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Allocations for September 2020 (Final)
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Can investors/speculators use gold as a hedge for equities or as a general safe haven? Does it hedge against inflation? These blog entries relate to gold as an asset class.

The BGSV Portfolio

How might an investor construct a portfolio of very risky assets? To investigate, we consider:

  • First, diversifying with monthly rebalancing of:
    1. Bitcoin Investment Trust (GBTC), representing a very long-term option on Bitcoins.
    2. VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ), representing a very long-term option on gold.
    3. ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures (SVXY), to capture part of the U.S. stock market volatility risk premium by shorting short-term S&P 500 Index implied volatility (VIX) futures. SVXY has a change in investment objective at the end of February 2018 (see “Using SVXY to Capture the Volatility Risk Premium”).
  • Second, capturing upside volatility and managing drawdown of this portfolio via gain-skimming to a cash position.

We assume equal initial allocations of $10,000 to each of the three risky assets. We execute a monthly skim as follows: (1) if the risky assets have month-end combined value less than combined initial allocations ($30,000), we rebalance to equal weights for next month; or, (2) if the risky assets have combined month-end value greater than combined initial allocations, we rebalance to initial allocations and move the excess permanently (skim) to cash. We conservatively assume monthly portfolio reformation frictions of 1% of month-end combined value of risky assets. We assume accrued skimmed cash earns the 3-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield. Using monthly prices of GBTC, GDXJ and SVXY adjusted for splits and dividends and contemporaneous T-bill yield during May 2015 (limited by GBTC) through June 2019, we find that:

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Real Gold Price and Future Gold Return

Does the real (inflation-adjusted) price of gold indicate future gold return? If so, what is the current indication? In their August 2020 paper entitled “Gold, the Golden Constant, COVID-19, ‘Massive Passives’ and Déjà Vu”, Claude Erb, Campbell Harvey and Tadas Viskanta examine behavior and implications of real gold price (gold price in U.S. dollars per ounce divided by the U.S. consumer price index) based on the assumption that the main investor interest in gold is as an inflation hedge. Specifically, they look at interactions among gold price, U.S. inflation, real gold price, government bond (10-year U.S. Treasury note) yield, expected U.S. inflation (difference between 10-year Treasury note and 10-year inflation protected Treasury yields) and gold demand as measured by holdings of the top two gold exchange-traded funds (ETF). Using data for these variables as available during January 1975 (inception of gold futures trading) through July 2020, they find that:

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DJIA-Gold Ratio as a Stock Market Indicator

A reader requested a test of the following hypothesis from the article “Gold’s Bluff – Is a 30 Percent Drop Next?” [no longer available]: “Ironically, gold is more than just a hedge against market turmoil. Gold is actually one of the most accurate indicators of the stock market’s long-term direction. The Dow Jones measured in gold is a forward looking indicator.” To test this assertion, we examine relationships between the spot price of gold and the level of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA). Using monthly data for the spot price of gold in dollars per ounce and DJIA over the period January 1971 through March 2020, we find that: Keep Reading

Best Bear Market Asset Class?

A subscriber asked which asset (short stocks, cash, bonds by subclass) is best to hold during equity bear markets. To investigate, we consider two ways to define a bear market: (1) months when SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) is below its 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) at the end of the prior month; and, (2) months when SPY is in drawdown by at least 20% from a high-water mark at the end of the prior month. We consider nine alternative assets:

  1. Short SPY
  2. Cash, estimated using the yield on 3-month U.S. Treasury bills (T-bill)
  3. Vanguard GNMA Securities (VFIIX)
  4. T. Rowe Price International Bonds (RPIBX)
  5. Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Bonds (VUSTX)
  6. Fidelity Convertible Securities (FCVSX)
  7. T. Rowe Price High-Yield Bonds (PRHYX)
  8. Fidelity Select Gold Portfolio (FSAGX)
  9. Spot Gold

Specifically, we compare monthly return statistics, compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum (peak-to-trough) drawdowns (MaxDD) of these nine alternatives during bear market months. Using monthly T-bill yield and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the above assets during January 1993 (as limited by SPY) through Feb 2020, we 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 test 14 ETFs as potential safe havens:

Utilities Select Sector SPDR (XLU)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD)
iShares Core US Aggregate Bond (AGG)
iShares TIPS Bond (TIP)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking (DBC)
United States Oil (USO)
iShares Silver Trust (SLV)
PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest (DBV)
SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill (BIL)

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 being -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 14 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 December 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Gold Price Drivers?

