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MODERN PORTFOLIO THEORY IS HARMING YOUR PORTFOLIO

SmartStops comment:  an excellent article that every investor should read as MPT continues to be deeply entrenched in our systems.  Its shortcomings are proven.  The article concludes with:

The advice that most investment advisors give their clients – At its core, the message is usually something similar to this: “The markets are random and unpredictable, so the best way to invest is to properly diversify and wait for the averages to play out.”

However, what most investors seem to be unaware of is that this whole theory of random movement of market prices was proven false over 50 years ago by one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, Benoit Mandelbrot. The random motion of market prices was a very nice theory, but it just doesn’t match what actually happens in the real world.

Some excerpts from JJ Abodeely, CFA’s article :   Modern Portfolio Theory Is Harming Your Portfolio

              1. MPT and the quantification of investing has further (mis)informed the debate by seeking a easy way to label and quantify “risk.” In                        1952, Harry Markowitz chose variance or volatility of prices or returns to define risk. He did so because it was mathematically elegant                      and computationally simple. However, this idea has serious limitations (most of which Markowitz has since acknowledged).

              On the individual stock level, Vincent notes

Risk is often in the eye of the beholder. While “quants” (who rely heavily on MPT) might view a stock that has fallen in value by   50 percent over a short period of time as quite risky (i.e. it has a high beta), others might view the investment as extremely safe,   offering an almost guaranteed return. Perhaps the stock trades well below the cash on its books and the company is likely to         generate cash going forward. This latter group of investors might even view volatility as a positive; not something that they need to be paid more to accept. On the other hand, a stock that has climbed slowly and steadily for years and accordingly has a       relatively low beta might sell at an astronomical multiple to revenue or earnings. A risk-averse, beta-focused investor is happy to add the stock to his diversified portfolio, while demanding relatively small expected upside, because of the stock’s consistent track record and low volatility. But a fundamentally-inclined investor might consider the stock a high risk investment, even in a diversified portfolio, due to its valuation. There’s a tradeoff between risk and return, but volatility and return shouldn’t necessarily have this same relationship.

2.  After all, if you buy and hold the market you can earn the long-term returns right? Unfortunately, the answer to that is no. The long-term “average” returns are rarely available. In fact, depending on where you are standing, the returns are either much higher, or much lower. Consider this chart from Crestmont Research which shows that even for periods as long as 10 years, average rarely occurs:

10_yr_Rolling_Stock_Market_Return

 

 

3. Consider this chart which you’ve probably seen in one form or another. It shows expected risk and return of various mixes of asset classes and the typical approach to asset allocation which Modern Portfolio Theory has spawned:

Sample_Asset_Allocation_Risk_Expected_Returns

 

So what’s wrong with this picture? Lots of things.

The first is the inputs– namely expected returns and volatilities of various asset classes– most investment programs are built on logic like this:

  • Bonds will return 5% on average over the long-term but be between 0-10% in any given year
  • Stocks will return 10% on average over the long-term but be between -10% and +20% in any given year
  • Some might include other nuance regarding different types of bonds like High Yield or different types of stocks like Emerging Markets
  • Some might include different types of assets like real estate, commodities, or “alternatives”

The problem of course is this is an incomplete description of investment returns:

  • The math contends that returns are randomly and unpredictably distributed around the average
  • This “normal distribution” of returns contends that larger market movements outside of the ranges above will be relatively rare
  • “Average” returns ignore the role of valuation and the importance of when you start investing (buy) and when you finish (sell) even over multi-decade time horizons

The traditional approach to asset allocation is built on false axioms. The phenomenal secular bull market in stocks and bonds from 1982-1999 created the perfect conditions for the nearly religious acceptance of MPT. In a recent post, Expensive Markets Mean Low (or Negative) Prospective Returns, I made the case that valuation matters greatly and currently portend disappointing returns for both stocks and bonds. Traditional asset allocation has no way of dealing with this in a way that successfully protects portfolios from experiencing meaningful and unnecessary drawdowns.

Read JJ Abodeely, CFA’s article :   Modern Portfolio Theory Is Harming Your Portfolio in its entirety.

A New Risk Indicator To Sidestep Market Downturns: Is It Better Than VIX?

By Chris Georgopoulos, originally published on 11/14/11

Without question the most popular model to predict market crashes is the VIX, commonly referred to as the “Fear Gauge,” a market index that measures the implied volatility of the S&P 500 index options. Its concept is quite simple, when the uncertainty and fear among investors rises, they commonly run to the S&P 500 options to either hedge or speculate. The increased interest in the options usually leads to higher premiums and as the premiums increase so does the VIX. However, predicting the future isn’t 100% accurate, most of the time it’s not even close. Every forecasting model has its flaws and the VIX is not an exception. There are many problems skeptics have found with the VIX such as; its population study is limited to only the 500 stocks of the S&P 500 and” {the} model is similar to that of plain-vanilla measures, such as simple past volatility” (Wikipedia). A blog post on sensibleinvestments.com summarized the VIX as “simply an indicator of actual volatility in the market but one that is very sensitive to changes in actual volatility particularly if it is on the downside.” Is there a better way?

