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The Tail of the Comet

August 17, 2018

The recent market environment has been challenging for many styles of quantitative strategies, but particularly for strategies that incorporate trend or momentum as a primary signal. Global bond markets have whipsawed for the last two years, and the equity markets have struggled to reestablish its strong bull run over the last 6 months or so. At the same time, the last few quarters have delivered several surprising geopolitical headlines and erratic policy tweets from the current administration, which all serve to confuse the algorithms employed by these strategies. Despite the recent weak period, we value the long-term potential of these strategies to capture upside and manage risk. In fact, compared to a static, balanced portfolio of asset classes, we believe that a portfolio of uncorrelated trading strategies may provide better way to diversify in the next downturn as equity markets remain near-record valuations and interest rates rise off historic lows.

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Inversion Ahead

July 16, 2018

Part of our approach at Martello is built upon using data to gain insight on economic expectations and to help position our clients’ portfolios. Recent months have seen a potential warning sign emerge in the form of a significantly flattened yield curve in government bonds. Should the curve invert—the rare phenomenon when short term bonds yield more than their longer-term counterparts—it would signal that a recession is likely on the horizon. The relationship between an inverted yield curve and a future recession was recently examined by the San Francisco Fed, and their paper concluded that this signal is remarkably accurate—every recession in the U.S. since 1955 has been preceded by an inverted yield curve with a lead time of 6-24 months. Though forecasters don’t expect the yield curve to invert any time soon, investors may benefit from monitoring yield curve dynamics and preparing to take risk off the table when the signal flips.

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The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

June 17, 2018

Portfolio managers in today’s market environment must account for the contradictory signals in both equity and fixed income markets. In equities, markets have trended bullishly for years despite valuation levels rarely seen in history. In fixed income, near-record low yields and tight credit spreads persist despite the explosion in debt. Even the investment grade credit universe (BBB-A) has dramatically increased leverage since the last crisis, and interest coverage ratios are dropping to levels associated with the last crisis despite years of economic growth and record corporate profitability. At the same time, we highlight two recent events that indicate risks of shock events are rising for bond investors, which could be the result of structural changes and the growing wave of index-based strategies.

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Collective Wisdom and the Thomas Theorem

May 18, 2018

In the months following the February correction, stock markets have staggered in a trendless path, with several bullish and bearish factors tugging on investors. In the absence of a trend, many market participants look to psychologically important price levels, which if broken will signal a sea-change in market sentiment. These levels become important only because so many participants see them as relevant, and the situation is complicated with the increasing popularity of algorithmic and machine-learning trading approaches. As the market continues to bounce off one of these critical levels, the 200-day moving average line, investors will ultimately need a catalyst to reestablish the long-term bull run or to break through into bearish territory.

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Meatless Bones and the Erosion of Value

April 19, 2018

Value available across traditional asset classes has eroded significantly in the period since the Great Financial Crisis. The decades-long trend of lower interest rates, bolstered by Fed intervention in the years since the crisis, has pushed investors into riskier assets to meet their return hurdles. However, with the Fed and other central banks pumping the brakes on stimulus in fear of inflation, recent months have shown the potential for a reemergent focus on value, with stock markets falling modestly an uptick in credit spreads.

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Momentum Squared

March 18, 2018

Long-term investors are making a large, implicit bet on market momentum as funds pile into market-capitalization weighted products. Each of the 10 largest ETFs, together over $1 trillion in AUM, use a market-cap weighting scheme, and at the same time, momentum as a trading strategy continues to gain popularity. This month, we examine the embedded momentum bet hidden in the market-cap indices and highlight a momentum-factor crash as a notable risk moving forward.

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Inflation and the Short Correlation Trade

February 15, 2018

After a historically extended period of benevolent and comparatively placid markets, volatility finally reemerged in early February, with many pundits highlighting inflation fears as the primary driver. In this commentary, we explore the relationship between an inflation scare and equity/bond returns, and how the negative correlation between stocks and bonds, a foundation of modern portfolio management, could come under pressure in a prolonged inflationary environment.

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Monday’s Market Volatility and its Impact on Inverse-VIX ETPs

February 7, 2018

Monday was a historic day in terms of equity market volatility. The S&P 500 saw a greater than 4% decline, and the over 115% daily move in the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) was easily the largest one-day spike on record, surpassing the 64.2% move in February 2007. This caused a catastrophic loss in inverse VIX exchange-traded products (XIV, SVXY) with early estimates putting the daily loss on those securities at greater than 95%.

