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Practical Considerations for Implementing Alternate Beta Strategies

Dow Jones Commodity Index Wins Independence

Euphoria vs. Anxiety

GOOOAL! For Mid-Year Treasury & Muni Returns

Why are active managers lagging?

Practical Considerations for Implementing Alternate Beta Strategies

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Daniel Ung

Director

Global Research & Design

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Recent financial crises have exposed the shortcomings of the traditional approach to asset allocation and have led an emerging shift, especially among institutional investors, towards dynamic asset allocation, hinged on the diversification across risk factors. While there are numerous research papers that explore this topic, they tend to be theoretical and it is for this reason we have written a research paper which has a stronger focus on the practical aspects of implementation. (Click here to access the paper)

Key Stages of Decision Making and Implementation

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Necessary Considerations prior to adopting alternate beta strategies in asset allocation

  • The adoption of alternate beta strategies is often related to the investment philosophy of an organization and whether it subscribes to the belief that long term risk premia can be harvested to achieve long-term returns.
  • Investors may adopt alternate beta strategies because of their investment objectives and constraints.
  • Are there the commitment and the expertise inside the company to ensure successful implementation?

How to ensure successful implementation?

  • Choose the right mix of factors, in order to achieve investment objectives and meet constraints.
  • Evaluate the diverse offering in the marketplace and choose appropriate strategies and a skilful manager
  • Understand  the secondary exposures of alternate beta strategies
  • Assess the costs of implementation (direct costs, such as commissions, and indirect costs, such as implementation shortfall and portfolio turnover)
  • Measure and monitor performance on an ongoing basis.

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

Dow Jones Commodity Index Wins Independence

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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There could be no more symbolic time than just before the July 4th holiday for S&P Dow Jones Indices (S&P DJI) to announce the Dow Jones Commodity Index (DJCI), an alternative to the former DJ-UBS. This is the first ever commodity index under the Dow Jones brand to be fully free from conflicts of interest, plus it highlights diversification and liquidity as its intrinsic characteristics.

Please see the table below summarizing the key differences between the DJCI and former DJ-UBS:

Source: S&P DJI
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

What is most important about the table above? The commodity selection.  Nothing is more important about a commodity index than what commodities get included. The DJCI is run by S&P DJI with nearly two decades of proven commodity indexing experience built upon transparent decision making, strong governance, and critical quality controls. This experience is poured into the DJCI; including commodity selection based on the rules written in the methodology that mirror the time-tested rules of the S&P GSCI methodology.

The DJCI is governed by the Commodity Index Committee at S&P DJI made from members, each with several years of experience in financial markets, appointed from the Index Management and Production Group (IMPG) of S&P DJI. IMPG personnel are prohibited from trading any securities or constituents which are, or may be, included in any index that they have oversight or management responsibilities for. Further, all IMPG personnel do not have any commercial responsibilities that might result in the appearance of a conflict of interest.

As an independent index provider, S&P DJI ensures a strict separation between commercial operations and the index or benchmark calculation function. The potential for conflicts naturally arises when an organization is involved in index publication as well as in pricing component securities and/or issuing investment products.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

S&P DJI focuses on index publication services and does not engage in any investment banking, equity listing, investment management or trading activities. Therefore, S&P DJI is not prone to the inherent conflicts of interest that confront other index publishers engaged in such side-by-side activities. Similarly, S&P DJI does not take part in the pricing of index components and the issuance of investment products; S&P DJI sources component prices from third parties, such as exchanges, and licenses their indexes to third party product issuers.

As the leading index provider and a founding member of the Index Industry Association, S&P DJI follows the best practices including maintaining independence. This ingredient is important along with the commodity indexing knowledge, unique to S&P DJI, in designing commodity indices that have enabled S&P DJI to offer the DJCI, again, an alternative to the former DJ-UBS.

The DJCI has rid the complexity of world production weight in its weighting scheme. DJ-UBS was a version of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index when it was originally launched so it used world production, the hallmark of weighting at the time (in 1998), despite lessening its importance by counting liquidity twice as much as the world production in its weight. It then capped commodities, groups of derivative commodities and groups that yielded a well-diversified index. Today, we know if the goal of the index is to be well-diversified, we can simply equal-weight it, then adjust for liquidity – given there is a liquidity tradeoff when reducing energy.

