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Low Dispersion Implies Low Value Added

A Tough Day for the Dow

Munis - Once again a 'risk off' asset class

Looking Back for Forward Guidance

Natural Gas Is Backwardated And The Weather Is Backwards

Low Dispersion Implies Low Value Added

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Understanding a market’s dispersion provides important insights into its internal dynamics and the opportunities and pitfalls that might await both active and passive investors.  Dispersion measures the average difference between the return of an index and the return of each of the index’s components.  In times of high dispersion, the gap between the best performers and the worst performers is relatively wide; when dispersion is low, the performance gap narrows.

We recently updated our volatility and dispersion dashboard to reflect full calendar year 2013 results.  Dispersion is at or near its all-time low in every market we surveyed.  This has important implications for an investor who owns anything other than a broad market capitalization-weighted index fund.  Dispersion doesn’t tell us anything about what the market’s overall performance will be, nor does it tell us what strategies are likely to outperform or underperform.  What it can do, however, is to help us estimate how much over- or under-performance we are likely to experience.

For example, consider the historical performance of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats index.  Since 1991, when the market has been in its least-disperse quartile, the average monthly deviation of the Aristocrats index relative to its parent S&P 500 has been 0.71%.  In the next least-disperse quartile, the average deviation rose to 0.95%, then to 1.36%, and finally, in the market’s  most-disperse quartile, to 3.31%.  Its average monthly deviation was 4.6 times larger in the most disperse quartile than in the least.

What is true for the Dividend Aristocrats is equally true for other strategy indices and emphatically also true for active managers.  When dispersion is low, there is less opportunity either to succeed or to fail.  With dispersion at its current levels, strategies that deviate from market cap weighting — whether active or indicized — should expect relatively low incremental returns.

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

A Tough Day for the Dow

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Jamie Farmer

Chief Commercial Officer

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Friday, January 24 was a rough day for the US equity markets with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding 318.24 points or 1.96%.  Driven by increasingly wide spread expectations of a market correction and slowing manufacturing in China, the Dow experienced its worst single day point drop since June 20th of last year.  On that day, the markets gave back over 353 points after comments from former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke fueled fears of an imminent stimulus taper.

Lowlights from today’s tape:

  • Today’s drop leaves the DJIA down nearly 700 points or 4.21% on the year.  It’s a pretty arbitrary measurement, but that’s the worst 16 day start since 2009 when the DJIA lost over 7.50% over those early days.
  • Visa (V), responsible for the loss of nearly 45 points, was the worst performer.  Boeing (BA) was responsible for taking off nearly 30 points and 3M (MMM) nearly 29.  Procter & Gamble (G), adding just over 6 points, was the best performer and one of only 3 Dow stocks up on the day.
  • As a group, Financials were the worst performer today (-97.42 points) and year to date (-174.36).  None of the 9 industries represented in the DJIA were up today, nor are any up on the year.

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

Munis - Once again a 'risk off' asset class

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J.R. Rieger

Head of Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Municipal bonds yields have come down at a faster pace than U.S. Treasury bond yields helping to push up bond prices. Equity and currency market volatility is helping to drive cash inflows for municipal bond funds and when combined with manageable new issue supply has helped foster a stronger muni bond market. The S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index tracking investment grade bonds has started 2014 with a positive total return of 2.34%. The average yield of bonds in the index has fallen by 36bps since year end out pacing the drop in yield of the 10 year US Treasury bond.

Puerto Rico municipal bonds stung the bond market in 2013 with the S&P Municipal Bond Puerto Rico Index falling over 20% during the year.  That index has seen a rally of 3.7% in January as the average yield of Puerto Rico bonds in that index has improved to 7.19% from 7.44% at year end. Possible new bond issuance from Puerto Rico will test the depth of market’s appetite for these bonds in coming weeks.

Tobacco settlement bonds have benefited from yields coming down. The S&P Municipal Bond Tobacco Index has seen a positive total return of 4.72% year to date as average yields of bonds in the index have dropped by 33bps in January.

Five year municipal bonds tracked in the S&P AMT-Free Municipal Series 2019 Index have seen yields come down by 33bps to end at 1.63%. The S&P AMT-Free Municipal Series 2023 Index have seen yields come down by 36bps to end at 2.88%. Out longer, 20 year bonds tracked in the S&P Municipal Bond 20 Year High Grade Rate Index have seen yields come down by 45bps to end at 4.1%.