An elementary statistics theory states that the larger the population size, the greater the likelihood that the sample will be represented. If markets are graded by the performance of popular indexes such as the S&P 500, why limit a forecasting model’s population to only 500 stocks? The economy has become global; interactions from every corner of the world’s businesses affect every other business. If there is a model that forecasts market direction, should it limit itself to just the largest companies? As for only using a month or two of short term option premiums to garner a prediction, as the VIX does, it seems to limit itself to only a single variable. Instead of short term options premiums and limited samples what if we could measure real-time individual stock trend alerts on thousands of domestic and foreign stocks and ETFs? Or simply what if we analyzed the micro components (every stock) to develop a macro forecast of the market based off trends and risk?

By studying the history of risk alerts from SmartStops.net, an intelligent risk management service, two proven alternatives to the VIX were found. SmartStops.net has developed their own proprietary risk model that monitors the trends and risks to over 4,000 of the most popular stocks and ETFs. If the risks grow on any individual investment SmartStops.net alert their subscribers with both long and short term exit triggers. However not only do these alerts help individual and institutional investors manage specific investment risk, the reviews of the alerts themselves have predictive capabilities. By back-testing every alert that SmartStops.net has issued from their inception versus the S&P 500 performance, there is proof of this and the results speak for themselves.


There have only been 7 days for which the amount of Long-Term Exit Triggers (stop alerts) as a percentage of every stock and ETF covered by SmartStops.net has been over 20%. The subsequent market action of the S&P 500 has averaged a negative return for the time periods of 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and a year. The 6 month average return is over -7% and when examined from the absolute lows of the S&P 500, the returns average over -19%. If you remove the knee-jerk market reactions caused by “Flash Crash” on 5-6-2010, the returns are even lower.
Another metric offered by SmartStops.net is their SRBI(tm) (SmartStops Risk Barometer Index); this index measures the current percentage of stocks and ETFs that are in “Above Normal Risk” state (ANR) divided by the 100 day average above normal risk percent. By definition, a stock that is listed ANR experienced a risk alert as its last SmartStop alert identifying a downtrend. Conversely, a stock that is listed in a “Normal Risk State” experienced a reentry alert as its last SmartStop alert indicating trading strength and an upward trend. Back-testing historical SRBI data since inception shows that the repercussions to the market when the percentage of downtrends increases to over 40% of all stocks and ETFs covered are profound. Below you will see that there have been only five occasions where this has happened. In each case the S&P returns for the following year were all negative.

Is this a better way?

Before a concrete conclusion can be determined, the predictive capabilities of the VIX must also be analyzed. Read More…

How Can Advisors Build a More Modern Portfolio?

Originally published By Matt Ackermann on May 16, 2012 at OnWallStreet.com  

SmartStops comment:   The fear of investing in traditional assets due to volatility can be minimized for an advisor’s clients by the use of a SmartStops methodology.  SmartStops was created because of the need for a more Modern Portfolio approach that could better manage traditional assets.      

 How Can Advisors Build a More Modern Portfolio?

Following a pair of bear markets, advisors know the days of buy-and-hold investors with 60/40 portfolio allocations are over.

From the mass affluent to the ultra-wealthy, investors want more than just equities and fixed income in their portfolios. Clients expect their advisors to bring innovative alternative investments to the table.

“A lot of investors and advisors have moved their assets to cash or into lower yielding asset classes,” said David L. Giunta, the president and chief executive officer of Natixis Global Asset Management’s U.S. distribution. “To get them off the sidelines, advisors can’t just bring these clients back to traditional approaches. There is just too much volatility.”

According to the 2012 Natixis Global Asset Management U.S. Advisor survey, the global financial crisis and uncertain market recovery has accelerated interest in alternative investing. According to the survey, 49% of advisors are uncertain that the traditional 60/40 allocation between stocks and bonds is still relevant, and 23% said the traditional approach isn’t close to meeting the needs of investors in contemporary markets.

But if a 60/40 allocation is no longer relevant, what is the right mix?

Dick Pfister, an executive vice president and managing director of global sales and consulting at Altegris Investments, A La Jolla, Calif., based provider of alternative investments, said modern portfolio theory has shifted dramatically in the past decade. He said that large institutional investors and endowments have “dramatically” increased their allocation to alternative investments.

According to a national study of endowments by the National Association of College and University Business Owners, the average endowment had 52% of its portfolio investments in alternative assets in 2010, up from 24% in 2002.

Pfister said he doesn’t expect advisors to shift their portfolios that dramatically, but anywhere from 10% to 35% of an individual investor’s portfolio should be held in alternatives.

“We are seeing a lot more on the upper end of that range,” he said. “With more mutual funds trading like hedge funds, more people are allocating to the alternative space.”

