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Value Allocations for December 2019 (Final)
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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.

Testing a Countercyclical Asset Allocation Strategy

“Countercyclical Asset Allocation Strategy” summarizes research on a simple countercyclical asset allocation strategy that systematically raises (lowers) the allocation to an asset class when its current aggregate allocation is relatively low (high). The underlying research is not specific on calculating portfolio allocations and returns. To corroborate findings, we use annual mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) allocations to stocks and bonds worldwide from the 2018 Investment Company Fact Book, Data Tables 3 and 11 to determine annual countercyclical allocations for stocks and bonds (ignoring allocations to money market funds). Specifically:

  • If actual aggregate mutual fund/ETF allocation to stocks in a given year is above (below) 60%, we set next-year portfolio allocation below (above) 60% by the same percentage.
  • If actual aggregate mutual fund/ETF allocation to bonds in a given year is above (below) 40%, we set next-year portfolio allocation below (above) 40% by the same percentage.

We then apply next-year allocations to stock (Fidelity Fund, FFIDX) and bond (Fidelity Investment Grade Bond Fund, FBNDX) mutual funds that have long histories. Based on Fact Book annual publication dates, we rebalance at the end of April each year. Using the specified actual fund allocations for 1984 through 2017 and FFIDX and FBNDX May through April total returns and April 1-year U.S. Treasury note (T-note) yields for 1985 through 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Putting Strategic Edges and Tactical Views into Portfolios

What is the best way to put strategic edges and tactical views into investment portfolios? In their March 2018 paper entitled “Model Portfolios”, Debarshi Basu, Michael Gates, Vishal Karir and Andrew Ang describe and illustrate a three-step optimized asset allocation process incorporating investor preferences and beliefs that is rigorous, repeatable, transparent and scalable. The three steps are: 

  1. Select a benchmark portfolio matched to investor risk tolerance via simple combination of stocks and bonds. They represent stocks with a mix of 70% MSCI All World Country Index and 30% MSCI USA Index. They represent bonds with Barclays US Universal Bond Index. In their first illustration, they focus on 20-80, 60-40 and 80-20 stocks-bonds benchmarks, rebalanced quarterly.
  2. Construct a strategic portfolio with the same expected volatility as the selected benchmark but generates a higher long-term Sharpe ratio by including optimized exposure to styles/factors expected to outperform the market over the long run. Key inputs are long-run asset returns and covariances plus a risk aversion parameter. In their first illustration, they constrain the strategic model portfolio to have the same overall equity exposure and regional equity exposures as the selected benchmark.
  3. Add tactical modifications to the strategic portfolio by varying strategic positions based on short-term expected returns and risks. In their second illustration, they employ a 100-0 stocks-bonds benchmark consisting of 80% MSCI USA Net Total Return Index and 20% MSCI USA Minimum Volatility Net Total Return Index. The corresponding strategic portfolio reflecting long-term expectations is an equally weighted combination of value, momentum, quality, size and minimum volatility equity factor indexes. They specify short-term return and risk expectations based on four indicators involving: economic cycle variables; aggregate stock valuation metrics; factor momentum; and, dispersion of factor measures (such as difference in valuations between value stocks and growth stocks). They apply these indicators to underweight or overweight strategic positions using an optimizer. They rebalance these portfolios monthly. 

For their asset universe, they focus on indexes accessible via Exchanged Traded Funds (ETFs). Using monthly data for five broad capitalization-weighted equity indexes, six broad bond/credit indexes of varying durations and six style/factor (smart beta) equity indexes as available during January 2000 through June 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

“Pulling the Goalie” Metaphor for Investors

Can sacrificing little goals satisfy bigger ones? In the March 2018 draft of their paper entitled “Pulling the Goalie: Hockey and Investment Implications”, Clifford Asness and Aaron Brown ponder when a losing hockey coach should pull the goalie as a metaphor for focusing on portfolio-level return and portfolio-level risk management. Based on statistical analysis of hockey scenarios and broad examples from investing, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Preliminary Momentum Strategy and Value Strategy Updates

The home page“Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) and “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS) now show preliminary positions for February 2018. For SACEMS, past returns for the first and second positions and for the third and fourth positions are close, such that rankings could change by the close. For SACEVS, allocations are unlikely to change by the close.

An anomaly in the source data surfaced this month. Returns for December 2017 for dividend-paying ETFs changed between the end of December 2017 and the end of January 2018. It appears that data available as of the December market close did not account for dividend ex-dates during December. This anomaly has two implications:

  1. December 2017 returns previously reported for SACEMS and SACEVS (and alternatives using dividend paying ETFs) were too low. We are correcting these returns.
  2. More seriously, incorporation of December 2017 dividends causes a change in the SACEMS top three winners for December 2017, which we determine based on total returns. Since the historical SACEMS performance we present is based on fully updated backtests, the data anomaly introduces a disconnect between backtest and live portfolio performances. In this case, the backtest performs better than a live portfolio. If this issue recurs, we will consider other data management approaches.

Recall the prior data instability reported in “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy Data Changes”. Over the long run, data instability issues may cancel with respect to live portfolio performance.

Sticky SACEMS

Subscribers have suggested an alternative approach for the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS) designed to suppress trading by holding past winners until they fall further in the rankings than in the baseline specification. 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)

There are three versions of SACEMS: (1) top one of the nine ETFs (Top 1); (2) equally weighted top two (EW Top 2); and, (3) equally weighted top three (EW Top 3). To test the suggestion, we specify three “sticky” versions of SACEMS as follows:

  1. Top 1 Sticky – retains the past winner until it drops out of the top 2.
  2. EW Top 2 Sticky – retains past winners until they drop out of the top 3.
  3. EW Top 3 Sticky – retains past winners until they drop out of the top 4.

