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

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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Commodity price, Energy crisis, Hedging, Market trends, Oil market, Politics, Trading, Trend following, War and peace

The coming oil price shock 3: saber rattling in the persian gulf

Side note 1: as oil geopolitics tensions escalate I’ve decided to sequentially number my “coming oil price shock” articles. This is the 3rd one (the first one is here, and second one here.)
Side note 2: if oil price hedging is a headache, please view my presentation here (YouTube, 12 minutes).
  • Trump Administration put their credibility on the line by taking a hard line on Iranian oil exports, pledging to collapse them to zero.
  • Iranian officials matched the rhetoric by promising to close the Straits of Hormuz entirely to oil traffic. A third of world’s traded oil production transit through that choke-point.
  • Assurances of ramped-up oil production from Saudi Arabia and Opec appear as firm as a wet noodle.


U.S. taking a hard line on Iran oil exports

Over the Easter weekend we’ve seen an escalation of Trump Administration’s rhetoric toward Iran. On Monday, 22 April, State Secretary Pompeo issued an official statement pledging that after their expiry on May 2, the U.S. would not renew any of the waivers enabling Iran to export crude oil. Iran’s oil exports have already dwindled from 2.5 million barrels per day last April to around 1 million barrels, and the official U.S. policy is to bring Iranian oil exports to zero.

In taking the hard line against Iran, the Trump administration has put its credibility on  the line. Secretary Pompeo followed up the official announcement on twitter, stating that, “maximum pressure” means maximum pressure. Trump backed him up promising “full sanctions…”

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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, Commodity price, Commodity risk, Economics, Hedging, Market trends, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

How trend following can help industry hedgers: the Palladium edition

Palladium price has more than doubled since the early 2016 making the white metal more valuable than gold for the first time since 2002. Its impressive performance attracted much attention from the financial press, which published numerous articles and analyses about the palladium market. If you diligently read the analyses, you may learn that automotive industry accounts for some 75% of demand for palladium, that its global production is as little as about 200 metric tons per year (vs. about 3,000 tons for gold), that only two countries (Russia and South Africa) produce more than three quarters of its global supply, and that the demand for palladium is expected to continue to grow. Presumably that implies that palladium price should remain high and possibly continue to rise. Continue reading

Commodity price, Commodity risk, Hedging, Oil market, Risk management, Trading, Trend following

Groupthink in commodity price forecasting, its disastrous consequences and how to master price uncertainty

  • In financial and commodity markets, large-scale price events are not predictable. Even so, most market professionals rely on forecasts most heavily in making forward-looking decisions.
  • At times, this has disastrous consequences (see below)
  • Large-scale price events are far and away the greatest source of external risk for commodity-related businesses. Their severity and frequency has been on the increase in recent years.
  • An alternative approach to mastering uncertainty is to explore systematic trend-following strategies which, if used appropriately can turn price risk into a source of profit and hard to match competitive advantage


According to the latest Reuters survey, over one thousand energy market professionals expect the oil price to average between $65 and $70 a barrel in the years 2019 through 2023. Only 3% of respondents thought that Brent Crude Oil might increase above $90/bbl next year. So, market experts do not expect any surprises and largely agree that oil price will remain where it is. This groupthink reminds me of a similar situation some 15 years ago. Continue reading

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

How we navigated the oil price roller coaster

Extreme price events are far and away the greatest source of external risk facing oil and gas producers and other energy-dependent companies. Frequency and severity of such events has been increasing dramatically since about 2005/2006 causing ocasionally severe pain for many industry participants.

Case in point was the 70% oil price collapse through 2014 and 2015, from over $100 to below $30 per barrel. In the aftermath of this decline, U.S. mining industry – which includes oil and gas producers – reported losses of $227 billion, wiping out eight previous years’ worth of profits as the following chart shows: Continue reading

Commodity price, Hedging, Market trends, Trading, Trend following

On effective trend following strategies

A question frequently arises among trend followers on the nature of effective trading strategies. The old school of thought holds that strategies should be simple, ultra robust and effective across markets and time frames. I happen to disagree so here I share a hard-won piece of knowledge that should help settle this question. Continue reading

Commodity price, Commodity risk, Hedging, Risk management, Trend following

Risk, Uncertainty and Profit

Frank Knight, the grand old man of Chicago wrote “Risk, Uncertainty and Profit,” one of the five most important economics books of the 20th century. Among other invaluable insights, Knight proposes that, “The responsible decisions in organized economic life are price decisions; others can be reduced to routine.” Knight recognized that price at which a firm sells its products or purchases materials tends to have greater impact on profitability than any other element. Based on the income statement of an average S&P 1500 company (and assuming constant sales volumes), a 1% improvement in the selling price would generate an 8% increase in operating profits. Conversely, a 1% drop in the cost of goods sold would lead to a 5.36% increase in operating profits. This impact was more than double that of a 1% increase in sales volume[1]. For commodity businesses where operating margins are typically very low, hedging can have a much greater impact on profitability. Continue reading