Optimal Momentum™ Optimal Momentum™

Frequently Asked Questions

It seems that a lot can happen between the beginning of the month when your momentum indices adjust their positions and the beginning of the next month when new signals are given. Why not check for signals more than once a month?

Research has shown that stock prices are reactive rather than trending over shorter periods of time such as days and weeks. Stocks are more likely to rebound from short-term fluctuations than to continue in the same direction. You will get whipsawed mercilessly if you check for signals frequently. It is best to ignore short term movements and retain a longer term perspective.   

 If momentum investing is so great why aren’t more people using it?

It usually takes awhile for research to work its way into the investment marketplace. We saw that with indexing. Public awareness should grow as information about momentum becomes more widely accepted over time.

There are also other reasons why momentum investing has not yet caught on. First, it is not as psychologically appealing to buy what has gone up in price as it is to buy things that appear to be cheap. Momentum may also seem too simple to those who think more complex approaches have more merit. Some investors have prejudices against newer styles of investing or investing in indices rather than in stocks. Interestingly, the same behavioral factors that explain why momentum works also explain why momentum has not caught on yet: anchoring, herding, conservatism, and the slow diffusion of information. Dual momentum also has familiarity bias and home country bias that keep others from using it.

     What are the main risks associated with dual momentum investing?

         One risk is that past history is unreliable, and the future may not be like the past. However, there          are several hundred years of out-of-sample performance supporting both relative and absolute          momentum. There are also behavioral reasons why momentum has a good chance to continue          working, since behavioral biases are hard to change.

         There is some risk that momentum will attract substantial capital and not work as well in the          future because of too many participants. But the broad stock indices we use are more scalable          than individual stocks. They are also less popular as momentum investments.


         There is risk associated with the trend-following component of dual momentum being slow          moving in order to reduce whipsaws. This means that much of the short term volatility of the          stock market still exists with dual momentum. Additionally, there are re-entry lags when a new          bull market begins after being in bonds during bear markets.

         Global Equities Momentum (GEM) model underperformed its benchmarks in 1979-80 and 2009-11.          No strategy outperforms all the time. Future drawdowns may be larger than those during the past.          Please see our Disclaimer page for additional risk factors.

       Should one invest using your papers’ momentum portfolios?

         My papers are meant to illustrate the principles of momentum investing and not as models for          investing. Data on some markets is limited. REIT index data began in 1972. That is also when the          price of gold was allowed to fluctuate. But stocks have traded since the 1600s.

         There are some who believe that a widely diversified approach is best. But historically, the          highest risk premium has come from equities. Long term research shows that momentum works          best when it is applied to geographically diversified stock indices.  

      How many sectors does your Dual Momentum Sector Rotation (DMSR) model invest in?  

         The number of sectors depends on one’s attitude toward reward and risk. Fewer sectors mean          higher expected returns and higher volatility. You can search for parameters to create a sector          rotation model that suits your own risk preferences. Be aware though that data mined parameters          may not hold up well out-of-sample.

         I show here the performance of DMSR using additional data since my book was published. DMSR is          no longer as attractive as broader-based dual momentum models like GEM. Using data back to          1801, Geczy and Samonov (2015) also show that momentum with geographically diversified stock          indices outperforms momentum with sectors, as well as individual stocks, currencies, bonds, and          commodities.

      What about adding REITs, gold, or commodities to GEM?

         None of these add value to GEM over the long run. As with sectors, their volatility and drawdown         are high. Dual momentum does best with moderate volatility. When volatility is too high, you may         give up significant profits before you can enter or exit positions. You also do not get compensated         enough when you take on more idiosyncratic volatility with narrower assets such as these.

      How about using emerging markets as a separate asset with GEM?

         EMs are included in the MSCI ACWI ex-U.S. index that we use. They make up 17% of that index         based on market capitalization. We feel this is an appropriate amount of exposure. Investors are         more prone to panic sell more volatile assets like EMs during times of crisis.

