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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.

Four-factor Model of Corporate Bond Returns

Do factor models predict returns for corporate bonds as they do for stocks? In their October 2014 paper entitled “Factor Investing in the Corporate Bond Market”, Patrick Houweling and Jeroen van Zundert develop and test a four-factor (size, low-risk, value and momentum) model of future corporate bond returns. Each month for investment grade and high yield bond market segments separately, they construct an equally-weighted long-only portfolio consisting of the 10% of bonds with the highest exposure to each factor. They hold portfolios for 12 months, resulting in 12 overlapping portfolios for each segment and factor. Specifically, the factor portfolios are:

  1. Size – the 10% of bonds with the smallest company index weights, calculated as the sum of market value weights of all company bonds in the index that month.
  2. Low-risk – a combination of rating and maturity. For investment grade, the portfolio holds the 10% of bonds rated AAA to A- and having the shortest maturities. For high yield, the portfolio holds the 10% of bonds rated BB+ to B- and having the shortest maturities. On average, the maturity threshold is 2.8 (3.7) years for investment grade (high yield).
  3. Value – the 10% of bonds with the largest percentage gaps between actual credit spread and credit spread indicated by monthly regressions of credit spread on rating.
  4. Momentum – the 10% of bonds with the highest return relative to duration-matched U.S. Treasuries from six months ago to one month ago (with a skip-month to avoid reversal).

They evaluate factor portfolio performance based on excess return of constituent corporate bonds versus duration-matched U.S. Treasuries (thereby focusing on the default premium component of corporate bond returns). To estimate trading frictions, they model bid-ask spreads based on maturity and rating (the longer maturity or the lower the rating, the larger the estimated trading friction). Portfolio-level trading frictions are sums of frictions for all bonds traded. Using monthly data for all bonds in the Barclays U.S. Corporate Investment Grade index and the Barclays U.S. Corporate High Yield index during January 1994 through December 2013 (about 800,000 investment grade and 300,000 high yield bond-month observations), they find that: Keep Reading

Optimal Rebalancing Method/Frequency?

How much performance improvement comes from rebalancing a stocks-bonds portfolio, and what specific rebalancing approach works best? In their August 2014 paper entitled “Testing Rebalancing Strategies for Stock-Bond Portfolios Across Different Asset Allocations”, Hubert Dichtl, Wolfgang Drobetz and Martin Wambach investigate the net performance implications of different rebalancing approaches and different rebalancing frequencies on portfolios of stocks and government bonds with different weights and in different markets. With buy-and-hold as a benchmark, they consider three types of rebalancing rules: (1) strict periodic rebalancing to target weights; (2) threshold rebalancing, meaning periodic rebalancing to target weights if out-of-balance by 3% or more; and, (3) range rebalancing, meaning periodic rebalancing to plus (minus) 3% of target weights if above (below) target weights by more than 3%. They consider annual, quarterly and monthly rebalancing frequencies. They use 30 years of broad U.S., UK and German stock market, bond market and risk-free returns to construct simulations with 10-year investment horizons. Their simulation approach preserves most of the asset class time series characteristics, including stocks-bonds correlations. They assume round-trip rebalancing frictions of 0.15% (0.10% for stocks and 0.05% for bonds). Using monthly returns for country stock and bonds markets and risk-free yields during January 1982 through December 2011 to generate 100,000 simulated 10-year return paths, they find that: Keep Reading

New Active Bond ETF Skims the Cream?

Do new funds have the latitude to concentrate in the best opportunities while they remain small? In his June 2014 presentation package entitled “How Long Might An Active Bond ETF’s ‘Best Ideas’ Outperformance Window Last?”, Claude Erb compares the performance of the PIMCO Total Return ETF (BOND), an exchange-traded fund (ETF) introduced in March 2012, to that of its parent mutual fund PIMCO Total Return Institutional Class (PTTRX). Using monthly total returns for BOND and PTTRX during March 2012 through May 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Long-term Equity Risk Premium Erosion?

Does the reward for taking the risk of holding stocks exhibit any long-term trend? In his April 2014 presentation package entitled “The Incredible Shrinking ‘Realized’ Equity Risk Premium”, Claude Erb examines the trend in the realized U.S. equity risk premium (ERP) since 1925. He defines this ERP as the retrospective difference in 10-year yield between the broad U.S. stock market and the 10-year yield on safe assets such as U.S. Treasury bills or intermediate-term U.S. Treasury notes. Using 10-year returns for U.S. stocks and various alternative safe assets (bills, notes and bonds) during 1925 through 2013, he finds that: Keep Reading

Net Performance of SMA and Intrinsic Momentum Timing Strategies

Does stock market timing based on simple moving average (SMA) and time-series (intrinsic or absolute) momentum strategies really work? In the November 2013 version of his paper entitled “The Real-Life Performance of Market Timing with Moving Average and Time-Series Momentum Rules”, Valeriy Zakamulin tests realistic long-only implementations of these strategies with estimated trading frictions. The SMA strategy enters (exits) an index when its unadjusted monthly close is above (below) the average over the last 2 to 24 months. The intrinsic momentum strategy enters (exits) an index when its unadjusted return over the last 2 to 24 months is positive (negative). Unadjusted means excluding dividends. He applies the strategies separately to four indexes: the S&P Composite Index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, long-term U.S. government bonds and intermediate-term U.S. government bonds. When not in an index, both strategies earn the U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield. He considers two test methodologies: (1) straightforward inception-to-date in-sample rule optimization followed by out-of-sample performance measurement, with various break points between in-sample and out-of-sample subperiods; and, (2) average performance across two sets of bootstrap simulations that preserve relevant statistical features of historical data (including serial return correlation for one set)He focuses on Sharpe ratio (including dividends) as the critical performance metric, but also considers terminal value of an initial investment. He assumes the investor is an institutional paying negligible broker fees and trading in small orders that do not move prices, such that one-way trading friction is the average bid-ask half-spread. He ignores tax impacts of trading. With these assumptions, he estimates a constant one-way trading friction of 0.5% (0.1%) for stock (bond) indexes. Using monthly closes and dividends/coupons for the four specified indexes and contemporaneous T-bill yields during January 1926 through December 2012 (87 years), he finds that: Keep Reading

