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Taking Risk and Making Money

Indexing Beyond Large-caps: What happens to top performing funds?

Healthcare growth drivers for the large employer market

Plot Thickens for Puerto Rico Bonds

Volquakes

Taking Risk and Making Money

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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My colleagues, Daniel Ung and Xiaowei Kang, recently published an article on alternative commodity strategies. Below is an intro and some highlights:

“Ever since the publication of Professor Harry Markowitz’s work in 1952, modern portfolio theory has been one of the cornerstones of asset allocation and portfolio construction. Until recently, the principal building blocks used to construct investment portfolios have always been individual assets or asset classes. However, recent crises have brought into sharp relief the lack of diversification of many investment portfolios, despite appearances to the contrary. In reality, the correlation between traditional asset classes has increased steadily over the past decade, surging to alarmingly elevated levels during the 2008-09 financial crisis. Indeed, seemingly unrelated assets moved in lockstep, and portfolios once thought to be diversified did not weather the storm. This has led to some investors exploring risk-factor-based asset allocation as a potential new framework for portfolio construction, and looking at alternative beta strategies in an effort to rectify the “defects” of conventional market portfolios.”

Risk Weighting is SUPERIOR to Minimum-Variance

“In addition, it is also apparent from the results that the Risk-Weight strategy was far superior to the Minimum-Variance when seen through the prism of risk and return trade-off. Indeed, commodity prices and volatility often go hand in hand with each other, particularly during periods of supply shortage, when both will spike upwards; this is why the distribution of commodity returns tends to be positively skewed. For this reason, merely targeting the lowest level of volatility appears counterintuitive, and a more satisfactory approach would be to target risk reduction by assigning a risk budget across different commodities and sectors.”

Risk Weight Min Variance

Value Strategies Perform when Fundamentals Diverge

“Despite the attractiveness of value strategies, they can experience periods of underperformance too, especially in periods where commodity fundamentals play a secondary role to the general macroeconomic environment in influencing prices. … It follows from this that such strategies are the most effective when the fundamentals of different commodities are divergent, enabling value to be extracted via active selection.”

Value Strategies

Flexible Curve Strategies Perform in Demand Growth Expansion

“Even more dynamic strategies—such as the S&P GSCI Dynamic Roll and the Dow Jones-UBS Roll Select indices—have also garnered much interest in recent years. Unlike their static counterparts, their objective is not only to minimize the effect of contango, but also to maximize the effect of backwardation by adopting a different roll strategy with respect to the term structure of the commodity concerned. In practice, they roll into the futures contract with the lowest implied roll cost when a commodity trades in contango, and roll into the futures contract with the highest implied roll benefit when a commodity trades in backwardation.”

Curve Performance

Momentum Is Worth the Risk in Trending Markets

“An important advantage of momentum strategies is that they may provide downside protection during sharp market corrections, while maintaining upside participation during bull markets… Undoubtedly, these strategies also experience periods of subpar performance. In range-bound markets where there is no clear trend, they are unlikely to generate returns. For instance, in the oscillating markets over the last two years or so, momentum strategies—irrespective of their construction—posted disappointing results, as compared with their benchmarks.”

Momentum

Liquidity / Transparency Tradeoff

“In light of the changing liquidity conditions, a possible improvement to the static [rolling] approach explored above would be to adopt a dynamic rolling schedule in which the roll would occur over a rolling window that is determined on an ongoing basis, rather than defined in advance… adopting different roll schedules can produce very different returns, depending on the time period in question. Obviously, this would come at the expense of transparency. Finally, the analysis finds no evidence to show that lengthening or shortening the rolling window enhances or reduces return on a consistent basis.”

Liquidity

CONCLUSION
“Alternative beta strategies can serve a variety of different investment objectives, which may include reducing volatility or achieving tilts to systematic risk exposures… Two main approaches to alternative beta are reviewed in this paper: the “risk-based approach,” which entails reducing portfolio risk; and the “factor-based approach,” which involves enhancing return through earning systematic risk premia, with a focus on the latter. While alternative beta is fairly well established in equity strategy investing, it is still a nascent concept in commodities. However, as a result of investors’ pursuit of better-diversified portfolios and a recognition that systematic risk factors explain the majority of returns, the development of commodity alternative beta products is gathering pace… From our investigation in this study, there appears to be potential benefit in allocating into alternative beta strategies as part of a portfolio’s commodity allocation, and we find that combining risk-based and factor-based commodity strategies has historically delivered higher return and lower risk than passive long-only strategies on their own.”

Please contact us for more information about these ideas. We’d love to hear from you!

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Indexing Beyond Large-caps: What happens to top performing funds?

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Philip Murphy

Managing Director, Global Head of Index Governance

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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At S&P Dow Jones Indices, our research indicates that indexing small-cap and mid-cap stocks works as well as it does for large-cap stocks, even though the large-cap segment may be more efficient than its junior siblings. Nevertheless, the popular belief that indexing works better for large-caps is well-entrenched and widely endorsed by advisors, consultants, and other financial professionals.

A look at active fund performance through time, as excerpted from our July 2013 Persistence Scorecard, sheds light on why indexing works irrespective of market efficiency and is at least as effective for small-cap and mid-cap exposure as for large-cap. The figure below depicts performance results over two non-overlapping three-year periods for active funds that achieved first quartile status after the first period.

