Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Worst Loss on Bitcoin

Just got stopped out for a 7.06% loss on Bitcoin trading. That is the worst loss that the Bitcoin model has suffered so far. So, most losses won't be as bad as that. Back to short...

This position was never in the money. The position was entered on a spike in price, which just triggered the stop. But I exactly followed my approach.

Monday, July 22, 2019

New Macro Trade

I've started another long-term macro trade by buying a treasury note futures spread. The spread is short one ten year treasury note futures contract and long two two year treasury futures contracts. You can execute this with one trade using the TUT ticker. The face value of a two year contract is $200,000 and for a ten year contract, $100,000, so actually the trade is long four times as many two year notes as it is short ten year notes. The idea is that this spread will gain value as the yield curve steepens, which following a yield curve inversion, it already seems to be doing. The curve would steepen mainly because the Federal Reserve would cut short term interest rates. So, if they don't cut much the trade will lose. The more they cut the more likely it is to make money.

My other macro trade is gold. Though that is also a bit more like an investment as we plan to allocate to gold in the long term and I am using the IAU ETF for tax and psychological reasons. I've increased my position at this point to 4.89% of assets. The net treasuries position is nominally $302k, which is much bigger than that.

I've also been thinking about how to improve my new day-trading strategy. I think that I will add exit stops to each order I place. This means, for example, if we go long initially in a "headfake"and then the market falls and the sell stop order is triggered, rather than getting out of the market it will initiate a short position. That would have been a profitable trade in the S&P 500 futures on 16th and 19th of July. The resulting short gained more than the stopped out long lost. Also, I am thinking to keep half of the position as a turtle style trend following position rather than an actual daytrade. The difference to the medium term turtle trading is that the stop is moved each day based on action in the first part of the day rather than action over the last few days.

So I now have three time frames of trades. I am hoping that this diversification, while requiring entering more orders, actually results in me being less anxious about the trades and so actually spending less time looking at the market. We will see.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Systematic Day Trading

I figured out a way to adapt the turtle trading method to systematic day-trading. I plan to apply it to markets which tend to move strongly after the release of US economic news at 8:30am Eastern Time on many days and which have elevated volume when US cash markets are open. The idea is to put buy and sell orders in for these markets at around 8:00am (currently 10pm here in Australia) based on the movement of the futures markets over the day up to that point. If there is a breakout of that range you go long or short automatically. Then you close the positions at the end of the trading day. This is a day trading method where you don't look at the market all day.

I don't have access to historic hourly data at the moment but I have backtested the idea for a couple of months by looking at charts for the NASDAQ 100 futures. It seems that the approach wins more times than it loses, though average wins and losses are about equal in size. Once the market starts moving in a given direction intraday it tends to keep moving in that direction. It looks like it would work well for stocks, bonds, gold, Australian Dollars... It doesn't look like it would work for oil, soybeans etc. These commodities typically expand their trading range in both directions when the market gets more active. As a result trades would tend to get stopped out.

I'll start trading it using the new micro-futures that are a 10th of the size of the e-mini NASDAQ and S&P contracts as well as with CFDs for gold (trading 10 ounces say) and Australian Dollars (starting with AUD 10k) and see how we go.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Trading Bitcoin Futures over the Weekend or Not

Because recently Bitcoin rallied strongly over weekends, I decided to close any Bitcoin futures short position at the end of trading on Friday. That means that this weekend I closed my short on Friday at the worst possible point and missed a more than 1000 points decline over the weekend. However, I've resolved not to get into this trade now and just wait for the next long trade.

Not including this weekend's action the average return over the weekend in the last 15 months when my model was short was -0.2%, i.e. a loss. But this is a small loss and is statistically insignificant. The t-statistic to test that this mean is different to zero is -0.31 (p = 0.74). On the other hand, the average return over the weekend when long was 1.5%. And this return is highly statistically significant. The t-statistic is 2.33 (p = 0.026).

This explains why I was reluctant to be short over the weekend but not to be long over the weekend. On the other hand, the expected loss isn't much, so avoiding trading over the weekend when short is due to risk aversion. Especially as I can place an effective stop in our Plus 500 CFD account. If we go long there and are short futures we are effectively out of the market. But it's expensive to do so due to their spread and overnight financing charges, and they only allow me to trade a maximum of 6 Bitcoin. On the other hand, I am only shorting one futures contract (5 Bitcoin) at a time at the moment.

So, how did this weekend affect these results? The gain to being short over the weekend was 9.5%. The mean weekend short return is now 0.07% with a t-statistic of 0.11 (p = 0.91). So, that is even closer to zero. Someone who is risk averse would still stay out of the market as the expected return is insignificantly different to zero.

To deal with the frustration, I am just telling myself that there will be a better opportunity to go long the further the price falls :) In the longer term, I think I would be less concerned about this if I diversify trading to multiple markets.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Individual Investment Returns for June 2019

I finally got around to doing this analysis for June:

It's not as straightforward as my other reporting and probably takes 20 minutes or so to prepare. International stocks, gold, and Australian real estate did really well. Australian small cap did really badly. The Unisuper superannuation fund also performed very well. Bitcoin trading was the real star though. It's not looking good this month so far... USD corporate bond performance continues to improve as the portfolio matures.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Distribution of Income and Wealth in Australia in 2017-18

The latest survey results have been released by ABS. To be in the top 1% in Australia you need to have a household net worth of about AUD 7.5 million (USD 5.25 million). We're in the top 4% according to the data. The mean household has a net worth of AUD 1.022 million and the median AUD 559k.

