Objective research to aid investing decisions

Value Investing Strategy (Strategy Overview)

Allocations for September 2022 (Final)
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Momentum Investing Strategy (Strategy Overview)

Allocations for September 2022 (Final)
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Economic Indicators

The U.S. economy is a very complex system, with indicators therefore ambiguous and difficult to interpret. To what degree do macroeconomics and the stock market go hand-in-hand, if at all? Do investors/traders: (1) react to economic readings; (2) anticipate them; or, (3) just muddle along, mostly fooled by randomness? These blog entries address relationships between economic indicators and the stock market.

Cyclical Consumption as Stock Market Return Predictor

Do investors drive stocks to overvaluation (undervaluation) in good (bad) economic times, such that corresponding expectations for future returns are therefore relatively low (high). In the August 2019 update of their paper entitled “Consumption Fluctuations and Expected Returns”, flagged by a subscriber, Victoria Atanasov, Stig Møller and Richard Priestley introduce the cyclical consumption economic variable and examine its power to predict stock market returns. They hypothesize that in good (bad) economic times:

  1. Marginal utility of present consumption is low (high).
  2. Investors are willing (unwilling) to sacrifice current consumption for investment.
  3. This investment pushes stock prices up (down) and expected returns therefore down (up).

Their principal measure of consumption is quarterly seasonally adjusted real per capita consumption expenditures on non-durables and services from the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) Table 7.1 maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. They extract its cyclical component (detrend) by regressing the logarithm of real per capita consumption on a constant and four lagged values of consumption from about six years prior. They conduct both in-sample and out-of-sample (expanding window regressions, with 2-quarter lag for release delay) tests of the quarterly relationship between cyclical consumption and future U.S. stock market returns. Using the specified consumption data and quarterly returns for the S&P 500 Index and the broad value-weighted U.S. stock market from the first quarter of 1947 through the fourth quarter of 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

Combine Market Trend and Economic Trend Signals?

A subscriber requested review of an analysis concluding that combining economic trend and market trend signals enhances market timing performance. Specifically, per the example in the referenced analysis, we look at combining:

  • The 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) for the broad U.S. stock market. The trend is positive (negative) when the market is above (below) its SMA10.
  • The 12-month simple moving average (SMA12) for the U.S. unemployment rate (UR). The trend is positive (negative) when UR is below (above) its SMA12.

We consider scenarios when the stock market trend is positive, the UR trend is positive, either trend is positive or both trends are positive. We consider two samples: (1) dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) since inception at the end of January 1993 (nearly 26 years); and, (2) the S&P 500 Index (SP500) since January 1948 (limited by UR availability), adjusted monthly by estimated dividends from the Shiller dataset, for longer-term robustness tests (nearly 71 years). Per the referenced analysis, we use the seasonally adjusted civilian UR, which comes ultimately from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS generally releases UR monthly within a few days after the end of the measured month. We make the simplifying assumptions that UR for a given month is available for SMA12 calculation and signal execution at the market close for that same month. When not in the stock market, we assume return on cash from the broker is the yield on 3-month U.S. Treasury bills (T-bill). We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and annual Sharpe ratio as key performance metrics. We use the average monthly T-bill yield during a year as the risk-free rate for that year in Sharpe ratio calculations. While we do not apply any stocks-cash switching frictions or tax considerations, we do calculate the number of switches for each scenario. Using specified monthly data through September 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

The Decision Moose Asset Allocation Framework

A reader requested review of the Decision Moose asset allocation framework. Decision Moose is “an automated stock, bond, and gold momentum model developed in 1989. Index Moose uses technical analysis and exchange traded index funds (ETFs) to track global investment flows in the Americas, Europe and Asia, and to generate a market timing signal.” The trading system allocates 100% of funds to the index projected to perform best. The site includes a history of switch recommendations since the end of August 1996, with gross performance. To evaluate Decision Moose, we assume that switches and associated trading returns are as described (out of sample, not backtested) and compare the returns to those for dividend-adjusted SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) over the same intervals. Using Decision Moose signals/performance data and contemporaneous SPY prices during 8/30/96 through 9/30/19 (23+ years), we find that: Keep Reading

Asset Class ETF Interactions with the Yen

How do different asset classes interact with the Japanese yen-U.S. dollar exchange rate? To investigate, we consider relationships between Invesco CurrencyShares Japanese Yen (FXY) and the exchange-traded fund (ETF) asset class proxies used in “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) at a monthly measurement frequency. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for FXY and the asset class proxies since March 2007 as available through July 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

SMA10 vs. OFR FSI for Stock Market Timing

In response to “OFR FSI as Stock Market Return Predictor”, a subscriber suggested overlaying a 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) technical indicator on the Office of Financial Research Financial Stress Index (OFR FSI) fundamental indicator for timing SPDR S&P 500 (SPY). The intent of the suggested overlay is to expand risk-on opportunities safely. To test the overlay, we add four strategies (4 through 7) to the prior three, each evaluated since January 2000 and since January 2009:

  1. SPY – buy and hold SPY.
  2. OFR FSI-Cash – hold SPY (cash as proxied by 3-month U.S. Treasury bills) when OFR FSI at the end of the prior month is negative or zero (positive).
  3. OFR-FSI-VFITX – hold SPY (Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund Investor Shares, VFITX, as a more aggressive risk-off asset than cash) when OFR FSI at the end of the prior month is negative or zero (positive).
  4. SMA10-Cash – hold SPY (cash) when the S&P 500 Index is above (at or below) its SMA10 at the end of the prior month.
  5. SMA10-VFITX – hold SPY (VFITX) when the S&P 500 Index is above (at or below) its SMA10 at the end of the prior month.
  6. OFR-FSI-SMA10-Cash – hold SPY (cash) when either signal 2 or signal 4 specifies SPY. Otherwise, hold cash.
  7. OFR-FSI-SMA10-VFITX – hold SPY (cash) when either signal 3 or signal 5 specifies SPY. Otherwise, hold VFITX.

