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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.

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

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

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:

Keep Reading

Testing a Countercyclical Asset Allocation Strategy

“Countercyclical Asset Allocation Strategy” summarizes research on a simple countercyclical asset allocation strategy that systematically raises (lowers) the allocation to an asset class when its current aggregate allocation is relatively low (high). The underlying research is not specific on calculating portfolio allocations and returns. To corroborate findings, we use annual mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) allocations to stocks and bonds worldwide from the 2018 Investment Company Fact Book, Data Tables 3 and 11 to determine annual countercyclical allocations for stocks and bonds (ignoring allocations to money market funds). Specifically:

  • If actual aggregate mutual fund/ETF allocation to stocks in a given year is above (below) 60%, we set next-year portfolio allocation below (above) 60% by the same percentage.
  • If actual aggregate mutual fund/ETF allocation to bonds in a given year is above (below) 40%, we set next-year portfolio allocation below (above) 40% by the same percentage.

We then apply next-year allocations to stock (Fidelity Fund, FFIDX) and bond (Fidelity Investment Grade Bond Fund, FBNDX) mutual funds that have long histories. Based on Fact Book annual publication dates, we rebalance at the end of April each year. Using the specified actual fund allocations for 1984 through 2017 and FFIDX and FBNDX May through April total returns and April 1-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yields for 1985 through 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Ziemba Party Holding Presidency Strategy Update

“Exploiting the Presidential Cycle and Party in Power” summarizes strategies that hold small stocks (large stock or bonds) when Democrats (Republicans) hold the U.S. presidency. How has this strategy performed in recent years? To investigate, we consider three strategy alternatives using exchange-traded funds (ETF):

  1. D-IWM:R-SPY: hold iShares Russell 2000 (IWM) when Democrats hold the presidency and SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) when Republicans hold it.
  2. D-IWM:R-LQD: hold IWM when Democrats hold the presidency and iShares iBoxx Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD) when Republicans hold it.
  3. D-IWM:R-IEF: hold IWM when Democrats hold the presidency and iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF) when Republicans hold it.

We use calendar years to determine party holding the presidency. As benchmarks, we consider buying and holding each of SPY, IWM, LQD or IEF and annually rebalanced portfolios of 60% SPY and 40% LQD (60 SPY-40 LQD) or 60% SPY and 40% IEF (60 SPY-40 IEF). We consider as performance metrics: average annual excess return (relative to the yield on 1-year U.S. Treasury notes at the beginning of each year); standard deviation of annual excess returns; annual Sharpe ratio; compound annual growth rate (CAGR); and, maximum annual drawdown (annual MaxDD). We assume portfolio switching/rebalancing frictions are negligible. Except for CAGR, computations are for full calendar years only. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the specified ETFs during July 2002 (limited by LQD and IEF) through April 2018, we find that:

Keep Reading

Worldwide Long-run Returns on Housing, Equities, Bonds and Bills

How do housing, equities and government bonds/bills perform worldwide over the long run? In their February 2018 paper entitled “The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015”, Òscar Jordà, Katharina Knoll, Dmitry Kuvshinov, Moritz Schularick and Alan Taylor address the following questions:

  1. What is the aggregate real return on investments?
  2. Is it higher than economic growth rate and, if so, by how much?
  3. Do asset class returns tend to decline over time?
  4. Which asset class performs best?

To do so, they compile long-term annual gross returns from market data for housing, equities, government bonds and short-term bills across 16 developed countries (Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the U.S.). They decompose housing and equity performances into capital gains, investment incomes (yield) and total returns (sum of the two). For equities, they employ capitalization-weighted indexes to the extent possible. For housing, they model returns based on country-specific benchmark rent-price ratios. Using the specified annual returns for 1870 through 2015, they find that:

Keep Reading

Bond and Stock ETFs Lead-lag

Are there exploitable lead-lag relationships between bonds and stocks, perhaps because bond investors are generally better informed than stock investors or because there is some predictable stocks-bonds rebalancing cycle? To investigate, we examine lead-lag relationships between bond exchange-traded fund (ETF) returns and stock ETF returns. We consider iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD) and  iShares iBoxx $ High-Yield Corporate Bond (HYG) as liquid bond ETFs and SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a liquid stock ETF. Using dividend-adjusted daily, weekly and monthly returns for LQDHYG and SPY during mid-April 2007 (HYG inception) through March 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Best Bear Market Asset Class?

A subscriber asked which asset (short stocks, cash, bonds by subclass) is best to hold during equity bear markets, defined simply as intervals when SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) is below its 10-month simple moving average (SMA10). To investigate, we test the following nine alternatives, five of which are bond-like mutual funds and two of which are gold-related:

Short SPY
Cash, with return estimated as the yield on 13-week U.S. Treasury bills (T-bill)
Vanguard GNMA Securities (VFIIX)
T. Rowe Price International Bonds (RPIBX)
Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Bonds (VUSTX)
Fidelity Convertible Securities (FCVSX)
T. Rowe Price High-Yield Bonds (PRHYX)
Fidelity Select Gold Portfolio (FSAGX)
Spot Gold

Specifically, we compare monthly return statistics, cumulative performances and maximum (peak-to-trough) drawdowns of these nine alternatives for months during which SPY is below its SMA10. Using monthly T-bill yield and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the above assets during January 1993 (as limited by SPY) through Mar 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Bonds Lead Stocks?

Are bond market investors generally shrewder than their stock market counterparts, such that bond yield tops (bottoms) anticipate stock market bottoms (tops)? To investigate, we employ both a monthly lead-lag analysis and a comparison of bond yield and stock market tops and bottoms. We define “top” and “bottom” as the highest (lowest) value in a rolling window that extends from 30 months in the past to 30 months in the future (a total window of five years). Using monthly levels of Moody’s yield on seasoned Aaa corporate bonds and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) during October 1928 through February 2018 (about 90 years) and monthly levels of the 10-year government bond interest rate and the stock market from Robert Shiller during January 1871 through February 2018 (about 148 years), we find that: Keep Reading

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