We're also in roughly the top 4% by household income if we'd earned 2018-19 income in 2017-18... Median household earns AUD 1,700 per week (AUD 88k per year) and mean 2,242 (AUD 117k). Of course, households with children average a lot more than this as the data include pensioners, students, singles etc. These data don't let you compute the income of the top 1% directly.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

June 2019 Report

Because the financial year has just ended in Australia, this report has more estimated figures than normal. June was another positive month with big wins in Bitcoin and gold. In June the Australian Dollar rose from USD 0.6930 to USD 0.7012. The MSCI World Index rose 6.59% and the S&P 500 7.05%. The ASX 200 rose 3.80%. All these are total returns including dividends. We gained 1.39% in Australian Dollar terms and 2.59% in US Dollar terms. The target portfolio gained 2.36% in Australian Dollar terms and the HFRI hedge fund index gained 2.60% in US Dollar terms. So, we under-performed all benchmarks apart from HFRI. On the other hand, all months since the end of November have had positive returns in Australian Dollar terms:

is a report on the performance of investments by asset class (futures includes managed futures and trading):

Gold was the best performing asset class gaining 12%. The worst asset class was Australian small cap, losing 4%. The largest contributions to the rate of return came from futures followed by bonds. The Australian Dollar return is lower than the 2.02% reported here because of foreign currency losses due to the rise in the Australian Dollar over the month.

Things that worked very well this month:

  • Trading Bitcoin. Trading profits for this month were greater than for all of 2018. 
  • Gold.
What really didn't work:

  • Tribeca Global Resources and Cadence Capital. These are now two of my three worst investments in dollar terms. Both of these are trading a lot below NAV. Tribeca is actually doing fine but investors have sold it perhaps because of a misleading report from Morningstar.
Trading income was USD 21,451 for the month, which is three times larger than any previous monthly total. The rate of return on cash in trading accounts was 13.88%.

We moved towards our new long-run asset allocation * as we began to shift out of bonds and moved the first money that orginally came from Chocolateland into our Australian bank account. Gold futures, and cash all increased. As predicted, last month was "peak bonds".

On a regular basis, we also invest AUD 2k monthly in a set of managed funds, and there are also retirement contributions. Then there are distributions from funds and dividends. Other moves this month:

  • USD 130k of corporate bonds matured (Cigna) or we sold them after early redemptions were announced (CNO, HCA) and we bought USD 103k of USD bonds (Genworth, Goodyear, Xerox, and Avon Products). We also sold 2,000 CBAPH Commonwealth Bank hybrid securities.
  • We traded successfully, as discussed above.
  • I bought 5,000 shares of the IAU gold ETF. 
  • We bought 66,126 shares in Domacom (DCL.AX), a startup company that is enabling fractional ownership of residential property.
  • I bought another 4,734 shares in Oceania Capital.
* Total leverage includes borrowing inside leveraged (geared) mutual (managed) funds. The allocation is according to total assets including the true exposure in leveraged funds. We currently don't have any leveraged funds.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Adding Individual Stock Trading

My last post looked at my trading profit and loss from futures, ETFs, CFDs etc. But it didn't include individual stocks, which I traded a lot in the early years. So, I went into my data and tried to identify, which individual stocks were trades and which investments. It's not so easy to tell in some cases. However, anything I was generally short was clearly a trade as well as stocks I held for less than a month typically. So, the result is quite rough.

But the picture is clear. Adding individual stocks makes my trading history look much worse up to 2006:

I have now almost recouped all my previous trading losses in the last two years of trading. There are still a few days left to go and anything can happen, but this month is looking to be a record trading gain.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Trading History

I was wondering how my trading performance looked over the long haul and put together this chart which is cumulative profits from trading futures, ETFs, options etc. Mostly, I haven't included individual company stocks. Up to 2002 I just lost money really. Then from 2006 to 2008 I started systematic trading and had ups and downs and mainly went sideways. But then as the financial crisis deepened things went off a cliff. After that, I didn't trade for a decade until last year. After and initial dip, I made money every month till October last year and then took a break from trading. This year, I came back with a new approach and so far are doing even better. I am now better than breakeven in the long run from trading. I would say that I am optimistic now rather than confident that this can be a long-run source of profits.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Only 40 Active Accounts Trading Bitcoin Futures?

According to this article, there are only 40 active accounts trading CME bitcoin futures. I can't read the whole article without paying for an expensive subscription, so I don't know their methodology. I am surprised by this as I have two accounts regularly trading bitcoin futures. I wonder if all accounts at a broker like Interactive Brokers are bundled into a single virtual account?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Cancelled my Income Protection Insurance

Unisuper are raising the cost of income protection insurance by 43%. I can't see why I am paying for this insurance any more, and, so, I cancelled it. That's AUD 2,400 more a year that will be going into my superannuation account. I kept the death and disablement insurance as it costs much less, though I'm not 100% sure that I should be paying for that either. The death insurance pays out AUD 1/4 million and costs about AUD 50 a month.

Friday, May 24, 2019

May 2019 Report

In May the Australian Dollar fell from USD 0.7047 to USD 0.6930. The MSCI World Index fell 5.85% and the S&P 500 6.35%. The ASX 200 rose 1.96%. All these are total returns including dividends. We gained 0.37% in Australian Dollar terms and lost 1.30% in US Dollar terms. Our currency neutral rate of return was -0.53%. I estimate that the target portfolio gained 0.01% in Australian Dollar terms and the HFRI hedge fund index lost 1.75% in US Dollar terms. So, we under-performed the Australian stock market but outperformed our other benchmarks.

Here again
is a detailed report on the performance of all investments:

The table also shows the shares of these investments in net worth. At the bottom of the table I also include the Australian Dollars return from foreign currency movements, other net investment gains and losses - net interest and fees, and futures trading. At the asset class level, private equity was the best performing asset class gaining 1.56%. The worst asset class was rest of the world stocks.

Things that worked very well this month:

  • Trading Bitcoin. The beginning of the month we made big profits and then towards the end of the month started losing.
  • Medibank Private. We sold out of it in the post-election rally.
  • Oceania Capital. They announced a buyback at a premium to the last share price prior to planned delisting. See below...
  • Hearts and Minds. Continued to outperform the markets.
  • Our corporate bond portfolio began to have net positive returns.
What really didn't work:

  • Bluesky Alternatives. The parent company of the fund manager went bankrupt... See below...
  • China Fund. Got hit by the trade war.
Trading income was USD 4,436 for the month. The rate of return on cash in trading accounts was 3.15%. We made a lot of money in Bitcoin and a little in ASX200 futures and lost in crude oil, gold, NASDAQ 100, and palladium. We were up much more in the middle of the month before a drawdown in Bitcoin. Though this month we didn't make as much as in May 2018, we are overall tracking slightly higher so far this year than in 2018, which is informally my goal for this year.

