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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.

Best Factor Allocation Strategy?

For investors embracing the concept of portfolios based on factor premiums (rather than asset classes), what is the best factor allocation approach? In their March 2019 paper entitled “Factor-Based Allocation: Is There a Superior Strategy?”, Hubert Dichtl, Wolfgang Drobetz and Viktoria-Sophie Wendt search for the best way of combining factors in a portfolio after accounting for bias introduced from snooping many alternative allocation strategies. They consider the following 10 factors (mostly long-short) suitable for a U.S. institutional investor constrained to global equity and fixed income securities: equity, value, size, momentum, quality, low-volatility, term, real rates, credit and high-yield. They construct factors using associated published indexes denominated in U.S. dollars, with 1-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the risk-free rate. They consider 17 factor allocation strategies: equal weight, minimum variance, equal risk, maximum diversification, volatility timing, reward-to-risk timing, mean-variance optimization without and with shrinkage, Black-Litterman and eight combinations of these strategies. Their test portfolio holds a 100% position in cash and a fully hedged (long-short, or zero net investment) factor portfolio, subject to 0.5% trading frictions on portfolio turnover. Using monthly data required to construct factors and T-bill yield during January 2001 though December 2018, with the first 60 months set aside to estimate strategy inputs, they find that:

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More International Equity Market Granularity for SACEMS?

A subscriber asked whether more granularity in international equity choices for the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS), as considered by Decision Moose, would improve performance. To investigate, we replace the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM) and the iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA) with four regional international equity exchange-traded funds (ETF). The universe of assets becomes:

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Pacific ex Japan (EPP)
iShares MSCI Japan (EWJ)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Europe (IEV)
iShares Latin America 40 (ILF)
iShares Russell 1000 Index (IWB)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

We compare original (SACEMS Base) and modified (SACEMS Granular), each month picking winners from their respective sets of ETFs based on total returns over a fixed lookback interval. We focus on gross compound annual growth rate (CAGR), gross maximum drawdown (MaxDD) and rough gross annual Sharpe ratio (average annual return divided by standard deviation of annual returns) as key performance statistics for the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly winners. Using daily and monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets during February 2006 (limited by DBC) through April 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Home Prices and the Stock Market

Homes typically represent a substantial fraction of investor wealth. Are there reliable relationships between U.S. home prices and the U.S. stock market? For example, does a rising stock market stimulate home prices? Do falling home prices point to offsetting liquidation of equity positions. Do homes effectively diversify equity holdings? Using:

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Creating and Maintaining Antifragile Portfolios

How should investors manage their portfolios to withstand market crashes. In his March 2019 paper entitled “Managing the Downside of Active and Passive Strategies: Convexity and Fragilities”, Raphael Douady discusses how to construct an “antifragile” portfolio given that most equity market risk is not readily observable. He describes ways to monitor the probability of a new crisis. Based on in-depth analysis of market behaviors during past speculative bubbles and other crises, he concludes that:

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Comparing Ivy 5 Allocation Strategy Variations

A subscriber requested comparison of four variations of an “Ivy 5” asset class allocation strategy, as follows:

  1. Ivy 5 EW: Assign equal weight (EW), meaning 20%, to each of the five positions and rebalance annually.
  2. Ivy 5 EW + SMA10: Same as Ivy 5 EW, but take to cash any position for which the asset is below its 10-month simple moving average (SMA10).
  3. Ivy 5 Volatility Cap: Allocate to each position a percentage up to 20% such that the position has an expected annualized volatility of no more than 10% based on daily volatility over the past month, recalculated monthly. If under 20%, allocate the balance of the position to cash.
  4. Ivy 5 Volatility Cap + SMA10: Same as Ivy 5 Volatility Cap, but take completely to cash any position for which the asset is below its SMA10.

To perform the tests, we employ the following five asset class proxies:

iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)

We consider monthly performance statistics, annual performance statistics, and full-sample compound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD). The DBC series in combination with the SMA10 rule are limiting with respect to sample start date and the first return calculations. Using daily and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the five asset class proxies and the yield on U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills) as the return on cash during February 2006 through March 2019, we find that: Keep Reading

Optimal Retirement Glidepath with Trend Following

What are optimal allocations during retirement years for a portfolio of stocks and bonds, without and with a trend following overlay? In their March 2019 paper entitled “Absolute Momentum, Sustainable Withdrawal Rates and Glidepath Investing in US Retirement Portfolios from 1925”, Andrew Clare, James Seaton, Peter Smith and Steve Thomas compare outcomes across two sets of U.S. retirement portfolios since 1925:

  1. Standard – allocations to the S&P 500 Index and a bond index ranging from all stocks to all bonds in increments of 10%, rebalanced at the end of each month.
  2. Trend following – the same portfolios with a trend following overlay that shifts stock index and bond index allocations to U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills) when below respective 10-month simple moving averages at the end of the preceding month.

They consider investment horizons of 2 to 30 years to assess glidepath effects. They consider both U.S. Treasury bonds and U.S. corporate bonds to assess credit effects. For comparison of portfolio outcomes, they use real (inflation-adjusted) returns and focus on Perfect Withdrawal Rate (PWR), the maximum annual withdrawal rate that results in zero terminal value (requiring perfect foresight). Using monthly data for the S&P 500 Index, U.S. government and corporate bond indexes and U.S. inflation during 1926 through 2016, they find that: Keep Reading

Risk Premium Allocation Tail Diversification

Do exposures to long-short factor (alternative risk) premiums (ARP) protect portfolios from stock and bond market crashes? In their February 2019 paper entitled “A Framework for Risk Premia Investing: Anywhere to Hide?”, Kari Vatanen and Antti Suhonen examine weekly correlations of 28 ARP composite returns with those of stocks (MSCI World Equity Market Index), bonds (Barclays Global Treasury Index) and commodities (Bloomberg Commodity Index), overall and during crashes, over an 11-year sample period. They form each ARP composite using both backtested and live data for at least three related strategies from different investment banks, weighted by inverse full-sample volatility and rebalanced weekly. They focus on ARP composite performances when stocks and bonds are weak. Based on findings, they then designate ARP composites as:

  • Offensive (benefiting from high economic growth but suffering from low growth and economic turbulence) or defensive (diversifying risks of offensive strategies).
  • Fundamental (based on investor risk aversion), behavioral (based on typical investor behavior) or structural (based on seasonal asset flows or on market inefficiencies and liquidity imbalances).

Using daily data as specified for long-short alternative risk premium strategies from seven global investment banks during January 2007 to the beginning of May 2018, they find that:

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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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