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Strategic Allocation

Is there a best way to select and weight asset classes for long-term diversification benefits? These blog entries address this strategic allocation question.

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“Current High” Boost for SACEMS?

A subscriber asked whether applying a filter that restricts monthly asset selections of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) to those currently at an intermediate-term high improves performance. This strategy each month reforms a portfolio of winners from the following universe based on total return over a specified lookback interval:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

To investigate, we focus on the equally weighted (EW) Top 3 SACEMS portfolio and replace any selection not at an intermediate-term high with Cash. We define intermediate-term high based on monthly closes over a specified past interval ranging from one month to six months. We consider all gross performance metrics used for base SACEMS. Using monthly dividend adjusted closing prices for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash over the period February 2006 (the earliest all ETFs are available) through July 2018 (150 months), we find that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Patrick Donohoe introduces his 2018 book, Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: A Financial Strategy to Reignite the American Dream, by stating that the book: “…will teach you many of the principles and strategies to help discover your own path to financial freedom. Most importantly, it will show you the mindset required to carry out a successful plan. …almost everything you will gain from this book conflicts with what the typical financial planner, financial celebrity, and most financial publications tell you to do. …You will…discover how to pivot the foundation of your wealth to…the private mutual insurance company.” Based on his experience, market research and many examples, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Multi-class Momentum Portfolio with “Canary” Crash Protection

Is it suboptimal to employ the same asset class proxy universe both to exploit momentum and to avoid crashes? In their July 2018 paper entitled Breadth Momentum and the Canary Universe: Defensive Asset Allocation (DAA)”, Wouter Keller and Jan Willem Keuning modify their Vigilant Asset Allocation (VAA) by substituting a separate “canary” asset class universe for crash protection based on breadth momentum (percentage of assets advancing). VAA is a dual momentum asset class strategy specifying momentum as the average of annualized total returns over the past 1, 3, 6 and 12 months, implemented as follows:

  1. Each month rank asset class proxies based on momentum.
  2. Each month select a “cash” holding as the one of short-term U.S. Treasury, intermediate-term U.S. Treasury and investment grade corporate bond funds with the highest momentum. 
  3. Set (via backtest) a breadth protection threshold (B). When the number of asset class proxies with negative momentum (b) is equal to or greater than B, the allocation to “cash” is 100%. When b is less than B, the base allocation to “cash” is b/B.
  4. Set (via backtest) the number of top-performing asset class proxies to hold (T) in equal weights. When the base allocation to “cash” is less than 100% (so when b<B), allocate the balance to the top (1-b/B)T asset class proxies with highest momentum (irrespective of sign).
  5. Mitigate portfolio rebalancing intensity (when B and T are different) by rounding fractions b/B to multiples of 1/T.

DAA replaces step 3 with breadth protection calculated the same way but based on a separate, simpler asset universe, selected experimentally from pre-1971 data based on a unique indicator that that combines compound annual growth rate (R) and maximum drawdown (D). The aim of DAA is to lower the average cash allocation fraction compared to VAA while preserving crash protection. They describe assets in terms of existing exchange-traded funds (ETF) but use best available matching indexes prior to ETF inceptions. Using monthly return data for alternative canary assets during 1926-1970, for backtest (in-sample) DAA universe parameter optimization during 1971-1993 and for out-of-sample DAA universe testing during 1994 through March 2018, they find that: Keep Reading

SACEMS Portfolio-Asset Addition Testing

Does adding an exchange-traded fund (ETF) or note (ETN) to the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) boost performance via consideration of more trending/diversifying options? To investigate, we add the following 23 ETF/ETN asset class proxies one at a time to the base set and measure effects on the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 SACEMS portfolios:

AlphaClone Alternative Alpha (ALFA)
JPMorgan Alerian MLP Index (AMJ)
Vanguard Total Bond Market (BND)
SPDR Barclays International Treasury Bond (BWX)
UBS ETRACS Wells Fargo Business Development Companies (BDCS)
iShares Core US Credit Bond (CRED)
First Trust US IPO Index (FPX)
PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest (DBV)
iShares JPMorgan Emerging Market Bond Fund (EMB)
Guggenheim Frontier Markets (FRN)
iShares iBoxx High-Yield Corporate Bond (HYG)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares Latin America 40 (ILF)
iShares National Muni Bond ETF (MUB)
PowerShares Closed-End Fund Income Composite (PCEF)
PowerShares Global Listed Private Equity (PSP)
IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy Tracker (QAI)
SPDR Dow Jones International Real Estate (RWX)
ProShares UltraShort S&P 500 (SDS)
iShares TIPS Bond (TIP)
United States Oil (USO)
iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures (VXX)
iPath S&P 500 VIX Medium-Term Futures (VXZ)

