This article is to highlight some specific thoughts on the important topic of global money flows and its implications for investors. ETF’s have caused a major shift as they allow cheap ways to access new markets. It is my belief that this innovation will cause the discussion to increasingly become ‘which MARKETS should I own?’ – and less about ‘which stocks should I own?’
Below are some performances of a few of the major ETFs over the past three years. I am starting at a very high level here and then working towards my ultimate point of coming up with a process for interpreting global money flows. (Note that all returns posted here make the proper dividend and distribution adjustments as total return is absolutely essential in any professional discussion of performance)
The point of this slide is to simply highlight that even if trading long-only, a well-executed high-level global asset class rotational strategy was quite viable.
The next image highlights how a combination of 80% bonds and 20% emerging markets has performed over the past 3 years. Most investors think myopically about returns. The discussion of returns, without the context of risk, is meaningless to professional investors.
Note how despite a massive volatility spike in the overall marketplace, the standard deviation of daily returns for our 80/20% portfolio was quite low. This assumes no rebalancing. Value could have easily been added over this return with a relatively simple re-balancing rule.
This brings us to the Sharpe Ratio. The important aspect the Sharpe Ratio framework brings is to factor in ‘drawdown potential.’ If you own securities with higher relative volatility, the high to low moves will be larger and cumulative negative returns become increasingly difficult to overcome. By thinking in terms of a sharpe ratio rather than returns-only, you will inherently adjust for the ever-present possibility of drawdown. You cannot fully know the risk that awaits -- but you can at least think in terms of reward/risk.
To make this practical and to keep this from becoming a dissertation, I will just simply show one way to de-compose the Sharpe Ratio into a multi-factor model that allocates toward the segments of the market that show strong combinations of high relative strength and lower relative volatility. This ETF Screener uses two timeframes to calculate return and one part volatility. It is considered a statistical model – and can be thought of as ‘risk-adjusted relative strength.’
Below is an image of the model as it stood on June 30, 2007. I can 'roll back' the model to any historical date through the calendar control in the top right corner. Global asset classes are color-coded for ease of understanding what is showing strong relative strength. International equities and select US equity segments were leading the market on a risk-adjusted basis. Though not shown in the image, you can go to the site and view what was lagging (hint: housing and financial segments).
Fast-forward 1-year through setting the calendar control to June 30, 2008. At this point, the screen is dominated with fixed-income ETFs. One way to interpret this is that global money is flowing INTO bonds. These kinds of shifts are likely not whipsaws as you might find with the US-based Sector SPDRs --- which can have violent rotations even within a secular bull move.
Disclosure: No positions