We moved further away from our new long-run asset allocation * as we continued to accumulate bonds. But this is probably "peak bonds" in terms of their share in our portfolio, as we have finished moving money from my US bank account to Interactive Brokers:

Buying Australian Dollars is also on hold for a while as we bought a lot last month.

On a regular basis, we also invest AUD 2k monthly in a set of managed funds, and there are also retirement contributions. Then there are distributions from funds and dividends. Other moves this month:

  • USD 50k of corporate bonds matured (General Motors)  and I bought USD 147k of USD bonds (Tenet Health, Anglogold, Deutsche Bank, and Yum Brands).
  • We traded successfully, as discussed above.
  • We sold 3521 Medibank Private shares when the price spiked after the election. We now have no individual company stocks.
  • I bought 25,000 BAF.AX shares following the manager BLA.AX being put into administration. The board of the LIC is trying to engage Wilson Asset Management as the new manager and I think the chances of that are now better. The discount to NAV is about 36%, so even if assets managed by BLA are liquidated, I think there is a margin of safety.
  • I bought 8000 OCP.AX shares after the manager announced that they would delist and buy out minority shareholders. The announced buy out price of AUD 2.30 is much less than NAV of AUD 2.83 though higher than NTA of 1.50. So, I am still hoping that they will raise the buyout price. On the other hand, the largest shareholder owns 60% of the shares and so it seems that they can do anything they like. Only around 25% are held by non-insiders/managers. Even if they don't raise the price, it is about a 12% p.a. rate of return from my entry price to redemption.
  • I bought 2000 shares of the IAU gold ETF. 
  • We applied for the Regal Funds IPO.
* Total leverage includes borrowing inside leveraged (geared) mutual (managed) funds. The allocation is according to total assets including the true exposure in leveraged funds. We currently don't have any leveraged funds.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Asset Allocation at "Peak Bonds"

At this point we have probably finished expanding our allocation to bonds and from here the share will fall again. So, I thought it would be interesting to post a snapshot of our asset allocation here to contrast with in later posts. All the blue segments in this pie chart are equity related including the allocations to private equity and hedge funds, though only the first four are allocated to listed long-only stocks. For the first time I have split the commodities category into actual gold and futures which includes managed futures and the cash used in our own trading. Cash is money in our regular bank accounts.

We don't include our house in the breakdown and there are also debts, particularly a margin loan and our mortgage. This is just the assets side of the picture.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Weekend Trading

Bitcoin is again rising over this weekend, so far. I set a stop buy order in my CFD trading account, which allows me to trade Bitcoin 24/7 for 7700 and it has triggered. Bitcoin is around 8000 at the moment. This long position hedges my short futures position. It allows me to have a stop on my position over the weekend when the futures market is closed. I would have been better off and less anxious if instead I had closed the futures position at the close of trading on Saturday morning Australian time. I think that is what I will do in future.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Monday's Move in Bitcoin was a Huge Outlier

The weekend move in Bitcoin extended into Monday's trading and Bitcoin ended up rising 25%. You can see how much of an outlier that was on my daily trading return vs. volatility graph:

Since then, Bitcoin has gone into another consolidation range. This morning it looked like we might get stopped out of the long trade at the open, but the market bounced and we are still long from 5285.

P.S. 12:55pm
We just closed the long position and went short at 7715. Profit on the trade was USD 12.1k Of course, all this was done automatically via stop orders. 20 minutes later the short is up USD 5k. This is crazy price action.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Bitcoin Going Completely Nuts Over the Weekend

I've noticed that in recent days Bitcoin has gone up starting at around 6pm US Eastern time when all stock markets in the World apart from New Zealand are closed. Of course, this is the afternoon and evening on the US West Coast. So, I figured that it was driven by retail investors in the U.S. Now this weekend, that trend has continued in dramatic fashion:

Bitcoin is up almost $700 on Friday's close. Luckily, I am long Bitcoin futures. It certainly makes me wary of ever being short Bitcoin over the weekend. Bitcoin has now popped up to be my 22nd best investment in dollar terms ever - I've been investing since 1996... Just about to overtake Pendal Property Investments. Anyway, anything could happen by 10am Monday Eastern Australia time when the futures market re-opens...

Obvious solution to going short over the weekend is to have an account with a cash Bitcoin exchange that is open over the weekend and buy Bitcoin if the stop loss level is reached. What such exchanges allow stop orders?

Bitcoin now up $1000 since Friday. If this persists till Monday it will be the biggest daily move in percentage terms in my dataset, possibly since the futures market open at the end of 2017. Plus 500 allows CFD trading 24/7. There are huge buy-sell spreads, so this would only be used as insurance. You can place conditional orders, such as buy only when the price reaches a certain level.

I tried the demo platforms at Plus500 and eToro. eToro appears to be very limited and geared to novice traders. There were strong restrictions on the levels of orders that could be placed. So, Plus 500 seems to be the only real option that offers Bitcoin CFD trading 24/7.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

More Asymmetry

A couple of days ago I posted about the asymmetry of market returns capture by the target portfolio. The portfolio captured less than 100% of the upside in the markets but almost none of the downside. The chart below, inspired by a recent paper from AQR, shows the Bitcoin trading model's daily returns compared to the absolute percentage change in the price of Bitcoin futures for that day:

The rising diagonal line are all the days when the model was properly aligned with market direction. The descending diagonal line are all the days where it was incorrectly aligned with market direction. The remaining cloud of points is where the model changed direction. Some of those days were winners and some very bad losers when the model ended up incorrectly with the market in both directions that day. For example, it was stopped out of a long position and entered a short and then the market rose for the rest of the day...

The fitted quadratic curve shows that for low absolute price changes up or down in the price of Bitcoin, the model tends to lose money. This is because of "whipsaw". There is a strong asymmetry in the response for large moves and so the fitted curve shows that the model captures increasingly more of the return the larger the move.

The results do conform to AQR's argument that returns to trend-following have been poor recently because markets haven't been moving enough.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Varying Position Size Still Doesn't Make Sense

Last year, I posted that increasing trading position size when volatility is lower didn't make sense for my trading system. When the volatility was low trades tended to lose more and win less. So, trading bigger because risk was supposedly lower didn't pay off.

