2014 – Best/Worst Performing Asset Classes

What “sport” has 1000’s of teams, no rules, gets played night and day across the world with a scoreboard updated minute by minute, day by day, year by year, and decade by decade? It’s none other than the “game” of investing, where a new year is a great time to see where different assets finished in relation to each other.

Now, we’ve said before that comparing different asset class performances is like comparing apples and oranges, so we won’t make too much of Managed Futures coming in “second place” But, hey, if you can’t trumpet managed futures good year on a managed futures blog, where can you do it? We’re just happy Managed Futures proved that they have unique return drivers, and can perform when stocks are moving up or down. (For more on how and why managed futures performed the way they did, see our 2014 Managed Futures Strategy Review).

Elsewhere, world stocks slid in December, to be the only other asset class finishing in the negative on the year other than commodities… talk about a tough year for diversified portfolios.

P.S – If you’re looking at commodities and wondering if we looked at the data incorrectly, the answer is no… commodities did end down -14.32% in December alone, down -32% on the year.

Asset Class Scoreboard Final(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Asset Class Scoreboard Chart

(Disclaimer: past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.)
Source: All ETF performance data from Morningstar.com
Sources: Managed Futures = Newedge CTA Index, Cash = 13 week T-Bill rate,
Bonds = Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND),
Hedge Funds= IQ Hedge Multi-Strategy (QAI)
Commodities = iShares GSCI ETF (GSG);
Real Estate = iShares DJ Real Estate ETF (IYR);
World Stocks = iShares MSCI ACWI ex US Index Fund ETF (ACWX);
US Stocks = SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY)

The 2014 Commy Awards

There’s the Emmy Awards, the Webby’s, the ESPY’s, (why do they all end in y’s), but no commodity awards as far as we know… Let’s see if we can’t do something about that, with the first (and perhaps last) edition of the Commy Awards:

(All Charts Courtesy: Finviz)

The ‘you probably didn’t benefit one bit from this’ market of the year = Coffee

In February, the coffee market shot up and never looked back, up around 48% on the year. However, unless you play with coffee ETF $JO, or are invested in a smaller niche managed futures manager – there’s no way you caught this move. It’s a shame too, because it was one heck of a move, and it all happened in first 2 months.

Coffee(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Most likely to get your Houston Neighbor’s Grand Piano repossessed = Crude Oil

No one saw the crude implosion coming. Well maybe not nobody… but crude dropping almost  50% in 4 months was something trend followers sure enjoyed, even while the Russian government (and Ruble) did not. At 8.9 million barrels per day produced in US – that’s $411.7 million not there anymore… that’s a lot of pianos.

Crude(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The most popular, for no apparent reason = Gold

No matter how much the gold market moves, it’s the commodity market people love to write about, and people love to read about. Even though it finished the year basically unchanged, down -0.4% – there were reams and reams of digital ink written about its demise, its comeback, its luster, and its non-performance? And all for what? So that they can say they were wrong last time, and might be right this next time?  Honorable mention goes to the rest of the metals crowd, which actually fell quite a bit more than Gold.

Gold(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The S&P..who?  Award = Cattle

The S&P 500 wasn’t the the only market hitting new all time highs throughout 2014, so was Cattle. The problem? Not too many noticed or wrote about it, and it doesn’t count if it was an article about higher beef prices at the grocery store.

Live Cattle(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Market most likely to make you look like an Idiot (Again) = US Bonds

Earning its 5th straight award in this category is the Bond market. 2014 was supposed to be the year for higher Interest Rates and Lower Bond prices, except it wasn’t. The US Bond Aggregate Index ETF ($AGG)  ended the year up 5.50% for the yr and rates dropped from  3.9 to 2.7, while everyone and their sister thought higher rates in store in ‘14 Bonds. You think yields will continue to drop or has it finally reached its lowest point? Are you willing to say it will go the other way? How about asking the people that made the same decision last year.

30 Yr Bond(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Most (un)Likely to Succeed / Best Closer = US Dollar

It had its best quarter in 4 years, while other currencies fell flat. But it wasn’t just what it did, it was how it did it – closing fast. For the first six months, the USD didn’t move, while the last 6 months resulted with an up move of 13%.

USD(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Most Likely Cause of your Acid Reflux = Corn

It’s hard to trade a market that has three consistent trend reversals in one year. From January to May it was up about 20%, then fell around 36% over the next 5 months, and rebounded 24% to close out the year. You must have a strong stomach to dabble in this market (honorable mention = Nat Gas)

Corn(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

The Jennifer Aniston = U.S. Stock Indices

This year saw US stocks pile onto the already outstanding run the stock market has been on over the past 5 years, so while the stock market run may be getting a bit older… it’s still looking good, just like Jennifer Aniston.

