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Investing Expertise

Can analysts, experts and gurus really give you an investing/trading edge? Should you track the advice of as many as possible? Are there ways to tell good ones from bad ones? Recent research indicates that the average “expert” has little to offer individual investors/traders. Finding exceptional advisers is no easier than identifying outperforming stocks. Indiscriminately seeking the output of as many experts as possible is a waste of time. Learning what makes a good expert accurate is worthwhile.

Mark Hulbert’s Nasdaq Newsletter Sentiment Index

“Mark Hulbert’s NASDAQ Newsletter Sentiment Index” reviews the usefulness of the Hulbert Stock Newsletter Sentiment Index (HSNSI), which “reflects the average recommended stock market exposure among a subset of short-term market timers tracked by the Hulbert Financial Digest.” Mark Hulbert presents HSNSI as a contrarian signal for future stock returns; when HSNSI is high (low), he views the outlook for stocks as materially bearish (bullish). In recent years, he has shifted emphasis in his MarketWatch columns from HSNSI to the Hulbert Nasdaq Newsletter Sentiment Index (HNNSI), stating that: “Since the Nasdaq responds especially quickly to changes in investor mood, and because those timers are themselves quick to shift their recommended exposure levels, the HNNSI is the Hulbert Financial Digest’s most sensitive barometer of investor sentiment.” Is HNNSI useful? Using a small sample of 38 values of HNNSI over the period April 2010 through September 2015 (generated by searching MarketWatch.com for “HNNSI”) and contemporaneous daily closes of the S&P 500 Index, we find that: Keep Reading

Exploiting Crowdsourced Earnings Estimates and Stock Sentiments

Are readily available crowdsourced firm earnings estimates and stock sentiment measurements exploitable? In the September 2015 revision of their paper entitled “Tweet Sentiments and Crowd-Sourced Earnings Estimates as Valuable Sources of Information Around Earnings Releases”, Jim Kyung-Soo Liew,  Shenghan Guo and Tongli Zhang investigate whether earnings estimates from Estimize and sentiment measurements from iSentium usefully predict stock behavior after earnings announcements. Estimize aggregates inputs from students, independent researchers, private investors, sell-side professionals and buy-side analysts to generate earnings estimates. iSentium derives sentiment scores (ranging from -30 to +30) from real-time natural language processing of Twitter texts about stocks, market indexes and exchange-traded funds. The authors relate pre-announcement earnings estimates and sentiment to post-earnings announcement stock returns. Using Estimize and iSentium data as available, Wall Street consensus earnings estimates, actual firm quarterly earnings and associated stock returns for 16,840 earnings announcements during November 2011 through December 2014, they find that: Keep Reading

Technical vs. Fundamental Investment Recommendations

Are expert technicians or fundamentalists better forecasters of short-term and intermediate-term asset returns? In the August 2015 version of their paper entitled “Talking Numbers: Technical versus Fundamental Recommendations”, Doron Avramov, Guy Kaplanski and Haim Levy assess the economic value of dual technical and fundamental recommendations presented simultaneously on “Talking Numbers”, a CNBC and Yahoo joint broadcast… “featuring fundamental and technical recommendations before and during the market open. Dual recommendations are made by highly experienced analysts representing prominent institutions.” Recommendations address both individual stocks and asset classes, including U.S. and foreign broad equity indexes, sector/industry equity indexes, bonds, commodities and exchange rates. Using 1,000 dual recommendations on 262 stocks and 620 dual recommendations on other assets, along with associated price data, during November 2011 through December 2014, they find that: Keep Reading

Debating Active Share as Fund Performance Predictor

“Measuring the Level and Persistence of Active Fund Management” (pro) and “Fund Activeness Predicts Performance?” (con) summarize debate on the ability of Active Share, how much portfolio holdings differ from a benchmark index, to predict mutual fund performance. The authors of the con paper summarized in the latter (principals of AQR Capital Management) assert that “neither theory nor data justify the expectation that Active Share might help investors improve their returns.” In his June 2015 paper entitled “AQR in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole of ‘Deactivating Active Share’ (and Back Out Again?)”, Martijn Cremers rejoins the debate by examining the methodology and motives of the con paper. Using data on active U.S. equity mutual funds from the original research, and holdings/performance data for seven AQR Capital Management funds offered to retail investors that concentrate in U.S. stocks as available through December 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Competitive Market Perspective on Fund Manager Skill

Do any mutual funds reliably generate significant alpha and, if so, do fund investors receive this alpha? In their June 2015 paper entitled “Active Managers Are Skilled”, Jonathan Berk and Jules Van Binsbergen examine interactions among equity mutual fund gross alpha, assets under management, fees and net alpha. To measure a practical gross alpha, they benchmark active mutual fund gross performance against an historical best-fit linear combination of net returns from contemporaneously available Vanguard funds. To account for the effects of mutual fund size, they measure monthly dollar value added by the fund manager as gross alpha times assets under management. This approach accounts for competition among funds, whereby investors chase an outperforming fund until its alpha drops to zero. They then estimate fund manager skill as average monthly valued added divided by the standard error of the monthly value added series. Using gross monthly returns and fees for a broad survivorship bias-free sample of of active equity mutual funds and net monthly returns for Vanguard mutual funds during January 1977 through March 2011, they find that: Keep Reading