Now I am using a more traditional trading system that wins by letting winners run and cutting losses short, without pretending to predict the direction of the market. Here, I have found that there is no correlation between the profit from trades and the maximum loss possible given the initial stop loss:

The chart shows all the trades in Bitcoin futures my system would have made in the last year The x-axis shows the maximum loss on the trade of one contract (assuming we can exit at the stop loss, i.e. no Black Swans). The y-axis shows the profit for the trade. There is a slightly positive correlation, though it is not statistically significant. On the other hand, you can see that realized losses do increase with increased initial risk. The system won 46% of the time with the average win 4.1 times bigger than the average loss. The average trade lasted 5 days.

If you adjust position size so that the initial risk of each trade is the same, returns do increase, but so does the maximum drawdown. If you scale back the average size of trades so that the maximum drawdown in percentage terms is the same as for trading with the same number of contracts each time, then returns turn out to be very similar for both strategies.

Bottom line is that varying position size increases returns but also drawdowns by a similar amount. If you care about drawdowns it doesn't help. So, I think I will focus on controlling drawdowns when choosing position size rather than equalizing initial risk.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Target Portfolio vs. the MSCI World Index

The graph shows monthly returns for the target portfolio vs. the MSCI World Index in Australian Dollar terms. The linear fit shows a beta of about 0.3 – if the market rises 1% more , the portfolio tends to rise 0.3%. Alpha is at around 8% per year. The orange line is a quadratic fit. This suggests that beta increases, the more the market rises, while for large down moves beta is zero. This is the kind of asymmetric relationship you want to get.

Margin Requirements for Bitcoin Futures Trading

I just discovered that while going long a Bitcoin futures contract requires margin of about USD 16843.75 per contract, going short requires initial margin of USD 200k at Interactive Brokers. Do they really think that Bitcoin could rise by a factor of 7-8x when the market is closed?* This makes it much harder for people to go short and contributes to the inefficiency of this market. Importantly there are no options on these futures, so you can't hedge against large adverse movements. I can't see anything about this asymmetry in margin on the CME site, so I assume that it is set by the broker.

* Stops will only work when the market is open. The Globex futures market is open 23/5 - closed one hour each day and over the weekend.

Friday, May 03, 2019

April 2019 Report

In April the Australian Dollar fell from USD 0.7096 to USD 0.7047. The MSCI World Index rose 3.18% and the S&P 500 3.72%. The ASX 200 rose 3.36%. All these are total returns including dividends. We gained 0.95% in Australian Dollar terms and 0.26% in US Dollar terms. Our currency neutral rate of return was 0.91%. The target portfolio gained 2.37% in Australian Dollar terms and the HFRI hedge fund index 1.57% in US Dollar terms. So, we under-performed our benchmarks.

Here again
is a detailed report on the performance of all investments:

The table also shows the shares of these investments in net worth. At the bottom of the table I also include the Australian Dollars return from foreign currency movements, other net investment gains and losses - net interest and fees, and trading Bitcoin futures. Trading income was USD 733 for the month, which at an annualized rate was roughly a 7.3% rate of return on capital.  At the asset class level, only real estate lost money this month. Australian small cap stocks were the best performing asset class.

Things that worked very well this month:

  • 3i, the UK private equity firm, and Generation Global shined. A few other funds beat the index. Tribeca bounced back from underperformance.
What really didn't work:

  • Cadence and Bluesky sucked. Cadence went ex dividend and I couldn't be bothered to account for this properly in my accounts, so it will do better next month when I receive the dividend. However, it fell by more than the dividend and falling in an up-market is not good. I'm still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will come back again. Bluesky was probably affected by troubles at the manager, also known as Bluesky, and lack of certainty about Wilson Asset Management taking over as the new manager. 
  • I continue to be impressed by PSS(AP), where we are now in the balanced fund.
We moved away from our new long-run asset allocation * as we continued to accumulate bonds:

The main driver is continued movement of cash from my US bank account to Interactive Brokers where I am buying bonds before eventually transferring some of the money to our Australian bank accounts when the broker allows..... At the end of the month we bought 1/4 million Australian Dollars by transferring money from Falafeland. This means that we will buy new US bonds for a few months as the current ones mature rather than changing the proceeds into AUD immediately as the plan is to buy about AUD 50k per month. After the month end, I immediately made an AUD 90k non-concessional (after tax) contribution to superannuation. As I plan to roll over my retail super fund into a self-managed super fund after the start of the new financial year in July, I invested the money in the CFS Wholesale Conservative Fund.

On a regular basis, we also invest AUD 2k monthly in a set of managed funds, and there are also retirement contributions. Then there are distributions from funds and dividends. Other moves this month:

  • USD 69k of corporate bonds matured (Royal Bank of Canada)  or were called (Goldman Sachs) and I bought USD 275k of USD bonds (Tokio Marine, Anglogold, General Motors, CNO, Scorpio Tankers, Woolworths, Safeway, and Hertz). There is still more than USD 100k to convert into bonds. I also bought 245 more shares (net) of CBAPH - Commonwealth Bank hybrid securities.
  • I did some unsuccessful trading of gold futures and then bought 1000 more (net) shares of IAU - a gold ETF.
  • I did some successful trading of Bitcoin futures.
  • I sold my remaining shares in PIXX.AX and bought a small amount of OCP.AX at $1.98 a share.
* Total leverage includes borrowing inside leveraged (geared) mutual (managed) funds. The allocation is according to total assets including the true exposure in leveraged funds. We currently don't have any leveraged funds.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Bitcoin Trading Update

This morning Bitcoin plummeted several hundred dollars at the open of the US overnight session on Globex. It triggered both my sell stop to close my long April futures position at a profit of USD 194 and my sell stop to go short the May futures from 5375. This also triggered the set-up of a buy stop for the short position. Everything worked as it should. On the other hand, I was pretty lucky to come out with a profit from the long position, which at one point was much more in the money.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Updated Post on Labor's Tax Increase Proposals

I had forgotten about one of Labor's proposals to increase tax. Limiting tax free pensions to $75k per year. I've now added it to the list. It's number 13.

