Thursday, September 20, 2012

Obviousness of REITs?

I very much enjoy papers such as

Antonacci, Gary, Risk Premia Harvesting Through Momentum (September 5, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Faber, Mebane T., A Quantitative Approach to Tactical Asset Allocation (February 17, 2009). Journal of Wealth Management, Spring 2007. Available at SSRN:

and clearly the finance community appreciates these with the first as a First place winner of the 2012 NAAIM Wagner Awards for Advancements in Active Investment Management and the second with a download rank of 2 on SSRN with 273,000 abstract views.

However, I struggle mightily with how obvious would these papers’ choice of assets been without the benefit of hindsight.  I already briefly touched on this flaw in Bonds Much Sharpe -r Than Buffett.  Of course, using what we now know is one of the best asset classes in the history of the world that has also experienced an anomalous and extremely negative correlation with equities during their distress will provide a very positive result.  Unfortunately, I have yet to find any research from the late 1970s or early 1980s that predicted such a glorious environment for bonds.

Similar but not quite as extreme, adding REITs (all my posts about REITs)  over the last 12 years in any way would almost guarantee a pleasant result.  However, REITs were not so stellar for the 15 year period 1984-1999.  Would REITs have been such an obvious choice in 1999?  Of course, if we know the future, but I’m not so sure when we only knew the past.

From TimelyPortfolio
From TimelyPortfolio
From TimelyPortfolio

Also, how obvious would gold have been in 1998 or how obvious would high yield have been in the early 1980s when they did not even exist? Can we expect the next 10 years to look like the last 10 years?

R code from GIST:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Big Issue with System Backtests

Almost always, when I see a system backtested, the backtest assumes a static portfolio with no contributions or withdrawals.  This assumption only covers an extremely limited subset of my clients.  Cash flows in and out of a portfolio or system can have a much larger impact on ending net worth than the geometrically linked performance of a system or money manager.  Most of the systems I have shown for demonstration purposes on this blog have suffered from this unrealistic assumption.  I thought I should show how contributions similar to those in a 401k can affect a simple moving average system.

In a roaring bull market, any momentum system will underperform so significantly that potential abandonment of the system due to lack of confidence is highly likely.  As shown below, there was very little discussion of moving average strategies 1990-2000 due to the simple fact that buy/hold absolutely clobbered them.  While normal adjustments like return/risk and a log scale can soften the impact on the screen, the psychological impact to a client can be very damaging as the focus moves entirely to $ value of the portfolio.  Below is a comparison of buy and hold versus a 200 day moving average system with no additions or withdrawals.  As discussed, 1990-2000 was not kind to the moving average.

From TimelyPortfolio

However, if we add a simple framework similar to a 401k investor starting with $100,000 and adding $10,000 per year ($2,500 per quarter), the results differ significantly.

From TimelyPortfolio

I intentionally played a little trick by changing the y axis to a log scale.  Clients don’t think in log scale when evaluating performance.  They simply look at $ value of the portfolio.  If we look at the results without a log scale, underperformance by 2000 is visible, but it is nowhere near as great as shown in the first chart of the post, and outperformance after the 2008-2009 collapse is very healthy.  I actually think a client could accept this profile much more readily than that shown with a static portfolio.

From TimelyPortfolio

Of course, this test was not perfect, and all sorts of assumptions and simulations can be added, but we can start to see how inflows and outflows can impact a portfolio whether it is buy/hold, discretionary, or systematic.

R code from GIST ( do raw for copy/paste ):