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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.

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Credit Spread as an Asset Return Predictor

A reader commented and asked: “A wide credit spread (the difference in yields between Treasury notes or Treasury bonds and investment grade or junk corporate bonds) indicates fear of bankruptcies or other bad events. A narrow credit spread indicates high expectations for the economy and corporate world. Does the credit spread anticipate stock market behavior?” To investigate, we define the U.S. credit spread as the difference in yields between Moody’s seasoned Baa corporate bonds and 10-year Treasury notes (T-note), which are average daily yields for these instruments by calendar month (a smoothed measurement). We use the S&P 500 Index (SP500) as a proxy for the U.S. stock market. We extend the investigation to bond market behavior via:

  • Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Investors Fund (VUSTX)
  • Vanguard Long-Term Investment-Grade Investors Fund (VWESX)
  • Vanguard High-Yield Corporate Investors Fund (VWEHX)

Using monthly Baa bond yields, T-note yields and SP500 closes starting April 1953 and monthly dividend-adjusted closes of VUSTX, VWESX and VWEHX starting May 1986, January 1980 and January 1980, respectively, all through August 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Real Bond Returns and Inflation

A subscriber asked (more than six years ago): “Everyone says I should not invest in bonds today because the interest rate is so low (and inflation is daunting). But real bond returns over the last 30 years are great, even while interest rates are low. Could you analyze why bonds do well after, but not before, 1981?” To investigate, we consider the U.S. long-run interest rate and the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) series from Robert Shiller. The long-run interest rate is the yield on U.S. government bonds, specifically the constant maturity 10-year U.S. Treasury note after 1953. We use the term “T-note” loosely to refer to the entire series. We apply the formula used by Aswath Damodaran to the yield series to estimate the nominal T-note total returns. We use the CPI series to calculate inflation (12-month change in CPI). We subtract inflation from the T-note nominal total return to get the T-note real total return. Using annual Shiller interest rate and CPI data for 1871 through 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

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 August 2018 (194 months, limited by availability of TLT and LQD), we find that: Keep Reading

Federal Reserve Treasuries Holdings and Asset Returns

Is the level, or changes in the level, of Federal Reserve (Fed) holdings of U.S. Treasuries (measured weekly as of Wednesday) an indicator of future stock market and/or Treasuries returns? To investigate, we take dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) and iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT) as tradable proxies for the U.S. stock and Treasuries markets, respectively. Using weekly Fed holdings of Treasuries, SPY and TLT during mid-December 2002 through early August 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Bonds During the Off Season?

As implied in “Mirror Image Seasonality for Stocks and Treasuries?”, are bonds better than stocks during the “Sell-in-May” months of May through October? Are behaviors of government, corporate investment grade and corporate high-yield bonds over this interval similar? To investigate, we test seasonal behaviors of:

SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury (VFITX)
Fidelity Investment Grade Bond (FBNDX)
Vanguard High-Yield Corporate Bond (VWEHX)

Using dividend-adjusted monthly prices for these funds during January 1993 (limited by SPY) through July 2018, 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) and annual returns and volatilities. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closes for the above ETFs during September 2002 (earliest alignment of months and quarters) through June 2018, we find that:

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Simple Term Structure ETF/Mutual Fund Momentum Strategy

Does a simple relative momentum strategy applied to tradable U.S. Treasury term structure proxies produce attractive results by picking the best duration for exploiting current interest rate trend? To investigate, we run short-term and long-term tests. The short-term test employs four exchange-traded funds (ETF) to represent the term structure:

SPDR Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill (BIL)
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)
iShares Barclays 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)

The second test employs three Vanguard mutual funds to represent the term structure:

Vanguard Short-Term Treasury Fund (VFISX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX)
Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Fund (VUSTX)

For each test, we allocate all funds at the end of each month to the fund with the highest total return over a specified ranking (lookback) interval, ranging from one month to 12 months. To accommodate the longest lookback interval, portfolio formation commences 12 months after the start of the sample. We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance metrics. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for BIL since May 2007, for SHY, IEF and TLT since July 2002 and for VFISX, VFITX and VUSTX since October 1991, all through June 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Debt Class Mutual Fund Momentum Strategy

A subscriber requested confirmation of the performance of a simple momentum strategy that each month selects the best performing debt mutual fund based on total return over the past three months. To investigate, we test a simple strategy on the following 12 mutual funds (those with the longest histories from a proposed list of 14 funds):

T. Rowe Price New Income (PRCIX)
Thrivent Income A (LUBIX)
Vanguard GNMA Securities (VFIIX)
T. Rowe Price High-Yield Bonds (PRHYX)
T. Rowe Price Tax-Free High Yield Bonds (PRFHX)
Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Bonds (VUSTX)
T. Rowe Price International Bonds (RPIBX)
Fidelity Convertible Securities (FCVSX)
PIMCO Short-Term A (PSHAX)
Fidelity New Markets Income (FNMIX)
Eaton Vance Government Obligations C (ECGOX)
Vanguard Long-Term Bond Index (VBLTX)

We consider a strategy that allocates funds at the end of each month based on total returns over a specified ranking (lookback) interval to the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2, EW Top 3, EW Top 4 or EW Top 5 funds. We determine the first winners in November 1988 so that at least nine funds are available for lookback interval sensitivity testing. As a benchmark, we use the equally weighted and monthly rebalanced combination of all available funds (EW All). Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the 12 mutual funds from inceptions through June 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

SACEVS Input Risk Premiums and EFFR

The “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” seeks diversification across a small set of asset class exchanged-traded funds (ETF), plus a monthly tactical edge from potential undervaluation of three risk premiums:

  1. Term – monthly difference between the 10-year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yield and the 3-month Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield.
  2. Credit – monthly difference between the Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds yield and the T-note yield.
  3. Equity – monthly difference between S&P 500 operating earnings yield and the T-note yield.

Premium valuations are relative to historical averages. How might this strategy react to increases in the Effective Federal Funds Rate (EFFR)? Using monthly values of the three risk premiums, EFFR, total 12-month U.S. inflation and core 12-month U.S. inflation during July 2000 (limited by availability of EFFR) through May 2018 (215 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Benefits of Volatility Targeting Across Asset Classes

Does volatility targeting improve Sharpe ratios and provide crash protection across asset classes? In their May 2018 paper entitled “Working Your Tail Off: The Impact of Volatility Targeting”, Campbell Harvey, Edward Hoyle, Russell Korgaonkar, Sandy Rattray, Matthew Sargaison, and Otto Van Hemert examine return and risk effects of long-only volatility targeting, which scales asset and/or portfolio exposure higher (lower) when its recent volatility is low (high). They consider over 60 assets spanning stocks, bonds, credit, commodities and currencies and two multi-asset portfolios (60-40 stocks-bonds and 25-25-25-25 stocks-bonds-credit-commodities). They focus on excess returns (relative to U.S. Treasury bill yield). They forecast volatility using realized daily volatility with exponentially decaying weights of varying half-lives to assess sensitivity to the recency of inputs. For most analyses, they employ daily return data to forecast volatility. For S&P 500 Index and 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) futures, they also test high-frequency (5-minute) returns transformed to daily returns. They scale asset exposure inversely to forecasted volatility known 24 hours in advance, applying a retroactively determined constant that generates 10% annualized actual volatility to facilitate comparison across assets and sample periods. Using daily returns for U.S. stocks and industries since 1927, for U.S. bonds (estimated from yields) since 1962, for a credit index and an array of futures/forwards since 1988, and high-frequency returns for S&P 500 Index and 10-year U.S. Treasury note futures since 1988, all through 2017, they find that:

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