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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.

SACEMS Based on Martin Ratio?

In response to “Robustness of SACEMS Based on Sharpe Ratio”, a subscriber asked whether Martin ratio might work better than raw returns and Sharpe ratio for ranking assets within the Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS), which each month selects the best performers over a specified lookback interval from among 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)

To investigate, we focus on the SACEMS equally weighted (EW) Top 3 portfolio and compare outcomes across lookback intervals ranging from one to 12 months for the following three asset ranking metrics:

  1. Raw return – cumulative total return over the lookback interval.
  2. Sharpe ratio (SR) – average daily excess return (asset return minus T-bill return) divided by standard deviation of daily excess returns over the lookback interval, with months approximated as 21 trading days. We set SR for Cash at zero (though it is actually zero divided by zero).
  3. Martin ratio (MR) – average daily excess return divided by the Ulcer Index calculated from daily returns over the lookback interval, with months again approximated as 21 trading days.

We employ gross compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD) to compare ranking metrics. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 (when all ETFs are first available) through December 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on Your Complete Guide to a Successful and Secure Retirement

Larry Swedroe and Kevin Grogan introduce their 2019 book, Your Complete Guide to a Successful and Secure Retirement, as follows: “…failure to plan is to plan to fail. While so many of us have carefully planned our education, career choices, and family responsibilities, we tend to fail to prepare a written retirement life plan that considers, among other things, our passions, financial security, charitable endeavors, relationships, intellectual stimulation, and having fun. …Having a well-thought-out plan is important. However, planning is not a one-and-done event. To be effective, plans must be living things that must be revisited whenever any of the assumptions upon which the plan was based have changed.” Based on their experience in wealth management, mortgage lending and investment banking, they conclude that: Keep Reading

SACEMS with Momentum Breadth Crash Protection

In response to “SACEMS with SMA Filter”, a subscriber suggested instead crash protection via momentum breadth (proportion of assets with positive momentum) by:

  1. Switching to 100% cash when fewer than four of eight Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) non-cash assets have positive past returns.
  2. Scaling from cash into winners when four to eight risk assets have positive past returns (no cash for eight).
  3. Replacing U.S. Treasury bills (T-bills), a proxy for broker money market rates, with iShares Barclays 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF) as “Cash.”

To investigate, we each month rank assets from the following SACEMS universe based on total returns over a specified lookback interval. We also each month measure momentum breadth for the eight non-cash assets using the same 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)

While emphasizing the suggested momentum breadth crash protection threshold, we look at all possible thresholds. While emphasizing a baseline lookback interval, we consider lookback intervals ranging from one to 12 months for the suggested momentum breadth threshold. We focus on compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD) for the equal-weighted (EW) Top 3 SACEMS portfolio, but also look at Top 1 and EW Top 2. We also look at EW Top 3 portfolio turnover. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for SACEMS assets and IEF and the T-bill yield during February 2006 (the earliest all ETFs are available) through December 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Coverage Ratio and Asymmetric Utility for Retirement Portfolio Evaluation

Failure rate, the conventional metric for evaluating retirement portfolios, does not distinguish between: (1) failures early versus late in retirement; or, (2) small and large surpluses (bequests). Is there a better way to evaluate retirement portfolios? In their December 2018 paper entitled “Toward Determining the Optimal Investment Strategy for Retirement”, Javier Estrada and Mark Kritzman propose coverage ratio, plus an asymmetric utility function that penalizes shortfalls more than it rewards surpluses, to evaluate retirement portfolios. They test this approach in 21 countries and the world overall. Coverage ratio is number of years of withdrawals supported by a portfolio during and after retirement, divided by retirement period. The utility function increases at decreasing rate (essentially logarithmic) as coverage ratio rises above one and decreases sharply (linearly with slope 10) as it falls below one. They focus on a 30-year retirement with 4% initial withdrawal rate and annual inflation-adjusted future withdrawals. The portfolio rebalances annually to target stocks and bonds allocations. They consider 11 target stocks-bonds allocations ranging from 100%-0% to 0%-100% in increments of 10%. When analyzing historical returns, the first (last) 30-year period is 1900-1929 (1985-2014), for a total of 86 (overlapping) periods. When using simulations, they draw 25,000 annual real returns for stocks and bonds from two uncorrelated normal distributions. For bonds, all simulation runs assume 2% average real annual return with 3% standard deviation. For stocks, simulation runs vary average real annual return and standard deviation for sensitivity analysis. Using historical annual real returns for stocks and bonds for 21 countries and the world overall during 1900 through 2014 from the Dimson-Marsh-Staunton database, they find that: Keep Reading

Adjust the SACEMS Lookback Interval?

The Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) each month picks winners based on total return over a specified ranking (lookback) interval from 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, 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. As historical data accumulate, we can estimate an increasingly robust optimal lookback interval. Should we change the baseline lookback interval at this point? To investigate, we revisit relevant analyses and conduct further robustness tests, with focus on the equal-weighted (EW) Top 3 SACEMS portfolio. Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 (when all ETFs are first available) through December 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Combining Fundamental Analysis and Portfolio Optimization

Can stock return forecasts from fundamental analysis make conventional mean-variance stock portfolio optimization work? In their December 2018 paper entitled “Optimized Fundamental Portfolios”, Matthew Lyle and Teri Yohn construct a portfolio that combines fundamentals-based stock return forecasts and mean-variance optimization and then compare results with portfolios from each employed separately. To suppress implementation costs, they focus on long-only portfolios reformed quarterly. Their fundamentals return forecasting model uses cross-sectionally normalized versions of book-to-market ratio, return on equity, change in net operating assets divided by book value and change in financial assets divided by book value. They update fundamental variables quarterly at the end of the reporting month. They generate stock return forecasts via a complicated multivariate regression of cross-sectionally normalized versions of the variables based on five years of rolling historical data. They then form a portfolio of the tenth (decile) of stocks with the highest expected returns, either value-weighted or equal-weighted. They consider several portfolio optimization methods, including minimum variance (requiring no return forecasts); mean-variance optimization with target expected return; and, Sharpe ratio maximization. Their combined approach employs fundamental stock return forecasts as inputs to those portfolio optimization methods that require returns. They use data from 1991-1995 to generate initial model inputs and 1996-2015 for out-of-sample testing. Using end-of-month data for a broad but groomed sample of U.S. common stocks with at least three years of historical data during January 1991 through December 2015, they find that:

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Robustness of SACEMS Based on Sharpe Ratio

Subscribers have asked whether risk-adjusted returns might work better than raw returns for ranking Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy (SACEMS) assets. In fact, “Alternative Momentum Metrics for SACEMS?” supports belief that Sharpe ratio beats raw returns. Is this finding strong enough to justify changing the strategy, which each month selects the best performers over a specified lookback interval from among 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)

To investigate, we update the basic comparison and conduct three robustness tests:

  1. Does Sharpe ratio beat raw returns consistently across Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2, EW Top 3 and EW Top 4 portfolios, and the 50%-50% SACEMS EW Top 3-Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy (SACEVS) Best Value portfolio?
  2. Does Sharpe ratio beat raw returns consistently across different lookback intervals?
  3. For multi-asset portfolios, does weighting by Sharp ratio rank beat equal weighting? In other words, do future returns behave systematically across ranks?

To calculate Sharpe ratios, we each month for each asset subtract the risk-free rate (Cash yield) from raw monthly total returns to generate monthly total excess returns over a specified lookback interval. We then calculate Sharpe ratio as average monthly excess return divided by standard deviation of monthly excess returns over the lookback interval. We set Sharpe ratio for Cash at zero (though it is actually zero divided by zero). Using monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for asset class proxies and the yield for Cash during February 2006 (when all ETFs are first available) through December 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Does Active Stock Factor Timing/Tilting Work?

Does active stock factor exposure management boost overall portfolio performance? In their November 2018 paper entitled “Optimal Timing and Tilting of Equity Factors”, Hubert Dichtl, Wolfgang Drobetz, Harald Lohre, Carsten Rother and Patrick Vosskamp explore benefits for global stock portfolios of two types of active factor allocation:

  1. Factor timing – exploit factor premium time series predictability based on economic indicators and factor-specific technical indicators.
  2. Factor tilting – exploit cross-sectional (relative) attractiveness of factor premiums.

