Index Mutual Fund Backtesting

Q.  "I have seen a number of articles that suggest that the author has used ETFreplay to backtest mutual funds. This is something I would like to do but I don't see where this can be done on the website. Can you help?"

A.  Index mutual funds have been available to be tested just like ETF's on ETFreplay.com.    We added these a few years ago to fill in spots that don't have 10-15 years of data available, like many ETF's do.    You can find a list of index mutual funds by clicking on the 'Symbols' link where you enter tickers on various pages on ETFreplay.com.    In addition,  you can build portfolio lists using mutual funds symbols just like you would ETFs.    

 

Introduction to Regime Change ETF Backtesting

Q. What is regime change?

Regime change in financial markets terms means that there is a shift in a basic financial relationship that has governed a backtest periods results. Some examples might be an inflationary regime changing to a disinflationary era, reflected in how long-term treasury bonds behave. Or it might be a period of sustained high equity market volatility changing to a more narrow range market. Or a rising US Dollar vs a US dollar bear market. Rising price of oil vs declining etc....

Q. Why is understanding what regime you are in important?

Models and backtests are good at identifying relationships and how to profit from those relationships. But standard backtesting is only good if that financial relationship you are backtesting actually stays in-tact. Relationships develop, exist for a period of time --- often lengthy -- and then they can change.

Recall that the rules of financial markets are not like the rules of other areas of observation like in science. The temperature at which water freezes is the same across time. However, the financial markets are different and need to be thought about differently. You cannot be sure that a given financial law will continue into the future. Water doesn't learn from its freezing in the past and adapt -- but investors do.

Thus, regime change is one of the main problems with many articles you see written that study only very long periods of time. You get caught thinking something is true over the long-run and so -- since you are a long-term investor after all -- you don't care about a 3-7 year period of poor performance.

But there is a key problem with that, what if the underlying regime assumption has been mined and through that long-term analysis papers were written about this financial 'law' that exists. But we know that the thing you are counting on is NOT a law of nature, it is just a financial relationship. If you are wrong in your belief system, how much drawdown (or lost performance) will it take you before you figure out your previous thinking was simply flawed in terms of a reasonable time frame of performance analysis (3-7 years) ?

Q. How do you identify regime change?

This takes ongoing research. This takes ongoing thinking. This takes work. You can and should think about very long-term backtests too -- we are not advising taking only a short-term approach --- but then you should also put time and effort into intermediate-term backtesting to help determine whether the model you are relying upon is acting correctly. Balance the long-term backtests with shorter/intermediate term backtests. There is no way to know exactly how relationships will hold/change in the future --- but you can monitor them in ongoing fashion. You don't have to ride a relationship down into oblivion.

New ETFreplay Backtesting Module: "Regime Relative Strength"

This new module uses some existing methods that have been on ETFreplay.com for years --- but it now combines them into a single process. Before, you had to build this using component modules and then assemble and enter the information as an imported backtest. Now we have automated portions to take more of the monotonous sludgework out and give you more time to do what you should be doing with your time, doing research and thinking about the relationships to test -- not the mechanics of how to make a backtest work and the associated de-bugging.

Think of this as a multi-step process rolled into a single backtest. First, you come up with a rule of how to define Regime 1 vs Regime 2. Once the regime is determined, you line up a backtest strategy for that regime. When the regime switches, you associate a 2nd strategy for that regime. You are always in one regime or the other, there is no grey area -- (backtests need to be specific in the details).

We have defined the 'rule' in this case based on the concept of the Ratio Moving Average. Recall that if you are judging many ETFs (more than 2) against each other, you should use a multi-factor model. But if you are just looking at 2 ETFs, one vs the other, then you may want to just use the total return ratio of the 2 and define rules that way.

Once you have defined what constitutes Regime 1 or Regime 2, you can then set up a strategy for each regime.

Example:

Regime 1 Rule: When NASDAQ is beating SHY Over ~100 day lookback (Absolute Momentum)

Regime 1 Portfolio: Own the top 2 performing basic NASDAQ Sectors

Regime 2 Rule: All Other Times

Regime 2 Portfolio: Reduce drawdown risk but maintain equity exposure by owning lower vol ETFs.

This is a very simple example. You can of course add filters such as cash or moving average filters just like the regular backtesting applications elsewhere on ETFreplay.

