Asset management, Commodity price, Commodity risk, Energy crisis, Hedging, Inflation, Market psychology, Market trends, Oil market, Trend following

Market panics and trend following

Today global capital markets opened to unprecedented price dislocations. ZeroHedge captured the mood: “Panic Purgatory: Oil Crashes to $27%; S&P Futures Locked limit Down, Treasuries Soar Limit Up Amid Historic Liquidation.” Over the recent months I’ve posted many articles on this blog and on SeekingAlpha, basically along two themes:

1) Warning that the markets would experience great turbulence in the near future (see here: “Perfect Storm Gathering…” and

2) Suggesting that the best way to navigate through the storm is by using high-quality systematic trend following strategies (see here, “Trend Following Might Save Your Tail“).

It may be that the time of reckoning has begun But if you followed my advice and used systematic trend following, most likely you’d be having a good day today. The chart below illustrates the net positioning of my 493 I-System strategies at market open this morning: Continue reading

Asset management, Hedging, Market psychology, Market research, Risk management, Trading

Sack your quant!

Last few years saw something of a gold rush into quantitative investment strategies. Their appeal is obvious as a way to put discipline into trading and take the emotion and stress out. Quantitative strategies might even help improve performance. Here’s how Black Rock President Rob Kapito articulated the industry hopes:

As people get the data and learn how to use the data, I think there is going to be alpha generated and, therefore, will give active managers more opportunity than they‘ve had in the past to actually create returns.” [1]

In pursuit of the great expectations, Black Rock assembled more than 90 scientists, 28 of them with PhDs and even went as far as poaching one of Google’s leading scientists, Bill McCartney to develop the BlackRock’s machine learning applications. In practice Black Rock’s and other firms’ results have proven to be a mixed bag at best and it seems that most quantitative strategies have tended to underperform or even generate losses. The question is, why? Continue reading

Asset management, Commodity price, Commodity risk, Hedging, Market psychology, Market trends, Oil market, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

Trend following and the impact of unforeseen events

“Yes, but how can your system know if XYZ happens and markets go haywire?” This is one of the two most frequently asked questions about systematic trading strategies I’ve used over the last 20 years. Most traders tend to rely on analyses of supply and demand fundamentals to form a judgment about future price changes.

My contention is that this simply does not work and I can make a strong case to back this up (see here, here or here). I can also offer evidence that my systematic approach does work (see here or here) even if I know nothing about the supply and demand economics of most markets I cover. This usually elicits the objection that my system can’t know if some XYZ event might happen tomorrow  (recently, XYZ tended to refer to Trump tweets), upsetting the markets and rendering my strategies ineffective. Recent experience afforded me an (almost) perfect answer to this question (plus another important issue related to trend following). Continue reading

Commodity price, Commodity risk, Complexity, Economics, Expertise, Hedging, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Oil market, Risk management, Trend following

Market fundamentals, forecasting and the groupthink effect

Last month I had the privilege of meeting with Jaran Rystad of Rystad Energy to discuss strategic cooperation between our companies. On the occasion, he gave me a rather detailed presentation of his firm’s energy intelligence database. I must say, in my 20+ years trading in commodities markets this is by far the most impressive product of its kind I’ve ever seen. Even from the software engineering point of view, I was very impressed. For full disclosure, nobody asked nor encouraged me to write this. Much as you’d recommend a restaurant where you ate well or a doctor you respect, I wholeheartedly recommend Rystad Energy as a provider of energy market intelligence as a matter of giving credit where credit is due.


Monaco, June 2019 – with Jarand Rystad

However, even with top notch data on economic supply and demand fundamentals, divining the future remains difficult and unlikely. John von Neumann rightly said that forecasting was “the most complex, interactive, and highly nonlinear problem that had ever been conceived of.” Continue reading

Asset management, Behavioral finance, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Trading, Trend following

Trend following might save your tail

In the age of central bank quantitative easing, trend following has become an unpopular investment strategy, even earning tiself a bad name as trend following funds performed miserably compared to bonds, equities, and passive index funds. Below is a chart put together by AutumnGold showing a growing gap between Managed Futures funds the S&P 500 and Barclay’s Aggregate Bond index. Managed futures funds are a good proxy for trend following performance as most of them apply systematic trend following strategies in one way or another.


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Asset management, Behavioral finance, Hedging, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Risk management, Stock market, Trading, Trend following

Lessons Of Japan’s 1980s Bull Market

Afer popping, Japan’s 1980s bull market gave way to an 82% drop over the following 20 years.

