HomeInvestmentManaged Futures: A Danger-Off Answer?

Managed Futures: A Danger-Off Answer?

Capital markets suffered a troublesome yr 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 most typical hedge in opposition to inventory volatility, have suffered their worst drawdown in a minimum of the final 70 years — and it’s not even shut.

10-Yr US Treasury Drawdown

Instances reminiscent of these are good alternatives for reflection. Portfolio managers and allocators should construct various portfolios that steadiness development and capital threat over an intermediate-to-long time horizon. Treasuries have historically stuffed the function of diversifier and risk-off asset. However what in the event that they change into much less efficient hedges in opposition to threat belongings? Portfolio development may look very completely different. That’s why we have to ask the query: If Treasuries now not fulfill their conventional function, 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 Pattern Is Your Good friend

John Lintner, a co-creator of the capital asset pricing mannequin (CAPM), can inform and inspire our exploration. In The Potential Position 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 unfavourable) — that the return/threat trade-offs supplied by augmented portfolios consisting partly of funds invested with acceptable teams of futures managers . . . mixed with funds invested in portfolios of shares alone (or in combined portfolios of shares and bonds), clearly dominate the trade-offs accessible from portfolios of shares alone (or from portfolios of shares and bonds). Furthermore, they accomplish that 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 doable degree of anticipated return than portfolios of inventory (or shares and bonds) alone. That is the essence of the ‘potential function’ of managed futures accounts (or funds) as a complement to inventory and bond portfolios instructed 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 price on Treasury payments.”

This passage affords a number of tantalizing clues on the doable function managed futures may play in a portfolio: They might enhance the chance/return profile of inventory and bond portfolios, exhibit meaningfully low correlation with these conventional belongings, 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 belongings which have just lately risen and promoting or shorting belongings which have just lately declined. These methods are usually utilized to liquid futures contracts throughout fairness indices, rates of interest, commodities (vitality, agricultural, and industrial), and currencies, amongst different markets. Since most traders don’t have any commodities or FX publicity, even from the straightforward 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 necessary issue that may clarify inventory portfolio efficiency. Pattern-following is equally sturdy. Brian Okay. Hurst, Yao Hua Ooi, and Lasse H. Pedersen analyzed a time-series momentum technique over 137 years and located that it carried out effectively throughout completely different macroeconomic environments and tended to outperform throughout occasions of macro-stress.

The Barclays BTOP50 Index (BTOP50) seeks to duplicate the all-around composition of the managed futures business in buying and selling model 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 Details

­­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 knowledge. Confidence intervals (95%) for skew and extra kurtosis are proven in parentheses.

Barclay’s BTOP50 MSCI World Complete
Return Index
10-Yr 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 Take a look at <.0001; Reject <.0001; Reject .5627; Fail to Reject .0253; Reject .7556; Fail to Reject .0014; Reject

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

The visible proof of this impact is illustrated within the histogram under. The boldness interval for extra kurtosis isn’t fairly conclusive on the 95% degree, nevertheless it nonetheless implies heavy tails for the BTOP50. Furthermore, the Shapiro-Wilk take a look at 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 effectively behaved.

Barclays BTOP50 Quarterly Returns Distribution

Chart showing Barclays BTOP50 Quarterly Returns Distribution

The cumulative return of the BTOP50 and comparative belongings 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 prevented each these giant drawdown occasions and really posted optimistic 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 worth developments have struggled. Because the 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 partly 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 side of managed futures, in response to 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 strong black line in every plot reveals the typical correlation over the whole commentary interval.

BTOP50 and Different Asset Lessons : Rolling 12-Month Correlations

Chart of Managed Futures Correlation Plot

Whereas the correlations range over time, trend-following demonstrates structurally low correlation with the opposite asset lessons. Let’s look at 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 belongings that carry out effectively when shares battle. Over the previous 20-plus years, Treasuries have stuffed this function and, up till 2022, carried out it effectively. However 2022 revealed vital gaps in portfolios that rely solely on bonds for draw back safety. Amid as we speak’s high-inflation, sagging development, and excessive volatility, trend-followers have excelled. In terms of diversification, managed futures have carried out exceedingly effectively.

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When Issues Get Excessive

Between the smile-plot and correlation diagram, we’re constructing the case that managed futures have an important function to play in portfolio development. Particularly, managed futures methods have produced constantly optimistic returns throughout market regimes and carry out notably effectively within the tails. Let’s dig slightly deeper into this latter level.

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

Within the second and third panels, we type the returns into deciles primarily based on the MSCI World’s efficiency and show how managed futures fare when the MSCI World did notably effectively or poorly. The third panel reveals the typical 12-month return for the tenth and greatest decile. In periods of “good” returns for the MSCI, the typical high decile return for the MSCI World is an excellent ~34%. Alternatively, the typical return for top-decile managed futures is just ~7%. So, when fairness markets are in an actual bull run, shares are by far the very best funding.

The second panel reveals the typical 12-month return for the primary and worst decile. In periods of “unhealthy” returns for MSCI, the typical backside decile return is roughly –24%, whereas the typical return for managed futures is a optimistic ~12%. That is the vital level: Managed futures have a optimistic expectation in each up and down markets, however it’s in down markets when their hedging advantages are strongest: Simply after 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 in regards to the excessive instances? 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 greatest 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 strong returns, although they in the end received’t hold tempo with shares. Because the BTOP50 has a lot decrease volatility, that is hardly a shock.

The primary and third panels visualize the “unhealthy occasions” 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 one centesimal 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. Pattern-following has a long-run optimistic anticipated return and, furthermore, a optimistic 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 strong returns. In bear markets, nevertheless, they considerably outperform shares, producing optimistic 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 effectively, what didn’t, and the way we are able to higher place our portfolios for the longer term. Managed futures/development following is one technique price contemplating. Pattern-following sits on a basis of robust empirical proof and a long time of optimistic returns. Furthermore, the historical past of managed futures means that the technique works notably effectively in occasions of macro-economic volatility: It acts as a supply of non-correlated returns proper when traders want it most.

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

Picture credit score: ©Getty Photos / maybefalse

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Aric Mild

Aric Mild, 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 in regards to the economic system, markets, and crypto on his weblog, Mild Finance. Contact him through e mail at both [email protected] or [email protected]

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