Adaptive Market Hypothesis

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Interesting paper by Andrew W. Lo

From the Abstract:

The battle between proponents of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and champions of behavioral finance has never been more pitched, and little consensus exists as to which side is winning or the implications for investment management and consulting. In this article, I review the case for and against the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and describe a new framework—the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis—in which the traditional models of modern financial economics can coexist alongside behavioral models in an intellectually consistent manner. Based on evolutionary principles, the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis implies that the degree of market efficiency is related to environmental factors characterizing market ecology such as the number of competitors in the market, the magnitude of profit opportunities available, and the adaptability of the market participants. Many of the examples that behavioralists cite as violations of rationality that are inconsistent with market efficiency—loss aversion, overconfidence, overreaction, mental accounting, and other behavioral biases—are, in fact, consistent with an evolutionary model of individuals adapting to a changing environment via simple heuristics. Despite the qualitative nature of this new paradigm, I show that the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis yields a number of surprisingly concrete applications for both investment managers and consultants.

Read the paper here

Staying Calm in a World of Dark Pools, Dark Doings

Via Jason Zweig in WSJ:

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the Galleon Group of hedge funds of trading on inside information. Tens of millions of shares move each day through “dark pools,” where quotes aren’t displayed until after the trade is done. “Flash orders,” appearing for a split second, give some customers a sneak peak at potential trades. More than two-thirds of stock-market volume comes from high-frequency traders, who can buy or sell in less than 400 microseconds, or nearly a thousand times faster than you can blink your eye.

When markets move so maniacally fast, and firms like Galleon seem to have such an informational edge, how can small investors possibly stand a chance? The game seems rigged to favor the hyperactive giants of Wall Street.

In one sense, that is true. If you try to play Wall Street’s new game on Wall Street’s terms, you will probably come off the field on a gurney. But you are under no obligation to churn your own portfolio just because other people juggle stocks for only minutes or seconds at a time. Paradoxically, their frenzy renders you a service as a buy-and-hold investor: On the very rare occasions when you do need to trade, you will be able to do so more efficiently than ever before.

Read the full article here

Mauldin: Elements of Deflation

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Via John Mauldin’s Thoughts From the Frontline:

One of the advantages of travel is that it gives you time away from the tyranny of the computer to think. (Am I the only one who feels like I am drinking information through a fire hose?) But getting the information is important too, as it gives you something to think about. And I have been thinking a lot lately about deflation.

I get asked at almost every venue where I stop, whether I think we will see inflation, or deflation. And I answer, “Yes.” And I am not trying to be funny. I think the primary forces in the developed world now are deflationary. When asked if I don’t think that the Fed monetizing debt of all kinds won’t eventually be inflationary, I answer, “We better hope so!”

Let’s quickly summarize some of the ideas from the last few months of this letter. Just as water is made up of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen, so deflation has its own elemental structure.

The first element is Rising Unemployment. There has never been a sustained inflationary period without wage inflation. Wages are basically flat and falling. With 9.8% unemployment, 7% underemployed (temporary), and another 3-4% off the radar screen because they are so discouraged they are not even looking for jobs, and thus are not counted as unemployed (who made up these rules?), it is hard to see how wage inflation is in our near future.

Think about this. Only a few years ago, less than 1 in 16 Americans was unemployed or underemployed. Today it is 1 in 5. That is a staggering, overwhelming statistic. Mind-numbing.

Keynes said that you should stimulate the economy in recessions in order to bring back consumer spending. That is not going to happen this time. As my friends at GaveKal point out, this time we will have to have an Austrian (economic) recovery, or a business-spending recovery. My argument will be, when I am with them in Dallas in December at their conference, “Where are we going to get business-investment spending when banks aren’t lending and capacity utilization is at an all-time low?” This, of course, leads the Keynesians to jump in and say, “The government has to step up and jump-start consumption!” Which means more debt. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The next element of deflation is massive Wealth Destruction. Two bear markets and a housing market collapse have put the American consumer on the ropes. And the next bear market will bring him to the canvas.

Then we have Reduced Borrowing and Lending, as consumers are paying down debt and banks are reducing their lending. Both are necessary in a credit crisis-caused recession. Bank lending is basically back to where it was two years ago, and shows no sign off rebounding. Banks, as I have written, are buying US government debt in an effort to shore up their balance sheets. Lending to small business, the real engine of job creation, is sadly decreasing each month. (See graph below.)


