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Currency Trading

Currency trading (forex or FX) offers investors a way to trade on country or regional fiscal/monetary situations and tendencies. Are there reliable ways to exploit this market? Does it represent a distinct asset class?

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

Predicting Crypto-asset Returns with Past Returns-Volume

Do crypto-asset trading volumes usefully predict returns? In the August 2018 draft of their paper entitled “Trading Volume in Cryptocurrency Markets”, Daniele Bianchi and Alexander Dickerson investigate the power of crypto-asset trading volumes to predict future returns. They calculate volumes and returns based on either 12-hour or 24-hour intervals. They process these inputs as follows:

  • To detect volume abnormalities, they estimate its log deviation from trend over a rolling 21-interval window. To put different crypto-assets on an equal footing, they then standardized by dividing by its log standard deviation over the same window.
  • They measure past returns over the same interval, denominated in bitcoins, (thereby including Bitcoin only indirectly). To emphasize the most liquid exchanges, they weight returns by volume when aggregating.

To assess economic significance of findings, they double-sort crypto-assets first into two to four groups ranked by the return metric and then within each group into three or four subgroups ranked by the volume metric. Using intraday (10-minute) price and volume data for 26 crypto-assets from over 150 exchanges (90% of total crypto-asset market capitalization), each denominated in bitcoins, during January 1, 2017 through May 10, 2018, they find that:

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Simple Currency ETF Momentum Strategy

Do exchange-traded funds (ETF) that track major currencies support a relative momentum strategy? To investigate, we consider the following four ETFs:

Invesco DB US Dollar Bullish (UUP)
Invesco CurrencyShares Euro Currency (FXE)
Invesco CurrencyShares Japanese Yen (FXY)
WisdomTree Chinese Yuan Strategy (CYB)

We each month rank these ETFs based on past return over lookback intervals ranging from one to 12 months. We consider portfolios of past winners reformed monthly based on Top 1 and on equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and Top 3 ETFs. The benchmark portfolio is the equally weighted combination of all four ETFs. We present findings in formats similar to those used for the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy and the Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy. Using monthly adjusted closing prices for the currency ETFs during March 2007 (when three become available) through August 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Crypto-asset Risks and Returns

How do the major crypto-assets (Bitcoin, Ripple, and Ethereum) stack up against conventional asset classes? In their August 2018 paper entitled “Risks and Returns of Cryptocurrency”, Yukun Liu and Aleh Tsyvinski apply standard tools of asset pricing to measure crypto-asset exposures to:

  • 160 equity factors.
  • Macroeconomic factors (non-durable consumption growth, durable consumption growth, industrial production growth, and personal income growth).
  • Major non-U.S. currencies (Australian Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Singapore Dollar and UK Pound).
  • Precious metals (gold, platinum and silver).

They also investigate potential predictors for cryptocurrency returns analogous to those of traditional asset classes (momentum, investor attention, price-to-“dividend” ratio, realized volatility and supply). Finally, they measure exposures of various industries to crypto-asset returns. Using daily crypto-asset prices for Bitcoin since January 2011 and for Ripple and Ethereum since early August 2013, all through May 2018, along with contemporaneous data for other variables as outlined above, they find that: Keep Reading

Bitcoin a Safe Haven Candidate?

Should investors consider Bitcoin as a safe haven from turbulent financial markets? In their June 2018 paper entitled “Bitcoin as a Safe Haven: Is It Even Worth Considering?”, Lee Smales and Dirk Baur assess the potential for Bitcoin as a safe haven, focusing on considerations beyond its low return correlations with other assets during times of market stress. Their comparison set of assets consists of gold (GLD) and bonds (10-year U.S. Treasury futures) as traditional safe havens, a proxy for the U.S. stock index (SPY) and mature (Apple) and immature (Twitter) individual stocks. They match samples by removing Bitcoin data for weekends and holidays. Using daily returns for Bitcoin and the comparison set of assets during August 2011 through May 2018, they find that: Keep Reading

Big Reward for Risk in Initial Coin Offerings?

Should investors pursue initial coin offerings (ICO), special-purpose crypto-tokens? In their May 2018 paper entitled “Digital Tulips? Returns to Investors in Initial Coin Offerings”, Hugo Benedetti and Leonard Kostovetsky study the market for crypto-tokens, focusing on: initial pricing; returns from buying at ICO and selling at date of listing on an exchange; and, returns from buying at listing date and holding for various fixed intervals. ICOs typically originate with an offeror’s prospectus detailing a goal, plan, team and offering schedule. Interested parties then register for the offering, with execution typically in stages over several months, some restricted to preferred users, angel investors, venture capitalists and/or accredited investors. The authors also employ Twitter accounts of ICO offerors to test the relationship between Twitter activity and price and to measure post-ICO attrition rate of offerors. Using data for 2,390 ICOs completed by May 2018, including offeror Twitter histories as of May 8, 2018, they find that:

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Currency Exchange Style Factors for Incremental Diversification

Do currency exchange factor strategies usefully diversify a set of conventional asset classes? In their May 2018 paper entitled “Currency Management with Style”, Harald Lohre and Martin Kolrep investigate the systematic harvesting of currency exchange carry, value and momentum strategies, specified as follows and applied to the G10 currencies:

  • Carry – buy (sell) the three equally weighted currency forwards with the highest (lowest) short-term interest rates, reformed monthly.
  • Momentum – buy (sell) the three equally weighted currency forwards with the greatest (least) appreciation over the past three months, reformed monthly.
  • Value (long-term reversion) – buy (sell) the three equally weighted currency forwards with the lowest (highest) change in their real exchange rates, based on purchasing power parity, over the past 60 months, reformed monthly.

They examine in-sample (full-sample) mean-variance relationships for these strategies to assess their value as diversifiers of five conventional asset classes (U.S. stocks, commodities, U.S. Treasury bonds, U.S. corporate investment-grade bonds and U.S. corporate high-yield bonds). They also look at potential out-of-sample benefits of these strategies based on information available at the time of each monthly rebalancing as additions to a risk parity portfolio of the five conventional assets from the perspective. For this out-of-sample test, they consider both minimum variance (tail risk hedging) and mean-variance optimization (return seeking) for aggregating the three currency strategies. Using monthly data for the selected assets from the end of January 1999 through December 2016, they 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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SACEVS and SACEMS from a European Perspective

A European subscriber asked about the effect of the dollar-euro exchange rate on the Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy (SACEVS) and the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS). To investigate, we each month adjust the gross returns for these strategies for the change in the dollar-euro exchange rate that month. We consider all strategy variations: Best Value and Weighted for SACEVS; and, Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 for SACEVS. We focus on SACEVS Best Value and SACEMS EW Top 3. We consider effects on four gross performance metrics: average monthly return; standard deviation of monthly returns; compound annual growth rate (CAGR); and, maximum drawdown (MaxDD). Using monthly returns for the strategies and monthly changes in the dollar-euro exchange rate since August 2002 for SACEVS and since August 2006 for SACEMS, both through April 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

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