1st Quartile Funds

  • While 23.2% of top quartile small-cap funds stayed in the first quartile after a second three-year period, almost a third (31.3%) fell to the fourth quartile.
  • Over 1 in 10 (about 11.7%) first quartile small-cap funds were either merged with another fund, liquidated, or changed investment style (diverging from small-cap exposure).
  • An equal proportion of first quartile mid-cap funds remained in the top quartile and fell to the bottom quartile (17.6%).
  • Over 1 in 3 (about 33.8%) first quartile mid-cap funds were either merged with another fund, liquidated, or changed investment style. The large proportion (20.3%) diverging from mid-cap exposure seems to be unique to the mid-cap space. These managers may have more of a tendency to drift upwards or downwards in capitalization focus within their portfolios than large-cap or small-cap managers do.
  • Active large-cap fund performance seems more uniformly distributed from period to period – with more equal proportions of top quartile funds subsequently finishing in second through fourth quartiles. This behavior could be related to market efficiency because higher information levels characteristic of large-cap stocks could drive less differentiation between active funds’ performance; i.e., they inherently may have less active risk.

Contrary to popular belief, the potential inverse relationship between market efficiency and active risk may be good reason to index small-cap and mid-cap stocks. Indexing has shown it can reliably deliver market returns and remain style consistent, whereas investing in active small-cap and mid-cap funds may result in overshooting markets during some periods, undershooting in others, altering style unpredictably, and generally compounding total risk without commensurate reward.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Healthcare growth drivers for the large employer market

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Glenn Doody

Vice President, Product Management, Technology Innovation and Specialty Products

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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An article published Friday in Healthcare Payer News, “How health inflation could slow, or rise, in 2014” indicates a projected 6.5% increase in the large employer medical inflation for 2014 by PWC Health. As can be seen by the S&P Healthcare Claims Indices, an index series comprised of claims data provided by leading insurers in the US market, inflationary costs for large group medical claims fell from over 8% increase year over year in 2008 to about 4% from 2009 through the end of 2010, before dipping again to just under 3% in 2011 and 2012. For the ASO market, which comprises significantly more lives than Large Group, cost increases fell from 9% to roughly 5%, before dipping to just above 4% in 2011. An increase to 6% would represent a significant uptick in cost expenditures for the large employer market. The article goes on to talk about a growth rate of 4.5% after plan design changes, which take into account modifications to deductibles and other plan design features. The S&P indices, which were created in partnership and consultation with Aon Hewitt and Milliman consulting, are designed to look at overall costs of healthcare, and do not take into account plan design, which can be different from insurer to insurer. The same trends shown in the chart are also available from S&P for geographic regions, including census division, region, states, and major metropolitan areas.

S&P Healthcare Claims National Large Group FFS Medical Total Cost Index

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Plot Thickens for Puerto Rico Bonds

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J.R. Rieger

Head of Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The story plot thickens for Puerto Rico bonds as Moody’s placed bonds issued from Puerto Rico under review for a possible downgrade to below investment grade.  Selling pressure continues to mount impacting the market.  The S&P Municipal Bond Puerto Rico Index has seen a negative total return of 19.45% year to date and the weighted average price of bonds in the index has fallen by over 24% this year.   The weighted average yield (YTW) of bonds in the index ended at 7.26% or  419bps higher than investment grade bonds.

Investment grade municipal bonds tracked in the S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index have seen a negative 3.21% return year to date. Secondary trading in the muni market tends to get lighter before and after the holidays and it is still wrestling with a  heavy new issue calendar.

Tobacco settlement municipal bonds also have been weaker.  The S&P Municipal Bond Tobacco Index has declined by 8.96% year to date.  The index tracks over $82billion in par value of tobacco settlement bonds.  Yields on these bonds have risen 267bps over the course the year to end at 6.89%. These high yield, long duration bonds are impacted by both credit risk driven by declining tobacco use and the possibility of rising rates.

 

Investment grade municipal bond yields vs Puerto Rico municipal bond yields
Investment grade municipal bond yields vs Puerto Rico municipal bond yields

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Volquakes

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Tim Edwards

Managing Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Volatility can feel like an earthquake.

As many investors can painfully testify, the chart below is typical of volatility.  A period of relative calm is disturbed first by a few small tremors, then by a precipitous rise.  At this point, risk breaks all connections with its normal level and climbs rapidly to a crystalized zenith of distress and chaos … before declining, at first rapidly then slowly; rollercoasting through a cascade of aftershocks as the grind back down to normality occurs.

Volquakes

Note: Chart courtesy of Groundswell Earthquake Outreach

Volatility can feel like an earthquake, and it’s far from simply a romantic metaphor.  As the reader may have already guessed, the chart above is not from any financial market. In fact it shows the measured magnitude of foreshocks, aftershocks and the actual ‘Great East Japan Earthquake’ at Tohoku on March 11th, 2011. The reading of 7.1 immediately subsequent to the main spike is better known, resulting ultimately in the failure of the nuclear plant at Fukushima.

The statistical properties of earthquakes are the subject of much serious academic research, the fruits of which allow for empirical predictions of the number, magnitude and frequency of aftershocks.  In 2010 a group of physicists tested these sharpened tools on market volatility, with a remarkable degree of success.   Put simply, the statistical rules that explain earthquakes also fit and predict the patterns of stock market volatility.

Such analytic dissections are certainly interesting to options and volatility traders.   And these relationships provide the rest of us with a deeply meaningful analogy for the judicious management of risk.  If you live near a fault line, take very close heed of tremors; immediately after an earthquake, prepare for the aftershocks accordingly. 

 

 

 

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.