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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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Best Government Bonds?

Are high-yield government bonds good bets? In his January 2016 paper entitled “Finding Yield in A 2% World”, Mebane Faber applies a simple value metric to global government bonds. He specifies a value portfolio as the equally weighted third (Top 33%) of 30 government bonds with the highest nominal yields, reformed/rebalanced monthly. He considers two benchmarks: (1) an equally weighted portfolio of all 30 bonds (Equal Weight); and, (2) a GDP-weighted index of 10-year government bonds of 17 non-U.S. developed countries (Foreign 10-year). He also considers performance of U.S. government Treasury bills (T-bills), 10-year notes and 30-year bonds. Using monthly total returns for the specified bonds in U.S. dollars during 1950 through 2012, he finds that: Keep Reading

Analyst Disagreement on Risk-free Rate and Equity Risk Premium

What do company valuation experts think about the level of the risk-free rate and the equity risk premium? In their October 2015 paper entitled “Huge Dispersion of the Risk-Free Rate and Market Risk Premium Used by Analysts in 2015”, Pablo Fernandez, Alberto Pizarro and Isabel Acín summarize assumptions about the risk-free rate (RF) and the market/equity risk premium (MRP or ERP) used by expert analysts to value companies in six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK and U.S.). Using 156 company valuation reports from 2015, they find that: Keep Reading

Frontier Government Bonds as Diversifiers

Are frontier government bonds useful as incremental diversifiers of diversified portfolios? In their September 2015 paper entitled “Frontier and Emerging Government Bond Markets”, Vanja Piljak and Laurens Swinkels examine the diversification value of U.S. dollar-denominated frontier government bonds at aggregate, regional and country levels. They first look at return correlations and then consider mean-variance portfolio optimization with global equities, U.S. Treasury bonds, U.S. high-yield corporate bonds, emerging government bonds and frontier government bonds. Using weekly total returns in U.S. dollars for 29 frontier government bond markets in the J.P. Morgan Next Generation Markets Index and for other J.P. Morgan bond indexes and the MSCI All Country World Index during December 2001 through December 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

Evaluating Country Investment Risk

How should global investors assess country risk? In his July 2015 paper entitled “Country Risk: Determinants, Measures and Implications – The 2015 Edition”, Aswath Damodaran examines country risk from multiple perspectives. He provides an overview of sources and measures of country risk, addressing both sovereign default risk and equity risk premiums. Based on a variety of sources and methods, he concludes that: Keep Reading

SACEVS Modifications

We have made three changes to the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) based on results of  robustness tests and subscriber comments:

  1. To employ fresher data, we decrease the SACEVS S&P 500 Index level and bond/bill yield measurement interval from quarterly to monthly. S&P 500 Index operating earnings updates are still quarterly.
  2. To employ fresher data, we use end-of-measurement interval (end-of-month) bond/bill yields rather than average yields during the measurement interval.
  3. To account for a lag in availability of bill/bond yield data, we delay signal execution by one trading day.

These changes are logical, but introduce some additional noise. They result in somewhat higher risk-adjusted performance for SACEVS, at the expense of some additional trading. Effects on the Weighted version of the strategy are greater than those on the Best Value version.

We are updating “Value Strategy” and some related tests accordingly.

Update SACEVS with End-of-quarter Instead of Quarterly Average Yields?

“Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) tests a simple relative value strategy that each quarter allocates funds to one or more of the following three asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF), plus cash, based on degree of undervaluation of measures of the term risk, credit risk and equity risk premiums:

3-month Treasury bills (Cash)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)

One version of SACEVS (Best Value) picks the most undervalued premium. Another (Weighted) weights all undervalued premiums according to degree of undervaluation. Premium calculations and SACEVS portfolio allocations derive from quarterly average yields for 3-month Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills), 10-year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury notes (T-notes) and Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds (Baa). A subscriber asked whether fresh end-of-quarter yields might work better than quarterly average yields. Using monthly S&P 500 Index levelsquarterly S&P 500 earnings and daily T-note, T-bill and Baa yields during March 1989 through March 2015 (limited by availability of earnings data), and quarterly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the above three asset class ETFs during September 2002 through March 2015 (154 months, limited by availability of IEF and LQD), we find that: Keep Reading

Update SACEVS Monthly Instead of Quarterly?

“Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) tests a simple relative value strategy that each quarter allocates funds to one or more of the following three asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF), plus cash, based on degree of undervaluation of measures of the term risk, credit risk and equity risk premiums:

3-month Treasury bills (Cash)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)

One version of SACEVS (Best Value) picks the most undervalued premium. Another (Weighted) weights all undervalued premiums according to degree of undervaluation. Premium calculations and SACEVS portfolio allocations are quarterly per the arrival rate of new corporate earnings information. The principal benchmark is a quarterly rebalanced portfolio of 60% SPY and 40% IEF. A subscriber asked whether monthly SACEVS updates outperform quarterly updates. Using monthly S&P 500 Index levelsquarterly S&P 500 earnings and monthly average yields for 3-month Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills), 10-year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury notes (T-notes) and Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds during March 1989 through March 2015 (limited by availability of earnings data), and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the above three asset class ETFs during September 2002 through March 2015 (154 months, limited by availability of IEF and LQD), we find that: Keep Reading

Lumber-Gold Interaction as Stocks and Bonds Indicator

Does the interaction of paradigmatic indicators of optimism (lumber demand) and pessimism (gold demand) tell investors when to take risk and when to avoid risk? In their May 2015 paper entitled “Lumber: Worth Its Weight in Gold: Offense and Defense in Active Portfolio Management”, Charles Bilello and Michael Gayed examine the recent relative performance of lumber (a proxy for economic activity via construction) and gold (a safe haven) as an indicator of future stock market and bond market performance. Specifically, if lumber futures outperform (underperform) spot gold over the prior 13 weeks, they go on offense (defense) the next week. They test this strategy on combinations of seven indexes comprising a spectrum of risk (listed lowest to highest): BofA Merrill Lynch 5-7 Year Treasury Index (Treasuries); CBOE S&P 500 Buy-Write Index (BuyWrite); S&P 500 Low Volatility Index (Low Volatility); S&P 500 Index (SP500); Russell 2000 Index (R2000); Morgan Stanley Cyclicals Index (Cyclicals); and, S&P 500 High Beta Index (High Beta). Using weekly nearest futures contract prices for random length lumber, weekly spot gold prices and weekly total returns for the seven test indexes during November 1986 (November 1990 for Low Volatility and High Beta) through January 2015, they find that: Keep Reading

Comparison of Variable Retirement Spending Strategies

Do variable retirement spending strategies offer greater utility than fixed-amount or fixed-percentage strategies? In his March 2015 paper entitled “Making Sense Out of Variable Spending Strategies for Retirees”, Wade Pfau compares via simulation ten retirement spending strategies based on a common set of assumptions. He classifies these strategies into two categories: (1) those based on decision rules (such as fixed real spending and fixed percentage spending); and, (2) actuarial models based on remaining portfolio balance and estimated remaining longevity. His bases comparisons on 10,000 Monte Carlo runs for each strategy. He assumes a retirement portfolio of 50% U.S. stocks and 50% U.S. government bonds with initial value $100,000, rebalanced annually after end-of-year 0.5% fees and beginning-of-year withdrawals. He calibrates initial spending where feasible by imposing a probability of X% (X=10) that real spending falls below $Y (Y=1,500) by year Z of retirement (Z=30). He treats terminal wealth as unintentional (in fact, undesirable), with the essential trade-off between spending more now and having to cut spending later. He ignores tax implications. Using historical return data from Robert Shiller and current levels of inflation and interest rates (see the chart below), he finds that: Keep Reading

Bond Style Performance and Exploitation

Does a factor (style) premium model identify exploitable abnormal corporate bond returns? In their March 2015 paper entitled “Investing with Style in Corporate Bonds”, Ronen Israel, Johnny Kang and Scott Richardson investigate the usefulness of four bond return factors:

  1. Carry – the fixed spread that must be added to the U.S. Treasuries yield curve such that the discounted payments of the corporate bond match its traded market price.
  2. Defensive (low-risk) – corporate bond from an issuer with low levels of market leverage (total debt divided by the sum of total debt and market value of equity).
  3. Momentum – trailing 6-month corporate bond return in excess of the risk-free rate.
  4. Value – corporate bond with a high carry relative to the issuer’s fundamental distance-to-default (measured via linear regression).

Specifically, they measure the ability of these four factors to explain future excess (negating the role of interest rates) returns of different corporate bonds. They also test exploitability via a long-only portfolio with exposure to the factors. Finally, they check the degrees to which actively managed credit hedge and mutual funds actually exploit the factors. Using monthly data for a broad (but filtered) sample of U.S. corporate bonds/issuers (10,825 bonds and 5,300 issuers) and monthly return data for 213 actively managed credit hedge funds and 218 actively managed credit mutual funds during January 1997 through December 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

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