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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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SACEMS-SACEVS Diversification with Mutual Funds

“SACEMS-SACEVS Mutual Diversification” finds that the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) and the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) are mutually diversifying. Do the longer samples available from “SACEVS Applied to Mutual Funds” and “SACEMS Applied to Mutual Funds” confirm this finding? To check, we look at the following 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).

Using monthly gross returns for SACEVS and SACEMS mutual fund portfolios during September 1997 through June 2017, we find that:

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SACEVS Applied to Mutual Funds

“Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) finds that investors may be able to exploit relative valuation of the term risk premium, the credit (default) risk premium and the equity risk premium via exchange-traded funds (ETF). However, the backtesting period is limited by available histories for ETFs and for series used to estimate risk premiums. To construct a longer test, we make the following substitutions for potential holdings (selected for length of available samples):

To enable estimation of risk premiums over a longer history, we also substitute:

As with ETFs, we consider two alternative strategies for exploiting premium undervaluation: Best Value, which picks the most undervalued premium; and, Weighted, which weights all undervalued premiums according to degree of undervaluation. Based on the assets considered, the principal benchmark is a monthly rebalanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% U.S. Treasuries (60-40 VWUSX-VFIIX). Using monthly risk premium calculation data during March 1934 through June 2017 (limited by availability of T-bill data), and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the three asset class mutual funds during June 1980 through June 2017 (37 years, limited by VFIIX), we find that:

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Finding a Better Safe Haven via U.S. Treasuries Dual Momentum

Does a dual momentum selection/weighting approach applied to the U.S. Treasuries term structure identify a safe haven superior to any one duration? In his February 2015 paper entitled “The Search for Crisis Alpha: Weathering the Storm Using Relative Momentum”, Nathan Faber tests a dual momentum safe haven based on U.S. Treasuries of different durations as proxied by either constant maturity indexes or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). He constructs constant maturity indexes from 1-year, 3-year, 5-year, 7-year, 10-year and 20-year constant maturity U.S. Treasuries yields by each month accruing a coupon and repricing at the new yield. For ETFs, he uses total returns for five iShares U.S. Treasuries ETFs: SHY (1-3 years), IEI (3-5 years), IEF (7-10 years), TLH (10-20 years) and TLT (20+ years). The dual momentum approach consists of the following steps:

  1. Calculate the return from 10 months ago to one month ago for each duration.
  2. Subtract from the return of each duration that of 1-year U.S. Treasuries (SHY) if using constant maturity indexes (ETFs) to calculate an excess return as a measure of intrinsic (absolute or time series) momentum.
  3. Discard any durations with negative excess returns.
  4. Rank remaining durations based on risk-adjusted excess returns, with variances used to indicate risk, as a measure of relative momentum and assign weights to these durations based on their ranks. If no durations have positive excess returns, assign 100% weight to 1-year U.S. Treasuries (or SHY if using ETFs).

He then investigates the performance of this dual momentum strategy as a safe haven during S&P 500 crises defined in two ways: (1) drawdowns of at least 20% peak to trough; or, (2) monthly declines of at least 5%. He further tests a specific strategy that is long the S&P 500 Index (or SPY if using ETFs) when above its 10-month SMA (SMA10) and in either the dual momentum safe haven portfolio or in a fixed duration (1-year or 20+ years) when below its SMA10. Using data for the yields/indexes/funds specified above since 1962 for constant maturity index tests and since 2003 for ETF tests, all through 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy

Does a simple relative value strategy applied to tradable asset class proxies produce attractive results? To investigate, we test a simple strategy on the following three 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 S&P 500 (SPY)

This set of ETFs relates to three factor risk premiums: (1) the difference in yields between Treasury notes/bonds and Treasury bills indicates the term risk premium; (2) the difference in yields between corporate bonds and Treasury notes/bonds indicates the credit (default) risk premium; and, (3) the difference in yields between equities and Treasury notes/bonds indicates the equity risk premium. We consider two alternative strategies for exploiting premium undervaluation: Best Value, which picks the most undervalued premium; and, Weighted, which weights all undervalued premiums according to degree of undervaluation. Based on the assets considered, the principal benchmark is a monthly rebalanced portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% U.S. Treasury notes (60-40 SPY-TLT). Using lagged quarterly S&P 500 earnings, end-of-month S&P 500 Index levels, end-of-month yields for the 3-month Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) and the 10-year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury note (T-note) and day-before-end-of-month yield for Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds during March 1989 through May 2017 (limited by availability of earnings data), and end-of-month dividend-adjusted closing prices for the above three asset class ETFs during July 2002 through May 2017 (179 months, limited by availability of TLT and LQD), we find that: Keep Reading

Smart Life Cycle Investing?