US STocks(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

6 Takeaways from the Performance of 8 Asset Classes YTD

Our takeaways:

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The Commodity Super Cycle Ain’t Over – Yet

Great long-form piece by Erik Swarts over at Market Anthropology (we borrowed the title) talking the commodity super-cycle, and how it might not be dead… We’ve talked about it being on the way to the morgue here and here.

Mr. Swarts bases his logic on multiple comparisons to different past market regimes – be it the 1930s – 1940s interest rate regime, the 1970s commodity cycle, or the 1980s stock market breakout; and gets a bit technical both with his charts and the writing:

…when we extrapolate a normalized comparative study – balanced by momentum (RSI and stochastics) signatures across the complete run of the 1971-1980 boom, we find an estimated comparative leg higher up to the early part of the next decade. Fittingly, this would roughly match the duration of the previous commodity boom that extended for ~20 years along the mirrored trough of the long-term yield cycle in the early 1930’s and 1950’s.”

CRB Commodity Super Cycle(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Chart Courtesy: Market Anthropology

Now, it’s easy to gather from all of the charts and talk about rates continuing to be lower that this is all a way of saying that low rates will spur inflation and re-fuel the commodity super-cycle Jim Rogers style. But in fact this is a much more nuanced conversation than that. Mr. Swarts’ main point, from what we can gather, hinges on this one line:

“For gold to reach $700/ounce or oil $50/barrel, real yields would be pushed significantly higher.”

We have to admit that took us a second to understand, and in fact we went looking for some explanation. Why would real yields be pushed higher for Gold and Oil to go down… Doesn’t it seem higher yields = inflation = higher commodity prices??  Enter Pimco, with a great description of the link between Gold prices and real yields.

….when real yields on other assets are high, investors would likely want a bigger discount to the long-run estimated real value of [a store of value, constant long term purchasing power] asset. Conversely, when real yields are low, the opportunity cost of owning the [store of value, constant long term purchasing power] asset drops and investors would likely be willing to pay a higher price relative to the asset’s long-run estimated real value… As gold increasingly becomes a financial asset, when real yields rise, gold prices should fall if they are to maintain a given level of financial demand relative to investors’ other opportunities. Similarly, when real yields fall, we expect the price of gold to rise. “

A little technical, but the basic idea is that the more people view Gold… and its cousin Black Gold (Oil), as a long term asset which will hold its purchasing power in real terms, the more that assets nominal price will move in relation to the level of real yields. And that relationship will be an inverse one, with prices down as yields go up, and vice versa. Indeed, this is why – in part – Gold and Oil have sold off so violently over the past 12 months (especially the past month), as investors are assuming a rise in real yields.

We’re by no means Gold bugs trying to make a call on where Gold will go from here. And this analysis misses the fact that there is more to ‘commodities’ than just Gold and Oil. There’s things like Coffee, Corn, and more which aren’t really considered to hold their purchasing power (although we’re sure people would much rather have Coffee in an apocalypse than Gold); but this is definitely something to noodle over…

 

11 things you should know about the Crude Oil Drop

Christmas came a month early for those short Crude Oil over the past couple of months, specifically last week, and even more specifically – Friday.  Since July, WTI crude has dropped more than 30%, with 10% of that coming the day after Thanksgiving. And just about everyone and their mom (mom’s who have a blog about commodities?) have written something about the Crude Oil move.  Here’s 11 insights into what might make this drop more than just this week’s headline.

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10 of the Worst ETFs Money Can Buy

It’s typically a slow week in the financial world for the few days leading up to our collective feasts on Thanksgiving day, and that gives us a little down time to catch up on matters we typically don’t get to day to day, or even week to week.

One of those things is checking in on ETFs some people thought were a smart idea at the time, and now doesn’t look so good. Without Further ado, the Top 10 worst performing ETFs over the past twelve months:

ETFTicker1 Year %
VelocityShares 3x Inverse Natural Gas ETN$DGAZ-82.10%
C-Tracks Citi Volatility Index TR ETN$CVOL-80.31%
Direxion Daily Jr Gld Mnrs Bull 3X Shrs$JNUG-75.06%
Direxion Daily Jr Gld Mnrs Bear 3X Shrs$JDST-73.52%
VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX ST ETN$TVIX-73.05%
ProShares Trust Ultra VIX Short$UVXY-72.94%
Direxion Daily Semicondct Bear 3X Shares$SOXS-67.15%
Direxion Daily Russia Bull 3X Shares$RUSL-66.00%
Direxion Daily Nat Gas Rltd Bull 2X Shrs$GASL-60.71%
UltraShort DJ-UBS Natural Gas$KOLD-59.91%