Next up in our elemental list we have Decreased Final Demand and its counterpart Increased Savings. Although the savings rate has come back down to 3% from 6% a few months ago, almost every expectation is that it will rise over the next 3-5 years back up to the 9% level where it was only 20 years ago. The psyche of the American consumer has been permanently seared. Consumption and savings habits are being changed as I write.

And of course we must address the element of Low Capacity Utilization. While capacity utilization is rebounding, it is still lower than at any time since the data has been collected, other than the last few months. It is hard to see where businesses are going to get pricing power, when not only US but world capacity utilization is still extremely low. The chart below is not the stuff that inflation is made of.


And let’s just quickly throw in Massive Deleveraging and $2 trillion in Bank Losses and a Very Weak Housing Market. Which brings us to a Slowing Velocity of Money.

As I have written on several occasions, prices are a function of the amount of money times the velocity of money. If the velocity of money is slowing, the amount of money can rise without bringing about inflation. It is a delicate balance, but nonetheless the hyperventilation in some circles about the coming hyperinflation is, well, overinflated. Simplistic. Economically naive.

The Fed is going to do what it takes to bring about inflation (in my opinion). But they will not monetize US government debt beyond what they have already agreed to. If they need to “print money” to fight deflation, they can buy mortgage or credit-card or other forms of private debt, which have the convenience of being self-liquidating. Read the speeches of the Fed presidents and governors. I can’t imagine these people will recklessly monetize US debt. You don’t get to their level without having a stiff backbone. (Yes, I know the gold bugs will call me terminally naive. We will have to wait to see who is right. Peter Schiff, care to make a bet on this one?)

Bernanke warned Congress again last week about rising deficits. Watch the deficit rhetoric coming from the Fed after the next two governors are appointed next year, side by side with Bernanke’s reappointment. There will be a line drawn in the sand. Some in Congress will not be happy, but my bet is that the Fed will maintain its independence. If they do not, then my recent letters will prove far too optimistic (and many of you protest my rather less-than-positive suggestion of a double-dip recession). But I must admit I cannot imagine that happening. And there are not enough votes in Congress to change that independent status. There is a day of reckoning coming with the US debt. And thank God for that.

Bottom line: The Fed will do what it takes to keep us from deflation. They will deal with the problems of the ensuing inflation. I wrote six years ago that the best outcome from all the easy monetary policy and budget deficits would be stagflation. I see no need to change that assessment. I am not happy with stagflation, but as I came into my young adult life in the ’70s (see below), I know that we can deal with that. The far more worrisome prospect is continued trillion-dollar deficits.

Read the full newsletter here

Perspective on Performance

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Via Condor Options:

Investors are notorious for chasing performance. If a mutual fund or advisor or trading strategy has done well recently, chances are much greater that traders will commit money to that strategy or product, often independently of the long term performance, general suitability, or distinguishing features of the strategy or product.  I’ve seen the same behavior among the audience for our paid newsletters: after a winning month, new subscribers are more likely to rush in, and if we have a flat or down month, interest from new readers drops. This is exactly the kind of backwards thinking that dooms most investors to underperform even basic market benchmarks: most investors would literally be better off allocating every cent to a plain vanilla index fund, rather than jumping around from one strategy to the next like insects in the lighting section of a hardware store. I get frustrated on behalf of smaller and newer traders in particular, because while they tend to have low risk tolerance and tend to face higher transaction costs – i.e., they’re the group who can least afford to chase performance – they’re also the most likely to do exactly that. You don’t see smart, profitable institutions switching from following commodity trends to selling volatility to trading fixed income every time one of those asset classes has a nice run.

Read the full post here

An Empirical Examination of Fund Investor Timing Ability


Interesting paper from Geoffrey C. Friesen and Travis Sapp. From the Abstract:

We examine the timing ability of mutual fund investors using cash flow data at the individual fund level. Over 1991-2004 equity fund investor timing decisions reduce fund investor average returns by 1.56% annually. Underperformance due to poor timing is greater in load funds and funds with relatively large risk-adjusted returns. In particular, the magnitude of investor underperformance due to poor timing largely offsets the risk-adjusted alpha gains offered by good-performing funds. Investors in both actively managed funds and index funds exhibit poor investment timing. We demonstrate that our empirical results are consistent with investor return-chasing behavior.

