The Importance of Downside Protection

Big-Risk = Big-Return is true for individual securities. But not for a portfolio. A common misconception for investors (and traders).

Risk-Reward has a positive correlation, but it’s not perfect.

Risky securities are diversifiable by lower correlated/negative correlated securities. By buying low correlated securities to hedge your risky security, are you lowering your upside? No. You’re lowering your downside.

For investors, capital preservation is more important than the growth of capital. The bigger the investment loss, the greater the gain required to break even. A 20% investment loss requires a 25% gain to get back to the initial investment value. Whereas a 40% loss requires 67% and 70% loss requires 233%. The best offense is a good defense.

The Importance of Downside Protection

If you invest $10,000 in S&P 500 ETF and a recession causes the market to drop 30%, the $7,000 value would need to gain 43% to get back to $10,000.

Let’s look at the following 3 portfolios, each with a different strategy:
  • Portfolio 1 is invested 100% in S&P 500 (SPY).
    • SPY’s annualized standard deviation is 15%.
  • Portfolio 2 is invested 60 and 40 in S&P 500 (SPY) and Investment Grade Bond Fund (FBNDX).
    • Both are 0.31 correlated, based on annual returns.
    • FBNDX’s stdev is 4%.
  • Portfolio 3 is invested 33.34%, 33.33% and 33.33% in S&P 500 (SPY), Investment Grade Bond Fund (FBNDX) and U.S Real Estate ETF (IYR), respectively.
    • IYR is 0.69 correlated to SPY. 0.63 correlated to FBNDX. Correlation is based on annual returns.
    • IYR’s stdev is 21%.

* I initially wanted to backtest them for 30 years, but since IYR was the only real estate ETF I could find with the earliest fund inception date (June 2000), the backtest is from Jan 2001 to Dec 2016.

** Link to the data above can be found here.

Each portfolio is rebalanced annually. Dividends and distributions are reinvested. Taxes and transaction fees are not included.

Here’s the growth of each portfolio over the past 16 years.

3 Portfolio Backtest (Inflation Adjusted). January 2001 – December 2016
  • Port 1 has returned annual growth rate of 3.26%, after inflation.
  • Port 2 has returned annual growth rate of 3.36%, after inflation.
  • Port 3 has returned annual growth rate of 4.75%, after inflation.

Portfolio 1 and 2 have very similar returns. However, the traditional 60/40 portfolio (port 2) took much less risk than all-in portfolio (port 1).

Port 2 had a maximum drawdown of 35% while port 1 had 51%. Portfolio 2’s standard deviation (9%) was almost half the stdev of portfolio 1 (15%).

Port 3, on the other hand, had 45% max drawdown with a standard deviation of 11%, both in the middle of port 1 and port 2. However, they returned much higher.

3 Portfolio Backtest. January 2001 – December 2016. The “Final Balance” and “CAGR” numbers you see above are not inflation-adjusted.

Also, port 3’s Sharpe ratio, Sortino ratio, and Treynor ratio are all higher than the other two.

There are a lot of things to look at when determining which portfolio might be the best for a long-term investor. My favorite is portfolio 3, although the volatility is higher than portfolio 2. REITs (in port 3) provide a strong portfolio diversification with lower exposure to market volatility and attractive dividends.

You can see the backtest here for yourself.

Investors vs. Mr. Market

Downside protection strategies may help prevent investors from their bad habits of overreacting to downside volatility and incorrectly timing the market, missing the boat of high returns. Over the past year, S&P gained 18.10% while an average investor gained half of the growth.

S&P 500 vs Average Investor Return.
1-Year up to September 8, 2017.
Source: Openfolio

If you are a passive investor, consider downside protection strategies to limit volatility and build wealth over the long-term.

Diversify portfolio with:

I endorse the idea of employing a multi-asset strategies that lower the downside potential while increasing the upside potential or even decreasing the upside potential less than the decrease in the downside potential.

I am not saying you should allocate your portfolio to every asset there is. It depends on your goals, lifestyle, risk preferences, your responsibilities, the investment % of your overall capital, etc etc etc.

How you allocate each security is up to you (or your financial advisor), or me me me me.

No portfolio is risk-free, but minimizing the downside can help mitigate the pain inflicted by market “fire and fury” and a changing risk landscape in globalization era.

If you have any questions/comments/suggestions, feel free to contact me personally and/or leave a comment below.

PS: Maybe make Bitcoin/Ethereum/Litecoin 5% of your portfolio.