        MSCI EM index data begins in December 1988. We recently acquired additional non-MSCI EM data         back to 1950. When we tried adding additional EM exposure to GEM over a longer period, the         drawdowns and volatility were unacceptably high. As with sectors, this shows the importance of         testing on longer data sets.

      Is it better to use a combination of lookback periods rather than a single one?

        It depends. There are tradeoffs that need to be considered whenever you add complexity to a         model. See here for more on this.

      Why don’t you invest in long-term Treasury bonds when you are out of stocks since they are       negatively correlated?

         The negative correlation you see now has not always been the case.



          Source: Graham Capital Management Research Note, September 2017

         Long term bonds also have considerable duration risk. During times of crisis, investors prefer safe          harbor assets with little risk of any kind.

          Long-term bonds have had similar returns to intermediate bonds despite their higher volatility.          This is likely because the return of intermediate bonds includes compensation for reinvestment          risk once these bonds mature. Long bonds do not have this reinvestment risk and do not require a          premium for it.

         Over the past 47 years bonds have been in a bull market much of that time. Even so, long-term          bonds have not outperformed short to intermediate term bonds when we have been out of stocks.          See here for more on why long-term bonds are not a good safe harbor asset.    

       I like your Global Balanced Momentum (GBM) model because it holds both stocks and bonds        simultaneously. What can I do along those lines?

        Bonds behave differently than stocks My enhanced GBM model uses different parameters than GEM.         Enhanced GBM is one of the proprietary models I license to investment professionals. To achieve a         similar risk profile, you can use the suggestion at the end of chapter 8 of my book and allocate a         permanent percentage of your portfolio to short or intermediate-term bonds.

      What about about using leading economic indicators to predict recessions and time stock        market exposure?

       There are 16 major leading economic indicators. With so many to choose from, it is not hard to put        together indicators that look good in hindsight. The stock market is also a leading economic        indicator. It gives fewer false signals for timing market exposure and does a better job of        identifying bear markets not tied to recessions. There are data snooping, selection bias, and model        overfitting issues when you have additional indicators or parameters.

      What are the differences between your published and proprietary models?

        Our proprietary models use multiple lookback periods chosen to make the models more adaptive and         to enhance performance. Our proprietary models also apply dual momentum to the bond markets         where it has also worked well. In addition to enhanced GEM, we also have balanced and         conservative proprietary models to accommodate different risk preferences.

       My 401K plan does not include an all country world stock fund ex-US. What can I use?

         Most 401K plans include a fund for non-U.S. stocks. You could use that. If your 401k has an          emerging markets fund, you could create a synthetic ex-U.S. all country world fund by allocating          15-20% to the emerging market fund and 80-85% to a non-U.S. developed markets fund. Your          signals could still be derived from an ex-U.S. all country world stock ETF.

      What about adding value, growth, quality, low volatility, or small cap to GEM?

        They do not improve GEM’s results. Even if they did, I would be cautious of them. Factor-based         funds are often subject to data mining and selection biases in their construction. Real time results         from many factor-based funds has not been encouraging. This may get worse in the days ahead as         the amount of capital in factor-based funds continues to grow. See our blog posts here and here.

      Are there any outside validations of your GEM model?

         There are a number of them. One is by TrendXplorer. You can also do your own back testing with          ETFs or mutual funds using Portfolio Visualizer to approximate GEM. You should use an S&P 500          fund to determine “single absolute momentum.”

       I’ve seen dual momentum signals on the internet where they use an MSCI EAFE ETF rather        than an MSCI ACWI ex-U.S. ETF. What do you think of that?