Read the paper here

Replacing Modern Portfolio Theory

Via The Aleph Blog:

I have never liked using MPT [Modern Portfolio Theory] for calculating the cost of equity capital for two reasons:

  • Beta is not a stable parameter; also, it does not measure risk well.
  • Company-specific risk is significant, and varies a great deal.  The effects on a company with a large amount of debt financing is significant.

What did they do in the old days?  They added a few percent on to where the company’s long debt traded, less for financially stable companies, more for those that took significant risks.  If less scientific, it was probably more accurate than MPT.  Science is often ill-applied to what may be an art.  Neoclassical economics is a beautiful shining edifice of mathematical complexity and practical uselessness.

I’ve also never been a fan of the Modigliani-Miller irrelevance theorems.  They are true in fair weather, but not in foul weather.  The costs of getting in financial stress are high, much less when a firm is teetering on the edge of insolvency.  The cost of financing assets goes up dramatically when a company needs financing in bad times.

Read the full post here

Welcome to the University of iTunes

Monday, October 19, 2009


The wisdom of business professors, once only available to MBAs and business students, can now be accessed by anybody with an Internet connection.

Hundreds of universities, and a growing number of business schools, are making recordings of lectures, seminars and conferences available to the general public via Web sites such as iTunes and YouTube.

Leading business schools including University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Fuqua School of Business, and Yale School of Management make course content available for download through iTunes University (iTunes U), part of the of the iTunes online store.

That means those whose budget won’t stretch to a two-year MBA can simulate the experience at home — or at work, in the gym or anywhere else they choose. And even better for money-conscious learners, the iTunes U content can all be downloaded free of charge.

Begun as an experiment in partnership with Apple, all new MBAs at HEC are provided with an iPod Touch. Around half of the MBA lectures are filmed using an automatic camera system and the footage is made available for students to download and view on their iPhones.

YouTube EDU was launched in March this year and hosts the YouTube channels of hundreds of universities. Earlier this month it added content from 45 universities in Europe and Israel and now holds videos of lectures and discussions provided by business schools including INSEAD, ESCP Europe and University of California Haas School of Business.

Launched at the same time as YouTube EDU, Academic Earth hosts videos from U.S. universities including Harvard, Yale and Princeton, although the business content is provided almost exclusively by Stanford University.

Offering less audio/visual content, but still full of business school information, MIT’s Open Course Ware site gives free access to almost all MIT course content, including extensive lecture notes, assignments and exams from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Interested in the “Advanced Topics in Real Estate Finance?” You can download the complete lecture notes from Sloan’s 2007 course on the subject at MIT’s Open Course Ware site.

Other universities have their own Open Course Ware sites and the Open Course Ware Consortium has been set up as an agglomerator site, providing content from more over 200 higher education institutions.

But it’s iTunes U that’s generating the most interest. The University of Oxford says there have been more than one million downloads from its iTunes U site, while Stanford University says its course on creating iPhone applications was downloaded more than one million times in just seven weeks.

This week’s most popular business download on iTunes U is a University of Oxford lecture called “Entrepreneurship and the Ideal Business Plan.”

Successful Market Timing

Via World Beta:

If you have the emotional makeup for it, timing can reduce your risks and enhance your returns. If you’re satisfied that you have what it takes to be a market timer, here are the best tips I know for doing it successfully. They aren’t necessarily listed in order of priority. In fact, I suggest that you regard each one of them as the top priority.

1. Use mechanical strategies.
Timing financial markets is already plenty hard without worrying about making predictions or (even worse) thinking you have to decide who is right when smart economists and savvy analysts make conflicting forecasts and draw different conclusions. If you leave the final decisions to subjective factors, you will never be sure what you are supposed to do at any given moment. That will cause you anxiety and delay. And you’ll have a system you can’t count on. Rely primarily on trend-following systems that are based mainly on trends that are impacted by actual prices in the market. There’s nothing speculative about prices. They reflect what buyers and sellers are doing, and that’s about as reliable an indicator of the direction of the market as you can find.