Predicting Government Bond Term Premiums with Leading Economic Indicators

Do economic indicators usefully predict government bond returns? In the January 2014 version of their paper entitled “What Drives the International Bond Risk Premia?”, Guofu Zhou and Xiaoneng Zhu examine whether OECD-issued leading economic indicators predict government bond returns at a one-month horizon. They focus on a four-country (U.S., UK, Japan and Germany) aggregate leading economic indicator (LEI4). They test whether LEI4 outperforms historical averages and individual country LEIs in predicting term premiums (relative to a one-year bond) for U.S., UK, Japanese and German government bonds with terms of two, three, four and five years. Their test methodology employs monthly inception-to-date regressions of annual change in LEI4 versus next-month bond return for an out-of-sample test period of 1990 through 2011. Using end-of-month total return data for 1-year, 2-year, 3-year, 4-year and 5-year government bonds since 1962 for the U.S., 1970 for the UK, 1980 for Japan and 1975 for GM, all through 2011, they find that: Keep Reading

Low-risk Bonds Are Best (in the Future)?

Do low-risk bonds, like low-risk stocks, tend to outperform their high-risk counterparts? In their September 2013 paper entitled “Low-Risk Anomalies in Global Fixed Income: Evidence from Major Broad Markets”, Raul Leote de Carvalho, Patrick Dugnolle, Xiao Lu and Pierre Moulin investigate whether low-risk beats high-risk for different measures of risk and different bond segments. They consider only measures of risk that account for the fact that the risk of a bond inherently decreases as it approaches maturity, emphasizing duration-times-yield (yield elasticity). They focus on corporate investment grade bonds denominated in dollars, euros, pounds or yen, but also consider government and high-yield corporate bonds worldwide. Each month, they rank a selected category of bonds by risk into fifths (quintile portfolios). For calculation of monthly quintile returns, they weight individual bond returns by market capitalization. They reinvest coupons the end of the month. They focus on quintile portfolio Sharpe ratios to test the risk-performance relationship. Using monthly risk data and returns for 85,442 individual bonds during January 1997 through December 2012 (192 months), they find that: Keep Reading

Safe Retirement Portfolio Withdrawal Rate as of April 2013

What initial retirement portfolio withdrawal rate is sustainable over long horizons when, as currently, bond yields are well below and stock market valuations well above historical averages? In their June 2013 paper entitled “Asset Valuations and Safe Portfolio Withdrawal Rates”, David Blanchett, Michael Finke and Wade Pfau apply predictions of bond yields and stock market returns to estimate whether various initial withdrawal rates succeed over different retirement periods. They define initial withdrawal rate as a percentage of portfolio balance at retirement, escalated by inflation each year thereafter. They simulate future bond yield as a linear function of current bond yield with noise, assuming a long-term average of 5% and bounds of 1% and 10%. They simulate future U.S. stock mark return as a linear function of Cyclically Adjusted Price-to-Earnings ratio (CAPE, or P/E10), the ratio of current stock market level to average earnings over the last ten years, assuming P/E10 has a long-term average of 16.4 with noise (implying average annual return 10% with standard deviation 20%). They simulate inflation as a function of bond yield, change in bond yield, P/E10 and change in P/E10 with noise. They assume an annual portfolio management fee of 0.5%. They run 10,000 Monte Carlo simulations for each of many initial withdrawal rate scenarios, with probability of success defined as the percentage of runs not exhausting the portfolio before the end of a specified retirement period. Using initial conditions of a government bond yield of 2% and a P/E10 of 22 as of mid-April 2013, they find that: Keep Reading

POMO and T-note Yield

The Federal Reserve states that open market operations regulate “the aggregate level of balances available in the banking system,” thereby keeping the effective Federal Funds Rate close to a target level. The operations are predominantly repurchases, whereby the Federal Reserve provides liquidity. Do Permanent Open Market Operations (POMO) systematically affect the nominal or real yields on 10-year Treasury notes (T-notes)? Using monthly amounts of Treasuries repurchases via POMO during August 2005 through May 2013 (94 months) and contemporaneous monthly T-note yields and 12-month trailing inflation rates, we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Tests of BWX as Diversifier

A subscriber suggested testing the diversification power of SPDR Barclays International Treasury Bonds (BWX) as a distinct asset class. To check, we add BWX to the following mix of asset class proxies (the same used in “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy”):

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 1000 Index (IWB)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

First, per the findings of “Asset Class Diversification Effectiveness Factors”, we measure the average monthly return for BWX and the average pairwise correlation of BWX monthly returns with the monthly returns of the above assets. Then, we compare cumulative returns and basic monthly return statistics for equally weighted (EW), monthly rebalanced portfolios with and without BWX. We ignore rebalancing frictions, which would be about the same for the alternative portfolios. Using adjusted monthly returns for BWX and the above nine asset class proxies from November 2007 (first return available for BWX) through April 2013 (66 monthly returns), we find that: Keep Reading

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