         I use the All Country World Index ex-US along with the S&P 500 in order to be all inclusive and          to avoid selection bias. Selection is bias is where you select a subset of the data in order to make          your results look better or worse. EAFE omits Canada and emerging markets which represent a          significant 24% of the world’s equity markets. Holding all else constant, GEM earned 130 basis          points more in annual return using MSCI ACWI ex-U.S. rather than MSCI EAFE from when ACWI ex-          U.S. was created by MSCI in late 1988. I see no reason to invest with MSCI EAFE that has had          considerably lower returns than MSCI ACWI ex-U.S.

       Why do you backtest on index data instead of ETF or mutual fund data?

        A major reason is that index data has a lot more history. Another is that non-U.S. stock ETFs and         mutual funds (as well as index data using net returns) withhold 30% of their dividend income for         foreign taxes. These are often recoverable by investors as a tax credit. Even if they were not, to         get accurate relative strength signals you would need to deduct 30% of dividends from U.S.         indicies or ETFs.

        Expense ratios can also distort the relative performance between assets. Momentum should be         based only on asset performance. The markets do not care about your taxes or other expenses.

      Are there any websites you recommend that provide dual momentum signals?

        Some of the websites I am aware of impose their own ideas without extensive backtesting or good         reasons for what they do. You can easily get the signals yourself with the information in chapter 8         of my book. Alternatively, you can use a free Morningstar portfolio or PortfolioVisualizer to get the         proper signals.  

      Have you looked at whether there is a best time of the month to rebalance your portfolios?

       Studies here, here, and here show that stocks perform best early in the month. This is when        institutional investors make changes to their portfolios. Prices then are most representative of their        true value. Rebalancing during that time frame has shown the best results with our models. Here        are the Sharpe and Sortino ratios for GEM based on the trading day of the month.


       GEM has had some close signals for switching in and out of stocks. What do you do then?

        Our published results are based on month-end closing prices. I have tested using a 50/50         allocation to stocks and bonds when the signal is close. Results are about the same as following         the signal exactly. To reduce feelings of regret no matter what happens, you may want to use this         approach. Another possibility is to wait a few days and see which way the signal goes.

       Why do you use Treasury bills with the S&P 500 to determine absolute momentum?

         The idea behind absolute momentum is to look at the return of the S&P 500 above the risk-free          return. If the risk-free return is greater you stay in bonds until stocks show a positive excess          return. There is no reason to bear the risk of stocks when you could earn a better return without          volatility.

       It looks like the GEM model has under performed the S&P 500 after 2009. Is momentum still        effective?

         Dual momentum has a trend following component that lags behind whenever a new bull market          begins.That is the cost of avoiding the carnage of the preceding bear market. It is unfair to look          only at a new bull market without also considering the preceding bear market.You need to          consider at least a full market cycle to make a proper evaluation of performance. GEM has          outperformed its benchmark portfolio since 2008 which is over a full market cycle.

         You also need to understand why GEM has outperformed over the long run. First, are its profits          from switching between U.S. and non-U.S. stocks according to relative momentum. Since 2009,          U.S. stocks have continuously outperformed non-U.S. stocks, so there have been no opportunities          for relative strength profits. Second, the current bull market has been one of the longest in          history. This means there have also been no opportunities for absolute momentum profits. It is          difficult for any trend following approach to keep up with the stock market when it is so strong.

         You could say that GEM has lost its effectiveness if you believe U.S. stocks will always outperform          non-U.S. stocks or there will never be another bear market. If GEM underperforms over shorter          periods of time, dual momentum investors are willing to accept that because of the drawdown          protection it has shown during severe bear markets.


       Since there is no dual momentum ETF, how tax efficient is GEM?

         Since 1971, 73% of GEM’s gains have been long-term, while nearly 100% of its losses have been          short-term. Many investors don’t know that over 40% of the long-run return of the S&P 500 has          come from dividends. These are taxed whether or not they are earned in an ETF. You can defer all          income, including interest and dividends, by investing through a low-cost Fidelity variable annuity.

        Why does a subscription site that tracks quantitative models shows a lower return for GEM?