PS: Active traders should also minimize the downside risk, especially if you work, have school, etc.

PS: Never mind. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe.

War is Good for the Cold-Hearted Stock Market

Look at the headlines.

Figure 1: Trump Military Headlines. Google Trends – “North Korea”

At 17-years-old, Donald Trump was named a captain for his senior year at a military boarding school. Spending five years at New York Military Academy, the school taught Trump to channel his aggression into achievement.

Under the Trump budget, almost every budget increase goes to military departments, 10% increase Y/Y in the budget for military spending. It’s not a rocket science to figure out Trump madly loves force.

Even Trump’s Secretary of Defense loves force. Mad Dog James Mattis once said, “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”

At his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said, “My belief is that we have to stay focused on the military that is so lethal that on the battlefield, it is the enemy’s longest day and worst day when they run into that force.”

Then there came 59 Tomahawk missiles to military bases in Syria and “Mother of All Bombs” on Daesh tunnels in Afghanistan. All of those came during the heightened tensions with North Korea.

War is Good for the Cold-Hearted Stock Market

North Korea acting out is a good thing for America. War throughout the history has made us united. Not to mention that the stock market goes up.

Figure 2: S&P 500 Index (SPX) – Daily Chart.
The first circle represents the time of news reports on U.S. airstrikes on Syrian bases.
The second circle represents the time of news reports on most powerful non-nuclear bomb being dropped in Afghanistan

As you can see in figure 2, the stock market barely reacted to the recent U.S. military actions that Trump gave a green light to.

As a trader and investor, I wouldn’t be concerned about the potential war with North Korea. (Although I would be concerned about the loss of human lives and loss of limbs.)

In early 2013, there were increased tensions with North Korea, similar to today. At the time, the stock market did not give a damn about the threats from DPRK.

Figure 3: S&P 500 Index – Daily
The first headline shows two arrows.
The first arrow represents when the headline came out. The second arrow represents February 12 when NK conducted the nuclear test.
The second headline represents North Korea threatening the west as usually.

Not only does the stock market not care about North Korea, but also for any other war in the past century. War is good for the cold-hearted stock market.

Over the past 4 decades, Dow Industrials on average was turned on by U.S.-led military operations, returning 4% in a month after the beginning of military operations and more afterward.

Figure 4: War is Good for the Cold-Hearted Stock Market
Recent Three Wars

When the U.S., with support from allies, started bombing against Taliban forces in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the stock market went up, not down. Even after 12 days later when the first wave of conventional ground forces arrived, the stock market kept going up. By the year-end when Taliban collapsed, S&P 500 was up about 14.5%.

Figure 5: S&P 500’s reaction to the U.S. military action in Afghanistan – Weekly Chart

When the U.S. began the major combat operations in Iraq on March 20, 2003, the stock market skyrocketed as shown in the candlestick bar on the highlighted portion of S&P 500 Weekly chart in figure 6 below. By the time the operations ended on May 1, the stock market was up about 11.5%.

Figure 6: S&P 500’s reaction to the U.S. military action in Iraq – Weekly Chart

On March 19th of 2011, multiple countries part of NATO intervened in Libya. By the end of intervention on October 31st, the market slid 20%. The drop cannot be blamed on the NATO-led forces. This was due to the fears of contagion of the European debt crisis and first-ever downgrade of U.S. AAA credit rating.

Figure 5: S&P 500 reaction’s to the U.S. military action in Libya – Weekly Chart

The only difference this time is we got leaders who very much loves forces and are violent themselves. Another difference is that North Korea is little powerful today than they were in 2013. But they are very weak compared to China, Russia, Europe, and U.S. It’s better to act now before North Korea gets even stronger. Although lives and limbs will be lost, I think there’s a greater cost if we allow North Korea to get even stronger.

China and North Korea

With China possibly increasingly going against North Korea, Kim Jong-un might act even more violent. I don’t think China really wants to break off its relationship DPKR due to the geographic proximity and China’s willingness to make more friends in the region. Besides being a military and diplomatic ally, China is also an economic ally. In 2015, the second largest economy accounted for 83%, or $2.34 billion, of the North Korea’s exports.

In late February, China sanctioned coal shipments from North Korea, who is a significant supplier of coal. Instead, China has been ordering the coal from the U.S. In the past, Trump said he wants to help the country’s struggling coal sector.

As Reuters reported, Thomson Reuters Eikon data shows “no U.S. coking coal was exported to China between late 2014 and 2016, but shipments soared to over 400,000 tonnes by late February.”