Another one - limiting deductions ofr tax advice to $3,000 per year. Now 14 proposals on the list.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Update on Trading Research

I came to the conclusion that none of the trading tools I developed are reliable. They can match market behavior for a while and make money, but then the relationship breaks down. In the long run there is no relationship between any of these indicators and returns.

I wrote a back-testing program for Turtle type trend-following models. This allows me to optimize the time periods to use to maximize profits. There is the potential for over-fitting and unstable relationships here too. The answer I think is to regularly re-optimize as the market changes. This re-optimization is easy to do. Given that a wide range of values is profitable in the exercise I did, I don't think there would be a sudden failure. We will see.

In the backtest there were 78 trades with a 48% win rate. But wins were on average 3.45 times larger than losses. The annualized Sharpe ratio is 2.2. Here there is a negative correlation between the initial risk taken (amount of money lost if the stop is triggered) and profits. That means it makes sense to bet bigger when the risk is lower:

I am now trading Bitcoin futures with the optimized algorithm (Long Bitcoin since yesterday). Next step is to see if there are other futures I could trade. Stock index futures aren't more profitable than just going long the index.

Save 4% on Transferring Money to Australia

My brother is planning sending me my share of the proceeds of selling my mother's apartment. If we sent the money in Falafeland currency to our account at Commonwealth Bank in Australia we would lose around 5% of the value relative to the exchange rate on the forex market (representative rate). The spread between their buying and selling rates is around 10%. This is just crazy. I can think of another word that starts with "cr". I checked the rates of other Australian banks. HSBC and Macquarie are better, but not that much better.

My brother got a quote from his bank in Falafeland to convert the money to Australian Dollars and then send to Australia. The cost is about 1% relative to the representative rate. Online, I found that TorFX is recommended for such transfers. I now have a quote from them which is about 1.2%. So, we will go with the Falafeland National Bank.

You can get much, much better rates by trading in the forex market yourself using a broker like Interactive Brokers. But I can only hold currency in AUD, USD, GBP, and EUR at IB. So, I can't make a conversion from Falafeland money to AUD.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Doing More Trading Research

Seems like April is the time for me to think about trading. I developed a very simple mechanistic trend-following model for trading Bitcoin futures. I have placed orders in the market but they haven't triggered yet. Initially, I tried to be too clever, but quickly decided that just using mechanical rules will work better...

Now I am returning to thinking about more sophisticated models as well. Here are the results from a very simple mean reversion model – it goes short when stocks are strong and vice versa, with daily trades on the NASDAQ index:

This assumes perfect trades with no fees. It worked great until the end of 2008. Then it did nothing for three years and then started working again. But in the last five years it again went nowhere. Strangely, it looks a lot like the returns from trend-following over this period. Still, from 2005 to the present it returned 19% per year. I might be wrong, but I'm thinking that this is a benchmark for more sophisticated forecasts. If we can predict that we should trend follow rather than mean revert for a few of the worst days here, returns would improve a lot. But it has to be a very simple method that won't result in overfitting.

On the other hand, the NASDAQ 100 index itself returned 14.18% and go long with a stop if the market falls 1% or more intraday returned 19.85% a year.

Friday, April 05, 2019

March 2019 Report

In March the Australian Dollar fell from USD 0.7106 to USD 0.7096. The MSCI World Index rose 1.32% and the S&P 500 1.94%. The ASX 200 rose 0.97%. All these are total returns including dividends. We gained 0.53% in Australian Dollar terms and 0.40% in US Dollar terms. Our currency neutral rate of return was 0.39%. The target portfolio gained 1.10% in Australian Dollar terms and the HFRI hedge fund index 0.97% in US Dollar terms. So, we underperformed our benchmarks.

Here again
is a detailed report on the performance of all investments:

The table also shows the shares of these investments in net worth. At the bottom of the table I also included the Australian Dollars return from foreign currency movements and other net investment gains and losses - net interest and fees. This time I also combined all individual corporate bonds into a single investment. Their individual returns are not very informative. At the asset class level only Australian small cap stocks and hedge funds lost money this month. U.S. stocks were the best performing asset classs.

Things that worked very well this month:

  • Pendal Property Investments an Australian fund of REITs did surprisingly well. Pershing Square Holdings continued to gain as Bill Ackman turned round his recent poor performance.
What really didn't work:

  • The Tribeca Global Natural Resources listed hedge fund performed very badly this month.
We treaded water relative to our new long-run asset allocation:*

The main driver is continued movement of cash from my US bank account to Interactive Brokers where I am buying bonds before eventually transferring some of the money to our Australian bank accounts when the broker allows..... We are now quite underweight in Australian shares.

On a regular basis, we also invest AUD 2k monthly in a set of managed funds, and there are also retirement contributions. Then there are distributions from funds and dividends. Other moves this month:

  • USD 135k of corporate bonds matured (Santander UK and Welltower) and I bought USD 284k of bonds (HCA, Virgin Australia, Viacom, WGL, Goldman Sachs, and Kinder Morgan). 
  • I bought 755 Commonwealth Bank hybrid securities (preferred stock).
  • I sold 10,000 shares of PIXX.AX and bought 30,000 shares of PMC.AX after the premium to NAV of the latter fell substantially.
  • I bought another 1089 OCP.AX shares.
  • We completed the deleveraging this month, just in time for the US yield curve to invert out to the 10 year maturity. I sold all of Moominmama's units in the CFS Geared Share Fund and bought units in the Imputation Fund instead. I also sold all her units in the CFS Geared Global Share Fund and bought units in the Generation Global and Platinum International Fund (same as PIXX.AX) instead. Yes, we still have a margin loan, but we have the cash to pay it off, just not yet in the right country...
  • I applied for the Pengana Private Equity IPO.
* Total leverage includes borrowing inside leveraged (geared) mutual (managed) funds. The allocation is according to total assets including the true exposure in leveraged funds. From this month though we no longer have any leveraged funds.

CommBank App Not Working

More financial frustrations today... Recently I set my phone up to pay cardlessly using the CommBank App. But today, I went to buy lunch and it wouldn't work. This was the first day I didn't bring a credit card so I have less stuff to carry around. I couldn't log into the app either. I got a message that I didn't have an internet connection, despite everything else on my phone working fine. I phoned Commonwealth Bank and their solution: Delete the app and reinstall it. Apparently the cardless world hasn't arrived quite yet.