They consider 20 factors spanning value, momentum, quality and size. For each factor each month, they reform a hedge portfolio that is long (short) the equal-weighted fifth, or quintile, of stocks with the highest (lowest) expected returns for that factor. For implementation of factor timing, they consider: 14 economic indicators standardized by subtracting respective past averages and dividing by standard deviations; and, 16 technical indicators related to time series momentum, moving averages and volatilities. They suppress redundancy and noise in these indicators via principal component analysis separately for economic and technical groups, focusing on the first principal component of each group. They translate any predictive power embedded in principal components into optimal factor portfolio weights using augmented mean-variance optimization. For implementation of factor tilting, they overweight (underweight) factors that are relatively attractive (unattractive) based on valuations of factor top and bottom quintile stocks, top-bottom quintile factor variable spreads, prior-month factor returns (momentum) and volatilities of past monthly factor returns. Their benchmark portfolio is the equal-weighted combination of all factor hedge portfolios. For all portfolios, they assume: monthly portfolio reformation costs of 0.75% (1.15%) of turnover value for the long (short) side; and, annual 0.96% cost for an equity swap to ensure a balanced portfolio of factor portfolios. For monthly factor timing and tilting portfolios only, they assume an additional cost of 0.20% of associated turnover. Using monthly data for a broad sample of global stocks from major equity indexes and for specified economic indicators during January 1997 through December 2016 (4,500 stocks at the beginning and 5,000 stocks at the end), they find that: Keep Reading

Managing Asset Class Exposures with Leveraged ETFs

Are there advantages to using leveraged exchange-traded funds (ETF) to implement conventional asset class exposures? In their October 2018 paper entitled “A Portfolio of Leveraged Exchange Traded Funds”, William Trainor, Indudeep Chhachhi and Chris Brown investigate performance of diversified portfolios of 2X or 3X leveraged ETFs that limit exposures to those typically achieved with 1X ETFs. Specifically, when using 2X (3X) funds, allocations are only one half (one third) those for corresponding 1X ETFs. While this approach allows large allocations to a safe asset, it also exposes the portfolio to the higher expense ratios, internal financing costs, leverage decays and rebalancing frequencies of leveraged ETFs. The authors two strategic allocations:

  1. Actual ETFs during 2010-2017 (see the first table below) – 1X portfolio allocations are 30% U.S. large caps, 10% U.S. midcaps, 10% U.S. small caps, 10% non-U.S. developed market stocks, 10% emerging market stocks, 5% real estate investment trusts (REIT), 5% >20-year U.S. Treasuries, 5% 7-year to 10-year U.S. Treasuries and 15% aggregate corporate bonds. “Savings” from holding leveraged ETFs goes to the aggregate bond ETF, for which there are no leveraged counterparts. Rebalancing occurs whenever equities combined deviate from the specified overall levels by more than 10%.
  2. Simulated ETFs during 1946-2017 – 1X portfolio allocations are 50% S&P 500, 10% U.S. midcaps, 10% U.S. smallcaps, 15% >20-year U.S. Treasuries, 15% 7-year to 10-year U.S. Treasuries. An equal-weighted ladder of 1-year, 2-year, 5-year and 7-year U.S. Treasuries. “Savings” from holding leveraged ETFs goes to an equal-weighted ladder of 1-year, 2-year, 5-year, and 7-year treasury bonds.  Rebalancing occurs whenever equities combined deviate from the specified overall level by more than 10%.

Using daily returns for specified ETFs since 2010 and data required to simulate specified ETFs since 1946, all through December 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

Unbiased Performance of Endowment Investments

Do non-profit endowments beat the market with their investments? In their November 2018 paper entitled “Investment Returns and Distribution Policies of Non-Profit Endowment Funds”, Sandeep Dahiya and David Yermack estimate investment returns and distribution rates for a broad and unbiased (not self-reported or self-selected) sample of U.S. non-profit endowment funds. Using annual IRS Form 990 filings for 28,696 organizations and annual total returns for a capitalization-weighted U.S. Stock market index and a U.S. Treasuries index during 2009-2016, they find that:

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