Is China having a change of heart on its relationship with North Korea? I don’t think as China’s trade with North Korea still increased by almost 40% in the first quarter of this year. China also buys other stuff, such as minerals and seafood. Looks like China wants to be on the good side of North Korea and Trump. The Art of the Deal.

Is this time is also different when it comes to the stock market? I don’t believe so. I’m not worried about the negative impact on the stock market due to North Korea, even though they were to be invaded.

However, I’m watching very cautiously China and Russia getting into an armed conflict with the U.S because of the North Korea situation. Armed conflict between the superpowers is a game changer. Although that’s very unlikely as superpowers argue all the time.

Suggestion For Your Portfolio

The situations might affect the markets for a very short period of time, especially if there’s uncertainty. But investors shouldn’t worry about it. The market could care less about a war, specifically when it’s aboard.

During the times of war, don’t reduce your holdings because of misconception war is bad. If you do, you will miss the gains.

Figure 6: Capital Market Performance During Times of War
Sources: The indices used for each asset class are as follows: the S&P 500 Index for large-Cap stocks; CRSP Deciles 6-10 for small-cap stocks; long-term US government bonds for long-term bonds; five-year US Treasury notes for five-year notes; long-term US corporate bonds for long-term credit; one-month Treasury bills for cash; and the Consumer Price Index for inflation. All index returns are total returns for that index. Returns for a war-time period are calculated as the returns of the index four months before the war and during the entire war itself. Returns for “All Wars” are the annualized geometric return of the index over all “war-time periods.” Risk is the annualized standard deviation of the index over the given period. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Trump’s Market-Moving Tweets Are Awesome

Believe it or not. I love the tweets from @realDonaldTrump. No matter what the content of the tweets are, I love the fact it moves the markets. Why would I love it? Because I love volatility.

In December, Trump tweeted out;

The tweet sent shares in small uranium miners soaring, including Uranium Resources (NASDAQ: URRE) and Uranium Energy Corp. (NYSE: UEC) by 31% and 13%, respectively.

Despite the real world complications, I just love the fact it agitates the markets.

More tweets;

These tweets, as you can guess – sent the shares of Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), which is the supplier of F-35 program, and Boeing (NYSE: BA) – down. From both tweets, Lockheed Martin lost billions in market cap. The rival Boeing was barely unchanged at the end, as it means more opportunities for them to gain more contracts.

However, Trump targeted Boeing in earlier December when he tweeted this;

The tweet sent the stock price down by 1%, but ended the day flat.

Year-to-date……so far, Trump has already targeted General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Toyota Motor (NYSE: TM);

Trump’s tweets are just awesome. The volatility it brings allows me to make more money than the non-volatility. As I mentioned in my previous article, I recently opened RobinHood account, broker with $0 commissions. Using the broker in the future, I’m planning to buy some shares of the companies Trump negatively targets, especially if investors overreact.

Since it seems Trump has a strong hatred towards Mexico and the U.S. companies working there, here are the potential targets;

It seems there are seconds delay until the stocks react to Trump’s tweets. That’s rare considering the era of algorithm trading which can react in milliseconds and less.

Algos have yet to incorporate Trump’s tweets into their codes. It’s not that simple yet as it can be difficult to determine the sentiment from a tweet. Algos can easily get the direction of the stock wrong. We need more tweets to better analyze it.

But, will the future tweets move the markets or not? It all depends on how successful Trump is in implementing what he tweets. If Trump is unable to do so, he will just lose credibility.

Meanwhile, markets will react to the tweets and I plan to take advantage of them.

Trigger (originally a class project at Cornell Tech) just recently introduced “Trump Trigger” that will send you a notification every time Trump tweets about your investments. Not an algo, but notification that can be useful for amateur investors. Not my thing.

Photograph courtesy of Trigger

Almost 4 years ago, Associated Press (AP)’s twitter account tweeted out;

Photo: Screenshots.
Source: USA Today

It was tweeted minutes after the account was hacked. Seconds after the tweet, S&P 500 lost $136 billion in market cap., before quickly rebounding.

What if Trump’s account was hacked? The account can be exploited for financial gain, to cause geopolitical instability, or worse.

Whatever it is, I plan to take take advantage of them for financial gain.

Speaking of Twitter, follow me. I tweet about some of the articles I read, my trades and some sarcasm. Unfortunately, my tweets do not move the markets……for now.