2. Do not — repeat DO NOT — pay much attention to the effect of every trade.
The majority of individual trades will be irrelevant to your long-term results. If you feel you must focus on each trade and agonize over what it means, that’s a sure sign you are not cut out to be a successful timer. Dwelling on each trade is a sure way to drive yourself nuts, and it won’t improve your results at all.

3. Use timing systems that are right for you and your temperament.
The perfect strategy for you will match your time horizon, will respect your emotional needs and will operate within your tolerance for risk and change. There are short-term systems that trade frequently, long-term systems that trade infrequently and intermediate-term systems that typically trade two to six times a year. Over long periods of time, no group has an inherent return advantage over the others. But the practical and emotional differences are important. If you have a strong desire to perform closely in synch with the market, use short-term systems, which are good at quickly reacting to today’s highly volatile market swings. However, short-term systems demand that you make many trades, and each trade has potential tax consequences unless you are investing in a tax-sheltered account. The volume of trades demands a lot of attention, produces a lot of paperwork and tests the patience of many mutual funds, which sometimes won’t accept accounts from very active timers. If on the other hand you have a strong aversion to whipsaws, you can use long-term systems. But doing so will sometimes make you wait for a move of 20 percent or more before you buy or sell. For the best compromise, do as we do: Use intermediate-term systems. This level of activity is likely to be accepted by most mutual funds and is not too demanding emotionally.

4. Use multiple timing systems, stick with them and let them act independently in your portfolio.
Even the most productive system from the past may be a mediocre performer in the future, and the reverse could also be the case. We use four U.S. equity timing models, each of which governs 25 percent of our portfolio. We have faith in the systems as a group. But we don’t have enough faith in any one system to let it govern the whole portfolio. You shouldn’t either. Just as you should not chase recent performance in your choice of mutual funds or asset classes, do not chase recent high-flying timing systems. One of the smartest timers in this business, a fellow newsletter publisher whose work I respect, has averaged about 9 percent over the past decade. He chooses good timing systems, which have produced average returns of more than 18 percent before he adopts them. But he doesn’t stick with those systems. Whenever the system he has been using disappoints him, he finds another one that would not have done so, based on real or hypothetical past performance, and then he switches to that system. In theory, this may seem like a valid way to search for the very finest system on the planet. But in truth, such “superstar” timing models simply do not exist. They are a myth. Good performance one year doesn’t mean anything about performance the next year – not anything. This is one of the hardest facts for investors to accept, but it’s true. Therefore, we believe your best bet is to find several robust timing models and stick with them.

5. Remember that whether you use a buy-and-hold approach or market timing, asset allocation is the most important investment decision you will make as an investor.
Use many assets or asset classes that move up and down at different times and at different speeds. Include international diversification, whether you invest in equities, bonds or both. Just as you never know which timing model will be the star performer in a given quarter or year, you never know which asset class will be the overachiever and which will be the laggard.

6. Follow your systems and your strategy.
Put them into action without fail and without exception. Remember this Chinese proverb: “He who knows but does not act, still does not know.” If you do only one thing right and everything else wrong, make sure this is the one thing you do right. This is the most essential key of all. If buying diet books and exercise equipment took off pounds, obesity would not be a major health concern. You can devise the greatest portfolio in the history of investing, but it will do you no good unless you commit your money to it. The greatest timing models do you no good unless you apply them. Therefore, do whatever is necessary to get it done.

7. Before you start timing, take off the rose-colored glasses, if you are wearing them.
Focus in advance on the difficulties you can expect as well as the ultimate rewards you hope to achieve. Accepting the rewards of success will be easy. But you’ll never get to the finish line unless you can deal with the hurdles along the track. Know the level of interim losses you are likely to encounter with your strategy, and make sure you are willing to accept them. In the early 1970s, buy-and-hold investors in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index suffered a 39 percent loss in one year. Even timing can be ugly. In our Worldwide Equity strategy, all our back-testing has failed to produce a decline as high as 15 percent in any 12-month period. Yet we believe that any strategy with the potential to produce returns of 13 to 15 percent a year also has the potential to lose 15 percent in a year, so that’s the figure we use when we project the expected worst-case scenario. Bottom line: Do not expect magic from any timing system.