The resulting commodities and weightings for DJCI in 2014 that reflect the simple, equally weighted sectors and liquidity weighted commodities can be seen in the chart below:

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices.  Hypothetical weight at 2014 rebalance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Hypothetical weight at 2014 rebalance.

Also, please see below the performance comparison of the DJCI, S&P GSCI, and former DJ-UBS.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Daily data from 1/9/2006 -  2/28/2014. Charts and graphs are provided for illustrative purposes only.  Indices are unmanaged statistical composites and their returns do not include payment of any sales charges or fees an investor would pay to purchase the securities the index represents.  Such costs would lower performance.  It is not possible to invest directly in an index.  Past performance is not an indication of future results. The inception date for the Bloomberg CI (formerly DJ-UBS) was July 14, 1998. The inception date for the S&P GSCI was May 1, 1991. The Dow Jones Commodity Index is a hypothetical backtest. All information presented prior to the index inception date is back-tested. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with back-tested performance.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Daily data from 1/9/2006 – 6/30/2014. Charts and graphs are provided for illustrative purposes only. Indices are unmanaged statistical composites and their returns do not include payment of any sales charges or fees an investor would pay to purchase the securities the index represents. Such costs would lower performance. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Past performance is not an indication of future results. The inception date for the Bloomberg CI (formerly DJ-UBS) was July 14, 1998. The inception date for the S&P GSCI was May 1, 1991. The Dow Jones Commodity Index is a hypothetical backtest. All information presented prior to the index inception date is back-tested. Please see the Performance Disclosure at the end of this document for more information regarding the inherent limitations associated with back-tested performance.

Based on the characteristics above, the DJCI is well-suited to serving as both an equal-weighted beta and a building block for index modifications, while its subindices are designed to track individual commodities, components and sectors.

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

Euphoria vs. Anxiety

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David Blitzer

Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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A heavy weight battle over economic policy and financial markets is brewing between the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in one corner and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the other. Meanwhile the world’s major central banks may be lining up on one side or the other with the Bank of England (BOE) moving towards the BIS and the European Central Bank (ECB) drifting closer to the IMF. The Bank of Japan (BOJ), having embraced Abenomics, is ahead of the IMF.  The Federal Reserve appears to be seeking a neutral stance, but that could change with the next speech or testimony.

The BIS, the bank for central bankers, argues in its just released annual report that markets are a little too euphoric and giddy; that it’s close to the time when interest rates should be raised.  While the BOE may agree – it has already moved to slow down mortgage lending and rein in a housing boom before it gets out of hand – the BIS is clear that higher interest rates, not limits on mortgages are what’s needed.  Meanwhile, the IMF continues to worry that the expansion might stall and lead to deflation. The deep plunge in first quarter GDP in the US reinforced the IMF’s fears, causing them to cut their forecast of US growth for 2014. The ECB should be, and is, worried about deflation and may be preparing for even lower interest rates and its own version of quantitative easing down the road.

The BIS’s immediate target is to return some real risk to our ever-rising stock markets and remind investors that taking on more and more risk can lead to a bad end.  The BIS is removed from domestic politics in the countries whose central banks it serves; it is in a position to advocate policies like higher interest rates that could push stock prices down. Some of the other banks would find it harder to argue for raising interest rates and discouraging risk taking.

The Federal Reserve, like the other central banks, must be aware of the politics.  For the moment everyone is convinced that the Fed will raise interest rates in the middle of next year.  Until something changes this consensus, the Fed is likely to bide its time, continue trimming back on quantitative easing and watch both inflation and the financial markets.  Whether or not the 2015 consensus is correct, when rates go up, it will be a surprise and stocks will more than likely go down.  We may be safe for the moment.

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

GOOOAL! For Mid-Year Treasury & Muni Returns

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Kevin Horan

Director, Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The month of June came quickly to a close and with it the half year 2014 index results.  At the start of the year expectations were for yields to be above 3% and climbing.  In reality rates have done the opposite as the yield on the S&P/BGCantor Current 10 Year U.S. Treasury Index is a 2.52%, far from its December 31st level of 3.03%.

The S&P Municipal Bond Index has returned 6.08% year to date and is off to its best mid-year return since June of 2009.  Yields have remained relatively stable at 3.96% on a tax equivalent basis after having started the year 5.06%. High yield municipal bonds tracked in the S&P Municipal Bond High Yield Index have continued to outperform their corporate junk bond counterparts by returning 8.54% year to date.

