Managed Futures: A Threat-Off Resolution?

Capital markets suffered a tough 12 months in 2022. Amid an inflationary bear market, the normal investing playbook proved woefully insufficient. The NASDAQ and high-yield debt, the darlings of yesteryear, have, with few exceptions, fallen from grace. US Treasuries, the commonest hedge in opposition to inventory volatility, have suffered their worst drawdown in not less than the final 70 years — and it’s not even shut.

10-12 months US Treasury Drawdown

Chart showing 10-Year US Treasury Drawdown

Occasions comparable to these are good alternatives for reflection. Portfolio managers and allocators need to construct various portfolios that steadiness development and capital threat over an intermediate-to-long time horizon. Treasuries have historically stuffed the position of diversifier and risk-off asset. However what in the event that they grow to be much less efficient hedges in opposition to threat property? Portfolio development may look very totally different. That’s why we have to ask the query: If Treasuries not fulfill their conventional position, what different methods or asset lessons can improve diversification and ship constant returns?

Managed futures could also be simply such an asset class — one with the potential for engaging efficiency, particularly amid excessive volatility.

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The Development Is Your Pal

John Lintner, a co-creator of the capital asset pricing mannequin (CAPM), can inform and inspire our exploration. In The Potential Function of Managed Commodity-Monetary Futures Accounts (and/or Funds) in Portfolios of Shares and Bonds, he wrote:

“Certainly, the enhancements from holding effectively chosen portfolios of managed [futures] accounts or funds are so giant — and the correlations between the returns on the futures portfolios and people on the inventory and bond portfolios are surprisingly low (typically even destructive) — that the return/threat trade-offs supplied by augmented portfolios consisting partly of funds invested with applicable teams of futures managers . . . mixed with funds invested in portfolios of shares alone (or in blended portfolios of shares and bonds), clearly dominate the trade-offs obtainable from portfolios of shares alone (or from portfolios of shares and bonds). Furthermore, they achieve this by very appreciable margins.

“The mixed portfolios of shares (or shares and bonds) after together with even handed investments in appropriately chosen sub-portfolios of investments in managed futures accounts . . . present considerably much less threat at each attainable degree of anticipated return than portfolios of inventory (or shares and bonds) alone. That is the essence of the ‘potential position’ of managed futures accounts (or funds) as a complement to inventory and bond portfolios advised within the title of this paper.

“Lastly, all of the above conclusions proceed to carry when returns are measured in actual in addition to in nominal phrases, and in addition when returns are adjusted for the risk-free charge on Treasury payments.”

This passage affords a number of tantalizing clues on the attainable position managed futures may play in a portfolio: They could enhance the chance/return profile of inventory and bond portfolios, exhibit meaningfully low correlation with these conventional property, and enhance returns on each an absolute and risk-adjusted foundation. Let’s consider every of those claims in flip.

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The Financial Rationale

The first driver of returns for managed futures is trend-following or momentum investing — shopping for property which have just lately risen and promoting or shorting property which have just lately declined. These methods are sometimes utilized to liquid futures contracts throughout fairness indices, rates of interest, commodities (vitality, agricultural, and industrial), and currencies, amongst different markets. Since most buyers haven’t any commodities or FX publicity, even from the easy perspective of traded devices, managed futures may introduce new sources of threat and return.

Momentum investing has a wealthy tutorial historical past and is acknowledged as a vital issue that may clarify inventory portfolio efficiency. Development-following is equally sturdy. Brian Ok. Hurst, Yao Hua Ooi, and Lasse H. Pedersen analyzed a time-series momentum technique over 137 years and located that it carried out nicely throughout totally different macroeconomic environments and tended to outperform throughout instances of macro-stress.

The Barclays BTOP50 Index (BTOP50) seeks to duplicate the all-around composition of the managed futures trade in buying and selling fashion and total market publicity. The chart under depicts BTOP50’s quarterly returns from January 1990 to April 2022 relative to these of the MSCI World Index and options the fitted line for a second-degree polynomial. The plot reveals a particular “smile” attribute of trend-followers. This implies that managed futures methods are usually “lengthy volatility” and outperform in each excessive up and down markets.

Barclays BTOP50 vs. MSCI World Index

Scatter plot showing Barclays BTOP50 vs. MSCI World Index

Set Up and Method

The BTOP50 serves as our benchmark for the efficiency of managed futures methods. We calculate returns and abstract statistics both on a month-to-month or quarterly foundation over the January 1990 to April 2022 commentary interval.

