On Stock Crashes, Hindsight, And Anger

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – Buddha

US stocks just had their worst start to a year in history last week going all the way back to 1928. The bears have come roaring back. As investors and traders frantically deal with clients and their own personal emotions, let’s put things into factual perspective.

Those that have seen my presentations, met with me or read our writings for years are aware that we quantitatively test indicators and create strategies we believe have merit. Backtesting, like any form of analysis, does not guarantee exceptional performance in the future, but it can at least provide information on anomalies or market patterns which have persisted over time.

So here’s a very simple and powerful backtested strategy. The 200 day moving average is popular as an indicator used to buy or sell stocks. Let’s make a simple rule. If a stock fund is trading above its 40 week (200 day) moving average, buy that stock fund. If below, then instead, buy Treasuries as your “risk-off” trade. For the below backtest, I used the Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX) as the stock proxy, and the Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Fund (VUSTX). Want to get more creative? Use the same rule, but leverage up the stock fund VFINX by an extra 30% to juice returns. Yellow uses that leverage, blue is the rotational risk-on/off strategy using Treasuries, orange is VFINX, and gray is VUSTX.


Looks pretty good right? Most of the time you’re trending higher, though it is worth noting that there are several flat volatile years where those who invest over a 1, 2, 3, or 4-year period are frustrated by a lack of returns and volatility/whipsaws. However, over longer periods of time and full cycles, both the unleveraged rotational strategy between stocks and Treasuries, and the leveraged one not only outperform on an absolute basis in terms of pure performance, but also do so on a risk-adjusted basis. The blue version’s cumulative return is 1,545% going back to 1986, versus the stock fund itself at 1,274%. That’s 1.2x better. The leveraged version which magnifies by 30%? Cumulative return is 2,756%, resulting in 2.16x stronger performance against VFINX as a buy and hold investment. Note that the extra 30% leverage over time significantly magnifies results. Compounding leverage can be a wonderful thing when it works over time if you have a strategy for it. It is worth noting that the 40 week MA’s strength is more about avoiding big declines rather than participating in big upside, though that upside exposure is most conducive towards using leverage.Also worth noting that if you added other momentum areas, notably emerging markets, the return path gets even more extreme.

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This writing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell, a solicitation to buy, or a recommendation regarding any securities transaction, or as an ...

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