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Commodity Futures

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

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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Exploiting VIX Futures Roll Return with ETNs

“Identifying VXX/XIV Tendencies” finds that S&P 500 implied volatility index (VIX) futures roll return, as measured by the percentage difference in settlement price between the nearest and next nearest VIX futures, may be a useful predictor of iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-term Futures ETN (VXX) and VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-term ETN (XIV) returns. Is there a way to exploit this predictive power? To investigate, we compare performances of:

  1. XIV B&H – buying and holding XIV.
  2. XIV-Cash – holding XIV (cash) when prior-day roll return is non-positive (positive).
  3. XIV-VXX – holding XIV (VXX) when prior-day roll return is non-positive (positive).

We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance statistics. Using daily closing prices for XIV and VXX and daily settlement prices for VIX futures from XIV inception (end of November 2010) through mid-November 2017, we find that:

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Identifying VXX/XIV Tendencies

A subscriber inquired about strategies for trading exchange-traded notes (ETN) constructed from near-term S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) futures: iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX) and VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term (XIV), available since 1/30/09 and 11/30/10, respectively. The managers of these securities buy and sell VIX futures daily to maintain a constant maturity of one month (long for VXX and short for XIV), continually rolling partial positions from the nearest term contract to the next nearest. We consider five potential predictors of the price behavior of these ETNs:

  1. Level of VIX, in case a high (low) level indicates a future decrease (increase) in VIX that might affect VXX and XIV.
  2. Change in VIX (VIX “return”), in case there is some predictable reversion or momentum for VIX that might affect VXX and XIV.
  3. Implied volatility of VIX (VVIX), in case uncertainty in the expected level of VIX might affect VXX and XIV.
  4. Term structure of VIX futures (roll return) underlying VXX and XIV, as measured by the percentage difference in settlement price between the nearest and next nearest VIX futures, indicating a price headwind or tailwind for a fund manager continually rolling from one to the other. VIX roll return is usually negative (contango), but occasionally positive (backwardation).
  5. Volatility Risk Premium (VRP), estimated as the difference between VIX and the annualized standard deviation of daily S&P 500 Index returns over the past 21 trading days (multiplying by the square root of 250 to annualize), in case this difference between expectations and recent experience indicates the direction of future change in VIX.

We measure predictive power of each in two ways:

  • Correlations between daily VXX and XIV returns over the next 21 trading days to daily values of each indicator.
  • Average next-day XIV returns by ranked tenth (decile) of daily values of each indicator.

Using daily levels of VIX and VVIX, settlement prices for VIX futures contracts, levels of the S&P 500 Index and split-adjusted prices for VXX and XIV from inceptions of the ETNs through mid-November 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

Asset Class Value Spreads

Do value strategy returns vary exploitably over time and across asset classes? In their October 2017 paper entitled “Value Timing: Risk and Return Across Asset Classes”, Fahiz Baba Yara, Martijn Boons and Andrea Tamoni examine the power of value spreads to predict returns for individual U.S. equities, global stock indexes, global government bonds, commodities and currencies. They measure value spreads as follows:

  • For individual stocks, they each month sort stocks into tenths (deciles) on book-to-market ratio and form a portfolio that is long (short) the value-weighted decile with the highest (lowest) ratios.
  • For global developed market equity indexes, they each month form a portfolio that is long (short) the equally weighted indexes with book-to-price ratio above (below) the median.
  • For each other asset class, they each month form a portfolio that is long (short) the equally weighted assets with 5-year past returns below (above) the median.

To quantify benefits of timing value spreads, they test monthly time series (in only when undervalued) and rotation (weighted by valuation) strategies across asset classes. To measure sources of value spread variation, they decompose value spreads into asset class-specific and common components. Using monthly data for liquid U.S. stocks during January 1972 through December 2014, spot prices for 28 commodities during January 1972 through December 2014, spot and forward exchange rates for 10 currencies during February 1976 through December 2014, modeled and 1-month futures prices for ten 10-year government bonds during January 1991 through May 2009, and levels and book-to-price ratios for 13 developed equity market indexes during January 1994 through December 2014, they find that:

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Trend-following Managed Futures to Make Retirement Safer?

