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Michael Dever
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Founder, CEO & Director of Research for Brandywine Asset Management and author of "Jackass Investing: Don't do it. Profit from it." I have been a professional investor/trader since 1979 and have experience in stocks, managed futures, commodities, mutual fund arbitrage, market... More
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Brandywine Asset Management
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Mike Dever
My book:
Jackass Investing: Don't do it. Profit from it.
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  • Drawdowns - Omen Or Opportunity?

    Over the past three months, Brandywine's Symphony Program suffered its largest drawdown, -11.36%, since the start of trading in July 2011. Drawdowns are a natural part of trading and Brandywine's Symphony Program is no exception. But for most investors, they provoke discomfort and prompt a series of questions. We know this because over our decades of trading (and yes, prior drawdowns), we have fielded a number of questions, as well as asked a number of them ourselves. In this report we'll present some of those questions and discuss the current drawdown, as well as future expectations, in the form of a Q&A.

    What caused the loss over the past three months?

    Brandywine's Symphony Program incorporates a variety of trading strategies, each based on a sound, logical return driver designed to produce a positive return over time. And since inception these trading strategies, in the aggregate, have been solidly profitable. But during the current drawdown period, September through November, a disproportionate number of those strategies incurred losses while very few produced sizable gains. Specifically, a majority of the losses were caused by fundamentally-based strategies and those we describe as directional arbitrage or that employ intermarket relationships. In our due diligence questionnaire we prepared three years ago, we identified rapid downtrends in markets as being the worst environment for those strategies. With crude oil dropping more than 40% in an uninterrupted downtrend (and 10% alone on the last day of November), and other commodities such as silver, cotton and currencies [such as the Australian dollar] mired in 10% to 30% drawdowns, those strategies hit their "perfect storm" over the past few months.

    Other futures traders had some of their best performance in years, why didn't Brandywine?

    Since the inception of Brandywine's Symphony Program in 2011 we have consistently stressed that Brandywine's unique approach to research and trading would produce returns that were non-correlated to all other investment indexes and investment managers, including CTAs. This non-correlation was exhibited in full force in November and over the past three months. After lagging Brandywine's performance for the three years leading up to the start of our drawdown in September, the BTOP 50 and Newedge CTA indexes each rallied approximately 8%. Despite the strong performance differential, Brandywine has still outperformed those indexes since inception. Even better, because of Brandywine's non-correlation to those indexes, adding Brandywine to a portfolio that contains CTAs results in both increased returns and reduced risk (yes, even measuring Brandywine's performance from the low point of the current drawdown).

    What are your expectations going forward?

    When Brandywine suffered a drawdown in mid-2013, we stressed in our monthly report our belief that it was an excellent time to consider investing or adding to an investment with Brandywine. That belief turned out to be prescient. In the 12 months following the Brandywine Symphony Program's drawdown in 2013, the Program produced a solid positive return of +15.83% and the aggressively-trade Brandywine Symphony Preferred gained a substantial +65.33%.

    While prudence and regulations require us to state that PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE PERFORMANCE, history leads us to expect similar strong returns going forward today. This expectation is based on our historical testing and actual trading performance. In fact, in the 12 instances (both tested and actual) where Brandywine's Symphony Program fell by more than 8% (on a gross, end-of-day basis), the following 12 month return has averaged more than 18%. Of course, Brandywine Symphony Preferred, trading at three times standard risk, would produce substantially greater returns; although as we must also state THERE IS THE RISK OF LOSS AS WELL AS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GAIN WHEN INVESTING WITH BRANDYWINE.

    Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Dec 09 1:02 PM | Link | Comment!
  • Predicting Performance

    If there was ever a heading that would attract the attention of regulators, this could be it. That is because there is no accurate way to truly predict performance. In fact, every document we send out clearly states in bold type at the bottom of every page, that "PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT NECESSARILY INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. THERE IS THE RISK OF LOSS AS WELL AS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GAIN WHEN INVESTING WITH BRANDYWINE."

    The fact is that there is only the ability to estimate probabilities of performance, and even those estimates have probabilities associated with them. That said, we were reasonably confident in making this statement to a potential investor in Brandywine Symphony Preferred Fund earlier this year, "You WILL incur a 30%+ drawdown at some point if you invest in Brandywine Symphony Preferred Fund."

