Living with trend following strategies

Trend following approaches, such as Moving Averages and Channels, preserve capital by cutting losses and as such they need sustained bear markets to outperform.

While they will generally capture the bulk of a bull market, the inherent lag means that a trend strategy can never sell at the high of an up move and can end up surrendering significant gains before exiting.

Consequently, outside of bear markets, the best they can do is to be fully invested and match the performance of the benchmark. However, bull market corrections and the short-lived directional moves of sideways markets mean that trend-following methods will inevitably suffer some whipsaw losses.

In other words, lengthy periods of underperformance should be expected in bull and range-bound markets.  For those that can endure these mentally taxing and financially challenging periods, the pay off is the avoidance of major bear market drawdowns.

Below are a pair of backtests, a channel and a moving average, on a simple global 60/40 portfolio (VTI 35%, VGK 10%, VPL 10%, VWO 5%, AGG 30% and TIP 10%).  Examination of the annual returns shows both the strengths and weaknesses of these trend following methods.


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Portfolio Channel Backtest
Portfolio Moving Average Backtest

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