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Commodity Futures

These entries address investing and trading in commodities and commodity futures as an alternative asset class to equities.

Net Speculators Position as Futures Return Predictor

Should investors rely on aggregate positions of speculators (large non-commercial traders) as indicators of expected futures market returns? In their November 2018 paper entitled “Speculative Pressure”, John Hua Fan, Adrian Fernandez-Perez, Ana-Maria Fuertes and Joëlle Miffre investigate speculative pressure (net positions of speculators) as a predictor of futures contract prices across four asset classes (commodity, currency, equity index and interest rates/fixed income) both separately and for a multi-class portfolio. They measure speculative pressure as end-of-month net positions of speculators relative to their average weekly net positions over the past year. Positive (negative) speculative pressure indicates backwardation (contango), with speculators net long (short) and futures prices expected to rise (fall) as maturity approaches. They measure expected returns via portfolios that systematically buy (sell) futures with net positive (negative) speculative pressure. They compare speculative pressure strategy performance to those for momentum (average daily futures return over the past year), value (futures price relative to its price 4.5 to 5.5 years ago) and carry (roll yield, difference in log prices of  nearest and second nearest contracts). Using open interests of large non-commercial traders from CFTC weekly legacy Commitments of Traders (COT) reports for 84 futures contracts series (43 commodities, 11 currencies, 19 equity indexes and 11 interest rates/fixed income) from the end of September 1992 through most of May 2018, along with contemporaneous Friday futures settlement prices, they find that: Keep Reading

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

Commodity Futures Momentum and Reversal

Do prices of commodity futures contract series reliably exhibit reversal and/or momentum? In their October 2018 paper entitled “Do Momentum and Reversal Strategies Work in Commodity Futures? A Comprehensive Study”, Andrew Urquhart and Hanxiong Zhang investigate the performance of four momentum/reversal trading strategies as applied to excess return indexes for 29 commodity futures contract series. Excess return indexes invest continuously in nearest S&P GSCI futures, rolling forward during the fifth to ninth business day of each month. The four strategies are:

  1. Pairs reversal trading – At the end of each formation interval, identify the five pairs of indexes (with equal capital commitments) that track most closely based on sum of squared deviations of normalized price differences. During the ensuing trading interval, when the normalized prices of any pairs diverge by at least two standard deviations of formation period differences, go long (short) the member of the pair that is undervalued (overvalued). Close all pair trades when prices re-converge at a daily close or at the end of the trading interval.
  2. Pairs momentum trading – The inverse of pairs reversal trading, wherein the long (short) position is the pair member exhibiting relative strength (weakness) during the trading interval.
  3. Conventional momentum – At the end of each month, rank all indexes by cumulative return over the formation interval. Go long (short) the equal-weighted 30% of assets with the highest (lowest) past returns during the ensuing holding interval.
  4. Nearness to high momentum – At the end of each month, rank all indexes based on nearness to respective formation interval highs. Go long (short) the equal-weighted 30% of assets that are nearest/at (farthest below) past highs during the ensuing holding interval.

They consider nine formation intervals (1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 24, 36, 48 and 60 months) and 21 holding intervals (1, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 33, 36, 39, 42, 45, 48, 51, 54, 57 and 60 months).They assume that long-short strategies are about 50% collateralized, with capital therefore available to handle holding interval margin calls. They also test effects of 0.69% per year (0.06% per month) transaction costs. Using daily levels of six energy, 10 metal and 13 agriculture and live stock commodity futures excess return indexes during January 1979 through October 2017, they find that:

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Does the Sunspot Cycle Predict Grain Prices?

As a follow-up to “Sunspot Cycle and Stock Market Returns” a reader asked: “Sunspot activity does have a direct relationship to weather. Could one speculate on the agriculture market using the sunspot cycle?” To investigate, we relate sunspot activity to the fairly long U.S. Producer Price Index (PPI) for grains. Using monthly averages of daily sunspot counts and monthly PPI for grains during January 1926 (limited by PPI data) through October 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Are Managed Futures ETFs Working?

Are managed futures, as implemented by exchange-traded funds (ETF), attractive? To investigate, we consider three managed futures ETFs, all currently available:

  1. WisdomTree Managed Futures Strategy (WTMF).
  2. First Trust Morningstar Managed Futures Strategy (FMF).
  3. ProShares Managed Futures Strategy (FUT).

We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and correlation of returns with those of SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as key performance statistics. We use Eurekahedge CTA/Managed Futures Hedge Fund Index (the index) as a benchmark. Using monthly returns for the three funds as available through August 2018, and contemporaneous monthly returns for the benchmark index and SPY, 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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Interplay of the Dollar, Gold and Oil

What is the interplay among investable proxies for the U.S. dollar, gold and crude oil? Do changes in the value of the dollar lead those in hard assets? To investigate, we relate the return series of three exchange-traded funds: (1) the futures-based PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bullish (UUP); (2) the spot-based SPDR Gold Shares (GLD); and, (3) the spot-based United States Oil (USO). Using monthly, weekly and daily prices for these funds during March 2007 (limited by inception of UUP) through April 2018 (134 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Commodity, Equity Index and Currency Popular Pairs Trading

