Managed Futures Linkfest

Managed Futures Performance:

Education & Insight:

  • CME Group profit rises; interest-rate trading volume soars – (Reuters)
  • Sortino Ratio: Correcting Sharpe Ratio flaws – (Futures Magazine)
    -   Attain’s coverage of Sortino Ratio calculation – (Attain Capital)
  • The role of futures and options in managing Ag Risk – (CME)
  • Futures industry: A story of crisis and opportunity – (Futures Magazine)
  • Should CTAs/CPOs have capital requirements? – (Futures Magazine)
  • It’s Time To Let 401(k) Holders Invest Like the Pros – (Wall Street Journal)

Chart of the Week: Everyone Else’s 401K Stock Funds Allocation

If we had to guess, we’d say that investors are at the stage where they’re calling up their brokers every day (or even hour), and investing more.. more and… well even more into their favorite stock (or company). With markets at all time highs, have you ever wondered how much of other people’s portfolios are truly dedicated to U.S. Equities? Not only that, but how portfolio allocation to stocks compares to the last 13 years? You’d think it would be at all-time highs as well, with all the content being shelved to consumers at the moment. Lucky for us, J. Lyons Fund Management has just the chart of 401k Stock Funds Allocation.

401 Stock Allocation
(Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)
Chart Courtesy: Stock Twits

We found this chart interesting and while its hard to tell if the % increase is due to new allocations or growth of existing funds (or some combination of both) this chart could be telling us that stocks might be getting a little overdone again. It’s also important to note, that this is looking at stock funds allocation (meaning ETF’s or mutual funds of the S&P 500), and not individual stock holdings.

Now to answer our questions. The 401k investor stock funds allocation is currently at 64% (Disclaimer: Past performance is not necessarily indicative of futures results). In February of 2009, that was only at 48%. But if we look at the larger picture we see, even though stocks are at all-time highs, and stock funds allocation is up 16% post 2008 financial meltdown, it’s gradually on the decline. Before the dot com bubble burst in 2000, 401k investor stock funds allocation was hovering around 75%, and it’s now down to 64% (an -11% decrease) over the course of 13 years (2 Bull markets, 2 Bear markets).

Three implications come to mind when we see these numbers; first that investors may still be in some sort of shell shock from the dot com burst and the 2008 financial meltdown to truly trust all their funds in the stock market; secondly, that an increasing volume of investors may be choosing a combination of investments in their portfolio (such as bonds, cash, and alternatives like managed futures) to find non-correlated return drivers in their portfolios instead of trusting most of their funds to the stock market; thirdly, that no matter where the rest of the 46% allocation is being invested, overall, investors are investing above the general rule of 60% stocks/40% bonds. For additional thoughts on portfolio asset allocation,  see our newsletter, “Why Am I Deviersifying Again?”

3 Reasons XLE isn’t the Inflation Hedge you’re looking for

We’re not regular readers of the Seattle times, but when a client saw managed futures mentioned in a recent Q&A in the investing section – they pointed us to the piece…

Here’s the question that was asked…

Q: Most of our retirement is in 401(k) or Roth IRA plans managed by a large firm with a reasonable expense ratio, TIAA-CREF.

A small firm that trades in managed futures has recently contacted us. The firm’s adviser uses a trend-following algorithm to govern all trades. There is a minimum investment in the low six figures. The story looks good, the returns look good (even net of fees), and it appears to be an asset class that is not represented in our otherwise fairly diverse portfolio.

What is your opinion of trading in managed futures?”

Sounds like an intelligent investor, if we say so ourselves…. So what does Scott Burns – an MIT grad, author, and 30+ years in financial planning have to say about managed futures?

A: Managed futures accounts are really great for the managers and the brokerage operations that trade the commodity futures contracts.

They aren’t so good for you or me. The main reason is that commodities are not an earning asset, so you are really betting that your account managers will make enough speculating on price changes to overcome a 2 percent managing cost, 20 percent of any profits, and the cumulative bid/ask spread and commissions for all the trading done. Basically, you’re “playing against the house.”

If you want a big, simple protection from inflation, consider buying an exchange-traded fund that is an index of energy companies, such as the Energy Select Sector SPDR (ticker: XLE; expense ratio 0.18 percent) or Vanguard Energy (ticker: VDE; expense ratio 0.14 percent).”

Now, we hadn’t picked a fight or had to defend managed futures from the ‘different is bad’ crowd in a while in this space…(see our previous one’s here and here) but this seemed like just the thing which deserved a response. And indeed, Mike Dever of Brandywine Asset (and Jackass Investing fame) stuck up for the asset class in the comments.  But we had our own thoughts:

We’ll start with his second point – to use an index of energy companies such as XLE as a cheaper proxy for managed futures. Well, the investor didn’t say that was why they wanted managed futures exposure; but let’s assume for the sake of argument that is why they are looking at the asset class. The first thing you will see is that the XLE is way more volatile than the managed futures index, with XLE at an annualized volatility of 22% and the CTA Index at 6.8%, so roughly 3.25 times more volatile.

Monthly ReturnSource: BarclayHedge CTA Index
Disclaimer: (Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

This means any meaningful comparison will need to normalize the volatility, which we did by multiplying the monthly profits and losses of the BarclayHedge CTA Index by 3.25 (easily achieved in managed futures due to notional funding).

So, if you are going to consider XLE as a choice for “big, simple protection from inflation”, how does XLE compare to the performance of managed futures during an inflationary period… such as the January 2007 – June 2008 period which saw Crude Oil rise from $61 to $133/Barrel?

XLE vs Barclay 07 08Source: BarclayHedge CTA Index
Disclaimer: (Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

They were pretty even during that period, although we can’t help but notice that managed futures (at 3.25x) did outperform by a bit, and with less of a drawdown. But let’s say that is immaterial, and they are essentially the same during that period. Kudos to Mr. Burns for the recommendation, XLE is definitely easier to understand and easier to invest in than managed futures for most.

But… what happens next? What happens when you’re not in such a period? Glad you asked… just take a look at the XLE over the 8 months after that spike in oil happened:

XLE vs MF 08 09
Source: BarclayHedge CTA Index
Disclaimer: (Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Ouch! Two thirds of your money down the drain. Here’s the thing… you won’t likely know when that inflationary period has begun, or when it has ended. So while XLE may provide inflation protection, and while it may do well during a rising stock market… what about the rest of the time?  Is it worth it to take on all that volatility and downside risk for your inflation hedge? Doesn’t it make more sense to add an inflation hedge which doesn’t double up the stock market crash risk already in your portfolio?  Doesn’t it make sense to add an inflation hedge with a -.15 correlation to the stock market instead of a .63 correlation.

Here’s a look at the full performance of XLE versus managed futures at 3.25x since XLE’s inception in 1999.

99 XLE vs MF
Source: BarclayHedge CTA Index
Disclaimer: (Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

Vami of XLE vs MFSource: BarclayHedge CTA Index
Disclaimer: (Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results)

We appreciate your stance, Mr. Burns, but there’s a whole lot more to this equation than low expense ratios and something that goes up when Oil goes up. The three reasons XLE and VDE are no good as an inflation hedges are  they are 1. too volatile, 2. too correlated to stocks, and 3. too much drawdown for the return you get

In the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, move along… these are not the droids inflation hedges you are looking for.