Can investors improve retirement glide paths via judicious use of smart beta funds? In their March 2017 paper entitled “Life Cycle Investing and Smart Beta Strategies”, Bill Carson, Sara Shores and Nicholas Nefouse augment a conventional equities-bonds life cycle investing glide path with smart beta strategies. They use a conventional glide path, which gradually decreases the allocation to equities with age to a constant after retirement, to determine target risk levels over the life cycle. When the investor is young, they tilt equities toward the MSCI USA Diversified Multiple-Factor (DMF) Index to boost returns via value, size momentum and quality beta exposures. As the investor approaches retirement, they shift equities to the MSCI USA Minimum Volatility Index, designed to match the market return at lower risk. For bonds, they use the Barclays Constant Weights Index, which has greater diversification and higher Sharpe ratio than a conventional market capitalization-based bond index. They incorporate the specified smart beta indexes into the glide path via a procedure that maximizes Sharpe ratio while matching the risk of the conventional glide path. Specifically, they: (1) deviate no more than 3% from conventional glide path risk; (2) constrain smart beta equities beta relative to the Russell 1000 Index and the MSCI World Index ex U.S. to within 5% of the benchmark equities beta; (3) constrain smart beta bond index duration to within 0.05 years of the benchmark bonds duration; and, (4) require at least 1% allocation to bonds for all target date portfolios. Using monthly data for conventional capitalization-weighted U.S. equity and bond indexes and for the specified smart beta indexes during 2007 through 2016, they find that: Keep Reading

Predicting Anomaly Premiums Across Asset Classes

Are anomaly premiums (expected winners minus losers among assets within a class, based on some asset characteristic) more or less predictable than broad market returns? In their April 2017 paper entitled “Predicting Relative Returns”, Valentin Haddad, Serhiy Kozak and Shrihari Santosh apply principal component analysis to assess the predictability of premiums for published asset pricing anomalies spanning stocks, U.S. Treasuries and currencies. For tractability, they simplify asset classes by forming portfolios of assets within them, as follows:

  • For stocks, they consider the long and short legs of portfolios reformed monthly into tenths (deciles) based on each of the characteristics associated with 26 published stock return anomalies (monthly data for 1973 through 2015).
  • They sort zero-coupon U.S. Treasuries by maturity from one to 15 years to assess term premiums (yield data for 1985 through 2014).
  • They sort individual exchange rates into five portfolios reformed daily based on interest rate differentials with the U.S. to assess the carry trade premium (daily data as available for December 1975 through December 2016).

Using the specified data, they find that: Keep Reading

Interpreting Inverted Yield Curves as Economic Indigestion

Is there a straightforward way to interpret the state of the yield curve as a manifestation of how efficiently the economy is processing information? In his March 2017 paper entitled “Simple New Method to Predict Bear Markets (The Entropic Linkage between Equity and Bond Market Dynamics)”, Edgar Parker Jr. presents and tests a way to understand interaction between bond and equity markets based on arrival and consumption of economic information. He employs Shannon entropy to model the economy’s implied information processing ratio (R/C), with interpretations as follows:

  1. R/C ≈ 1: healthy continuously upward-sloping yield curve when information arrival and consumption rates are approximately equal.
  2. R/C >> 1: low end of the yield curve inverts when information is arriving much faster than it can be consumed.
  3. R/C << 1: high end of the yield curve inverts when information is arriving much slower than it can be consumed.

