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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.

Best Safe Haven ETF?

A subscriber asked which exchange-traded fund (ETF) asset class proxies make the best safe havens for the U.S. stock market as proxied by the S&P 500 Index. To investigate, we consider the following 12 ETFs as potential safe havens:

Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)
iShares Core US Aggregate Bond (AGG)
iShares TIPS Bond (TIP)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking ETF (DBC)
United States Oil (USO)
iShares Silver Trust (SLV)
PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest ETF (DBV)

We consider three ways of testing these ETFs as safe havens for the U.S. stock market based on daily or monthly returns:

  1. Contemporaneous return correlation with the S&P 500 Index during all market conditions at daily and monthly frequencies.
  2. Performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as defined by the index being below its 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) at the end of the prior month.
  3. Performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as defined by the index falling -20%, -15% or -10% below its most recent peak at the end of the prior month.

Using daily and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the 12 ETFs since respective inceptions, and contemporaneous daily and monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index since 10 months before the earliest ETF inception, all through November 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

U.S. Equity Turn-of-the-Month as a Diversifying Portfolio

Is the U.S. equity turn-of-the-month (TOTM) effect exploitable as a diversifier of other assets? In their October 2018 paper entitled “A Seasonality Factor in Asset Allocation”, Frank McGroarty, Emmanouil Platanakis, Athanasios Sakkas and Andrew Urquhart test U.S. asset allocation strategies that include a TOTM portfolio as an asset. The TOTM portfolio buys each stock at the open on the last trading day of each month and sells at the close on the third trading day of the following month, earning zero return the rest of the time. They consider four asset universes with and without the TOTM portfolio:

  1. A conventional stocks-bonds mix.
  2. The equity market portfolio.
  3. The equity market portfolio, a small size portfolio and a value portfolio.
  4. The equity market portfolio, a small size portfolio, a value portfolio and a momentum winners portfolio.

They consider six sophisticated asset allocation methods:

  1. Mean-variance optimization.
  2. Optimization with higher moments and Constant Relative Risk Aversion.
  3. Bayes-Stein shrinkage of estimated returns.
  4. Bayesian diffuse-prior.
  5. Black-Litterman.
  6. A combination of allocation methods.

They consider three risk aversion settings and either a 60-month or a 120-month lookback interval for input parameter measurement. To assess exploitability, they set trading frictions at 0.50% of traded value for equities and 0.17% for bonds. Using monthly data as specified above during July 1961 through December 2015, they find that:

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Retirement Withdrawal Modeling with Actuarial Longevity and Stock Market Mean Reversion

How does use of actuarial estimates of retiree longevity and empirical mean reversion of stock market returns affect estimated retirement portfolio success rates? In the October 2018 revision of his paper entitled “Joint Effect of Random Years of Longevity and Mean Reversion in Equity Returns on the Safe Withdrawal Rate in Retirement”, Donald Rosenthal presents a model of safe inflation-adjusted retirement portfolio withdrawal rates that addresses: (1) uncertainty about the number of years of retirement (rather than the commonly assumed 30 years); and, (2) mean reversion in annual U.S. stock market returns (rather than a random walk). He estimates retirement longevity as a random input based on the Social Security Administration’s 2015 Actuarial Life Table. He estimates stock market real returns and measures their mean reversion using S&P 500 Index inflation-adjusted total annual returns during 1926 through 2017. He models real bond returns using 10-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) total annual returns during 1928 through 2017. He applies Monte Carlo simulations (3,000 trials for each scenario) to assess retirement portfolio performance by:

  • Assuming an initial retirement portfolio either 100% invested in stocks or 60%/40% in stocks/T-notes (rebalanced at each year-end).
  • Debiting the portfolio each year-end by a fixed, inflation-adjusted percentage of the initial amount.
  • Calculating percentage of simulation trials for which the portfolio is not exhausted before death (success) and average portfolio terminal balance for successful trials.

He considers two benchmarks: (1) no stock market mean reversion (random walk) and fixed 30-year retirement; and, (2) no stock market mean reversion and actuarial estimate of retirement duration. He also runs sensitivity tests to see how changes in assumptions affect success rate. Using the specified data, he finds that:

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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

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:

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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:

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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:

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