Using end-of-month values of OFR FSI, SPY total return and level of the S&P 500 Index during January 2000 (OFR FSI inception) through June 2019, we find that:

Keep Reading

OFR FSI as Stock Market Return Predictor

Is the Office of Financial Research Financial Stress Index (OFR FSI), described in “The OFR Financial Stress Index”, useful as a U.S. stock market return predictor? OFR FSI is a daily snapshot of global financial market stress, distilling more than 30 indicators via a dynamic weighting scheme. The index drops and adds indicators over time as some become obsolete and new ones become available. Unlike some other financial stress indicators, past OFR FSI series values do not change due to any periodic renormalization and are therefore suitable for backtesting. To investigate OFR FSI power to predict U.S. stock market returns, we relate level of and change in OFR FSI to SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) returns. Using daily and monthly values of OFR FSI and SPY total returns during January 2000 (OFR FSI inception) through June 2019, we find that:

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Productivity and the Stock Market

Financial media often cite Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) productivity growth news releases as relevant to investment outlook. Does the quarter-to-quarter change in U.S. labor force productivity predict U.S. stock market behavior? Specifically, does a relatively weak (strong) change in productivity portend strong (weak) earnings and therefore an advance (decline) for stocks? Using annualized quarterly changes in non-farm labor productivity from BLS and end-of quarter S&P 500 Index levels during January 1950 through March 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Usefulness of Published Stock Market Predictors

Are variables determined in published papers to be statistically significant predictors of stock market returns really useful to investors? In their November 2018 paper entitled “On the Economic Value of Stock Market Return Predictors”, Scott Cederburg, Travis Johnson and Michael O’Doherty assess whether strength of in-sample statistical evidence for 25 stock market predictors published in top finance journals translates to economic value after accounting for some realistic features of returns and investors. Predictive variables include valuation ratios, volatility, variance risk premium, tail risk, inflation, interest rates, interest rate spreads, economic variables, average correlation, short interest and commodity prices. Their typical investor makes mean-variance optimal allocations between the stock market and a risk-free security (yielding a fixed 2% per year) via Bayesian inference based on a vector autoregression model of market return-predictor dynamics. The investor has moderate risk aversion and a 1-month or longer investment horizon (reallocates monthly). Stock market returns and predictors exhibit randomly varying volatility. They focus on annual certainty equivalent return (CER) gain, which incorporates investor risk aversion, to quantify economic value of market predictability. Using monthly U.S. stock market returns and data required to construct the 25 predictive variables as available (starting as early as January 1927 and as late as June 1996 across variables) through December 2017, they find that:

Keep Reading

Short-term Equity Risk More Political Than Economic?

How does news flow interact with short-term stock market return? In their April 2019 paper entitled “Forecasting the Equity Premium: Mind the News!”, Philipp Adämmer and Rainer Schüssler test the ability of a machine learning algorithm, the correlated topic model (CTM), to predict the monthly U.S. equity premium based on information in news articles. Their news inputs consist of about 700,000 articles from the New York Times and the Washington Post during June 1980 through December 2018, with early data used for learning and model calibration and data since January 1999 used for out-of-sample testing. They measure the U.S. stock market equity premium as S&P 500 Index return minus the risk-free rate. Specifically, they each month:

  1. Update news time series arbitrarily segmented into 100 topics (with robustness checks for 75, 125 and 150 topics).
  2. Execute a linear regression to predict the equity premium for each of the 100 topical news flows.
  3. Calculate an average prediction across the 100 regressions.
  4. Update a model (CTMSw) that switches between the best individual topic prediction and the average of 100 predictions, combining the flexibility of model selection with the robustness of model averaging.

They use the inception-to-date (expanding window) average historical equity premium as a benchmark. They include mean-variance optimal portfolio tests that each month allocate to the stock market and the risk-free rate based on either the news model or the historical average equity premium prediction, with the equity return variance computed from either 21-day rolling windows of daily returns or an expanding window of monthly returns. They constrain the equity allocation for this portfolio between 50% short and 150% long, with 0.5% trading frictions. Using the specified news inputs and monthly excess return for the S&P 500 Index during June 1980 through December 2018, they find that:

Keep Reading

ISM PMI and Future Junk Bond Returns?

A subscriber asked about the validity of the assertion in “The Daily Shot” of February 26, 2019 (The Wall Street Journal) that “recent weakness in the ISM [Institute for Supply Management] Manufacturing PMI [Purchasing Managers’ Index] index points to downside risks for high-yield debt.” Such a relationship might support a strategy of switching between high-yield bonds and cash, or high-yield bonds and U.S. Treasuries, based on PMI data. To investigate, we consider the following two pairs of funds:

  1. Vanguard High-Yield Corporate (VWEHX) and Vanguard Long-Term Treasury (VUSTX) since May 1986 (limited by VUSTX).
  2. iShares iBoxx High Yield Corp Bond (HYG) and iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF) since April 2007 (limited by HYG).

We consider both statistical tests and strategies that each month (per the PMI release frequency) holds high-yield bonds or cash, or high-yield bonds or Treasuries, according to whether the prior-month change in PMI is positive or negative. We use the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as a proxy for return on cash. Using fund monthly total returns as available and monthly seasonally adjusted PMI data for January 1950 through January 2016 from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (discontinued and removed) and from press releases thereafter, all through February 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

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