rate during January 1990 through December 2018, they find that: Keep Reading

Evaluating Country Investment Risk

How should global investors assess country sovereign bond and equity risks? In his July 2019 paper entitled “Country Risk: Determinants, Measures and Implications – The 2019 Edition”, Aswath Damodaran examines country risk from multiple perspectives. He provides an overview of sources and measures of country risk, addressing both sovereign bond default risk and equity risk premiums. Based on a variety of sources and methods, he concludes that: Keep Reading

FFR Actions, Stock Market Returns and Bond Yields

A subscriber wondered whether U.S. stock market movements predict Federal Funds Rate (FFR) actions taken by the Federal Reserve open market operations committee. To investigate and evaluate usefulness of findings, we relate three series:

  1. FFR actions per the above source, along with recent and historical committee meeting dates.
  2. S&P 500 Index returns.
  3. Changes in yield for the 10-Year U.S. Constant Maturity Treasury note (T-note).

In constructing the first series, for Federal Reserve open market operations committee meeting dates which do not produce FFR changes, we quantify committee actions as 0%. We ignore committee conference calls that result in no changes in FFR. We calculate the second and third series between committee meeting dates because that irregular interval represents new information to the committee and potential exploitation points for investors. Using data for the three series during January 1990 through early August 2019, we find that:

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