 

 

Using Different Weightings Based On Rank In an ETF Relative Strength Backtest

User Question:

I run a portfolio relative strength backtest with 5 ETF but all are assigned an equal weight of 20%. How can I assign different weights to the ranked ETFs? Example: Top 5 Weighted as 30%, 30%, 20%, 10%, 10% respectively."

Answer:

For this you would use the Advanced Relative Strength Backtest (subscriber link).

By layering the strategies using different numbers of selections while at the same time using the same ETF list, you can create weightings based on Rank.

Note that the top two ranked securities in this portfolio list would each receive 10% from portfolio I, 10% from portfolio II and 10% from portfolio III. The backtest report combines weights and it becomes simply 30% for each of the two top ranked ETFs. Similarly, the 3rd ranked ETF received 10% from Portfolio II and 10% from portfolio III; making 20% in total. The 4th and 5th ranked ETFs are allocated 10% each by portfolio III.

Dive into the backtest report to see all the breakdown of sub-periods and the weightings of each ETF and its contribution to return for that period.

 

Welcome to Mutual Funds: Janus Unconstrained Bond Class A vs Class C Shares

We wonder how many investors possibly understand this extremely simple concept. ETFs do NOT HAVE SHARE CLASSES.   Mutual funds have share classes for one reason -- to make more fees for the fund company and brokers.

Below is image highlighting the tradeoff in 2 classes of Janus Unconstrained Bond Fund.    Bill Gross the manager just manages one large sum and probably doesn't even look to see which share class has the assets --- it doesn't matter to him, he just buys and sells bonds for the aggregate portfolio.   But for investors,  the fund is divided into segments.

In this case,  you could go with Class A shares which have a 4.75% sales front load fee and an expense ratio of 1.08%.    Or you could buy Class C shares and pay no front load --- but pay a 1.83% expense ratio  and owe 1.00% as a back load --- when you sell it you are stuck an extra 1%.

Now think about it from a brokers perspective.   Which do you want your clients to buy?   If you have incentives to push load funds,  perhaps you stick your clients with the A shares because your firm gets that juicy 4.75% upfront fee.     However,  note the 12b1 fees.   Class A has a 0.25% 12b1  and Class C has a 1.00% 12b1 fee.    What is a 12b1 fee?   It's an ongoing kickback from the fund company to any outside broker who puts their clients in that fund.   So for example,  you are a broker that works for a company that is not Janus --- Janus will pay you an ongoing fee forever to keep your clients in it.    That fee is IN ADDITION TO whatever management fee you charge your clients.   The great part about 12b1's is that they are hidden! 

Do ETFs have 12b1 fees?   Nope.     So doesn't that make you wonder, why would a broker ever put a client in an ETF when they can earn 1.00% forever from Janus?  The problem with those silly ETFs is that how do you make any money off them?     Exactly.     This is the very essence of the problem.     Yet ETF assets continue to grow and grow and grow.  How is that?   Because many investment advisors are content with simply charging a straightforward fee and do the right thing and don't buy fees with loads and 12b1's.     Fees like 12b1 fees have been totally outlawed in other countries as too much of a conflict of interest.   But not in the USA.   

That all said,  Janus C shares might be a RELATIVE bargain compared to many hedge funds.    Happy investing.

 

CFA Curriculum Type of Blog Post: Reward vs Risk

When you study finance, you have to first learn the basic fundamentals of portfolio theory. When you eventually move to real life, you quickly realize how theory is only a starting point. Nevertheless, it is useful to know the "book theory" because it provides something of a very basic framework. That said, in the words of the great investor Mike Tyson "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth." First, here is the look of a list of ETFs that climb up the risk curve.

 

 

Note that this was posted on this given date covering this very specific time period. Using those precise assumptions, the book theory held up nearly perfectly -- a line going from lower left to upper right --- more return for more risk. But you have to remember --- that was using some very careful selections. Here is an example of a different time period where equity investors were punched in the mouth, Tyson-style:

 

The point is that the volatile ETFs that are towards the right side of the chart will be the ones to have large intermediate-term drawdowns and large intermediate-term returns.  The ETFs on the left side will have low drawdowns and low returns.   These are very generic ETFs.  Where this gets much more interesting is when you use other ETFs that track more interesting indices.

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