         They add an expense ratio to index returns and deduct 10 bps for each trade, which is high for the          ETFs we are in. A bigger reason is their use of net rather than gross returns for non-U.S. index          data. Net returns have a 30% reduction in dividends to account for foreign tax withholding. This          puts GEM at a disadvantage to models that are not invested in foreign stocks. If you want to          account for taxes, you should do so with all indices and ETFs instead of penalizing models that          invest globally.  


         The main reason for the difference though is their use of MSCI EAFE rather than MSCI ACWI ex-          U.S. indices and ETFs. They say there is little difference between the two. But ACWI ex-U.S.          contains 24% more of the world’s capitalization by including emerging markets and Canada. Using          MSCI EAFE instead of MSCI ACWI ex-U.S. lowered GEM’s return by 130 bps annually since MSCI          ACWI ex-U.S. became usable in 1989. This site does not penalize other models accordingly. They          are allowed to use emerging market ETFs and indices.

       I read a paper where they use a mix of lookback periods from 1 to 18 months. What do you        think of this?  


       Tobias Moskowitz, a top momentum researcher, said,”Momentum is a phenomenon that exists at 6        to 12 month horizons. Beyond 12 months, momentum wanes…”  Most academic papers use lookback        periods of 6 or 12 months. For stock market investing, research results do not support lookback        periods shorter than 3 months or longer than 12 months. Keep in mind the expression, “Garbage in,        garbage out.”    

        Stock valuations look now high, and bond yields are low. Will this adversely affect dual         momentum returns?

         High stock valuation levels can mean lower expected stock returns, and low bond yields usually          point to lower future bond returns. But stocks and bonds still fluctuate and can create          opportunities. In 2000, there were also high stock market valuations and low bond yields. But our          GEM model had a compound annual return of 11.6% over the next 10 years whereas a 60/40          stock/bond portfolio returned only 2.3%.


          Past performance is, of course, no assurance of future success.

       The stock market is up a lot this past year. Is there more risk if I get started now?

         The stock market is subject to V-shaped, panic-induced bottoms. But tops are often a different          story. It often takes awhile for them to form as bulls and bears battle for dominance. By the time          this happens, absolute momentum can catch up with prices so that stock market exits are not          so far away from market tops. You can see evidence of that by looking at the GEM charts on our          Performance page.


        Will dual momentum will lose its effectiveness if more people start using it?

         Any anomaly can lose profitability if it becomes too widely followed. However, the behavioral          basis behind momentum is strong and persistent. Human nature does not readily change.

         The same biases that make dual momentum work also keep investors away from it. This is          especially true of institutional investors who often have an aversion to any kind of tactical          approach. Shleifer and Vishny (1997) also show that asset managers are afraid of strategies that          deviate much from their benchmarks because investors may leave following periods of          underperformance. Home country bias is also strong disincentive to invest this way. It keeps          investors from having as much with non-U.S. stocks when they are stronger than U.S. stocks.


         In aggregate, the performance of actively managed funds is inferior to passively managed funds.          People have known about that since the 1960s. Yet over 70% of all domestic equity funds are still          actively managed. Dual momentum investing may very well show the same disconnect.


       How do you determine the best look back periods for your models? Won’t shorter look back        periods get you in and out of the market sooner?

         Academic research shows that over the long run, momentum for stocks works best with a look          back period of 3 to 12 months. Longer look back periods minimize transaction costs and increase          the likelihood of long-term capital gains.


         A 12-month look back was found to work well by Cowles & Jones in 1937. It has held up well ever          since. Staying with this look back period reduces concerns about data mining and seasonality bias.

         While shorter look backs may get you out of and back into markets sooner, they can produce more          whipsaw losses. This actually leads to lower returns and larger drawdowns. A 3-month look back          worked well with GEM until 1979-1980. Overall, a 12-month look back has performed better. See          our blog post “Perils of Data Mining” for more details.