Should retirement portfolios include an allocation to managed futures? In his October 2017 paper entitled “Using Trend-Following Managed Futures to Increase Expected Withdrawal Rates”, Andrew Miller compares seven 30-year retirement scenarios via backtests and modified backtests. Specifically, he compares maximum annual real withdrawal rates as a percentage of initial assets that do not exhaust any 30-year retirement portfolios starting each year during 1926-2012 (SAFEMAX). The seven scenarios, all rebalanced annually, are:

  1. Historical Returns 50-50: uses actual annual returns for a 50% allocation to large-capitalization U.S. stocks and a 50% allocation to intermediate-term U.S. Treasuries.
  2. Historical Returns 50-40-10: same as Scenario 1, except shifts 10% of the Treasuries allocation to a trend-following managed futures strategy that is long and short 67 stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities futures series based on equally weighted 1-month, 3-month and 12-month past returns with a 10% annual volatility target.
  3. Lower Historical Returns 50-50: same as Scenario 1, but reduces monthly returns for stocks and Treasuries by 0.19%, reflecting end-of-2016 valuations.
  4. Lower Historical Returns 50-40-10: same as Scenario 2, but reduces monthly returns for stocks, Treasuries and managed futures by 0.19%.
  5. Lower Managed Futures Sharpe Ratio 50-40-10: same as Scenario 2, but reduces the Sharpe ratio for managed futures from an historical level to 0.5.
  6. Lower Historical Returns/Lower Managed Futures Sharpe Ratio 50-40-10: same as Scenario 4, but reduces Sharpe ratio for managed futures to 0.5.
  7. Historical Returns 50-50 with Trend Following for Stocks: same as Scenario 1, but each month puts the stocks allocation into stocks (30-day U.S. Treasury bills) when the return on stocks is positive (negative) over the prior 12 months.

He ignores all trading frictions, fees and taxes. Using monthly asset class returns as specified and monthly inflation data during January 1926 through December 2012, he finds that: Keep Reading

Average Past Return Sign Momentum

Does average sign of recent returns work as well as recent cumulative return as a momentum metric? In their May 2017 paper entitled “Returns Signal Momentum”, Fotis Papailias, Jiadong Liu and Dimitrios Thomakos introduce and test a momentum strategy (RSM) based on the equally weighted average signs (1 for positive and 0 for negative) of past returns over a given lookback interval. This metric employs each of the past returns during the lookback interval, not a single cumulative return as in times series (intrinsic or absolute) momentum. It considers only signs of past returns, not their magnitudes as in conventional relative momentum. They focus on monthly returns over a lookback interval of 12 months. They test RSM on a universe of 55 of the most liquid futures/forwards: 24 commodities; 9 currency exchange rates versus the U.S. dollar; 9 developed country equity indexes; and, 13 government bonds of various maturities from six developed countries. Their strategy is each month long (short) a contract series when average sign of its last 12 monthly returns is above (below) a threshold. They consider two types of thresholds: (1) fixed over the test period, with the featured optimal value selected by experimentation; and, (2) time-varying, each month choosing the best-performing value (from among 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.6, 0.7 and 0.8) over the prior 24 months. Using returns for the 55 futures/forwards series as available to support a strategy test period of January 1985 through March 2015, they find that:
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Carry Trade Across Futures Asset Classes

Does a carry trade derived from roll yields of futures/forward contracts work within asset classes (undiversified) and across asset classes (iversified)? In his May 2017 paper entitled “Optimising Cross-Asset Carry”, Nick Baltas explores the profitability of cross-sectional (relative) and time-series (absolute) carry strategies within and across futures/forward markets for currencies, stock indexes, commodities and government bonds. He posits that contracts in backwardation (contango) present a positive (negative) roll yield and should generally be overweighted (underweighted) in a carry portfolio. He considers three types of carry portfolios, each reformed monthly:

  1. Cross-sectional (XS) or Relative – Rank all assets within a class by strength of carry, demean the rankings such that half are positive and half are negative and then assign weights proportional to demeaned ranks to create a balanced long-short portfolio. Combine asset classes by applying inverse volatility weights (based on 100-day rolling windows of returns) to each class portfolio.
  2. Times-series (TS) or Absolute – Go long (short) each asset within a class that is in backwardation (contango), such that the class may be net long or short. Combine asset classes in the same way as XS.
  3. Optimized (OPT) – Apply both relative strength and sign of carry to determine gross magnitude and direction (long or short) of positions for all assets, and further apply asset volatilities and correlations (based on 100-day rolling windows of returns) to optimize return/risk allocations.

Using daily data for 52 futures series (20 commodities, eight 10-year government bonds, nine currency exchange rates versus the U.S. dollar and 15 country stock indexes) during January 1990 through January 2016, he finds that: Keep Reading

Common Commodity Futures Trading Strategies

What are the most common strategies for trading commodity futures? In their brief January 2017 article entitled “Commodity Futures Trading Strategies: Trend-Following and Calendar Spreads”, Hilary Till and Joseph Eagleeye describe the two most common strategies among commodity futures traders: (1) trend-following, wherein non-discretionary traders automatically screen markets based on technical factors to detect beginnings and ends of trends across different timeframes; and, (2) calendar-spread trading, wherein traders exploit commercial/institutional supply and demand mismatches that affect price spreads between commodity futures contract delivery months. Examples of the latter are seasonal inventory build and draw cycles (as for natural gas) and precise roll cycles for expiring contracts included in commodity futures indexes. Based on the body of research and examples, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Implied Volatility Trading Strategy for Commodity Futures

Is option-implied volatility a useful predictor of returns for commodity futures? In her March 2017 paper entitled “Commodity Option Implied Volatilities and the Expected Futures Returns”, Lin Gao tests the power of option-implied volatilities (with 12-month detrending) for commodities to predict commodity futures returns. Specifically, she each month buys (sells) the fourth of commodities with the lowest (highest) detrended implied volatilities at of the end of the preceding month. To generate continuous return series for liquid commodity futures contracts, she rolls contracts when time-to-expiration decreases to one month. She further compares the implied volatility hedge strategy to five other commodity futures hedge strategies (specified below): (1) momentum; (2) basis; (3) basis-momentum; (4) hedging pressure; and, (5) growth in open interest expressed indollars. Using options data for 25 commodities to calculate end-of-month implied volatilities and contemporaneous commodity futures price and open interest data as available during January 1990 through October 2014, she finds that: Keep Reading

Commodity Futures Return Predictability

Are aggregate commodity futures returns predictable based on prices across the maturity curve and/or on the state of the global economy? In her January 2017 paper entitled “Commodity Return Predictability”, Regina Hammerschmid investigates aggregate commodity futures return predictability based on variables incorporating information from the term structure of futures prices and several global economic variables. She includes commodity futures series spanning five sectors (energy, grains/oilseeds, livestock, metals and softs). She considers three groups of predictive variables: (1) commodities spot and futures prices; (2) aggregate OECD economic data (industrial production, total exports and imports, the composite leading indicator and business confidence index); and, (3) for comparison tests, commodities trading volume, open interest and hedging pressure (net difference between short and long positions of hedgers). She uses returns for fully collateralized long positions in commodity futures contracts with 1, 2, 3 and 4 months to maturity, rolled at the end of each month. She aggregates returns by first averaging within each sector and then averaging sector averages (all equally weighted). She considers forecast horizons of 1, 3, 6, 9 or 12 months. For out-of-sample regression testing, she uses an inception-to-date window of at least 10 years of data. Using daily spot and commodity futures settlement prices as available, monthly economic data and monthly S&P-GSCI levels since January 1975, and associated monthly trading volume, open interest and hedging pressure data as available since January 1986, all through August 2015, she finds that: Keep Reading

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