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Volatility Effects

Reward goes with risk, and volatility represents risk. Therefore, volatility means reward; investors/traders get paid for riding roller coasters. Right? These blog entries relate to volatility effects.

Are Low Volatility Stock ETFs Working?

Are low volatility stock strategies, as implemented by exchange-traded funds (ETF), attractive? To investigate, we consider eight of the largest low volatility ETFs, all currently available, in order of longest to shortest available histories:

We focus on monthly return statistics, along with compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD). Using monthly returns for the low volatility stock ETFs and their benchmark ETFs as available through June 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Test of Seasonal Risk Adjustment Strategy

A subscriber requested review of a strategy that seeks to exploit “Sell in May” by switching between risk-on assets during November-April and risk-off assets during May-October, with assets specified as follows:

On each portfolio switch date, assets receive equal weight with 0.25% overall penalty for trading frictions. We focus on compound annual growth rate (CAGR), maximum drawdown (MaxDD) measured at 6-month intervals and Sharpe ratio measured at 6-month intervals as key performance statistics. As benchmarks, we consider buying and holding SPY, IWM or TLT and a 60%-40% SPY-TLT portfolio rebalanced frictionlessly at the ends of April and October (60-40). Using April and October dividend-adjusted closes of SPY, IWM, PDP, TLT and SPLV as available during October 2002 (first interval with at least one risk-on and one risk-off asset) through April 2019, and contemporaneous 6-month U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield as the risk-free rate, we find that: Keep Reading

Does Volatility Management Work for Equity Factor Portfolios?

Do equity strategy portfolios characterized by aggressive (conservative) scaling when portfolio volatility is recently low (high) reliably beat unmanaged performance? In their March 2019 paper entitled “On the Performance of Volatility-Managed Portfolios”, Scott Cederburg, Michael O’Doherty, Feifei Wang and Xuemin Yan assess whether practical volatility management is systematically attractive. For each of 103 anomalies (nine widely used factors and 94 other published anomalies), they construct a hedge portfolio that is each month long (short) the value-weighted tenth of stocks with the highest (lowest) expected returns. They then construct volatility-managed versions of these portfolios based on inverse variance of daily portfolio returns the prior month. Focusing on gross Sharpe ratio, they compare head-to-head performances of volatility-managed portfolios and unmanaged counterparts. Focusing on gross Sharpe ratio and certainty equivalent return (CER), they also employ an historical training subsample to estimate mean-variance optimal allocations for: (1) a strategy that chooses among a given volatility-managed portfolio, its unmanaged counterpart and a risk-free asset; and, (2) a strategy chooses between only the unmanaged counterpart and the risk-free asset. Using daily returns for the 103 equity hedge portfolios, they find 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

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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Country Stock Market Anomaly Momentum

Do country stock market anomalies have trends? In his March 2018 paper entitled “The Momentum Effect in Country-Level Stock Market Anomalies”, Adam Zaremba investigates whether country-level stock market return anomalies exhibit trends (momentum) based on their past returns. Specifically, he:

  • Screens potential anomalies via monthly reformed hedge portfolios that long (short) the equal-weighted or capitalization-weighted fifth of country stock market indexes with the highest (lowest) expected gross returns based on one of 40 market-level characteristics/combinations of characteristics. Characteristics span aggregate market value, momentum, reversal, skewness, quality, volatility, liquidity, net stock issuance and seasonality metrics.
  • Tests whether the most reliable anomalies exhibit trends (momentum) based on their respective returns over the past 3, 6, 9 or 12 months.
  • Compares performance of a portfolio that is long the third of reliable anomalies with the highest past returns to that of a portfolio that is long the equal-weighted combination of all reliable anomalies.

He performs all calculations twice, accounting in a second iteration for effects of taxes on dividends across countries. Using returns for capitalization-weighted country stock market indexes and data required for the 40 anomaly hedge portfolios as available across 78 country markets during January 1995 through May 2015, he finds that: Keep Reading

Global Factor Premiums Over the Very Long Run

Do very old data confirm reliability of widely accepted asset return factor premiums? In their January 2019 paper entitled “Global Factor Premiums”, Guido Baltussen, Laurens Swinkels and Pim van Vliet present replication (1981-2011) and out-of-sample (1800-1908 and 2012-2016) tests of six global factor premiums across four asset classes. The asset classes are equity indexes, government bonds, commodities and currencies. The factors are: time series (intrinsic or absolute) momentum, designated as trend; cross-sectional (relative) momentum, designated as momentum; value; carry (long high yields and short low yields); seasonality (rolling “hot” months); and, betting against beta (BAB). They explicitly account for p-hacking (data snooping bias) and further explore economic explanations of global factor premiums. Using monthly global data as available during 1800 through 2016 to construct the six factors and four asset class return series, they find that:

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Rebalance Timing Noise

Does choice of multi-asset portfolio rebalance date(s) materially affect performance? In their October 2018 paper entitled “Rebalance Timing Luck: The Difference Between Hired and Fired”, Corey Hoffstein, Justin Sibears and Nathan Faber investigate effects of varying portfolio rebalance date on performance. Specifically, they quantify noise (luck) from varying annual rebalance date for a 60% S&P 500 Index-40% 5-year constant maturity U.S. Treasury note (60-40) U.S. market portfolio. Using monthly total returns for these two assets during January 1922 through June 2018, they find that: Keep Reading

SACEMS with Risk Parity?

Subscribers asked whether risk parity might work better than equal weighting of winners 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 Top 3 portfolio and compare equal weighting to risk parity weights. We calculate risk parity weights at the end of each month by:

  • Calculating daily asset return volatilities over the last 63 trading days (about three months, as suggested). This step includes Cash, which has very low volatility.
  • Picking the volatilities of the Top 3 momentum winners.
  • Weighting each winner by the inverse of its volatility.
  • Scaling winner weights such that the total of the three allocations is 100%. This step essentially puts the entire portfolio into Cash when any of the Top 3 is Cash.

We use gross compound annual growth rates (CAGR) and maximum drawdowns (MaxDD) to compare strategies. We check robustness by trying lookback intervals of one to 12 months for both momentum ranking and volatility estimation (increments of 21 trading days for the latter). 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

Book-to-Market Volatility as Stock Return Predictor

Do investors systematically undervalue stocks that have relatively large book-to-market fluctuations? In their December 2018 paper entitled “The Value Uncertainty Premium”, Turan Bali, Luca Del Viva, Menna El Hefnawy and Lenos Trigeorgis test whether book-to-market volatility relates positively to future returns. They specify book-to-market volatility as standard deviation of daily estimated book-to-market ratios divided by their average over the past 12 months. They estimate book value using the most recent quarterly balance sheet plus analyst forecasts of net income minus expected dividends since that quarter. They lag all accounting data three months and analyst forecasts one month to avoid look-ahead bias. They then each month starting January 1986 rank stocks into tenths (deciles) by book-to-market volatility and reform a hedge portfolio that is long (short) the highest (lowest) decile. Using monthly and daily returns and firm accounting data for a broad sample of non-financial U.S. stocks and data for a large set of control variables during January 1985 through December 2016, they find that:

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