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2017 Commentary Archive

Volatility: Tempest or Tool?

December 2017

Equity market volatility, or the absence of it, continues to dominate headlines, with the VIX hovering below 10 for extended periods and low realized volatility. In recent months, many market pundits forecasted an uptick in volatility, and that even a small increase will cause a wipeout for investors in the “short-vol” trade. In this commentary, we examine the state of the volatility market, particularly short-vol exchange-traded-products. While we highlight the increased fragility of the VIX and prevalence of vol-based strategies as definite risks, we show how short-volatility may be useful as an equity replacement strategy when sized appropriately as part of a whole-portfolio approach.

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A Gut-Punch Averted

November 2017

The most recent tax reform proposal from Republican leaders in Congress removed the proposed mandate for first-in-first-out (FIFO) accounting of stock transactions. The FIFO mandate, projected to add only $2-3 billion in revenue over 10 years in a bill that would add hundreds of billions to the deficit, would have disproportionately hurt long-term investors and those that add to their investments over time. We had been concerned that passage of such a mandate could cause temporary selling pressure in equity markets, as long-term owners of stock could seek to trim holdings under a more flexible tax structure.

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Ode to Bonds – Walking the Tightrope

October 2017

The Federal Reserve continues its path of further interest rate increases, as several officials have cited an expectation of rising core inflation. For the last 20 years, investors have been able to rely on bond positions as a significant counterbalance to stock holdings, but periods of high/rising inflation and higher yields generally lead to less diversification benefit from bonds. Though we do expect rates to remain lower for longer due to macroeconomic and demographic forces, we identify the asymmetric risks developing in core fixed income funds and high yield bond markets in Europe and the United States as potential problem areas.

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Greed, Fear, and Fallacy

September 2017

Behavioral economics and finance combine financial theory with psychology to challenge the assumptions of traditional models, and we applaud the recent recognition of the field with Dr. Thaler’s Nobel Prize. In today’s market environment, characterized by Fed-interpretation, passive fund flows, and geopolitical news, the arguments made by the behavioral camp are as important as ever. In this commentary, we analyze household ownership of equities as a proxy for herd behavior, and share analysis showing the relationship between household equity ownership and future returns.

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Hurricanes and the Market: Who Cares?

August 2017

The last several weeks has seen major Hurricanes Harvey and Irma bring incredible destruction to the people of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. In the aftermath of these catastrophes, it seems that Wall Street and the investment community at large is obsessed with prognosticating the ultimate impact of the storms on economic growth and the stock market. Not only do we find this type of analysis objectionable in the face of much personal disaster, we find the economic arguments on both sides of the debate lacking; in addition, historical data shows that the analysis is useless regarding the stock market.

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The Market Mystery Team

July 2017

Each year, July 31st marks the non-waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball. For weeks, fans are overwhelmed with rumors about players on the move and teams’ strategies as the deadline approaches. In this commentary, we examine the use of the rumor mill in baseball (including the proverbial “Mystery Team”) and capital markets, particularly in their ability to drive increased value for the holder of the asset (players or stocks). We also discuss two “Market Mystery Teams” that have been prevalent in the headlines over the last few years: OPEC and global central banks.

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Market Valuation and its Discontents

June 2017

The strong bull rally over the last 8 years continues to expose the inherent tension between valuation metrics flashing warning signs and technical or sentiment-driven factors leading the market higher. Though valuation is not a tradeable signal over the short-term, we acknowledge its important role in portfolio construction and risk analysis. This month, we delve into the Cyclically-Adjusted Price to Earnings Ratio (CAPE), analyzing its historical significance in forecasting long-term equity market returns, and what the current ratio value may tell us about the level of risk in the market and the opportunity set moving forward.

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Markets in a Post-Volatility World

May 2017

Global equity markets, and especially the US stock market, have shown remarkable resilience despite elevated valuations and an onslaught of negative news. The last few months have seen increased dysfunction in Washington, rising geopolitical tension particularly saber-rattling from North Korea and increased terrorism in Europe, weak economic growth, and the prospect of the Fed unwinding nearly a decade of stimulative monetary policy. Nevertheless, market volatility sits near historic lows on both an implied and realized basis.

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Negative Rates: Go to the Mattresses

April 2017

Investors continue to deal with the prevalence of negative interest rates in global markets. Fourteen countries ended April with 2-year government bond rates below 0. The impact of low interest rates on equity valuation is well understood, but it remains to be seen how the push to negative rates will affect equity valuations moving forward.

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