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.





Commodities Volatility in One Table

Here’s our monthly look at the various commodity ETFs and how they track a simple strategy of buying December futures and rolling them annually. Plus, a comparison to Ag Traders and an overall commodity index.

Some Notes:

  1. The BarclayHedge Ag Traders CTA Index is killing it {past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results}. Many ag programs have a combination of long meats and short grain exposure. Both have been good trends thus far in 2014. (See Trade commodities instead of “invest” in  them?)
  2. Grains continue their massive down trend.
  3. 75% of the commodities in this table are experiencing double digit moves on the year.

(Performance as of 9/30/14)

Commodity ETF Over/Under Performance 2014

Crude Oil$CL_F
Brent Oil$NBZ_F
Natural Gas$NG_F
Live Cattle$LE_F
Lean Hogs$LH_F
Commodity Index $DBC-9.47%
Long/Short Ag Trader CTAs17.64%

(Disclaimer: past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results).
(Disclaimer: Sugar uses the October contract, Soybeans the November contract.)
Long/Short Ag Trader CTA = Barclayhedge Ag Traders Index

Stocks… We Hope they Go to Zero!

One of the best things about being in an investment which can do well when markets are down is the fun you can have at cocktail parties, in the locker room at the golf club, and dinner with friends. A -334 point down day in the Dow and around -5% move off of all time highs starts to  bring out the shrugs and exasperated expressions, as those well to do’s around you murmur their version of the timeless classic:

“Tough day in the markets today, huh?”

And here’s where it gets fun… because our go-to response is usually:

“Sure was tough… we hope they go to zero.”

For those from the world of traditional investing, or better yet – those who’ve only been around the last five years – this can be a bit unsettling and cuts a lot of conversations short.

“Go to zero? What?”

While we don’t actually want market to go all the way to zero (we still want a functioning society and all of that), we welcome with open arms the volatility that would accompany some fear and panicked selling. Because, you see, we’re mostly in the business of volatility. Or to be more precise – the business of profiting off of volatility expansions from periods of consolidation and dampened volatility.

As we have laid out before, managed futures tends to do well during market crisis periods because of their ability to go short global markets. In 2008, managed futures programs found themselves short nearly every type of market not considered a safe haven, be it stock indices, energies, foreign currencies, metals, grains, or softs. Fast forward to the past few weeks, and we’ve seen several managed futures programs start to initiate such short positions in markets like US and non-US stock indices, energies, foreign currencies, grains, and metals.

Quite simply, we’re cheering the markets to zero because the lower they go in this move down, the better for our clients in their long volatility investments. Of course, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results and there are clients and programs and positions which may lose money in an extended move lower.  But generally speaking, such down trends work to the benefit of the managed futures space in our experience.

So for now we’ll be cheering… “Go to Zero!”

Russelll To Zero(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Chart via Finviz.com

Shhh… Managed Futures up 4.93% in Q3

Being in the managed futures biz, you might expect us to be leading a parade complete with marching band and tumbling coppers a’ la the opening scene of Austin Powers following a month like September, where two of the family of Attain Funds posted double digit returns, and the managed futures index was up 1.94% to finish the 3rd quarter up +4.93% (past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Austin Powers

It’s so cliché that the underappreciated asset class people are pouring out of miraculously turns around… but cliché or not – that’s just what happened. The naysayers said Trend Following is dead, that it’s so bad John Henry quit and Paul Tudor Jones threw in the towel, and so on and so forth… but here we are nonetheless, up 4.65% over the past 2 months in the indices, and several programs we track doing quite a bit better than that (past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results).

But we’re not going to cue the parade, just yet. For one, this is just one quarter. Sure, it’s the best quarter we’ve seen out of managed futures since 2008, but it’s just one quarter nonetheless. Secondly, we find ourselves instead wanting to keep the good great September a little under wraps, in a sort of “don’t look at us, nothing to see here” sort of way (like we’re trying to get away with something).  Telling anybody who would listen that the managed futures drawdown was a great time to invest didn’t seem to work, with managed futures assets at multi-year lows; so maybe we’ll try keeping it secret for a while. Our little secret with those smart investors who stuck with managed futures during the down times.

Here’s the managed futures performance table for the year…

September Managed Futures Performance(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

P.S. – Don’t be surprised if we do cue up the Austin Powers scene if managed futures manages to string a few of these together. Here’s to continued trendiness in the US Dollar and weakness in metals and grains.

P.P.S.- Be on the lookout for an upcoming post on Attain’s Family of Alternative Funds performance in September. To get monthly performance and research updates on the family of funds, sign up here.





Long the US Dollar… And Loving it

While hardly scientific, we tend to have a knack for highlighting a certain market move or environment on the blog, and that market or environment quickly reversing course upon our piece hitting the airwaves. It’s the futures market equivalent of the old contrarian magazine indicator.

