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Too Much Indexing?

Cracking Contango: Brent-Gas Hits 6-Year Seasonal Low

Observations on January Release of S&P Claims Based Indices (Allowed Charge Trends): Part 3

Miss The Commodity Bottom? There Might Be Time.

Shelter from the Storm

Too Much Indexing?

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Active management is difficult; most of its practitioners underperform passive indices most of the time; and 2014 was a particularly tough year.  Not surprisingly, active managers are not touting last year’s performance.  Instead, the pitch for active management increasingly cites its putative social benefits — arguing, e.g. that “Markets are efficient only because active managers buy underpriced assets and sell overpriced ones.”  Too much indexing, the argument goes, will produce inefficient capital markets and insufficient price discovery, as “not enough” investors trade in response to perceived misvaluation, and “too many” investors simply accept whatever price the market gives them.

At the limit, this is a logical argument; one academic observer compares misvaluation to street crime and active managers to police officers on the beat.  More police, less crime; more active managers, less misvaluation.  But:

  • A completely passive investor buys the market portfolio and then, for all practical purposes, never trades again.  In a world with some active investors and some completely passive investors, 100% of the trading is done by active investors motivated by perceived misvaluations.  With lower trading volume, there may be wider fluctuations around fair value than there are now, but there’s no reason to suppose that fair value won’t continue to be the central tendency of prices.
  • If the fluctuations away from fair value become “too wide,” the process is self-correcting.  Wider departures from fair value mean bigger opportunities for the surviving active managers; bigger opportunities mean higher alpha for the successful; higher alpha means that assets flow back to active management.  Just remember that, weighted by assets, no more than 50% of the active managers can be successful — otherwise said, that while bigger opportunities mean higher alpha for the winners, they also imply lower alpha for the losers.
  • Passive assets can rise dramatically without significantly diminishing the share of trading done by active investors.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices.  Assumes that passive turnover is 10% annually and active turnover 100% annually.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Assumes that passive turnover is 10% annually and active turnover 100% annually.

The reason that passive assets can rise so dramatically is that active turnover is much higher than passive turnover.  In the chart above, we assume that the average active fund turns over 100% annually versus only 10% for the average passive fund (a very generous estimate on the passive side).  On those assumptions, if half of the market’s assets are indexed, active managers will still do 91% of the trading.  Indeed, if 90% of the assets are indexed, active managers will do 53% of the trading.

It is trading, not asset ownership per se, that sets prices and putatively corrects misvaluations.  If active trading makes for an efficient market, indexing has a long way to go before market efficiency is impaired.

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

Cracking Contango: Brent-Gas Hits 6-Year Seasonal Low

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The Brent crude oil and unleaded gasoline price difference, or “crack spread“, is a widely followed relationship to measure the value extracted along the chain of producing oil to refining it that can serve as a proxy for profit margins.  The EIA (Energy Information Agency) reported global gasoline supply and demand patterns have been evolving with demand greater than supply in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In the U.S., the production of gasoline has been outpacing the demand, resulting in increasing exports of U.S. gasoline into the global market. Despite the relative cheapness of U.S. gasoline to the international markets from the fundamentals, the transportability has allowed benchmarks to measure the global seasonality.

gasoline exports

In indexing, the difference in roll yields can be measured to theoretically reflect the relationship between excess and shortage in the oil and gas markets since it is the storage markets that drive the shape of the curves.  There is a historically wide roll spread between unleaded gasoline and brent crude oil, seasonally in each February, where the excess inventory of unleaded gasoline markedly exceeds the excess inventory of brent. What is interesting so far this February is that the spread is the narrowest in six years.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), global refining capacity is expected to rise after falling to a six-year low and that global refinery margins will come under renewed pressure. They predict further consolidation in the refining industry, especially in Europe and developed Asia as product markets continue to expand and globalise.

While the excess inventory of brent crude oil is larger at this time than in last February, when brent showed a shortage with a positive roll yield, the excess inventory of unleaded gasoline shown by the roll yield of -3.3% is down half from last year and is seasonally very low. This is illustrated in the graph below:

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

The last time the roll spread was this narrow in February 2009, it marked the bottom of brent. The fundamentals are different this time, driven much more by supply than demand, but the resulting inventory is what might matter most.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

 

 

 

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

Observations on January Release of S&P Claims Based Indices (Allowed Charge Trends): Part 3

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John Cookson

Principal, Consulting Actuary

Milliman

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The overall medical trend rates covering all services have continued to be modest in the S&P data through the 3rd quarter of 2014—increasing up to 3.5% on a 12-month moving average basis as of September[1].