Under the latter two conditions, massive information loss (entropy growth) occurs, and firms cannot confidently plan. These conditions delay/depress economic growth and produce equity bear markets. He tests this approach by matching actual yield curve data with standardized (normal) R and C distributions that both have zero mean and standard deviation one (such that standardized R and C may be negative). Using daily yields for U.S. Treasuries across durations and daily S&P 500 Index levels during 1990 through 2016, he finds that: Keep Reading

Testing Stock Anomalies in Practical Context

How do widely studied anomalies relate to representative stocks-bonds portfolio returns (rather than the risk-free rate)? In his March 2017 paper entitled “Understanding Anomalies”, Filip Bekjarovski proposes an approach to asset pricing wherein a representative portfolio of stocks and bonds is the benchmark and stock anomalies are a set of investment opportunities that may enhance the benchmark. He therefore employs benchmark-adjusted returns, rather than excess returns, to determine anomaly significance. Specifically, his benchmark portfolio captures the equity, term and default premiums. He considers 10 potentially enhancing anomalies: size, value, profitability, investment, momentum, idiosyncratic volatility, quality, betting against beta, accruals and net share issuance. He estimates each anomaly premium as returns to a portfolio that is each month long (short) the value-weighted tenth, or decile, of stocks with the highest (lowest) expected returns for that anomaly. He assesses the potential of each anomaly in three ways: (1) alphas from time series regressions that control for equity, term and default premiums; (2) performances during economic recessions; and, (3) crash proneness. He measures the attractiveness of adding anomaly premiums to the benchmark portfolio by comparing Sharpe ratios, Sortino ratios and performances during recessions of five portfolios: (1) a traditional portfolio (TP) that equally weights equity, term and default premiums; (2) an equal weighting of size, value and momentum premiums (SVM) as a basic anomaly portfolio; (3) a factor portfolio (FP) that equally weights all 10 anomaly premiums; (4) a mixed portfolio (MP) that equally weights all 13 premiums; and, (5) a balanced portfolio (BP) that equally weights TP and FP. Using monthly returns for the 13 premiums specified above from a broad sample of U.S. stocks and NBER recession dates during July 1963 through December 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Early Retirement Safe Withdrawal Rate

What is a safe portfolio withdrawal rate for early retirees who expect more than 30 years of retirement? In their February 2017 paper entitled “Safe Withdrawal Rates: A Guide for Early Retirees”ERN tests effects of several variables on retirement portfolio success:

  • Retirement horizons of 30, 40, 50 and 60 years.
  • Annual inflation-adjusted withdrawal rates of 3% to 5% in increments of 0.25%.
  • Terminal values of 0% to 100% of initial portfolio value in increments of 25%.
  • Implications of different starting levels of Shiller’s Cyclically Adjusted Price-to-Earnings ratio (CAPE or P/E10).
  • Implications of Social Security payments coming into play after retirement.
  • Effects of reducing withdrawal rate over time (planning a gradual decline in consumption during retirement).

They assume 6.6% average real annual return for U.S. stocks with zero volatility. For 10-year U.S. Treasury notes (T-note), they assume 0% real return for the first 10 years and 2.6% thereafter (zero volatility except for one jump). They assume monthly withdrawal of one-twelfth the annual rate at the prior-month market close, with monthly portfolio rebalancing to target stocks and T-note allocations. They assume annual portfolio costs of 0.05% for low-cost mutual fund fees. Based on the stated assumptions, they find that: Keep Reading

Simple, Practical Test of VRP as IEF Return Predictor

“Equity Market and Treasuries Variance Risk Premiums as Return Predictors” reports a finding, among others, that the variance risk premium for 10-year U.S. Treasury notes (T-note) predicts near-term returns for those notes (as manifested via futures). However, the methods used to calculate the variance risk premium are complex. Is there a simple way to exploit the predictive power found? To investigate, we test whether a simple measure of the volatility risk premium (VRP) for T-notes predicts returns for the iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF) exchange-traded fund. Specifically we:

  • Calculate daily realized volatility of IEF as the standard deviation of daily total returns over the past 21 trading days, multiplied by the square root of 252 to annualize.
  • Use daily closes of CBOE/CBOT 10-year U.S. Treasury Note Volatility Index (TYVIX) as annualized implied volatility.
  • Calculate the daily T-note VRP as TYVIX minus IEF realized volatility.

VRP here differs from that in the referenced research in three ways: (1) it is a volatility premium rather than a variance premium based on standard deviation rather than the square of standard deviation; (2) it is implied volatility minus expected realized volatility, rather than the reverse, and so should be mostly positive; and, (3) estimation of expected realized volatility is much simpler. When TYVIX has daily closes on non-market days, we ignore those closes. When TYVIX does not have daily closes on market days, we reuse the most recent value of TYVIX. These exceptions are rare. Using daily IEF dividend-adjusted prices since December 2002 and daily closes of TYVIX since January 2003 (earliest available), both through January 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

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