(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Table Courtesy: ETF.com

Our Notes:

  1. We’re not surprised to see 3 of the Top 10 worst performing etfs be “tracking” Natural Gas, and again – both a bull fund and inverse fund both among the worst performers (it is truly magical their ability to pull that off). Those ETFs seem to not perform well under…let me see here, ok, under most circumstances.
  2. Gold Miners still suck. (See Here Here and here.) And now they join the dubious distinction club as being one of the plays where you lose no matter whether you thought Gold Miner’s were going up or going down. This one’s even more egregious than the Nat Gas, as they are bull and bear on the same index – yet both down more than -70% in past year.
  3. The Good old VIX. Betting on Volatility is a tricky, tricky game. Betting short on the VIX over the past 5 years probably seemed like a good bet, right up until October when the VIX spiked without notice, and all the sudden you lost half of the investment.

So how did you fare? Hopefully not as bad as some of these… Have an ETF that surprised you? Let us know.

5 Thoughts on the Stock Market’s -7.5% Correction

  1. Why is ANYONE surprised?

This has been the most hated rally of all time, as quoted by Barry Ritholtz, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC; with seemingly many more people doubting its ability to survive than actually participating. What’s more, this thing was getting very long in the tooth – 68 months and 197% off the March 2009 lows as The middle of September, and 17 months since the credit crisis losses were erased with a new all time high in March 2013.  Compare that with an average bull market move of 103% and 30 months off the lows, and 18% and 14 months from new highs to the eventual peak, and you can see we were due. It’s also worth noting we’re basically flat on the year after this “correction”… no gains, no losses. While hard to believe after the past few years – the stock market does have losing years. Let’s repeat that:  In distant times (like ancient 2011), there were entire 12 month periods where stocks didn’t end higher than they started a whole year ago… Quelle Horreur!

S&P Bull Run 1 (Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Data of S&p 500

  1. Short Bonds if you dare…

We’ve also been due for interest rates to rise, and a lot of smart people have bet a lot of money on that happening (including one Bill Gross, whose wrongness there no doubt led to his eventual exit from Pimco). But this is the new widowmaker trade. They are carrying people out in bodybags from this one, as every head fake lower in bonds results in violent upswings.  Despite us being 6 years past the credit crisis – when everyone though rates would be going back up by now, 30 yr US Bonds have dropped from around 4% to nearly 3% this year, with bond futures prices shooting up about 7.5% in the past 20 trading sessions. There’s some programs killing it on this trade, but there’s also a lot of pain and debris left over from bonds once again moving higher (rates lower).

  1. Managed Futures have been waiting for this…

September was great for managed futures, and we’ve been cheering stocks to zero so far in October, because this type of environment is what managed futures lives for. It’s been a quiet few years of waiting for a volatility expansion like this for managed futures strategies, most of which essentially bet on outlier moves like this one happening, not just in stocks, but in bonds and currencies, and the rest. The ability to be able to go long and short – combined with the ability to be in markets like bonds, wheat, and even stock indices – means these types of moves can be captured. Now, there are likely to be whipsaws and the potential for lower volatility ahead… just like the stock market, volatility can’t keep rising day after day; but every manager we talk to is very excited about this new market environment.

  1. This is why you diversify

If this type of market move scares you – remember this is why you diversify; even when that strategy has been getting it’s ass kicked the last 5 years. Those who are diverisified and missed out getting the full return delivered by stocks the past few years realized that diversification isn’t in place for what is going on today, but for what may come tomorrow (tomorrow is here). They realized that the choice to diversify can mean accepting smaller positive returns today in return for smaller negative returns tomorrow.  At the end of the day – this isn’t just about the final return – it is about the journey as well. It’s about avoiding the swamps… as the Abraham Lincoln quote in the movie Lincoln illustrates:

“A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it’ll… it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and dessert and chasm that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?”

Just owning stocks and hoping the market goes up indefinitely is akin to just plowing straight ahead with your Compass pointing North. We’ve landed in stock market swamp… You going to go through it, or diversify your way around it?

  1. This is proving time for Liquid Alts

There’s been a huge influx of mutual funds offering hedge fund like strategies such as long/short equity and market neutral, as well as managed futures mutual funds and ETFs that have come to market since 2008. This is the first real proving ground for those products, and the volatility and stock market losses should really start to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. It will be quite interesting to see who delivered on their glossy brochure promises and who didn’t when the dust settles.