The latest example looks to be the Currency Markets, where our talk of record low volatility at the beginning of the summer has given way to some of the most volatile currency market trading in recent memory, with the U.S. Dollar Index up around 6% in the past three months {past performance is not necessarily indicative of futures results} during what Bespoke Investment called  “The Best Quarter for the Dollar in Four Years,

Bespoke Long USD(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Chart Courtesy: Bespoke

If you do any currency trading or have actually exchanged currency in the past and are asking ‘the US Dollar versus what?’ – the US Dollar Index measures the dollar against six different currencies (and mainly the Euro), so a lot of what is happening here is reflective of the Dollar rallying against the Euro. But it’s not only the Euro that’s been selling off against the US Dollar. See if you can spot any downtrends [US Dollar up] in  the Canadian, Aussie, Yen, Pound, or Swiss Franc.

Currencies in One Chart(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Charts Courtesy: Finviz

Now, to be fair… we did ask rhetorically (and wishfully) in our beginning of summer piece whether this was the calm before the storm? So we can’t quite say this was a contrarian move that caught us, or systematic traders, off guard.  In fact, this ‘storm’ is just the sort of volatility expansion systematic futures folks like to see. It’s directional volatility, meaning the market has become more volatile (is moving more day to day) AND is moving in generally the same direction (in the case of the US Dollar, up).

For a while there in 2011 and 2012, we were asking for more volatility without being specific enough and got some non-directional volatility (aka whipsaws), which doesn’t really help anybody out.  You can see the US Dollar “break out” of its past range in the gray shaded area in the chart above (and for the more technically inclined – the 50 day moving average cross over the 200 day moving average), and that is just the sort of move systematic multi sector traders like global macro, trend following, and managed futures plan for. They suffer all of that flat to slightly down performance in exchange for being able to capture moves like this.

So it’s no coincidence that the ‘best quarter for the dollar in 4 years’ coincides with the best managed futures performance in 4 years.  This is just the sort of move that managed futures programs are designed to capture.  It’s a heck of a move in its own right, but it represents so much more than that, for it actually means that multiple currency markets are trending. And what’s more – a trending Dollar can actually affect non currency markets as well. Remember that all those Gold, Corn, Oil, Cotton and other commodities are priced in US Dollars – so all else being equal – a rising US Dollar means a falling commodity priced in US Dollars.

As short term proof – we can see the Newedge CTA Index up 1.48% so far in September after gaining 3.94% in August, to put YTD performance at up +5.57%. (it’s almost like someone said this was a generational low in managed futures around this time last year). But we’re interested in more than just the latest example, and wanted to see just how good a trending US Dollar has been for managed futures over time. Turns out a trending US Dollar is one of THE best environments around for managed futures, at about 3.5 times the monthly return of periods when the US Dollar isn’t trending. (we considered the Dollar trending if its 14 period ADX reading was increasing from one month to the next, looking back to 1989).

Average Trending Days(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Data: Barclayhedge CTA Index starting in 11/’85

So keep  cutting interest rates and doing buybacks ECB.  And keep the Abenomic experiment going, BoJ. And keep growing US Economy – because we want to keep riding this US Dollar up trend (aka Euro, Yen, Pound down trend), although we may have just jinxed it with our contrarian magazine article powers.

A Golf Clap for Reporting on “Commodity Hedge Funds”

We’re not going to lie, when surfing the web, researching what others are writing about the Alternatives world, it typically turns into a post by us because, other articles that either conveniently  leave out essential information or purposefully leave out information because otherwise the article wouldn’t make sense. Managed Futures and alternatives have been getting a bad rap over the past couple of years, and we’ve spent far too much time “setting the record straight.” We thought it might be a good idea to highlight a major publication (The Wall Street Journal) for doing a decent job capturing the climate of “commodity hedge funds” this summer. What are we talking about?

Commodity Hedge Funds are finally getting some “good press” lately, as for the first time in 9 months, they’ve seen positive net flows into funds, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Commodity AUM flows(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

It’s certainly not difficult to write a headline about commodities lately, whether we’re talking crops taking a nose dive, the meat markets at all time highs, or coffee showing the biggest move of any of futures market. But the article’s not just talking about asset flows and the “current climate.” It’s talking trends, and unique return drivers, and the ability to make money whether prices are rising or falling.

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CalPERS Hedge Fund Exit: Earthquake or Godzilla?

The big news in the alternatives world this week is of course that the largest pension in the world CalPERS is ditching it’s Absolute Return unit and unloading $4 Billion worth of hedge funds. Is this the end of hedge fund investing by institutional investors (an earthquake), typical performance chasing by an investor (albeit a very large one), or a result of their enormous size (Godzilla).

If you believe Barry Ritholtz over at Bloomberg – this is an “earthquake” for hedge funds, with other pensions following suit and advisors and the rest eventually waking up to the realization that hedge funds don’t provide higher returns than equities.

This is a huge change… It has enormous potential for disrupting the consultants and infrastructure of the 2 & 20 firmament.

If you believe some hedge fund managers who were quoted in a Business Insider piece – this isn’t about the hedge fund industry’s ability to meet investor expectations, it’s about CalPERS inability to pick managers who could meet their expectations. We even get a little insight into how their manager selection may have suffered:

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