Real-world Equity Fund Performance Benchmarks

Do equity style mutual funds look more attractive when benchmarked to matched style stock indexes than to more theoretical factor models of stock returns? In their April 2015 paper entitled “On Luck versus Skill When Performance Benchmarks are Style-Consistent”, Andrew Mason, Sam Agyei-Ampomah, Andrew Clare and Steve Thomas compare alphas for U.S. equity style mutual funds as calculated with conventional factor models and as calculated with matched Russell style indexes. The factor models they consider are the 1-factor capital asset pricing model (CAPM), the Fama-French 3-factor model (market, size, book-to-market) and the Carhart 4-factor model (adding momentum). They consider both value (net asset value)-weighted and equal-weighted portfolios of mutual funds. They also perform simulations to control for differences in the precision of alpha estimates due to differences in fund sample sizes. Using monthly gross and net returns and equity styles for 2,384 surviving and dead U.S. diversified equity funds, and returns for Russell equity style indexes and market/size/value/momentum factors, during January 1990 through December 2011, they find that: Keep Reading

Fund Activeness Predicts Performance?

Are mutual fund managers whose holdings deviate most from their benchmarks the best performers? In their April 2015 paper entitled “Deactivating Active Share”, Andrea Frazzini, Jacques Friedman and Lukasz Pomorski investigate whether Active Share is a reliable indicator of future mutual fund performance. Active Share measures the distance between a portfolio and its benchmark, ranging from zero for a portfolio that is identical to its benchmark to one for a portfolio with no holdings in common with its benchmark. They consider both theoretical arguments and empirical analysis, with the latter focused on disentangling Active Share and benchmark effects. Using holdings and performance data for actively managed U.S. equity mutual funds during 1980 through 2009, they find that: Keep Reading

Can Investors Outsmart Smart Beta ETFs?

Do smart beta exchange-traded funds (ETF), which systematically tilt holdings to capture one or more factor premiums (such as size, value, momentum, quality, beta and volatility), offer net value to investors? In the April 2015 initial draft of his paper entitled “How Smart are ‘Smart Beta’ ETFs? Analysis of Relative Performance and Factor Timing”, Denys Glushkov assesses whether smart beta funds beat their benchmarks and whether they effectively time targeted factor premiums. After categorizing smart beta ETFs into 15 portfolios based on factor themes and weighted by fund capitalizations (rebalanced monthly), he evaluates performance of these portfolios versus three types of benchmarks: (1) passive benchmarks chosen by the ETF providers, capitalization-weighted within 15 matching portfolios (rebalanced monthly to corresponding smart beta ETF weights); (2) risk-adjusted versions of these self-declared benchmarks; and, (3) tradable capitalization-weighted blends of market, value and size funds, matched to smart beta ETF portfolios based on inception dates (rebalanced annually to original weights). The blended benchmark addresses the concern that the returns of self-declared benchmarks are realistic/gross of reformation costs and tests whether smart beta funds add value to a simple and relatively passive capitalization-weighted portfolio with size and value tilts. Using monthly returns for 164 U.S. equity smart beta ETFs and 49 distinct benchmarks during 2003 through 2014, and detailed historical holdings of most of these funds, he finds that: Keep Reading

Incorporating the Experience of the Financial Crisis

How should financial education incorporate the experience of the 2007-2009 financial crisis? In their May 2014 publication entitled Investment Management: A Science to Teach or an Art fo Learn?, Frank Fabozzi, Sergio Focardi and Caroline Jonas summarize the current approach to teaching finance theory and examine post-crisis criticisms and defenses of this approach via review of textbooks and studies and through interviews with finance professors, asset managers and other market players. Based on these sources, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Exploiting Unusual Changes in Hedge Fund Holdings and Short Interest

Can investors exploit the combination of unusual changes in hedge fund long positions and unusual changes in short interest for individual stocks? In the February 2015 version of their paper entitled “Arbitrage Trading: The Long and the Short of It”, Yong Chen, Zhi Da and Dayong Huang examine the power of three variables to predict stock returns:

  1. Abnormal hedge fund holdings (AHF), the current quarter aggregate hedge fund long positions in a stock divided by the total shares outstanding minus the average of this ratio over the four prior quarters.
  2. Abnormal short interest (ASR), the current quarter short interest in a stock divided by the total number of shares outstanding minus the average of this ratio over the four prior quarters.
  3. The difference between AHF and ASR as a measure of imbalance in hedge fund trading.

They also examine how AHFSR interacts with ten widely used stock return predictors: book-to-market ratio; gross profitability; operating profit; momentum; market capitalization; asset growth; investment growth; net stock issuance; accruals; and, net operating assets. To measure the effectiveness of each predictor, they each quarter rank stocks into fifths (quintiles) based on the predictor and then calculate the difference in average gross excess (relative to the risk-free rate) returns of extreme quintiles. Using quarterly hedge fund SEC Form 13F filings and short interest data for a broad sample of U.S. stocks (excluding small and low-priced stocks), along with data required to compute stock return predictors and risk factors for these stocks, during 1990 through 2012, they find that: Keep Reading

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