        Some investors skip the last month when applying momentum. Why don’t you do that?

          It makes sense to skip the last month when you are applying momentum to stocks because           individual stocks often overreact to news then mean revert. If you use stock indices or other           asset classes like we do, you do not need to skip the last month.

        Why do you use momentum with stock indices instead of individual stocks?

           See here for why we prefer to use momentum with indices instead of stocks. According to this            study, stock momentum profits have been insignificant since 1999. According to another study,            momentum profits disappeared in the early 1990s. For more on stock momentum, see our review            of the book Quantitative Momentum.

         Why does the performance of GEM begin in 1950 on your website but in 1974 in your book?


           We were constrained by the lack of non-U.S. stock index data when I wrote my book. The            additional data we acquired since then has validated the outperformance of GEM. In addition,            both relative strength and absolute momentum were found to outperform buy and hold when            tested back to 1801 by Geczy & Samonov (2015). Absolute momentum showed superior returns            and less downside risk back to the beginning of stock trading in the 1600s and to 1223 with            other assets in Greyserman & Kaminski’s book.

        Isn’t value investing the opposite of momentum investing? How can both be valid?


           Value and momentum operate on different time frames. Value is based on longer-term mean            reversion, while momentum relies on intermediate (usually 3 to 12 months) serial correlation.            

        Why don’t you just apply relative momentum to stocks and bonds?


          Over the long run, dual momentum performs better. Historically, stocks provide the best returns.           So we want to be in them as long as their trend is positive. nce we decide to be in stocks, we           use relative momentum to tell us whether to be in U.S. or non-U.S. stocks.

         Why do you use absolute momentum for trend following instead of moving averages?

          With moving averages, you compare an asset’s current price to an average of prices over the look           back period. With absolute momentum, you compare the current price to the price at the           beginning of the look back period

          Zakamulin  shows that absolute momentum outperforms 3 different types of moving averages           on 155 years of stock market index data. Absolute momentum and reverse exponential moving           averages are the only two methods that outperform the market with statistical significance.

         When I back tested GEM there were some months in which GEM was in foreign stocks. You          show GEM in aggregate bonds. Why is that?

          On page 98 of my book. I mention that I first determine absolute momentum using the S&P 500           index, since the U.S. leads world equity markets. I also cite a supporting reference. If you           calculate absolute momentum first, you may occasionally be in aggregate bonds if the trend in           U.S. stocks is down even when non-U.S. stocks are the strongest asset.  

        What about using stop-losses with dual momentum?

          Stop-losses were once thought to reduce return whenever they reduced risk exposure. Recent           research shows that stops can enhance returns if they are used with care. I have a blog post that           discusses this. We found dual momentum more effective than stop losses in reducing risk           exposure and enhancing expected return. Stops do not add value when using dual momentum.

        Since momentum works best geographically, why not use it with individual country ETFs?

          Dual momentum works best when volatility is not too high. Individual countries can have extreme           volatility. This can make it difficult to get in and out using trend following momentum without           giving up a lot of profit. This one of reasons we do not use small cap indices or stock sectors.           Additionally, country index funds can have lower liquidity and higher bid-ask spreads than broad-           based index funds. This can create the same potential price impact and scalability issues as           momentum applied to individual stocks.

        How do leveraged ETFs perform with dual momentum? And what about using margin?

          Most leveraged ETFs use daily resets which make them best suited for day trading. Daily resets           are also not tax efficient since leveraged ETFs give mostly short-term capital gains and loses.           

          Our models are designed to be in tune with major market movements. There is still considerable           short-term volatility with dual momentum. Intra-month drawdowns close to 20% have           occasionally occurred, and larger ones may happen in the future. Investors should consider this           carefully before using leverage.

        Have you looked at inverse equity instead of using bond ETFs when absolute momentum

        tells you to exit stocks?