One thing positive I can say about CBA is that their phone service is excellent. Wait times are always very low and the representatives have the solutions to the problems immediately. I can't say that about some other Australia companies. Telstra for example.

Restrictions on Withdrawing Cash at Interactive Brokers

If you move money to Interactive Brokers through the American banking system, they put a hold on your money so that you can't withdraw it to another bank for 44 days. This works in a very strange way. If you have more than the amount on hold in US dollars you can obviously withdraw that excess money in US Dollars. But if you want to withdraw money in Australian Dollars you also have to have more than that amount in Australian Dollar cash! Well, this is what an IB representative just told me to explain why I can't withdraw any money in Australian Dollars despite having cash in that account, including cash I received from dividends that absolutely wasn't transferred from a US bank.

This will slow down my financial restructuring plan. I don't want to buy that many Australian Dollars all at once, though I could use futures contracts to retain exposure to the US dollar... but for psychological reasons I find that harder to do. And I would have to sell the US corporate bonds I bought to do it. The only thing that I really want to do that is time bound is to make a non-concessional contribution to superannuation before the end of the financial year. I guess I will sell some Australian managed funds to come up with the money.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019


I thought it was time to buy Bitcoin when I heard that CBOE was dropping Bitcoin futures contracts. Supposedly, when everyone hates something, it's the time to buy it. I have also seen research, which argues for a big rise in Bitcoin. I set up a simple trading model and it confirmed that I should go long now. I got approval to trade CME Bitcoin futures on Monday. Looking at the stochastic oscillator on the chart above, I thought there would be a bit of a pullback and put in an order yesterday to buy at $4000 when the futures were trading at $4140 with a stop at $3845. I went to a meeting and when I came out  I saw Bitcoin was at $4700. So, trying to be too clever, I missed the boat. The problem is that the stop is still the same according to my trading model. One contract is 5 Bitcoins. I don't want to risk USD5000+ on this trade. So, I will need to wait, probably a couple of weeks before the stop will change and I can place a trade with acceptable risk. The alternative risk is that Bitcoin continues to go higher from here. But after yesterday, I really want to stick to the model and not try to be clever.

This is one of three more "macro" trades that I am thinking of doing. At the moment, I don't have the time to do the research to fix my shorter term trading model.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Reduced Incentive to Access Superannuation as Early as Possible

Currently, Australian superannuation earnings are taxed at 15% and 10% for capital gains while you are in the "accumulation" phase (before you retire). When you retire you can switch up to $1.6 million of assets into pension mode and then the earnings are taxed at 0%.* The downside is that then there is a minimum payout ratio every year which increases with age. Unlike the U.S., there is actually no requirement to make any withdrawals from super. But making withdrawals is incentivized by the reduction in tax rate.

But if you have shares that pay franking credits, you can use these franking credits to offset the 10-15% tax. You might not pay any net tax on your super fund in the accumulation phase. When you switch to pension mode you will get cash refunds of the franking credits.**

Labor plans to abolish these refunds of franking credits. This means that there may actually be no net change in tax due when switching from accumulation to pension mode. The incentive to switch disappears. This means that if you have assets outside super you probably should spend them first in retirement as they are relatively highly taxed. Only if you run out of such assets, should you access your super.

* Any excess remains in accumulation mode.
** You might even get some cash refunds in accumulation mode if you have enough shares paying franked dividends.

Planning Permission Refused

I got an email today from the city planning office that the development in our neighbourhood that I had objected to was refused planning permission. The plan violated many individual rules, but basically the developers were trying to cram too much development into a small space. They planned on 56 town houses and commercial space and 12 apartments in a 5 storey building. The development occupies the two greenish blocks on the map:

You can see the size of townhouses and houses in the neighboring development (yes, we live there) to get an idea of how crammed this development was planned to be.

I objected to the height of the 5 storey building, which we would see from the front of our house, largely blocking our existing view to a wooded hill. Only 7 members of the public had filed written objections to the original plan despite wide advertising by the government of the application and consultation sessions in the neighborhood. I was the only person who wrote an objection against the revised plan the developers submitted.

I have been surprised how much work the developers have been doing on site. Apart from demolishing the existing office buildings, they have done most the excavation for underground car parks and then started building individual underground garages for the townhouses on the east of the site. They also recently installed a big yellow tower crane on site. How could they submit a plan that violated so many rules and then invest so much money on the basis of such a flawed plan. Will they have to change the work they have already done or will they get away with it? They have a month to appeal the decision, or they will need to submit a new plan.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Leave Liability

Here in Australia, employers nowadays seem to be very concerned about people not taking their annual leave entitlements. If your balance gets above a certain amount you are likely to get a message from HR telling you take vacation days before some deadline. I got one of these recently and promptly ignored it. It's not that I haven't taken some breaks. Maybe formally though I was only on leave for a couple of weeks this financial year. I think they might just put me on forced vacation from 1 July which is OK with me (see below why)...

I supervise one other academic. I was told to make a plan with him to reduce his leave liability. He has ended up scheduling a bunch of mini-vacations when he plans to work anyway.

My wife also got a request from her employer to schedule a lot of leave before 1 July. She contacted HR and told them that she couldn't take leave as she has a lot of work to get done. She only works 3 days a week. Their solution? She should switch to full time and take leave on the days she wouldn't be working! This is a win-win solution :)

It might be an even bigger win for us. Moominmama will be going on maternity leave from the end of May. Yes, we are going to have a second child. She plans to be on leave for at least a year.

I think this means that the 18 (?) weeks of maternity pay from her employer will be paid at the full time rate. Also, last time, they made employer superannuation contributions (15.4% of base salary) for the whole year. These too look like they'll be at the full time rate now.