    That was because every measure of Brandywine's past performance , both actual and tested, pointed to Brandywine's Symphony Program incurring a 10% drawdown. And since the Brandywine Symphony Preferred Fund trades at three times the risk level of Brandywine's Symphony, a 30% drawdown was, and is, expected.

    Although we haven't quite reached that level, at -27.50%, the drawdown of September-October brings us close to that level. It may seem to be a strange word to use, but we were confident we would incur that loss, precisely because of the confidence we place in our research process.

    We included a chart in last month's report that showed the 16 largest drawdowns over the past (almost) 16 years (which includes 12.5 years of tested performance and close to 3.5 years of actual performance). That chart, which is updated and reproduced here, shows that Brandywine's Symphony Program, measured on a gross return, end-of-day basis, should average a drawdown of between 7.25% and 11.64% once each year.

    (click to enlarge)

    This shows the current drawdown as being right in line with expectations, as we should incur a drawdown of this size approximately once every three years (and we just completed our 40th month of actual trading). So this raises the question - is this investible information? Does the fact that Brandywine's Symphony Program has reached an expected drawdown level indicate that it is time to invest? Perhaps. When we incurred our drawdown last year (which, as illustrated by the other light colored bar on the chart, reached a peak intra-month level based on gross performance of -8.38% at the end of July 2013), we stated that "now may be an excellent time to invest with Brandywine." Since that time-including (and despite) the current drawdown-an investment in Brandywine's Symphony has returned +9.67% (and an investment in Brandywine Symphony Preferred Fund has gained more than +36%).

    We feel we are in a similar position today. And to paraphrase what we said then, we realize history is not a perfect guide, and past performance is not indicative of future performance, but if you are prepared to take an analytical-rather than emotional-approach to investing, now may be a good time to consider Brandywine.

    Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Nov 05 5:56 PM | Link | Comment!
  • Benchmark-Itis

    The investment world lives by benchmarks. Every institutional investor benchmarks the performance of the individual components of their portfolio to various indexes. Individual investors do the same. That's why the financial news constantly refreshes the current performance of the Dow Industrials or the S&P 500. This is partly due to regulatory mandate. In 1998 the SEC began to require mutual funds to show their performance relative to a benchmark. They felt this would better enable investors to determine whether a fund was performing well because of investment decisions made by its manager or simply because of factors outside their control. But mostly, benchmarking is seen as a necessary exercise to determine the effectiveness of a fund's management team.

    As a result of this "benchmark-itis," we often get asked by investors, "against which benchmark should we compare your performance?" Suggestions include the S&P 500 (because everyone watches that), hedge fund indexes (because our return driver based approach is "non-traditional"), or maybe the CTA indexes (since we execute our strategies in the futures markets).

    But none of these are a proper benchmark for Brandywine's Symphony Program. That's because Brandywine doesn't employ trading strategies based on common, "public domain" return drivers. As a result, our returns won't necessarily have any relationship to any index return. For example, some of Brandywine Symphony's best-performing periods have occurred when stocks dropped significantly (such as during Q3 2011). And Brandywine shows no correlation of returns to any of the few dozen hedge fund indexes. With regards to CTA indexes, well, this year provides a great example of how uncorrelated Brandywine is. While most of the CTA indexes exhibited losses from January through July, Brandywine produced solid profits. And although Brandywine gained strongly along with the CTA indexes in August, our sharp loss in September was in stark contrast to gains for the CTA indexes. Whether we over- or under-perform relative to any of the standard benchmarks over any period of time is essentially random and irrelevant.

    Brandywine's Benchmark

    So what is the best index with which to compare Brandywine Symphony's performance? It's our own past performance.

    The reason is because Brandywine's Symphony Program follows a return driver based approach that incorporates dozens of independent trading strategies, each based on a sound logical, non-public domain return driver, to trade across more than 100 global financial and commodity markets. Our goal is to achieve the highest possible return for any given level of risk with a reasonable probability that our future performance will match our past performance. We do not employ a single style that can be reflected in any single index.

    Which leads to the question, "how is Brandywine's Symphony Program performing relative to its benchmark (its own past performance)?" Since September posted the worst monthly loss since Brandywine's Symphony Program began actual trading in July 2011, we'll focus on the downside behavior.