          Equities are the core of our models because they have highest long-run risk premium. Shorting           stocks is therefore climbing an uphill battle. We want every advantage we can get by having the           equity risk premium on our side to serve as a tailwind for future performance.

          There are also higher costs associated with inverse ETFs. You can own an S&P 500 ETF for an           annual expense of 3 basis points, while the expense ratio of an S&P 500 inverse ETF can be 89           basis points or higher.

          Because stocks have an upside bias and our models are slow moving, there is often not much           profit from short positions by the time you enter and exit. The average bull market since 1942 has           lasted 32 months, while the average bear market has lasted only 12 months. Switching to bonds           during stock market weakness identified by dual momentum has historically done better than           being short stock indices.


         There are international stock index ETFs that hedge their currency exposure. What about          using these with GEM?

          There is a tendency for international stocks to outperform U.S. stocks when the U.S. dollar is           weak and non-U.S. currencies are strong. This lets us profit from the strength in non-U.S.           currencies. When non-U.S. currencies are weak, GEM is usually out of international stocks. There           is thus little reason to use hedged ETFs. GEM automatically deals with and takes advantage of           exchange rate exposure.




        Is international diversification still beneficial now that more companies are globalized?

             Low correlation across global stocks is not the main source of our relative momentum profits.             The benefits come more on a global macro level from performance differences between the U.S.             economy (reflected in the strength or weakness of the U.S. dollar) versus the rest of the world.             See the above chart. Strong home country bias keeps investors from investing as much as they             might otherwise invest in non-U.S. stocks. We do not have that bias.

        What is the best way for non-U.S. Based investors to use dual momentum?

             We have a blog post called “Dual Momentum for Non-U.S. Investors” that discusses this in detail.            

         Is it better to scale into dual momentum or to invest all at once?

             If stocks have been up a lot recently, it might make sense to wait a bit to  avoid possible short-             term mean reversion pullbacks. Otherwise, because everyone has different risk preferences, it is             really an individual decision.


         Do you have to wait until the next day to trade after you get your signals?

           If you want to trade the same day as your signals instead of waiting until the next day’s open,            you can set up a portfolio on SharpCharts that updates real-time during trading hours. You can            then get your signals just before the markets close.

        What are momentum crashes, and do I need to worry about them?

           These are caused by the short side of long/short momentum portfolios suffering large losses           when stocks rebound sharply off V-shaped market bottoms. This happened in 1932 and 2009.           Since we do not hold short positions, momentum crashes are irrelevant to us.


         Can dual momentum be used with markets other than stocks and bonds?

            Both absolute and relative momentum have worked well with different asset classes for more            than 200 years. Stock indices have historically given the best returns.

         With bonds being in a bull market over the past 35 years, does the use of aggregate bonds          with Global Equities Momentum (GEM) overstate future expected performance?

           GEM has been in bonds less than 30% of the time. Aggregate bonds have been responsible for            only 20% of GEM’s profits.

           Aggregate bonds have an average duration of around 6 years. They are not as sensitive to            interest rate changes as longer duration bonds. Their credit risk is also minimal. Seventy percent            of their holdings are government debt. The remaining are AAA rated corporate bonds spread out            over 6800 bond holdings. As the following chart shows, their returns have been relatively steady            under varied market conditions. Their ETFs also have the lowest bond ETF expense ratios.


           Absolute momentum exits equities and enter bonds when it first identifies a bear market in            stocks. This often happens just before or early in a recession. This usually leads to falling            interest rates as aggregate demand lessens. When stocks are weak, there is also a tendency for            investors to move their capital from stocks to bonds. This also increases the demand for bonds.

           Our models aim to be totally in bonds only during bear markets in equities. You can see below            how intermediate bonds have performed during those times.


            We think it is reasonable to accept a little duration risk during bear markets in stocks. If you             disagree, you can substitute shorter-term bonds or Treasury bills with only a modest reduction             in overall performance.

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