8. Give timing enough time to work. In the short term, anything can happen.

In the long term, if you have chosen a strategy carefully and you follow the discipline, you should be rewarded accordingly. But how long is long enough? There are two places to look for the answer. The first is in your own psychology. Do you normally undertake long-term projects or strategies, comfortable knowing that you’ll have to wait for any payoff? If so, you may be a good candidate for market timing. But if on the other hand you are usually quick to judge the success or failure of something you start, and if you need instant gratification, you’ll probably have trouble being a successful market timer. The second place to look for the answer is in statistics and history. Arm yourself (or have your manager do this for you) with the past statistical performance, either real or hypothetical, of your proposed investment. Over the longest period for which you have data, determine the depth of the largest drawdown. Find out how long it took to return to break-even. One of our most aggressive timing programs, which we call by the shorthand of +2 to -1, meaning it attempts to double the performance of large U.S. stocks when the market is rising and to do the opposite of the market during declines, once took nearly two years to recover from a 20 percent drawdown. Are you prepared to endure that in order to make returns of more than 20 percent? Here’s an even tougher example of the extraordinary patience required of investors: In 1973 and 1974, the S&P 500 declined by 44.9 percent. The index eventually regained its pre-decline level. But it took 66 months for some investors just to break even. Unless you are sure you’d stick with a strategy through the longest historical drawdown for which you have data, don’t embark on that strategy.

9. Unless you are absolutely committed to being a market timer, use both timing and buy-and-hold.

This gives you two non-correlated approaches that will have differing results in any given period. Over long periods, carefully chosen investments in similar assets may generate similar returns with buy-and-hold and market timing. But in the meantime, the average of the two may give you lower losses, less risk and (perhaps most important) less anxiety than either market timing or buy-and-hold alone. This combination may be more appealing to many people than the peaks and valleys of each approach separately.

10. Make sure you understand in advance the realities of market timing.
And make sure you are prepared for them. I cannot emphasize this point too much, so I hope you’ll read the following overview. If you invest money that’s governed by timing and you’re surprised by everything that happens to your investment, you will always feel off balance. You’ll come to dislike and distrust timing. And even if you follow your system, timing will produce anxiety for you. That is just the opposite of what it’s intended to do.

Measuring the Timing Ability and Performance of Bond Mutual Funds

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Via CXOAG Investing Notes:

Do managers of bond mutual funds generate value for fund holders by successfully timing the market? In the September 2009 update of their paper entitled “Measuring the Timing Ability and Performance of Bond Mutual Funds”, Yong Chen, Wayne Ferson and Helen Peters evaluate the ability of U.S. bond fund managers to time nine common factors related to bond returns. The nine factors reflect the term structure of interest rates, credit and liquidity spreads, currency exchange rates, mortgage spread and equity market returns. The authors also define seven benchmarks matching different bond fund styles. Using monthly returns for more than 1,400 U.S. bond mutual funds and contemporaneous bond market factor and benchmark data during January 1962 through March 2007, they conclude that:

  • Across all bond mutual funds over the entire sample period, the mean monthly return is 0.62% and the standard deviation of monthly returns is 1.51%.
  • After controlling for return series non-linearities unrelated to timing, the evidence for market timing ability is on average neutral to weak.
  • With these controls, 75% of bond funds significantly outperform style-matched benchmarks before fund costs (average expense ratio of each fund plus an assumed round trip trading cost associated with the fund style), but there is no evidence of net outperformance on average after costs.

In summary, evidence provides weak support for a belief that managers of U.S. bond mutual funds can on average time the bond market, but fund costs/fees offset any associated net outperformance of reasonable benchmarks.

The Rumours of the Dollar’s Death Are Much Exaggerated

Via Martin Wolf in

The dollar’s correction is not just natural; it is helpful. It will lower the risk of deflation in the US and facilitate the correction of the global “imbalances” that helped cause the crisis. I agree with a forthcoming article by Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics that “huge inflows of foreign capital to the US facilitated the over-leveraging and underpricing of risk”.* Even those who are sceptical of this agree that the US needs export-led growth.

Finally, what can replace the dollar? Unless and until China removes exchange controls and develops deep and liquid financial markets – probably a generation away – the euro is the dollar’s only serious competitor. At present, 65 per cent of the world’s reserves are in dollars and 25 per cent in euros. Yes, there could be some shift. But it is likely to be slow. The eurozone also has high fiscal deficits and debts. The dollar will exist 30 years from now; the euro’s fate is less certain.

Read the full article here

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