Combining Equity Momentum (PDP) & Managed Futures (CSAIX)

One of the more surprising themes for many market participants thus far into 2016 has been the impressive strength of the commodities asset class.   What started off as a sharp rally from the lows in the energy sector quickly flowed into other commodities such as precious metals, softs (sugar) and ags (soybeans).   A lack of trend in US equities has helped funds flow into commodities as market participants search for yield in other asset classes.   Another tailwind for commodities has been the range bound activity in the US Dollar.  This in turn makes them cheaper to export overseas and therefore increases demand.

Although it may not be the most popular asset class amongst traditional fund managers, there is certainly demand for commodities markets among institutional traders.   For example, managed money (CTA’s and Macro Hedge Funds) is often focused on looking for trending markets in both foreign exchange and commodities to allocate toward their portfolios.  Given the size and leverage these funds have access too, the commodities and foreign exchange markets are often subject to large trending moves which can continue for extended periods of time.  Although momentum and trend following are often used interchangeably, they actually differ in the fact momentum (ex. 12 mo. trailing return) is typically thought of as relative while trend following techniques (ex. moving averages) are more absolute in nature.  Our main point in mentioning CTA’s and Hedge Funds is that given their ability to rotate through various asset classes and take both sides of the market (long or short) they typically have a negative correlation to long only equity managers.

Assuming the negative correlation between the two strategies holds true, combining a long only equity momentum portfolio with some type of managed futures strategy would certainly seem make sense in terms of reducing volatility and drawdowns while maintaining alpha above a related benchmark.  Let’s investigate this matter further by using the Power Shares DWA Momentum Portfolio (PDP) and combining it into a portfolio with the Credit Suisse Managed Futures Strategy Fund (CSAIX).   Note we will be using the returns of the underlying index (CSTHFMF0 – Credit Suisse Hedge Fund Index Managed Futures) in order to pull the historical data for CSAIX since its inception was 9/28/12.

Here is a brief summary of each strategy side by side.     As shown below, PDP outperforms both the Credit Suisse Hedge Fund Index Managed Futures Strategy CSAIX and SPX over the allotted time frame in this study.  However, as we saw in our previous posts it does so with slightly elevated volatility.   All other performance metrics aside, the main concept we want to emphasize is the differences in returns each year between PDP (momentum) and CSAIX (managed futures).  The most obvious example is 2008, when CSAIX posted an impressive 18.33% gain while both PDP and the SPX suffered steep double digit losses.

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ANNUAL RETURNS

PDP inception date: March 1, 2007, CSAIX inception date: Sept 28, 2012 – data prior to inception is based on a back-test of the underlying indexes Please see the disclosures for important information regarding back-testing.  PDP returns do not include dividends.  Returns do not include all potential transaction costs.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.  Potential for profits is accompanied by possibility of loss. 

The graphic below shows a comparison of annual returns using the time period 1998 and 2015 in which the correlation of excess returns between momentum and managed futures  was  (-0.91)  A few of the outlier years to take note of which contain major differences in performance are 1999, 2008, 2009, and finally 2014.   Some of the largest differences in performance can be attributed to periods of heighted equity market volatility (ex 2008).   Excess volatility tends to create more opportunities for managed futures strategies.  On the other hand, the past 5 years (with the exception of 2014) showed equity momentum outperforming managed futures as the stock market continued its strong bull market while many commodities and foreign exchange rates were lacking volatility and any type of sustained trend (up or down).

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correlations

PDP inception date: March 1, 2007, CSAIX inception date: Sept 28, 2012 – data prior to inception is based on a back-test of the underlying indexes Please see the disclosures for important information regarding back-testing.  PDP returns do not include dividends.  Returns do not include all potential transaction costs.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.  Potential for profits is accompanied by possibility of loss. 

The table below goes through similar allocation structure of how we set up our low volatility and value portfolios in combination with momentum in previous posts.  Our main goal here is to stay consistent and create a robust process that has very few moving parts.  The portfolios are all re-balanced annually but each allocation remains consistent each year.   The main goal is to emphasize the benefit of combining two negatively correlated strategies in order to take advantage of the performance differences each will achieve throughout different market cycles.

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HISTORICAL ALLOCATIONS

The returns above are based on hypothetical back-tests of the various allocation options.  PDP inception date: March 1, 2007, CSAIX (inception date: Sept 28, 2012 – data prior to inception is based on a back-test of the underlying indexes. Back-tested performance results have certain limitations.  Such results do not represent the impact of material economic and market factors might have on an investment advisor’s decision-making process if the advisor were actually managing client money.  Back-testing performance also differs from actual performance because it is achieved through retroactive application of a model investment methodology designed with the benefit of hindsight.  PDP returns do not include dividends.  Returns do not include all potential transaction costs.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.  Potential for profits is accompanied by possibility of loss. 

Let’s take it a step further and add one simple risk metric to our portfolio and see if we can reduce volatility even further.   Over time, it’s typically been the case that a long only equity momentum/trend following based strategy tends to perform better while the SPX is above its 200 day moving average.   On the flip side, when the SPX is below its 200 day moving average, periods of heightened volatility are more frequent and can lead to steep draw downs in these portfolios.   This is not always the case but over the years research has shown that the 200 day moving average is often considered a reliable proxy for a risk on/risk off environment.

Interestingly enough, this “risk off” environment is often where managed futures strategies thrive and tend to see their best results.  One main reason for this is the abundance of “fat tail” trades that seem to occur during these market cycles.  The below table compares a model we have created using a 200 day moving average as a risk proxy to determine how we will allocate our portfolio using equity momentum (PDP) and a managed futures strategy (CSAIX).   The allocation will be 80% equity momentum/20% managed futures when the S&P is above its 200 day moving average and 80% managed futures/20% equity momentum when it is below.  In order to reduce turnover, the portfolio will only be re-balanced on a month-end basis.

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CSAIX

PDP inception date: March 1, 2007, CSAIX  inception date: Sept 28, 2012 – data prior to inception is based on a back-test of the underlying indexes Performance of the switching strategy is the result of back-testing.  Back-tested performance results have certain limitations.  Such results do not represent the impact of material economic and market factors might have on an investment advisor’s decision-making process if the advisor were actually managing client money.  Back-testing performance also differs from actual performance because it is achieved through retroactive application of a model investment methodology designed with the benefit of hindsight. PDP returns do not include dividends.  Returns do not include all potential transaction costs.  Past performance is not indicative of future results.  Potential for profits is accompanied by possibility of loss. 

Let’s take it a step further and add one simple risk metric to our portfolio and see if we can reduce volatility even further.   Over time, it’s typically been the case that a long only equity momentum/trend following based strategy tends to perform better while the SPX is above its 200 day moving average.   On the flip side, when the SPX is below its 200 day moving average, periods of heightened volatility are more frequent and can lead to steep draw downs in these portfolios.   This is not always the case but over the years research has shown that the 200 day moving average is often considered a reliable proxy for a risk on/risk off environment.

Interestingly enough, this “risk off” environment is often where managed futures strategies thrive and tend to see their best results.  One main reason for this is the abundance of “fat tail” trades that seem to occur during these market cycles.  The below table compares a model we have created using a 200 day moving average as a risk proxy to determine how we will allocate our portfolio using equity momentum (PDP) and a managed futures strategy (CSAIX).   The allocation will be 80% momentum/20% managed futures when the S&P is above its 200 day moving average and 20% equity/80% managed futures when it is below.  In order to reduce turnover, the portfolio will only be re-balanced on a month-end basis.

 

 

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