Giunta said clients are getting more comfortable with alternative investing because more alternative options are available within the comfortable and familiar confines of a mutual fund, but he says the right portfolio allocation varies on a client-by-client basis.

“We have to create portfolios based on each risk and volatility scenario,” he said. “Advisors need to talk to their clients and understand how much of a dip they can stand. Advisors need to be having those conversations and educating their clients about a variety of alternative options.”

Read More…

The New Oil Dynamics

originally posted by Tony Daltorio at http://wallstreetmess.blogspot.com/

The oil market changed back in 2009, but most Americans did not notice.

That was the year, for the first time, China temporarily surpassed the United States as Saudi Arabia’s biggest and most important customer.

At the time, Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi said “Ten years ago, China imported relatively little crude oil from us. Now, it is one of our top three markets, and is the fastest growing market for us globally.” He added that this showed the increasing “depth of Saudi-Chinese relations”.

Today, when oil tankers leave Saudi ports with their load of crude oil, they increasingly travel eastward to the rapidly growing economies of Asia rather than to the established markets of western nations.

When looked at historically, this new trend is significant. Remember that the most of the oil industries in the Middle East were originally set up by western companies with the sole aim of providing oil for western economies.

The day when Saudi oil exports to China permanently overtake those to the U.S. has not arrived yet.  But it will soon. Read More…

Hedge fund leverage in the industry – how its grown

SmartStops comment:   Who watches out for the little guy?

A chart from MIT’s Andrew Lo of the growth of assets and hedge fund leverage over the last 20 years. You can see the expanding leverage in the 2001-2005 period.  originally posted at Infectious Greed blog.

Hedge Fund Leverage how-its-grown

Hedge_Fund_Leverage how-its-grown

European Default Inevitable — Sell Your Gold?

By Christopher Georgopoulos

 What if, hypothetically, fear of a Greek default cannot be contained? What will be the aftermath to the markets? To gold?

 In the prequel to this article (European Default Inevitable — Sell Your Gold?), I discussed the fact that safe-haven-seeking investors could be in for a surprise when they run to buy gold after a Greek default and find huge sellers in the form of European sovereign nations. That article focused on events that would occur if a Greek default could be contained and the contagion that’s brought so much fear to the global system could be defeated. But what if, hypothetically, that fear cannot be contained? How will it happen, and what will be the aftermath to the markets? To gold?

The first signs of a detrimental contagion will be surprise losses, initially centered within the European banks and financial institutions. Articles such as, “European Stress Tests Underestimated Greek Exposure” will catch front-page attention. Quickly after, multiple small banks will become insolvent and the names of those banks — which many Americans have never heard of — will become as well-known as Citibank (C). Those defaults will spread to the larger European institutions that many of us know, and emergency midnight conferences will be highlighted on CNBC wherein the global financial community will be assured that all is sound. Sooner than later, a major default of one of these institutions will be revealed, and the bomb will be detonated.

This is when a 2008-type Lehman event reemerges, but this time on steroids. The fear driven from individual financial institutions will quickly morph into a fear for the nations of Europe. This fear will be derived from the recent questions concerning the lack of growth to combat their immense debt-to-revenues ratios. Anyone holding the bonds of these debt-ridden countries (i.e. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy) will panic and sell, driving their yields even higher and their credit-worthiness even lower. Those countries will find that trying to fund their needs through bond markets has become even harder and more expensive, and their risk of default will skyrocket. Deep recessions will set in as they will impose even deeper austerity plans, and unemployment — already high — will grow. Because these country’s economies are co-dependent upon each other as trading partners and consumers, even the more financially stable countries will be adversely affected. The viability of the entire Union will be questioned, their currency devalued, and talk of secession will be popular. Even worse, the spread of these losses will not be restricted by their coastal boundaries. Many American and global banks still have exposure to their European counterparts as well as money market and mutual funds. New losses, which could include massive losses on European credit default swaps, must be accounted for, which could cause a new round of credit freezes. Just like a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, the foundation of the rapidly spreading fear will be a lack of confidence. Although this time around the solution won’t be as easy: Who will have the money to back-stop the back-stoppers?

If this were the scenario, the panic that the markets around the world would experience would be historic. The first wave of heavy selling (besides the aforementioned European bonds and stocks) would be centered in your most risky investments — the high-yielding and high-return emerging markets. Equities of the most stable markets would quickly follow. Money would flow from there to the “safest” of investments, such as US treasuries, US currency, and gold. As mentioned in my previous article, the price of gold would initially fall as Germany and the ECB try to contain the Greek default, but if the world’s confidence erodes and the defaults spread, the gold markets would once again be one of the few safe alternatives and could offer substantial upside.

The coming volatility of the markets could be unprecedented and swift. My firm has highlighted that the risks of serious market deprecation are likely with its SmartStops Risk Barometer Indicator.

SmartStops Risk Barometer Indicator (SRBI)

You need to monitor the SPDR gold Trust (GLD), SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), Rydex Currency Shares Euro Trust (FXE) and the Vanguard MSCI Europe ETF (VGK).

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