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

Looking Back for Forward Guidance

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David Blitzer

Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Investors and some central bankers believe in forward guidance – that announcing what the bank will do well before it does anything can control the economy.  One proponent is Mark Carney the governor of the Bank of England (BOE) and previously head of the Bank of Canada. In a speech earlier today at Davos he told people to ignore statements made last summer about how the BOE would respond to a falling unemployment rate and offered a new twist to forward guidance: the BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee would re-think how to do forward guidance if they needed to change their mind.

Forward guidance, the idea that central banks can use announcements of future policy moves as a way to affect the economy gained popularity in recent years. In simple terms, if the Fed, or the Bank of England, says it won’t raise interest rates until unemployment drops, people respond by confidently borrowing and spending.  Central bankers were once tight lipped fearing that any comment might spook bond traders and damage the economy. After the financial crisis with interest rates pegged at their zero lower bound, a new tool for economic management was needed.  The answer was to tell the markets what the bank would do and then watch the economy follow instructions.

Forward guidance apparently works – markets and investors take note and respond as desired.  Central bankers can move the economy in the direction they want just by issuing official statements. But it only works as long as people believe what they hear. This is issue before Mark Carney and the Bank of England – and the issue about to confront the Fed and its soon-to-be chairperson Janet Yellin.  Unemployment rates in both the US and the UK dropped more than expected in recent months. Both banks’ forward guidance is on the record with unemployment targets for when interest rates might increase.  The Bank of England is sufficiently close to their target that they hint they may change their mind. We will need to read their upcoming February Inflation Report in hope of finding forward guidance 2.0.

Over at the Fed the details differ. The last employment report was unexpectedly weak so now everyone is wondering if another weak report will change their plans for tapering QE, their last public statements indicated.  A few days ago a page one article appeared in the upper right hand corner of the Wall Street Journal quoting two of the regional Federal Reserve bank presidents commenting that the Fed would continue to taper QE regardless on the employment report due on February 7th.   While this isn’t official forward guidance from the Fed, it is journalism – and some parts old time jaw boning, whispering and hinting.

A decade or two ago, before Central Bankers believed in maximum transparency, when the Wall Street Journal was a monotone grey paper only read within a few blocks of its namesake location, the way the Fed communicated with the markets was an occasional story in the upper right hand corner of page one quoting an unnamed senior Fed official. Unstated was the belief that the senior Fed official might be the chairman himself.  What was said sounded a bit vague and much less definite than today’s official statements. The element of uncertainty in the article forced investors to think through their own market forecasts and strategies knowing that the Fed might change its plan when the data changed.

Maybe some other senior officials at the Fed or the Bank of England today might prefer the old fashioned kind of forward guidance.

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

Natural Gas Is Backwardated And The Weather Is Backwards

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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When I see a forecast of freezing weather, unlike most, I don’t think about how I will dress warmly or prepare for the cold.  As a commodity lady, I think about how much the price of natural gas will increase. However when I saw this on TV yesterday, I had more food for thought than just the price of natural gas.  Notice Friday’s high is listed as 18 degrees Fahrenheit (about -8 Celsius) while the low is listed as 19 degrees Fahrenheit (about -7 Celsius).

Wacky Weather

I only chuckled for a moment before thinking about natural gas again.  Natural gas has been the best performing commodity in the S&P GSCI so far in 2014, up 8.6%. It is also in backwardation with the spot only up 7.6%, which is relatively rare. You can see in this chart below that natural gas has been in backwardation in only 13% of months since 1994.  Also, it has only been in backwardation in 10 months within the past 10 years with an average premium of 39 basis points. That is about 60 basis points less than the premium thus far in January 2014.  What is less unusual about the backwardation is its January appearance since backwardation has always happened in extreme cold or heat.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1994 to Dec 2013. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1994 to Dec 2013. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

Since 1995, there have been 8 positive January months with an average return of 9.1%.  The highest return in January was in 2007, when the S&P GSCI Natural Gas returned 21.7%.  Although there was a slightly positive return in 2008 of 34 basis points, 2014 has the first significant positive return since 2008, 6 years ago, when the monthly return was 7.9%.  Please see the chart below:

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1995 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1995 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

The question is what has happened following a positive January for natural gas?  In years with positive January months, average first quarter returns were 14.7% for the spot index and 18.7% for the total return. Average annual returns were 49.9% for spot natural gas and 38.5% for the total return, but without the crisis years, the average annual return was double.

Please see the table below:

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1995 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from Jan 1995 to Jan 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results. This chart reflects hypothetical historical performance. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with backtested performance.

 

 

 

 

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