The base set consists of:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

Each month, we rank the base set plus one of the additional ETFs/ETNs based on past return and reform the SACEMS portfolios. The sample starts with the first month all base set ETFs are available (February 2006), but inceptions for most of the additional ETFs/ETNs are after this month. We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance statistics, ignoring monthly reformation costs. Using end-of-month total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified 32 assets as available during February 2006 through June 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

SACEMS Portfolio-Asset Exclusion Testing

Are all of the potentially trending/diversifying asset class proxies used in the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) necessary? Might one or more of them actually be harmful to performance? To investigate, we each month rank the following assets based on past return with one excluded (nine separate test series) and reform the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 SACEMS portfolios:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

The test starts with the first month all ETFs are available (February 2006). We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance statistics, ignoring monthly portfolio reformation costs. Using end-of-month total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified nine assets during February 2006 through June 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on The Geometry of Wealth

Brian Portnoy introduces his 2018 book, The Geometry of Wealth: How To Shape A Life Of Money And Meaning, by stating that the book is: “…a story told in three parts,…from purpose to priorities to tactics. Each step has a primary action associated with it. The first is adaptation. The second is prioritization. The third is simplification. …The principle that motors us along the entire way is what I call ‘adaptive simplicity,’ a means of both rolling with the punches and and cutting through the noise.” Based on his two decades of experience in the mutual fund and hedge fund industries, including interactions with many investors, along with considerable cited research (much of it behavioral), he concludes that: Keep Reading

SACEVS with Quarterly Allocation Updates

Do quarterly allocation updates for the Best Value and Weighted versions of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) work as well as monthly updates? These strategies allocate funds to the following asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF) according to valuations of term, credit and equity risk premiums, or to cash if no premiums are undervalued:

3-month Treasury bills (Cash)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond (LQD)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)

Changing from monthly to quarterly allocation updates does not sacrifice information about lagged quarterly S&P 500 Index earnings, but it does sacrifice currency of term and credit premiums. To assess alternatives, we compare cumulative performances and the following key metrics for quarterly and monthly allocation updates: gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR), gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and annual returns and volatilities. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closes for the above ETFs during September 2002 (earliest alignment of months and quarters) through June 2018, we find that:

Keep Reading

Alternative Momentum Metrics for SACEMS?

A subscriber asked whether some different momentum metric might improve performance of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS), which each month reforms a portfolio of winners from the following universe based on total return over a specified lookback interval:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

To investigate, we compare performances of the following alternative monthly momentum metrics to that of the original baseline metric:

  • Average monthly total returns over the lookback interval.
  • Slope of the dividend-adjusted price series over the lookback interval.
  • Sharpe ratio of the monthly total return series over the lookback interval (using Cash return as the risk-free rate, and setting the Sharpe ratio of Cash at zero).

We focus on the equally weighted (EW) Top 3 SACEMS portfolio. We consider all the performance metrics used for the baseline, with emphasis on compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). Using monthly dividend adjusted closing prices for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash over the period February 2006 (the earliest all ETFs are available) through May 2018 (148 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) Update

Does a simple relative momentum strategy applied to tradable asset class proxies produce attractive results? To investigate, we test a simple strategy on the following eight asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF), plus cash:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

This set of ETFs offers: (1) opportunities to capture momentum across global developed and emerging equity markets, large and small U.S. equities and bonds and commodities; (2) gold and cash as safe havens; (3) histories long enough for backtesting across multiple market environments; and, (4) simplicity of computation and recognition of the trade-off between number of ETFs and trading frictions. We rank ETFs based on total (dividend-adjusted) returns over past (lookback) intervals of one to 12 months. We consider portfolios of past ETF winners based on Top 1 and on equally weighted (EW) Top 2 through Top 5. We consider as benchmarks: an equally weighted portfolio of all ETFs, rebalanced monthly (EW All); buying and holding SPY (SPY); and, holding SPY when the S&P 500 Index is above its 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) and Cash when the index is below its SMA10 (SPY:SMA10). Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 (when all ETFs are first available) through May 2018 (148 months), we find that: Keep Reading

SACEVS Input Risk Premiums and EFFR

The “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” seeks diversification across a small set of asset class exchanged-traded funds (ETF), plus a monthly tactical edge from potential undervaluation of three risk premiums:

  1. Term – monthly difference between the 10-year Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yield and the 3-month Constant Maturity U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield.
  2. Credit – monthly difference between the Moody’s Seasoned Baa Corporate Bonds yield and the T-note yield.
  3. Equity – monthly difference between S&P 500 operating earnings yield and the T-note yield.

Premium valuations are relative to historical averages. How might this strategy react to increases in the Effective Federal Funds Rate (EFFR)? Using monthly values of the three risk premiums, EFFR, total 12-month U.S. inflation and core 12-month U.S. inflation during July 2000 (limited by availability of EFFR) through May 2018 (215 months), we find that: Keep Reading

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