But in 2014 the Individual trends reported by S&P are now over 45% based on 3-month moving average trends as of September.  These can reflect the impact of adverse selection, higher demographics and higher minimum (essential) benefits required under the ACA.  To one degree or another, the industry tried to anticipate these effects in the initial rating for 2014.  It remains to be seen if we see a similar effect on Small Group in 2015.  We would not expect the impact to be as dramatic on Small Group as it was for Individual in 2014, however the results remain uncertain at this time.  The Small Group ACA coverage requirement and electronic enrollment had been deferred until 2015 and insureds in this category were only allowed to enroll electronically staring in late 2014 so no experience due to Small Group ACA enrollment is yet apparent, but there could be an increase in these measured trends, although probably not as dramatic as the Individual trends.

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THE REPORT IS PROVIDED “AS-IS” AND, TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, MILLIMAN DISCLAIMS ALL GUARANTEES AND WARRANTIES, WHETHER EXPRESS, IMPLIED OR STATUTORY, REGARDING THE REPORT, INCLUDING ANY WARRANTY OF FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE, MERCHANTABILITY, AND NON-INFRINGEMENT.
[1] We track the LG/ASO trends as representative of underlying trends, since Individual and Small Group are impacted more significantly by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Keep in mind that actual trends experienced by plans are likely to be higher than as reported in S&P data.  Trends experienced by large employers on plans that have not changed in the previous year could be higher by as much as 2% or more on bronze level plans and higher by 1% or more on gold level plans due to the effects of deductible and copay leverage.  So risk takers need to take this into account.  In addition, the S&P Indices do not reflect the impact of benefit buy-downs by employers (i.e., higher deductibles, etc.), since the indices are based on full allowed charges.  As noted above, actual trends experienced by employers and insurers in the absence of benefit buy-downs can be expected to be higher than reported S&P trends due to plan design issues such as deductibles, copays, out-of-pocket maximums, etc.   Benefit buy-downs do not represent trend changes since they are benefit reductions in exchange for premium concessions, but they can have a dampening effect on utilization due to higher member copayments, and this can have a dampening effect on measured S&P trends compared to plans with no benefit changes, further pushing up experienced trends relative to those reported in the indices.

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

Miss The Commodity Bottom? There Might Be Time.

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Worried that maybe you missed the possible bottom of commodities after the S&P GSCI Total Return lost 7.5% in January, posting its sixth worst January in history since 1970? It’s possible there is still time even after the S&P GSCI TR posted (on Feb. 3, 2015) not only the 35th best day, up 4.13%, in its history since Jan. 6, 1970 (11,370 days ago), but the index posted a 3-day gain of 10.03%.  This is only the 5th time in history the index has posted a 3-day gain over 10%.

August 3, 2009 ended the last 3-day period the index gained over 10%, up 10.64%. Also in 2009, January 5th ended the largest 3-day gain of 14.31%.  The chart below shows return following these spikes. Notice there was a 26.7% drop from Jan. 5 to Feb.18 of 2009 before a 41.7% gain through Aug. 3 of that year. The S&P GSCI TR continued to increase 30.8% until its peak on April 8, 2011.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

The other two 3-day periods the index gained more than 10% ended on August 6th and 7th in 1990, posting returns of 13.65% and 10.83%, respectively. Notice after this period, the index peaked on Oct. 9, 1990 gaining an additional 25.2% after the historically big 3-day rise. Subsequently it fell 26.8% through Jan. 18, 1991 before rising 80.7% through Jan. 6, 1997.

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

 

 

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

Shelter from the Storm

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Chris Bennett

Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Like many in the northern hemisphere, the S&P 500® felt a bit blue in January.  With the traditional winter frost came winds of volatility, which, like many of our holiday guests, overstayed their welcome.  On a total return basis, the S&P 500 declined 3% in January, as market volatility from the fall of 2014 lingered into the new year.

All was not lost, however; certain factor-based strategies thrived in the volatility.  The conditions were ideal for defensive strategies, as the markets were both choppy and directionless (since September 2014, the S&P 500 (TR) is essentially flat).  Both high dividend and low volatility strategies have generally provided historical downside protection in volatile markets.

The S&P 500 Low Volatility Index comprises the 100 least-volatile constituents of the S&P 500, while the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats® contains the S&P 500 companies that have increased dividends every year for the past 25 consecutive years.  Finance 101 taught us that companies that issue consistent dividends are usually mature, low-growth (read: less volatile) companies.  Therefore, in periods when the S&P 500 performs poorly, we could typically expect both the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index and the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats to outperform, as both indices are made up of low volatility stocks.

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The recent bout of market weakness provided an opportunity to test this hypothesis.  While the S&P 500 was flat from September 2014 through January 2015, the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index and the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats were up 7.83% and 5.57%, respectively.

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Obviously, these strategies are not perfect downside hedges.  Over the long term, however, both the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats and the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index have tended to offer patient investors protection from declining markets, while providing some exposure to the upside.  Though both of these indices tend to underperform the S&P 500 during bull runs, they provide some shelter when the sky starts to fall.

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