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Stylized Info

­­The abstract statistics for the BTOP50 together with indices for different key asset lessons are introduced within the desk under and are derived from quarterly complete return information. Confidence intervals (95%) for skew and extra kurtosis are proven in parentheses.

Barclay’s BTOP50 MSCI World Complete
Return Index
10-12 months Treasury
Complete Return Index
ICE BofA Corp Complete Return
US Greenback (DXY) Goldman Sachs
Commodity Index
Median 1.51% 2.24% 1.51% 1.59% 0.13% 1.81%
Imply 1.45% 2.96% 1.30% 1.55% 0.27% 1.55%
Volatility 4.27% 8.32% 3.84% 2.83% 4.23% 12.68%
Skew 0.771 -0.569 (-.967, -.199) 0.224 (-.112, .619) -0.147 (-.807, .544) 0.285 (-.086, .802) -0.275 (-1.143, .717)
Extra Kurtosis 1.815 (-.209, 5.82) 0.728
(-, 1.786)
-0.1085 (-.538, .790) 1.471 (.512, 2.86) 0.2367 (-3.91, 2.005) 2.2816 (.962, 4458)
Shapiro-Wilk Check <.0001; Reject <.0001; Reject .5627; Fail to Reject .0253; Reject .7556; Fail to Reject .0014; Reject

In line with the info, managed futures have, on common, produced constructive returns and exhibited roughly half the volatility of world shares over the past 32 years. The 95% confidence interval for skew means that the BTOP50 has distinctly constructive skewness, which is exclusive among the many asset lessons in our evaluation. Even “safe-haven property,” like US Treasuries and the US greenback, throughout risk-off durations don’t exhibit statistically vital constructive skewness.

The visible proof of this impact is illustrated within the histogram under. The arrogance interval for extra kurtosis isn’t fairly conclusive on the 95% degree, however it nonetheless implies heavy tails for the BTOP50. Furthermore, the Shapiro-Wilk check disproves the speculation of usually distributed returns. The Shapiro-Wilk fails, nevertheless, to reject normality for 10-year Treasury and DXY returns. That signifies that these sequence are comparatively nicely behaved.

Barclays BTOP50 Quarterly Returns Distribution

Chart showing Barclays BTOP50 Quarterly Returns Distribution

The cumulative return of the BTOP50 and comparative property over the pattern interval are introduced within the following chart. The BTOP50, our managed futures proxy, is the third-best performing asset class, barely edging out Treasuries and falling simply shy of investment-grade corporates. Over the 1990 to 2010 subperiod, which options the dot-com bubble and the worldwide monetary disaster (GFC), trend-following was the highest performer largely as a result of the technique averted each these giant drawdown occasions and truly posted constructive returns in 2008 and 2009.

Index Cumulative Return

Chart showing Index Cumulative Return

Nonetheless, since then — and till pretty just lately — methods constructed to revenue from value tendencies have struggled. For the reason that GFC, markets have lagged under their historic norm. This presents a problem to trend-followers. The underperformance of the 2010s interval could also be due partially to the deluge of cash that flooded right into a historic bull market. A interval of imply reversion was inevitable.

Managed Futures AUM (Billions $)

Chart showing Managed Futures AUM, in US Billions

One other vital facet of managed futures, in keeping with the cumulative return plot, is the low correlation they’ve with the opposite “conventional” asset lessons. The chart under particulars the rolling 12-month correlation of the BTOP50 with the 5 different asset lessons. The stable black line in every plot reveals the common correlation over the whole commentary interval.

BTOP50 and Different Asset Lessons : Rolling 12-Month Correlations

Chart of Managed Futures Correlation Plot

Whereas the correlations differ over time, trend-following demonstrates structurally low correlation with the opposite asset lessons. Let’s study every sequence in flip. The correlation with equities is statistically indistinguishable from zero. Equities are sometimes probably the most dangerous asset in diversified portfolios, which is why they’re usually hedged with property that carry out nicely when shares battle. Over the previous 20-plus years, Treasuries have stuffed this position and, up till 2022, carried out it nicely. However 2022 revealed vital gaps in portfolios that rely solely on bonds for draw back safety. Amid right this moment’s high-inflation, sagging development, and excessive volatility, trend-followers have excelled. With regards to diversification, managed futures have finished exceedingly nicely.