The S&P/BGCantor U.S. Treasury Bond Index has returned 2.03% year-to-date.  This  mid-year return erased all of 2013’s negative 1.87% with 0.16% to spare.  Short and intermediate maturity treasury returns have forced performance seeking investors to assume the risk of the longer end such as the current 13.53% return from the S&P/BGCantor 20+ Year U.S. Treasury Bond Index.  Another alternative to improving performance is the picking up of yield by moving down in credit rating.  Investment grade corporate bonds as measured by the S&P U.S. Issued Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index and the more speculative grade S&P U.S. Issued High Yield Corporate Bond Index have returned 5.59% and 5.55% respectively.  Lagging behind high yield for the first half of the year is the speculative grade loan index, the S&P/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 Index, which has returned 2.48%.

Recently the discussion of inflation has come up after a third increase in CPI which presently stands at 0.4% month-over-month.  The Fed had stated that even though recent inflation measures are a bit high, the data is noisy.  A wait and see approach has been adopted by the Fed as mentioned in Eric Morath’s Wall Street Journal article, U.S. Inflation Hits Highest Level for Year and a Half.  Inflation protection securities as measured by the S&P U.S. TIPS Index have returned 5.63% year-to-date.

Between World Cup Football and the upcoming U.S. July 4th holiday, not much productivity is expected for this week.  In addition to the football matches, the economic calendar could add some excitement for market participants.  Today has already seen the release of the Chicago Purchasing Managers Statistics (62.6 actual versus the prior 65.5), U.S. Pending Home Sales Index (6.1% actual vs. 0.4% prior) and the Dallas Fed Manufacturing Index (11.4 vs. 8.0 prior).  The next few days will provide ISM Manufacturing (55.9 expected), Construction Spending (0.5% exp.), MBA Mortgage Applications (prior: -1.0%) and Factory Orders (-0.3% exp.).  July 3rd’s schedule contains Trade Balance but also the significant numbers of the Unemployment Rate and Initial Jobless Claims.  The U.S. markets will be closed for the 4th of July holiday, ending the week.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices, Data as of 6/27/2014

Mid-Year Bond Yield Summary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: The S&P/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 Index comparison uses yield-to-maturity.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and/or its affiliates. Data as of June 30, 2014. The chart is provided for illustrative purposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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

Why are active managers lagging?

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In late 2013 and early 2014, we heard considerable chatter about the coming “stock picker’s market.”  2014 would favor stock selection strategies, it was said, because intra-market correlation was falling as macro-economic risks receded.  This morning’s Wall Street Journal reports that the contrary view — that low levels of stock market dispersion would make 2014 an especially difficult year for active managers — has been vindicated.  “So far in 2014, more actively managed mutual funds are trailing market benchmarks than in any full year since 2011…”  Hedge fund performance is said to be equally disappointing.  

The critical variable in understanding why active performance has been disappointing is the continuing low level of equity market dispersion.  Computationally, dispersion is a (weighted) standard deviation of cross-sectional returns.  Conceptually, it helps us gauge by how much the “better” performing stocks beat the “worse” performing stocks.  Economically, dispersion tells us how much over- or under-performance we are likely to experience.  When dispersion is low, there is less opportunity either to succeed or to fail.

An easy way to see this is to consider the difference in returns between the equally-weighted S&P 500 and its “standard” capitalization-weighted counterpart.  The equally-weighted S&P 500 tells us the performance of the average stock in the index.  (The cap-weighted 500, in contrast, tells us the performance of the average invested dollar.)  In 2013, the equal-weight 500 outperformed the cap-weighted version by 3.8% (36.16% vs. 32.39%).  For the first half of 2014, the spread was only 1.5% (8.66% vs. 7.14%).

The spread between equal- and cap-weighted performance tells us how much incremental return an investor could achieve by choosing a random stock — figuratively, by throwing darts at the financial page.  At 1.5%, this payoff to blind luck is quite low by historical standards.  Since the average manager typically underperforms random selection, and since fixed investment costs do not vary with dispersion — it’s not surprising that the first half of 2014 has been a particularly difficult environment for active stock selection strategies.

Unless dispersion increases substantially in the next six months, the rest of the year is likely to be just as difficult.

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