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SACEMS with Risk Parity?

Posted in Momentum Investing, Strategic Allocation, Volatility Effects

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:

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