This seems really crazy from the employer's perspective. I don't understand why employers are so concerned about having this "leave liability" on their balance sheet. At her employer apparently you can cash out the leave instead of taking time off. So that is a real liability. My employer allows only allows it in cases of "financial hardship". There is an "annual leave loading" of 17.5% extra pay for the vacation days. The surplus is paid out on termination. But if you do take leave now, it is paid out now and elementary economics say that the employer should want to get it paid out later rather than earlier! It's the employee who is missing out on getting the money earlier. That said, I should take more leave earlier :)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pengana Private Equity

Pengana Capital is launching a listed investment trust that will invest in global (but mostly North American) private equity funds. I am participating in the IPO.  I have been looking for an investment to replace IPE, which was taken over by Mercantile Capital. It's not an exact match as IPE invested in mostly Australian private equity. But now I am investing in Australian venture capital, so geographical diversification is good.

The fund will effectively be managed by Grosvenor Capital Management. I attended the "roadshow" where there were presentations from the CEO, Russel Pillemer and from a representative of Grosvenor, Aris Hatch. These were very helpful in understanding the potential value of this IPO. For U.S. regulatory reasons, the prospectus is missing any information on GCM's track record. However, there are two research reports on the IPO website, which are very informative, though technically they are only meant to be accessed by financial professionals.

The fund has really high fees. The base fees are about 2.4% p.a. If the investments exceed the 8% hurdle rate then three (!) levels of performance fees kick in. I estimate that the performance of the fund is related to that of the underlying investments as shown in this graph:

That's right, if the underlying performance reaches 25% the fees will be around 9%! Based on all the information I have, I still think the fund could return around 10% p.a. and so I think it is worth investing in.

An additional feature is that each $1.25 share will be stapled with $0.0625 worth of shares in Pengana Capital (PCG.AX). These shares will be distributed to investors after two years. Pengana will also absorb the costs of the float. Therefore, the initial NAV will be $1.3125 for a $1.25 investment. Pillemer justified PCG's 20% performance fee, for effectively doing nothing but choosing GCM as manager, on the basis of these giveaways. It seems that they won't get to keep much of the base management fee. Therefore, the fund will have to do well for Pengana to get paid.

The fund will take 4 years to get fully invested. In the short run they will invest in debt instead of equity. If there is a recession in the US in the near future, the fund can hopefully make some investments at good prices. So, the timing could be good.

Finally, it's interesting that the fund will not be a listed investment company but a trust. This means all earnings are passed on to investors in the form they are received rather than being converted to franked dividends. This is partly to make the investment more attractive to self managed super funds etc. if franking credit refunds are abolished.

Saturday, March 09, 2019


As we move further away from an equities oriented portfolio, I think that benchmarking against equity indices makes increasing less sense. We are also in a multi-year process of investing inherited cash, which means our portfolio is more cash and bonds heavy than it will be in the long run. As we near "financial independence" I am also becoming more risk-averse. This is the opposite of the usual textbook economics prediction that risk-aversion decreases with wealth. Part of it is that I feel like I should take less risk with the inherited money than with the money I saved myself. My goal is to pass on to my children at least as much as I inherited myself.

So, I am increasingly thinking that an index of hedge fund returns makes more sense as a benchmark. Hedge funds in general aim for lower volatility than equity indices. And hedge fund returns are after fees and so are a more realistic goal to aim at. This is why I have been researching hedge fund performance.

The returns of the typical hedge fund have declined over time and the typical hedge fund no longer produces alpha relative to the MSCI world stock index. Hedge fund returns are increasingly correlated with stock returns. Our own returns are converging towards those of hedge funds:

The graph shows rolling regression estimates of our alpha and beta relative to the HFRI fund weighted index. Our alpha is now around 0% and beta is 2. For a 1% change in hedge fund returns our returns typically change 2%. Mostly in the past we had a negative alpha to hedge fund returns. Comparing our actual returns (in USD terms) to those of the HFRI index, at times we have underperformed and at times outperformed the index:

The graph shows how many percent per year extra you would have earned by investing with me instead of in hte HFRI index starting in each month on the graph. So, if you invested with me in October 1996 you would have received about 2% per year less since then than investing in HFRI. But from November 2002 you would have been 2% per year better off by investing with me instead. By contrast, there have been few months in the last couple of decades where my subsequent cumulative return has been better than the MSCI World Index:

May and June 2003 was one such short period. I have outperformed the index since then. August 2015 and May 2017 were two other recent cases. But there are long periods where my subsequent performance was more than 3% p.a. worse than the index. On the other hand, perhaps the hedge fund index is too easy a benchmark to beat:

Saturday, March 02, 2019

February 2019 Report

In February stock markets continued their rebound. The Australian market rose especially strongly. The Australian Dollar fell from USD 0.7274 to USD 0.7106. The MSCI World Index rose 2.72% and the S&P 500 3.21%. The ASX 200 rose 6.32%. All these are total returns including dividends. We gained 3.18% in Australian Dollar terms and 0.90% in US Dollar terms. So, we underperformed the markets. This is not surprising given the weight of cash and bonds in our portfolio. Our currency neutral rate of return was 1.94%. I estimate that the target portfolio gained 3.08% in Australian Dollar terms.

Here again
is a detailed report on the performance of all investments:

The table also shows the shares of these investments in net worth. At the bottom of the table I also included the Australian Dollars return from foreign currency movements and other net investment gains and losses - net interest and fees.

Things that worked very well this month:

  • CFS funds - they all did well. Future Leaders continues to outperform Developing Companies.
  • Our two UK listed stocks - 3i and Pershing Square Holdings.
  • Medibank. It continues to bounce back nicely though we only have a very small posiiton.
  • Unisuper made the largest gain in dollar terms, though we are still below the peak value last year.
  • Many investments hit new profit highs including PSS(AP), Generation, and Hearts and Minds.
What really didn't work:

  • Yellowbrickroad... I exited this investment at 6.5-6.6 cents per share following the release of the Royal Commission report. I should have gotten out much earlier. The shares are now suspended as the company has not filed its interim financial report. They are still working on writing down their assets... The last price they traded at was 5.4 cents.
Bonds mostly had negative returns. When you buy a corporate bond you have to pay the interest accrued since the last interest payment to the previous holder.

We moved towards the new long-run asset allocation:*

The main driver is continued movement of cash from my US bank account to Interactive Brokers where I am buying bonds before eventually transferring some of the money to our Australian bank accounts when the broker allows. The increase in rest of the world stocks is mostly due to updating the allocations of various managed funds for their current allocations. We are near the long term allocations for each of the stock categories and real estate. We are overweight cash and bonds and underweight commodities, private equity, and hedge funds.