Are technical rules applied to pairs trading attractive after correcting for data snooping bias? In their March 2018 paper entitled “Pairs Trading, Technical Analysis and Data Snooping: Mean Reversion vs Momentum”, Ioannis Psaradellis, Jason Laws, Athanasios Pantelous and Georgios Sermpinis test a variety of technical trading rules for long-short trading of 15 commodity futures, equity indexes and currency pairs (all versus the U.S. dollar) frequently used on trading websites or offered by financial market firms. Specifically, they test 18,412 trend-following/momentum and contrarian/mean-reversion rules often applied by traders to past daily pair return spreads. They consider average excess (relative to short-term interest rate) return and Sharpe ratio as key metrics for rule selection and performance measurement. They use False Discovery Rate (FDR) to control for data snooping bias, such that 90% of the equally weighted best rules in FDR-corrected portfolios significantly outperform the benchmark. Most tests are in-sample. To test robustness of findings, they: (1) account for one-way trading frictions ranging from 0.02% to 0.05% across assets; (2) consider five subperiods to test consistency over time; and, (3) perform out-of-sample tests using the first part of each subperiod to select the best rules and roughly the last year to measure performance of these rules out-of-sample. Using daily prices of specified assets and daily short-term interest rates for selected currencies during January 1990 (except ethanol starts late March 2006) through mid-December 2016, they find that:

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Volatility Scaling for Momentum Strategies?

What is the best way to implement futures momentum and manage its risk? In their November 2017 paper entitled “Risk Adjusted Momentum Strategies: A Comparison between Constant and Dynamic Volatility Scaling Approaches”, Minyou Fan, Youwei Li and Jiadong Liu compare performances of five futures momentum strategies and two benchmarks:

  1. Cross-sectional, or relative, momentum (XSMOM) – each month long (short) the equally weighted tenth of futures contract series with the highest (lowest) returns over the past six months.
  2. XSMOM with constant volatility scaling (CVS) – each month scales the XSMOM portfolio by the ratio of a 12% target volatility to annualized realized standard deviation of daily XSMOM portfolio returns over the past six months.
  3. XSMOM with dynamic volatility scaling (DVS) – each month scales the XSMOM portfolio by the the ratio of next-month expected market return (a function of realized portfolio volatility and whether MSCI return over the last 24 months is positive or negative) to realized variance of XSMOM portfolio daily returns over the past six months.
  4. Time-series, or intrinsic, momentum (TSMOM) – each month long (short) the equally weighted futures contract series with positive (negative) returns over the past six months.
  5. TSMOM with time-varying volatility scaling (TSMOM Scaled) – each month scales the TSMOM portfolio by the ratio of 22.6% (the volatility of an equally weighted portfolio of all future series) to annualized exponentially weighted variance of TSMOM returns over the past six months.
  6. Equally weighted, monthly rebalanced portfolio of all futures contract series (Buy-and-Hold).
  7. Buy-and-Hold with time-varying volatility scaling (Buy-and-Hold Scaled) – each month scales the Buy-and-Hold portfolio as for TSMOM Scaled.

They test these strategies on a multi-class universe of 55 global liquid futures contract series, starting when at least 45 series are available in November 1991. They focus on average annualized gross return, annualized volatility, annualized gross Sharpe ratio, cumulative return and maximum (peak-to-trough) drawdown (MaxDD) as comparison metrics. Using monthly prices for the 55 futures contract series (24 commodities, 13 government bonds, 9 currencies and 9 equity indexes) during June 1986 through May 2017, they find that:

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Exploitability of Deep Value across Asset Classes

Is value investing particularly profitable when the price spread between cheap and expensive assets (the value spread) is extremely large (deep value)? In their November 2017 paper entitled “Deep Value”, Clifford Asness, John Liew, Lasse Pedersen and Ashwin Thapar examine how the performance of value investing changes when the value spread is in its largest fifth (quintile). They consider value spreads for seven asset classes: individual stocks within each of four global regions (U.S., UK, continental Europe and Japan); equity index futures globally; currencies globally; and, bond futures globally. Their measures for value are:

  • Individual stocks – book value-to-market capitalization ratio (B/P).
  • Equity index futures – index-level B/P, aggregated using index weights.
  • Currencies – real exchange rate based on purchasing power parity.
  • Bonds – real bond yield (nominal bond yield minus forecasted inflation).

For each of the seven broad asset classes, they each month rank assets by value. They then for each class form a hedge portfolio that is long (short) the third of assets that are cheapest (most expensive). For stocks and equity indexes, they weight portfolio assets by market capitalization. For currencies and bond futures, they weight equally. To create more deep value episodes, they construct 515 sub-classes from the seven broad asset classes. For asset sub-classes, they use hedge portfolios when there are many assets (272 strategies) and pairs trading when there are few (243 strategies). They conduct both in-sample and out-of-sample deep value tests, the latter buying value when the value spread is within its top inception-to-date quintile and selling value when the value spread reverts to its inception-to-date median. Using data as specified and as available (starting as early as January 1926 for U.S. stocks and as late as January 1988 for continental Europe stocks) through September 2015, they find that:

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