What drives the price of gold: inflation, interest rates, stock market behavior, public sentiment? To investigate, we relate monthly and annual spot gold return to changes in:

We start testing in 1975 because: “On March 17, 1968, …the price of gold on the private market was allowed to fluctuate…[, and] in 1975…the price of gold was left to find its free-market level.” We lag CPI measurements by one month to ensure they are known to the market when calculating gold return. Using monthly data from December 1974 (March 1978 for consumer sentiment) through July 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Best U.S. Equity Market Hedge Strategy?

What steps should investors consider to mitigate impact of inevitable large U.S. stock market corrections? In their May 2019 paper entitled “The Best of Strategies for the Worst of Times: Can Portfolios be Crisis Proofed?”, Campbell Harvey, Edward Hoyle, Sandy Rattray, Matthew Sargaison, Dan Taylor and Otto Van Hemert compare performances of an array of defensive strategies with focus on the eight worst drawdowns (deeper than -15%) and three NBER recessions during 1985 through 2018, including:

  1. Rolling near S&P 500 Index put options, measured via the CBOE S&P 500 PutWrite Index.
  2. Credit protection portfolio that is each day long (short) beta-adjusted returns of duration-matched U.S. Treasury futures (BofAML US Corp Master Total Return Index), scaled retrospectively to 10% full-sample volatility.
  3. 10-year U.S. Treasury notes (T-notes).
  4. Gold futures.
  5. Multi-class time-series (intrinsic or absolute) momentum portfolios applied to 50 futures contract series and reformed monthly, with:
    • Momentum measured for 1-month, 3-month and 12-month lookback intervals.
    • Risk adjustment by dividing momentum score by the standard deviation of security returns.
    • Risk allocations of 25% to currencies, 25% to equity indexes, 25% to bonds and 8.3% to each of agricultural products, energies and metals. Within each group, markets have equal risk allocations.
    • Overall scaling retrospectively to 10% full-sample volatility.
    • With or without long equity positions.
  6. Beta-neutral factor portfolios that are each day long (short) stocks of the highest (lowest) quality large-capitalization and mid-capitalization U.S. firms, based on profitability, growth, balance sheet safety and/or payout ratios.

They further test crash protection of varying allocations to the S&P 500 Index and a daily reformed hedge consisting of equal weights to: (1) a 3-month time series momentum component with no long equity positions and 0.7% annual trading frictions; and, (2) a quality factor component with 1.5% annual trading frictions. For this test, they scale retrospectively to 15% full-sample volatility. Throughout the paper, they assume cost of leverage is the risk-free rate. Using daily returns for the S&P 500 Index and inputs for the specified defensive strategies during 1985 through 2018, they find that:

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Any Seasonality for Gold or Gold Miners?

Do gold and gold mining stocks exhibit exploitable seasonality? Using monthly closes for spot gold and the S&P 500 Index since December 1974, PHLX Gold/Silver Sector (XAU) since December 1983, AMEX Gold Bugs Index (HUI) since June 1996 and SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) since November 2004, all through January 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Gold Return vs. Change in M2

A subscriber requested testing of the relationship between U.S. M2 Money Stock and gold, offered in one form via “Why Gold May Be Looking Cheap”: “[O]ne measure I’ve found useful is the ratio of the price of gold to the U.S. money supply, measured by M2, which includes cash as well as things like money market funds, savings deposits and the like. The logic is that over the long term the price of gold should move with the change in the supply of money… That equilibrium level is also relevant for future price action. When the ratio is low, defined as 25% below equilibrium, the medium 12-month return has been over 12%. Conversely, when the ratio is high, defined as 25% above equilibrium, the 12-month median return has been -6%. …This measure can be refined further. [G]old tends to trade at a higher ratio to M2 when inflation is elevated.” Because it defines specific valuation thresholds, this approach is susceptible to data snooping bias in threshold selection. We consider an alternative setup that relates monthly change in M2 to monthly gold return. We also consider the effect of inflation on this relationship. Using monthly seasonally adjusted M2 and end-of-month London gold price fix during January 1976 (to ensure a free U.S. gold market) through June 2018 (510 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Gold Timing Strategies

Are there any gold trading strategies that reliably beat buy-and-hold? In their April 2018 paper entitled “Investing in the Gold Market: Market Timing or Buy-and-Hold?”, Viktoria-Sophie Bartsch, Dirk Baur, Hubert Dichtl and Wolfgang Drobetz test 4,095 seasonal, 18 technical, and 15 fundamental timing strategies for spot gold and gold futures. These strategies switch at the end of each month as signaled between spot gold or gold futures and U.S. Treasury bills (T-bill) as the risk-free asset. They assume trading frictions of 0.2% of value traded. To control for data snooping bias, they apply the superior predictive ability multiple testing framework with step-wise extensions. Using monthly spot gold and gold futures prices and T-bill yield during December 1979 through December 2015, with out-of-sample tests commencing January 1990, they find that:

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