On a regular basis, we also invest AUD 2k monthly in a set of managed funds, and there are also retirement contributions. Then there are distributions from funds and dividends. Other moves this month:

  • I bought USD 300k of corporate bonds and USD 100k of treasury bills matured. Our monthly bond ladder now extends to September.
  • We sold 569 China Fund (CHN) shares back to the company at 99% of NAV in the tender and then bought 669 in the market for a lower price.
  • We sold out of Yellowbrickroad (YBR.AX) at a big loss.
  • I made a quick (losing) trade in gold futures (Included in gold above).
  • We switched our choice of option in the PSS(AP) superannuation fund to "balanced" from a mix of "balanced" and "aggressive".
  • I switched from Geared Shares to Imputation (leveraged and unleveraged Australian shares) in my CFS superannuation fund.
  • At the end of the month I also switched to the balanced option in the Unisuper superannuation fund.
So, there was a big deleveraging/derisking theme that will continue. There are no capital gains tax implications to shifting the super funds, so I am doing them first.  We can still switch from the "Geared Growth" fund to an unleveraged version.

* Total leverage includes borrowing inside leveraged (geared) mutual (managed) funds. The allocation is according to total assets including the true exposure in leveraged funds.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Retiring in Australia and Spending Dividends Only

Big ERN has a new blogpost about the safe rate of withdrawal in retirement. He takes on people who say that you can avoid the problem of selling assets when their price is low by investing in high-yielding assets and only spending the dividends or interest. The highest yielding portfolio he looks at has yielded an average of 3.6% p.a. and it looks like it ends up selling capital in the great recession of 2008-9.

Australian shares have a high dividend yield. They yielded 4.25% last year not counting franking credits. If as ERN assumes you withdraw 4% of the portfolio in the first year and then increase that withdrawal by the rate of inflation can you avoid selling shares? The short answer is: yes!

These are my assumptions: We invest in the ASX 200 index without fees (could be replicated by a portfolio of 20 stocks maybe?) and we don't pay taxes (it's a superannuation account in pension phase) and so we get the grossed up value of the dividends (Labor plans to eliminate these refunds if they win the next election). I start with $900k in shares and $100k in cash and get the Reserve Bank interest rate as interest on the cash. Then all dividends and interest are paid into the cash account.

My first simulation assumes we retire at the end of March 2000. This was not a good time to retire as it was just before the dotcom/tech crash. But the ASX200 index started in April 2000 and so data before then is not very reliable. This is what happens:

Starting in 2000 we would now have almost $1.7 million in shares and $900k in cash. If we'd reinvested some of the dividends we probably would have been even better off.

To stress test the model, I also do a simulation that assumes you retire at the end of December 2007 just before the great recession/global financial crisis. This is what happens then:

Obviously, it's not as good and you would have $970k now, more than 10 years later. In real terms the value of the portfolio will have fallen substantially. But so far, you won't have had to sell a single share with $138k in cash currently. Over the last couple of decades this strategy has worked well.

This suggests that investing in stocks in countries with traditionally high dividend yields like Australia and only spending the dividends is a viable investment strategy. If you need to pay taxes on withdrawals as in the case of a U.S. 401k account then you will need to start with more money invested to fund the same level of spending.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Today's Moves

I bought more corporate bonds. This time in Royal Bank of Canada and Welltower. These were the highest yielding investment grade bonds that I could actually buy that mature in April. $US25k in one and $US35k in the other. Not ideal, as the commission is higher for the first $10k but those were the amounts on offer. I was looking to buy bonds of Siam Bank Corporation, but the minimum purchase turned out to be $US200k for some reason. I also tried to buy Glencore bonds, but when I put my bid in the market, the offer disappeared from the screen. I waited a while and I didn't get the bonds. Very weird. Probably it makes sense to wait until I have enough cash to buy $US100k and buy Treasury bills unless there is a sufficient amount of corporate bond with a high enough yield to make it worthwhile. After commissions these two purchases probably end up breakeven with a Treasury bill. As I begin to buy bonds at longer maturities though, the commission will be spread out over a longer period. I use the bond scanner provided by Interactive Brokers to find available bonds with the right characteristics.

I also am looking at shifting our allocation in the PSS(AP) superannuation fund from 50/50 "balanced" and "aggressive" to 100% balanced as part of our general de-risking. I am again reminded of how shocking the lack of transparency about investments is for Australian funds compared to US funds. All the information they provide in the annual report is the percentage of the fund allocated to "equities", "alternatives" etc. with no further details. PSS(AP) actually used to provide more, but not a lot more, information than this. An interesting fact from the annual report is that employer contributions totaled $A1.154 billion and employee contributions $A55 million in the 2017-18 financial year. Not many people are making additional contributions or they are not making very large contributions. This makes sense as the employer (the Public Service) contributes 15.4% on top of the official salary to the fund. It's only interesting because for the defined benefit fund at Australian universities – not part of the public service, though they are in the public sector – employees are required to contribute 7% on top of the employer 17% in order to get full benefits. I opted out of the defined benefit fund. Our employee contributions at PSS(AP) are actually as big as the employer contribution at the moment.

Basec on reading the Unisuper report, employee contributions might only include non-concessional or "after tax" contributions and not salary-sacrificed or "pre-tax" contributions. This is because the stated contributions tax in the report is 15% of the employer contributions. By contrast with PSSAP though, Unisuper defined contribution members make massive non-concessional contributions (see p52 of the report), even though the employer makes 17% contributions to the fund.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Do You Feel You are in a Lower Wealth Percentile Than What the Official Data Say?

People tend to think they are less relatively wealthy than they are. You can check out your perceptions against reality for a number of countries here. I'm not surprised. According to the official statistics we are in the top 4% of households in Australia by wealth. But looking around, it certainly doesn't feel like that could be true. Our house is only valued a few percent above the median for our city. Our car is a 15 year old Ford when it feels like the roads are full of luxury vehicles. But it's not like we are saving like crazy. In 2018, we spent almost all of what we earned from salaries. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way.