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When Issues Get Excessive

Between the smile-plot and correlation diagram, we’re constructing the case that managed futures have a vital position to play in portfolio development. Particularly, managed futures methods have produced constantly constructive returns throughout market regimes and carry out significantly nicely within the tails. Let’s dig a bit deeper into this latter level.

The primary panel within the plot under reveals the common rolling 12-month return for the BTOP50 and MSCI World over the complete pattern interval. The MSCI World has supplied a mean return of ~9.75% since 1990, whereas the BTOP50 has returned ~5.80%. Over a protracted sufficient time interval, the sequence with the very best anticipated return will in all probability outperform all different property. Nonetheless, because the cumulative return plot demonstrates, the trail to such returns will possible be punctuated by probably lengthy durations of great underperformance and volatility.

Within the second and third panels, we kind the returns into deciles primarily based on the MSCI World’s efficiency and show how managed futures fare when the MSCI World did significantly nicely or poorly. The third panel reveals the common 12-month return for the tenth and finest decile. During times of “good” returns for the MSCI, the common high decile return for the MSCI World is an excellent ~34%. However, the common return for top-decile managed futures is just ~7%. So, when fairness markets are in an actual bull run, shares are by far the most effective funding.

The second panel reveals the common 12-month return for the primary and worst decile. During times of “unhealthy” returns for MSCI, the common backside decile return is roughly –24%, whereas the common return for managed futures is a constructive ~12%. That is the vital level: Managed futures have a constructive expectation in each up and down markets, however it’s in down markets when their hedging advantages are strongest: Simply once they’re wanted most.

Imply 12-Month Return by Decile

Chart showing Mean 12-Month Return by Decile of Managed Futures

Now, easy averages are one factor, however what concerning the excessive circumstances? The following chart depicts the utmost and minimal return for the highest and backside deciles of the MSCI World and the corresponding efficiency of the BTOP50.

Most and Minimal 12-Month Return by Deciles

The second panel reveals the utmost return for the tenth and top-performing decile. Throughout its finest 12-month return interval since 1990, the MSCI World returned ~55% whereas the BTOP put up ~24%. In a ripping bull market, managed futures can produce stable returns, although they finally received’t preserve tempo with shares. For the reason that BTOP50 has a lot decrease volatility, that is hardly a shock.

The primary and third panels visualize the “unhealthy instances” for shares. The primary reveals the utmost return for the primary decile, the ninetieth percentile, of the MSCI. The least quantity that the MSCI has misplaced over a 12-month interval is roughly –13.5%. In distinction, when the MSCI was down ~13.5%, the BTOP50 was up ~30%. Likewise, the third panel reveals the worst, or a hundredth percentile, 12-month return for the MSCI: a cruel -47%. Over this era, the BTOP50 additionally misplaced cash, however solely a manageable –2.6%.

Bringing all of it collectively, we now have two vital observations:

  1. Development-following has a long-run constructive anticipated return and, furthermore, a constructive anticipated return in each bull and bear markets.
  2. Managed futures have an uneven return profile. They often fail to maintain tempo with equities in bull markets however can nonetheless produce stable returns. In bear markets, nevertheless, they considerably outperform shares, producing constructive returns or, at minimal, a lot much less draw back.
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Concluding Remarks

The elevated volatility of 2022 left few asset lessons unscathed. We have to perceive what labored nicely, what didn’t, and the way we will higher place our portfolios for the long run. Managed futures/pattern following is one technique price contemplating. Development-following sits on a basis of sturdy empirical proof and many years of constructive returns. Furthermore, the historical past of managed futures means that the technique works significantly nicely in instances of macro-economic volatility: It acts as a supply of non-correlated return proper when buyers want it most.

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All posts are the opinion of the writer. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially replicate the views of CFA Institute or the writer’s employer.

Picture credit score: ©Getty Pictures / maybefalse

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Aric Gentle

Aric Gentle, CIMA, FRM, is a relationship supervisor at Merrill Lynch the place he advises excessive net-worth households and establishments. He holds an MA in economics from Colorado State College and is pursuing an MS in utilized arithmetic from the College of Washington. He writes concerning the economic system, markets, and crypto on his weblog, Gentle Finance. Contact him through e mail at both [email protected] or [email protected]

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