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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.

Asset Class Momentum Faster During Bear Markets?

A subscriber asked whether the optimal momentum ranking (lookback) interval for the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) shrinks during bear markets for U.S. stocks. This strategy each month picks winners from the following set of exchange-traded funds (ETF) based on total returns 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 SACEMS monthly performance statistics when the S&P 500 Index at the previous monthly close is above (bull market) or below (bear market) its 10-month simple moving average. We consider Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly winners for the baseline SACEMS lookback interval. In a robustness test for the EW Top 3 portfolio, we consider lookback intervals ranging from one to 12 months. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets since February 2006 (limited by DBC) and the monthly level of the S&P 500 Index since September 2005, all through February 2019, we find that:

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Stocks Plus Trend Following Managed Futures?

A subscriber asked about an annually rebalanced portfolio of 50% stocks and 50% trend following managed futures as recommended in a 2014 Greyserman and Kaminski book [Trend Following with Managed Futures: The Search for Crisis Alpha], suggesting Equinox Campbell Strategy I (EBSIX) as an accessible managed futures fund. To investigate, we consider not only EBSIX (inception March 2013) but also a longer trend following hedge fund index with monthly returns back to December 1999. This alternative “is an equally weighted index of 37 constituent funds…designed to provide a broad measure of the performance of underlying hedge fund managers who invest with a trend following strategy.” The correlation of monthly returns between this index and EBSIX during April 2013 through February 2019 is 0.84, indicating strong similarity. We use SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as a proxy for stocks. Using annual returns for EBSIX during 2014-2018 and for the trend following hedge fund index and SPY during 2000-2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Simple Momentum Strategy Applied to TSP Funds

A subscriber asked about applying the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” to the funds available to U.S. federal government employees via the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). To investigate, we test the strategy on the following five funds:

G Fund: Government Securities Investment Fund (G)
F Fund: Fixed Income Index Investment Fund (F)
C Fund: Common Stock Index Investment Fund (C)
S Fund: Small Cap Stock Index Investment Fund (S)
I Fund: International Stock Index Investment Fund (I)

We each month rank these funds based on returns over past (lookback) intervals of one to 12 months. We test Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly fund winners. We employ as a benchmark a naively diversified EW portfolio of all five funds, rebalanced monthly (EW All). Using monthly returns for the five funds from initial availability of all five (January 2001) through February 2019, we find that:

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SACEMS with Three Copies of Cash

Subscribers have questioned selecting assets with negative past returns within the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS). Inclusion of Cash as one of the assets in the SACEMS universe of exchange-traded funds (ETF) prevents the SACEMS Top 1 portfolio from holding an asset with negative past returns. To test full dual momentum versions of SACEMS equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 SACEMS portfolios, we add two more copies of Cash to the universe, thereby preventing both of them from holding assets with negative past returns. The SACEMS universe thus becomes:

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)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

We focus on the effects of adding two copies of Cash on compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD) of SACEMS EW Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios. Using monthly dividend adjusted closing prices for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 (the earliest all ETFs are available) through February 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Optimal Monthly Cycle for SACEMS?

Is there a best time of the month for measuring momentum within the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS)? This strategy each month picks winners from the following set of exchange-traded funds (ETF) based on total returns 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 21 variations of the strategy based on shifting the monthly return calculation cycle relative to trading days from the end of the month (EOM). For example, an EOM+5 cycle ranks assets based on closing prices five trading days after EOM each month. We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance statistics for the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly winners. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets during mid-February 2006 (limited by DBC) through mid-February 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

SACEMS Top 1 Mean Reversion?

Subscribers asked whether the monthly winner (Top 1) of the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) is more prone to mean reversion than momentum, thereby justifying its exclusion from or lower weight within SACEMS portfolios. SACEMS each month picks winners from the following universe of 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)

To investigate, we review relevant past research and conduct in-depth robustness tests of SACEMS monthly returns and volatilities across all ranks 1 through 9 and ranking (lookback) intervals one to 12 months. Limited by availability of DBC (inception February 2006) and a 12-month lookback interval, we start the comparison with March 2007. Using monthly dividend adjusted closing prices for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 through February 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Inflated Expectations of Factor Investing

How should investors feel about factor/multi-factor investing? In their February 2019 paper entitled “Alice’s Adventures in Factorland: Three Blunders That Plague Factor Investing”, Robert Arnott, Campbell Harvey, Vitali Kalesnik and Juhani Linnainmaa explore three critical failures of U.S. equity factor investing:

  1. Returns are far short of expectations due to overfitting and/or trade crowding.
  2. Drawdowns far exceed expectations.
  3. Diversification of factors occasionally disappears when correlations soar.

They focus on 15 factors most closely followed by investors: the market factor; a set of six factors from widely used academic multi-factor models (size, value, operating profitability, investment, momentum and low beta); and, a set of eight other popular factors (idiosyncratic volatility, short-term reversal, illiquidity, accruals, cash flow-to-price, earnings-to-price, long-term reversal and net share issuance). For some analyses they employ a broader set of 46 factors. They consider both long-term (July 1963-June 2018) and short-term (July 2003-June 2018) factor performances. Using returns for the specified factors during July 1963 through June 2018, they conclude that:

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Effects of Execution Delay on SACEMS

“Optimal Monthly Cycle for SACEMS?” investigates whether using a monthly cycle other than end-of-month (EOM) to pick winning assets improves performance of the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS). This strategy each month picks winners from the following set of exchange-traded funds (ETF) based on total returns 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)

In response, a subscriber asked whether sticking with an EOM cycle for determining the winner, but delaying signal execution, affects strategy performance. To investigate, we compare 23 variations of SACEMS portfolios that all use EOM to pick winners but shift execution from the contemporaneous EOM to the next open or to closes over the next 21 trading days (about one month). For example, EOM+5 uses an EOM cycle to determine winners but delays execution until the close five trading days after EOM. We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance statistics for the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly winners. Using daily dividend-adjusted opens and closes for the asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 (limited by DBC) through January 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Testing the All Weather Portfolio

A subscriber requested a test of Ray Dalio‘s All Weather (AW) portfolio with different rebalancing frequencies, allocated to exchange-traded funds (ETF) as asset class proxies as follows:

30% – Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTI)
40% – iShares 20+ Year Treasury (TLT)
15% – iShares 7-10 Year Treasury (IEF)
7.5% – SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
7.5% – Invesco DB Commodity Tracking (DBC)

To investigate, we test:

We consider the following gross performance metrics, all based on monthly measurements: average monthly return, standard deviation of monthly returns, compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and Sharpe ratio (with the 3-month Treasury bill yield as the risk-free rate). We also compare number of rebalance actions for each portfolio. Using monthly dividend-adjusted returns for the specified assets during February 2006 (limited by DBC) through January 2019), we find that: Keep Reading

Add Position Stop-gain to SACEMS?

Does adding a position take-profit (stop-gain) rule improve the performance of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) by harvesting some upside volatility? SACEMS each month picks winners from the following set of exchange-traded funds (ETF) based on total returns 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 the value of stop-gains, we augment SACEMS with a simple rule that: (1) exits to Cash from any current winner ETF when its intra-month return rises above a specified threshold; and, (2) re-sets positions per winners at the end of the month. We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD) as key performance statistics for the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly winners. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns and intra-month maximum returns for the specified assets during February 2006 (limited by DBC) through January 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

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