We compare sticky and baseline strategies using the tabular performance statistics used for the baseline. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets during February 2006 (limited by DBC) through December 2017, we find that:

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SACEVS-SACEMS Leverage Sensitivity Tests

“SACEVS with Margin” investigates the use of target 2X leverage via margin to boost the performance of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS). “SACEMS with Margin” investigates the use of target 2X leverage via margin to boost the performance of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS). In response, a subscriber requested a sensitivity test of 1.25X, 1.50X and 1.75X leverage targets. To investigate effects of these leverage targets, we separately augment SACEVS Best Value, SACEMS EW Top 3 and the equally weighted combination of these two strategies by: (1) initially applying target leverage via margin; (2) for each month with a positive portfolio return, adding margin at the end of the month to restore target leverage; and, (3) for each month with a negative portfolio return, liquidating shares at the end of the month to pay down margin and restore target leverage. Margin rebalancings are concurrent with portfolio reformations. We focus on gross monthly Sharpe ratiocompound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) for committed capital as key performance statistics. We use the 3-month Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the risk-free rate. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets since July 2002 for SACEVS and since July 2006 for SACEMS, both through December 2017, we find that:

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Cryptocurrencies vs. Other Asset Classes

Are cryptocurrencies potentially useful portfolio diversifiers? In their November 2017 paper entitled “Exploring the Dynamic Relationships between Cryptocurrencies and Other Financial Assets”, Shaen Corbet, Andrew Meegan, Charles Larkin, Brian Lucey and Larisa Yarovaya apply a battery of tests to analyze relationships: (1) among three cryptocurrencies; and, (2) between the cryptocurrencies and conventional asset classes. They consider cryptocurrencies with market values over $1B at the end July 2017: Bitcoin, Ripple and Litecoin. They consider equities (S&P 500 Index), bonds (Markit ITTR110), commodities (S&P GSCI Total Returns Index), currencies (U.S. Dollar Broad Index), gold (COMEX close) and S&P 500 implied volatility (VIX) as conventional asset classes. Using daily data for Bitcoin, Ripple and Litecoin and for conventional asset classes as specified during April 29, 2013 through April 30, 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

SACEVS with Margin

Is leveraging with margin a good way to boost the performance of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Value Strategy” (SACEVS)? SACEVS each month allocates funds to one or more of the following three asset class exchange-traded funds (ETF), plus cash, based on relative valuations:

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

To investigate effects of margin, we augment SACEVS by: (1) initially applying 2X leverage via margin (limited by Federal Reserve Regulation T); (2) for each month with a positive portfolio return, adding margin at the end of the month to restore 2X leverage; and, (3) for each month with a negative portfolio return, liquidating shares at the end of the month to pay down margin and restore 2X leverage. Margin rebalancings are concurrent with portfolio reformations. We focus on gross monthly Sharpe ratiocompound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) for committed capital as key performance statistics for Best Value (which picks the most undervalued premium) and Weighted (which weights all undervalued premiums according to degree of undervaluation) variations of SACEVS. We use the 3-month Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the risk-free rate and consider a range of margin interest rates as increments to this yield. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets during July 2002 (limited by TLT and LQD) through October 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

SACEMS with Margin

Is leveraging with margin a good way to boost the performance of the “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy” (SACEMS)? 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 effects of margin, we augment SACEMS by: (1) initially applying 2X leverage via margin (limited by Federal Reserve Regulation T); (2) for each month with a positive portfolio return, adding margin at the end of the month to restore 2X leverage; and, (3) for each month with a negative portfolio return, liquidating shares at the end of the month to pay down margin and restore 2X leverage. Margin rebalancings are concurrent with portfolio reformations. We focus on gross monthly Sharpe ratiocompound annual growth rate (CAGR) and maximum drawdown (MaxDD) for committed capital as key performance statistics for the Top 1, equally weighted (EW) Top 2 and EW Top 3 portfolios of monthly winners. We use the 3-month Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the risk-free rate and consider a range of margin interest rates as increments to this yield. Using monthly total (dividend-adjusted) returns for the specified assets during February 2006 (limited by DBC) through October 2017, we find that: Keep Reading

Shorting Equity Options to Automate Portfolio Rebalancing

Can investors refine portfolio rebalancing while capturing a volatility risk premium (VRP) by systematically shorting options matched to target allocations of the underlying asset? In their October 2017 paper entitled “An Alternative Option to Portfolio Rebalancing”, Roni Israelov and Harsha Tummala explore multi-asset class portfolio rebalancing via an option selling overlay. The overlay sells out-of-the-money options such that, if stocks rise (fall), counterparties exercise call (put) options and the portfolio must sell (buy) shares. They intend their approach to counter short-term momentum exposure between rebalancings (when the portfolio is overweight winners and underweight losers) with short-term reversal exposure inherent in short options. For testing, they assume: (1) a simple 60%-40% stocks-bonds portfolio; (2) bond returns are small compared to stock returns (so only the stock allocation requires rebalancing); and, (3) option settlement via share transfer, as for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) as the stock/option positions. They each month sell nearest out-of-the-money S&P 500 Index  call and put options across multiple economically priced strikes and update the overlay intramonth if new economically priced strikes become available. Once sold, they hold the options to expiration. Using daily S&P 500 Total Return Index returns, Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index returns and closing bid/ask quotes for S&P 500 Index options equity options (with returns calculated in excess of the risk-free rate) during 1996 through 2015, they find that:

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