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Stock, Options, ETF and Commodities Investor; My educational background is in Computer Science and Accounting with significant entrepreneurial and Fortune 100 Corporate experience in Information Management and Technology services in industries including: Consulting, Oil and Gas, Manufacturing,... More
• DGAZ And Leveraged ETF Performance Analysis 6 comments
Feb 2, 2014 4:46 PM | about stocks: DGAZ, UGAZ

DGAZ and Leveraged ETF Performance Analysis

Many investors have heard the mention of "decay" on leveraged ETF investments versus their underlying benchmarks and much fear is often placed in the minds of investors thinking they might do anything other than day trade 2x or 3x leveraged ETF's. In this article, I plan to share my journey to learn more about the performance characteristics of leveraged ETF's and seek to identify a compounding phenomenon I have witnessed in my own leveraged ETF trading and observations over time.

Case Study on Leveraged ETF Performance

For those interested in the mathematical modeling of leveraged ETF's and conclusions from a study that reflected some of the following conclusions:

1. 1 month period holding a leveraged ETF's should provide a very tight correlation to expectations against the benchmarks
2. 1 quarter and 1 year periods, the ETF performance against the benchmarks breaks down (2x or 3x leveraged funds do not perform to a tight correlation to the benchmark)

Here is a link to the paper, "Long Term Performance of Leveraged ETF's", I think makes for an interesting read - here.

Decay or Beta Slippage on Leveraged ETFs

Most of us have seen the calculations used to communicate beta slippage or decay in leveraged ETFs, an example pasted in below:

Assume a volatile underlying benchmark goes up 25% one day and down 20% the following day. A 2x leveraged ETF goes up 50% the first day and down 40% the second day. On the close of the second day, the underlying asset is back to its initial price:

(1 + 0.25) x (1 - 0.2) = 1

The 2x leveraged ETF, however, loses some value called decay, or beta slippage

(1 + 0.5) x (1 - 0.4) = 0.9

DGAZ and UGAZ 3x Leveraged Performance Analysis

In this section, I want to explore further, the performance characteristics of these ETF's against the benchmark S&P Natural Gas Index and the Natural Gas spot price for analysis and extending to conclusions resulting from that analysis.

I have written two prior articles on DGAZ/UGAZ that can be referenced for trade target analysis associated with my investment thesis and Risk Analysis associated with that trade thesis:

2. DGAZ Risk Analysis: Here

Based on information from the above articles, lets look at some performance characteristics associated with DGAZ. First, here is a DGAZ chart with overlay of UGAZ I used for the analysis associated with my thesis.

(click to enlarge)

From the chart, I studied the cycle of the 1st spread indicated by the first 3 vertical lines on the chart at the beginning of the cycle, middle of cycle (at the maximum spread), and at the end of the cycle. In the model, I used closing prices of each. For Natural Gas and the S&P Natural Gas Index, I referenced charts for those as well, pasted in below.

Natural Gas:

S&P Natural Gas Index (1 year):

From these sources, I have plotted the closing prices in the table below, then calculated and provided the performance characteristics.

 Pricing at inflection points - Spread Cycle 1 Date DGAZ UGAZ NG/mmbtu NG Index 2/15 22.45 17.19 3.153 54.85 5/1 8.93 36.72 4.025 72.24 8/9 18.82 14.04 3.22 52.99
1. Price movement behavior from 2/15 to 5/1 max spread:
2. DGAZ - (60%) UGAZ - 213% NG 27% NGI - 31%
3. Price movement behavior from the 5/1 spread to the crossover on 8/9:
4. DGAZ - 210% UGAZ - (38.2%) NG - (20%) NGI - (26.7%)

Analysis of the Performance Data:

From the conclusions of the Case Study and the beta slippage formula, one would expect a nearly 3-month performance of DGAZ to break down and not meet the 2x performance of the S&P NG Index. But what happened in the cycle from max spread to closure of the spread cycle?

The S&P NG Index performance was (26.7%). One would anticipate that DGAZ performance at 3x inverse of this would be 26.7% x 3 = 80.1%. Yet, DGAZ in fact returned 210%! This yield produced well over 2 times what our expectations would have been.

So, where did the beta slippage/decay go that everyone is so worried about? Where did our breakdown in performance of the 3x leveraged ETF holding for longer than 1 month go?

This is the powerful phenomenon I have experienced and observed in leveraged ETF performance characteristics that just does not jive with what many communicate about leveraged ETF's. Now believe me, I'm not saying beta slippage and decay are not a factor. I have had some bad experiences when the trend goes the wrong direction from my investments in having ETF performance work rapidly against one, with a clear view of the damage beta slippage can inflict. But, when the trend is aligned with the investment, something magical appears to be happening to the return that is not explained by the math.

My hunches for further exploration:

ETF's like stocks, trade at what investors and traders will pay for them - and this can separate from Net Asset Value which would correlate to the expected performance versus the benchmark. When investor and trader sentiment is working against the trend, trading price values may be pushed below NAV or down closer to NAV, and when sentiment is with the trend, we may have a tendency to price above NAV and/or expand the price versus NAV. This would be similar to how stocks trade at differing multiples on Book Value or PE ratios offering a compounding positive or negative effect on pricing.

NAV versus Market Price Comparison:

From Fidelity's website, I found the following table which seems to support at least a portion for my hunch. Notice there are some significant variances between market return and NAV return.