    Brandywine's walk-forward back-test for our Symphony Program runs from January 1999 up to the start of our actual trading in July 2011(1). Virtually all performance tracking services publish an investment program's maximum drawdown on a month-end basis (measuring the drop in performance across one or more months from the highest month-end peak to a subsequent month-end low). We'll look at our drawdowns on that basis as well as gross end-of-day performance (which will almost always be larger as it captures intra-month losses and does not receive any benefit from potential incentive fee give-backs).

    Brandywine Symphony's Drawdowns in Line With Benchmark

    In the first chart we display the 16 largest month-end peak-to-trough drawdowns (on a net basis) over the past 16 years (this includes tested performance (dark bars) from 1999 through June 2011 and actual performance (light bars) starting in July 2011). We would expect to incur a drawdown within the range of this chart on average once per year, and that is exactly what has happened. Since the start of actual trading in July 2011 we have had three drawdowns make it onto the chart. The most recent drawdown, which has been almost perfectly bracketed by the beginning and end of September (making the end-of-day performance match the month-end performance quite closely), is right in the middle of the range at -6.46% (this also indicates that it could extend an additional 3% and still remain within expectations).

    (click to enlarge)

    Now let's look at the 16 largest drawdowns as measured on a gross, end-of-day basis. We would expect a drawdown to fall within this range on average once per year. As you can see in the following chart, the current drawdown, at -7.14%, just made it onto the chart. Since the start of actual trading in July 2011, two drawdowns made the "bottom 16" and neither registered among the worst. So our performance in actual trading has been slightly less "risky" than our benchmark would project.

    (click to enlarge)

    One final way to view the current drawdown is to compare this past month's performance to other 22-day periods (the number of trading days there were in September) in our history. In that regard, this is the 5th deepest 22-day drawdown (measuring the worst 22-day period within all past drawdowns) over the past 16 years. This indicates that a drawdown of this size should occur over a 22-day period once every 3 years. Since we just wrapped up 3 ¼ years of trading, this drawdown is right in line with expectations.

    Drawdowns are just as much a part of the performance of Brandywine's Symphony Program (as well as any investment) as are positive returns. The fact that the drawdowns we have incurred in our actual trading so closely match our Benchmark expectations is confirmation that our investment model continues to work as expected. In summary, the performance of Brandywine's Symphony Program, as measured by the drawdowns we have incurred since the start of actual trading in July 2011, has been faithfully tracking our expectations pursuant to our benchmark, which is our past performance.

    (1) Because this report includes the results of the tested performance, in addition to the actual performance, of Brandywine's Symphony program, the following disclaimer is required:

    HYPOTHETICAL PERFORMANCE RESULTS HAVE MANY INHERENT LIMITATIONS, SOME OF WHICH ARE DESCRIBED BELOW. NO REPRESENTATION IS BEING MADE THAT ANY ACCOUNT WILL OR IS LIKELY TO ACHIEVE PROFITS OR LOSSES SIMILAR TO THOSE SHOWN. IN FACT, THERE ARE FREQUENTLY SHARP DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HYPOTHETICAL PERFORMANCE RESULTS AND THE ACTUAL RESULTS ACHIEVED BY ANY PARTICULAR TRADING PROGRAM.

    ONE OF THE LIMITATIONS OF HYPOTHETICAL PERFORMANCE RESULTS IS THAT THEY ARE GENERALLY PREPARED WITH THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT. IN ADDITION, HYPOTHETICAL TRADING DOES NOT INVOLVE FINANCIAL RISK, AND NO HYPOTHETICAL TRADING RECORD CAN COMPLETELY ACCOUNT FOR THE IMPACT OF FINANCIAL RISK IN ACTUAL TRADING. FOR EXAMPLE, THE ABILITY TO WITHSTAND LOSSES OR TO ADHERE TO A PARTICULAR TRADING PROGRAM IN SPITE OF TRADING LOSSES ARE MATERIAL POINTS WHICH CAN ALSO ADVERSELY AFFECT ACTUAL TRADING RESULTS. THERE ARE NUMEROUS OTHER FACTORS RELATED TO THE MARKETS IN GENERAL OR TO THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ANY SPECIFIC TRADING PROGRAM WHICH CANNOT BE FULLY ACCOUNTED FOR IN THE PREPARATION OF HYPOTHETICAL PERFORMANCE RESULTS AND ALL OF WHICH CAN ADVERSELY AFFECT ACTUAL TRADING RESULTS.

    Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

    Oct 01 4:11 PM | Link | Comment!
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