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Breaking Asset Ranking Systems into Pairs

| | Posted in: Momentum Investing, Strategic Allocation

Is there a better way to identify attractive and unattractive assets than simply ranking them? In the August 2020 version of their paper entitled "Decoding Systematic Relative Investing: A Pairs Approach", Christian Goulding, Campbell Harvey and Alex Pickard examine a long-short strategy that periodically reforms a portfolio by evaluating all possible pairs within an asset universe based on:

  1. High positive signal-future return correlation for each asset on its own in a pair.
  2. Low (or negative) signal correlation between assets in the pair.
  3. Low (or negative) signal-future return correlations between one asset and the other in the pair.

They use these three inputs to calculate a (somewhat complex) composite score for each pair. Among pairs with the highest composite scores, the member with the higher (lower) signal goes to the long (short) side of the portfolio. They assess usefulness of the three conditions and the composite score using a momentum signal calculated as average past monthly return over a specified lookback interval minus its inception-to-date mean and divided by its inception-to-date standard deviation. They split their sample roughly in half and use the first half for detection of profitable pair strategies and the second half to measure out-of-sample performance. They further test an explicit tactical allocation strategy using a 12-month momentum lookback interval, a rolling 10-year monthly composite score and a scheme that weights the top four asset pairs according to respective composite scores. As a benchmark, they use a comparable conventional relative momentum strategy that simply ranks assets on momentum signal. Using monthly returns for 13 broad asset-class indexes encompassing equities, bonds, real estate investment trusts (REIT) and commodities (78 possible pairs) as available through May 2020, they find that:

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