 Cumulative Total Returns AS OF 01/29/2014 NAV Return Market Return S&P 500 Index YTD -64.67% -52.04% -2.83% 4 Weeks -61.59% -52.04% -2.44% 13 Weeks -78.70% -72.61% +2.28% 26 Weeks -79.23% -73.05% +7.55%

So now, I know the price performance for the period reviewed was 210%. What I would be interested in finding out next is 1) What is the NAV performance over the same period and 2) is there a way for me to chart price and NAV comparisons on a standard 1 year, 3 month etc. chart. I have done some searches on the internet, but so far, have not found what I am looking for to be able to do this.

What this will help me to discover is:

1. whether all of the premium in price performance is associated with premium over NAV
2. or whether NAV compounds to outperform in the period to account for some of the over performance
3. or, whether some other variable(s) comes into play

Conclusions:

1. For now, one conclusion is that beta slippage and decay, while certainly being factors associated with NAV when price trends are moving against a long or inverse leveraged ETF, they cannot account for the performance that can be achieved or the targets for performance for a period without understanding these other variables and forces
2. We need a good tool for charting ETF market prices versus NAV to be able to understand the relationships of premium or discount over time and its effect on performance. Once we have this, we can then look for whether this explains the entire performance variance, or whether there are other variables at play as well.
3. DGAZ price targets and performance, or for that matter, price targets and performance of any 2x or 3x leveraged fund cannot be achieved by NAV calculations (including decay/beta slippage) alone and the case study and associated mathematics are only applicable to NAV performance.

If anyone knows of a good tool to help chart price performance versus NAV over time to study these relationships, this may help shorten my quest for more information. Otherwise, I will continue my search to find an appropriate tool. And, as I satisfy my own learning associated with where this additional performance (that could effect one negatively or positively), comes from and all the variables, I will share the progress.

Disclosure: I am long DGAZ.

Additional disclosure: I may trade and reposition DGAZ shares based on dynamics associated with the Natural Gas Market. I may also trade in and out of UGAZ, or buy/sell calls and puts on BOIL or KOLD (2X Leveraged ETFs on Natural Gas Index).The thoughts and opinions in this article, along with all stock talk posts made by the Author, are my own and are shared on the basis of helping others learn, to provoke other points of view that help us all on our journey to become better investors. My posts are never intended to provide investment advice. Investors should always view multiple sources of information in their due diligence process.

Stocks: DGAZ, UGAZ
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• Fracking Research
, contributor
Comment (1) | Send Message

Growfast, After coming up with an independent observation of this varying "NAV", I found your article. I am very interested in developing this understanding, especially toward your conclusion point 2. I am wondering if you have since done any more work in this area.
Also, what do you think would be the most useful base for this NAV .. the front month price, an index price, or the spot price. I am wondering if two might be needed to separate contango effects from other drifts in NAV (such as momentum).
I would appreciate your recent thoughts and possibly suggestions.
1 Nov 2014, 02:13 PM Reply Like
• Growfast
, contributor

Author’s reply » Fracking - I really have not invested more time in this lately but certainly have seen and observed enough of the behavior to better understand how the ETF's function - via feel.

Volatility is hard to predict. If the benchmarket index goes sideways, or has up and down volatility but not a well-defined trend, the best way to play these ETF's is probably selling options to collect premium and let the decay work for you.

If however, there is a driver for a good, consistent directional trend and you can determine that trend, then these ETF's can really work for you - even long-term. Look at the UGAZ chart from last November for several months.

Or, look at what JDST has done with the big Gold move down - even with some volatility, the big trend down made a big payoff.

Otherwise, volatility can be traded on a short-term - daily or weekly basis if there isn't a clear trend as another option.

Hope this helps. And, if you continue to work and study this direction, would enjoy seeing what you come up with.
2 Nov 2014, 01:51 PM Reply Like
• kawatan
, contributor

One contributor on SA shorted the same dollar amount of both long and short leveraged ETFs for one year and made 20% after covering the trade. He did not say if that included cost of margin. interesting.
9 Feb 2015, 07:46 AM Reply Like
• Growfast
, contributor

Author’s reply » Interesting strategy and approach. During certain times of the year, that strategy may really work well and hold risk low. 20% returns with low risk on top of being able to work with the trends when they are developing could produce nice returns.
14 Feb 2015, 01:31 PM Reply Like
• 11fido
, contributor
Comment (1) | Send Message

DGAZ has been a superb performer for me during the natty gas downtrend.I like etfs better than trading futures.The good part about trading futures is the virtually all day and night hours and the 60/40 tax advantages.I`ve traded plenty of futures in my life...thousands of contracts cumulatively over time.But I don`t like the paranoia and work setting stops and rolling out positions.Let Credit Suisse, Barclay`s or whoever the etf holder is do all the work of stops, rolling etc.But what has shocked me is how DGAZ has OUTPERFORMED natty gas futures even assuming a basis of the natty gas margin requirement.Glad I didn`t allow all the commentary out there criticizing etfs to dissuade me from using the dgaz trade.
27 Feb, 11:00 AM Reply Like
• Growfast
, contributor

Author’s reply » 11fido, I completely agree with you. There is lots of criticism. Every time I have ever made a statement about holding one of these leveraged ETF's for an extended period of time, MANY folks come out of the woodworks to state you absolutely cannot do that.

From my own experience, you absolutely can - but, with one key caveat, that you are with the direction of the trend. If these are moving against you and the fundamentals are not working for you, then you do want to get out. I have read many stories from others about how downtrend and decay took them down 80% or more to a point of no possible recovery. You cannot let this happen.

As you experienced however, if you are on the right side of the trend and these are working for you, the returns are phenomenal. Tricky part, is being right about the trend and knowing quickly when you are not. These are not good in my experience in playing contrarian, and looking for the turn from a current trend.