Three decades later, Japanes equities are still more than 40% below peak valuations.

One of the most effective methods of navigating the boom/bust cycles has been the systematic trend following.

Sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific

Roger Babson, 5 Sep. 1929

If everybody indexed, the only word you could use is chaos, catastrophe. The markets would fail

Jack Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group

As of December 2018, passive index funds controlled 17.2% of the stock of all U.S. publicly traded companies, up from only 3.5% in 2000. The 5-fold increase was in part the consequence of the ongoing stock market growth, which now has the distinction of being the longest running bull market ever recorded. Buoyed in large part by central banks’ unprecedented quantitative easing (QE) programs, the rising stocks have lulled many investors into complacency.

Continue reading

Commodity price, Commodity risk, Energy crisis, Hedging, Market psychology, Market trends, Oil market, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

Six Principles To Adopting Best Practices In Commodity Price Hedging

  • This week Sinopec disclosed the latest hedging mishap, losing $690 million amid last year’s oil price collapse.
  • Unless price risk management is organized as an integral part of core business operations, it can devolve into eratic and risky game of speculation that can cause massive damage.
  • The six simple but important guiding principles could help commodity firms create a world class risk management process and turn price risk into a source of value and competitive advantage.

This week Sinopec disclosed that it had incurred $690 million in losses in the fourth quarter of 2018. The losses were attributed to Unipec’s oil hedging bets. Unipec clearly took the wrong directional exposure to oil prices in the period when they staged a sharp, 40% collapse (October-December 2018). This much is understandable. However, such losses did not need to happen – I maintained heavy exposure to oil prices over the same period and not only avoided heavy losses but actually generated significant profits by simply adhering to a systematic trend-following model.

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Asset management, Behavioral finance, Commodity price, Commodity risk, Market psychology, Market trends, Psychology, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

Lessons in asset valuation: the great warrants bubble of China

Investors exert a great deal of intellectual effort to determine the correct valuation of securities. Economic value is central to our decision making and it plays a major role in our intuitive psyche. In daily life, when we buy a loaf of bread or a tank of gasoline, we tend to have a good idea about what we think is cheap and what’s expensive. We like bargains, don’t enjoy being ripped off, and in the same way we’re inclined to shop for value as consumers, we find value investing intuitively appealing. But here’s the critical difference between buying goods and investing: shopping for investments is speculative while buying stuff isn’t, and speculation activates the part of our mental circuitry that can heat up to a boiling point and overwhelm any rational consideration of value. Continue reading

Asset management, Behavioral finance, Bitcoin, Commodity price, Market psychology, Market trends, Psychology, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

Of Bitcoins and bubbles

In my book, “Mastering Uncertainty in Commodities Trading” I argued that security prices “are driven by human psychology and its self-stoking collective action that can sustain major trends spanning many years.” That’s because in speculative decision making, our views about the actions of others can entirely override our rational appraisal of the underlying asset value.

The most recent example of this is the price of Bitcoin that has surged from below $400 in January last year to $4,300 this week. When we set up the Altana Digital Currency Fund several years ago, many people thought that digital currencies were just a strange fad and investors continued to show little interest in them – until very recently. Continue reading

Asset management, Behavioral finance, Commodity risk, Complexity, Hedging, Market psychology, Market research, Market trends, Psychology, Risk management, Something completely different, Trading, Trend following, Uncategorized

Speculation in the natural world

Nature has … some sort of arithmetical-geometrical coordinate system, because nature has all kinds of models. What we experience of nature is in models, and all of nature’s models are so beautiful. – R. Buckminster Fuller

Nature’s survival strategies that bear the most similarities to activities of market speculators are those of predators. To live, predators must hunt and this activity includes elements of speculation. Like trading, predation requires knowledge, skills, judgment and decision-making. It also entails risk and uncertainty. A predator can’t be sure where her next meal is coming from. Each hunt is an investment of resources; it involves the risk of injury and loss of energy expended in failed hunts, which tend to be more frequent than successful ones. To survive and procreate, predators must consistently generate a positive return on this investment. Too much of a losing streak could turn out to be fatal. In his book, “The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations” George B. Schaller painstakingly documented the details of hundreds of hunts by large cats in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. We have all seen wildlife television programs showing lions and cheetahs hunting, but Schaller’s work offers a much richer account of the life of predatory cats including their hunting behavior.

The anatomy of a hunt Continue reading