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Summary

  • In past research we have explored the potential benefits of how-based diversification through the lens of pay-off functions.
  • Specifically, we explored how strategic rebalancing created a concave payoff while momentum / trend-following created a convex payoff. By combining these two approaches, total portfolio payoff became more neutral to the dispersion in return of underlying assets.
  • We have also spent considerable time exploring when-based diversification through our writing on rebalance timing luck.
  • To manage rebalance timing luck, we advocate for a tranching methodology that can be best distilled as rebalancing “a little but frequently.”
  • Herein, we demonstrate that the resulting payoff profile of a tranche-based rebalancing strategy closely resembles that of a portfolio that combines both strategic rebalancing and momentum/trend-following.
  • While we typically think of tranching as simply a way to de-emphasize the impact of a specific rebalancing date choice, this research suggests that for certain horizons, tranching may also be effective because it naturally introduces momentum/trend-following into the portfolio.

In Payoff Diversification (February 10th, 2020), we explored the idea of combining concave and convex payoff profiles.  Specifically, we demonstrated that rebalancing a strategic asset allocation was inherently concave (i.e. mean reversionary) whereas trend-following and momentum was inherently convex.  By combining the two approaches together, we could neutralize the implicit payoff profile of our portfolio with respect to performance of the underlying assets.

Source: Newfound Research.  Payoff Diversification (February 10th, 2020). Source: Kenneth French Data Library; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  Calculations by Newfound Research.  Returns are hypothetical and assume the reinvestment of all distributions.  Returns are gross of all fees, including, but not limited to, management fees, transaction fees, and taxes. The 60/40 portfolio is comprised of a 60% allocation to broad U.S. equities and a 40% allocation to a constant maturity 10-Year U.S. Treasury index.  The rebalanced variation is rebalanced at the end of each month whereas the buy-and-hold variation is allowed to drift over the 1-year period.  The momentum portfolio is rebalanced monthly and selects the asset with the highest prior 12-month returns whereas the buy-and-hold variation is allowed to drift over the 1-year period. The 10-Year U.S. Treasuries index is a constant maturity index calculated by assuming a 10-year bond is purchased at the beginning of every month and sold at the end of that month to purchase a new bond at par at the beginning of the next month. You cannot invest directly in an index and unmanaged index returns do not reflect any fees, expenses or sales charges. Past performance is not indicative of future results. 

The intuition behind why rebalancing is inherently mean-reversionary is fairly simple.  Consider a simple 50% stock / 50% bond portfolio.  Between rebalances, this allocation will drift based upon the relative performance of stocks and bonds.  When we rebalance, to right-size our relative allocations we must sell the asset that has out-performed and buy the one that has under-performed.  “Sell your winners and buy your losers” certainly sounds mean-reversionary to us.

In fact, one way to think about a rebalance is as the application of a long/short overlay on your portfolio.  For example, if the 50/50 portfolio drifted to a 45/55, we could think about rebalancing as holding the 45/55 and overlaying it with a +5/-5 long/short portfolio.  This perspective explicitly expresses the “buy the loser, short the winner” strategy.  In other words, we’re actively placing a trade that benefits when future returns between the two assets reverts.

While we may not be actively trying to express a view or forecast about future returns when we rebalance, we should consider the performance implications of our choice based upon whether the relative performance of these two assets continues to expand or contract:

 

Relative Performance Expands

Relative Performance Contracts

Rebalance

+

Do Not Rebalance

+

 

Our argument in Payoff Diversification was that by combining strategic rebalancing and momentum / trend following, we could help neutralize this implicit bet.

What we can also see in the table above, though, is that the simple act of not rebalancing benefits from a continuation of relative returns just as trend/momentum does.

Let’s keep that in the back of our minds and switch gears, for a moment, to portfolio tranching.  Frequent readers of our research notes will know we have spent considerable time researching the implications of rebalance timing luck.  We won’t go into great detail here, but the research can be broadly summarized as, “when you rebalance your portfolio can have meaningful implications for performance.”

Given the discussion above, why that result holds true follows naturally.  If two people hold 60/40 portfolios but rebalance them at different times in the year, their results will diverge based upon the relative performance of stocks and bonds between the rebalance periods.

As a trivial example, consider two 60/40 investors who each rebalance once a year.  One chooses to rebalance every March and one chooses to rebalance every September.  In 2008, the September investor would have re-upped his allocation to equities only to watch them sell-off for the next six months.  The March investor, on the other hand, would have rebalanced earlier that year and her equity allocation would have drifted lower as the 2008 crisis wore on.

Even better, she would rebalance in March 2009, re-upping her equity allocation near the market bottom and almost perfectly timing the performance mean-reversion that would unfold.  The September investor, on the other hand, would be underweight equities due to drift at this point.

Below we plot hypothetical drifted equity allocations for these investors over time.

Source: Tiingo. Calculations by Newfound Research. 

The implications are that rebalancing can imbed large, albeit unintentional, market-timing bets.

In Rebalance Timing Luck: The Difference between Hired and Fired we derived that the optimal solution for avoiding the impact of these rebalance decisions is portfolio tranching.  This is the same solution proposed by Blitz, van der Grient, and van Vliet (2010).

The whole concept of tranching can be summarized with the phrase: “a little but frequently.”  In other words, rebalance your portfolio more frequently, but only make small changes.  As an example, rather than rebalance once a year, we could rebalance 1/12th of our portfolio every month.  If our portfolio had drifted from a 60/40 to a 55/45, rather than rebalancing all the way back, we would just correct 1/12th of the drift, trading to a 55.42/44.58.1

Another way to think about this approach is as a collection of sub-portfolios.  For example, if we elected to implement a 12-month tranche, we might think of it as 12 separate sub-portfolios, each of which rebalances every 12 months but does so at the end of a different month (e.g. one rebalances in January, one in February, et cetera).

But why does this approach work?  It helps de-emphasize the mean-reversion bet for any given rebalance date.  We can see this by constructing the same payoff plots as before for different tranching speeds.  The 1-month tranche reflects a full monthly rebalance; a 3-month tranche reflects rebalancing 33.33% of the portfolio; a 6-month tranche reflects rebalancing 16.66% of the portfolio each month; et cetera.

Source: Newfound Research.  Payoff Diversification (February 10th, 2020). Source: Kenneth French Data Library; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  Calculations by Newfound Research.  Returns are hypothetical and assume the reinvestment of all distributions.  Returns are gross of all fees, including, but not limited to, management fees, transaction fees, and taxes. The 60/40 portfolio is comprised of a 60% allocation to broad U.S. equities and a 40% allocation to a constant maturity 10-Year U.S. Treasury index.  The rebalanced variation is rebalanced partially at the end of each month whereas the buy-and-hold variation is allowed to drift over the 1-year period.  The 10-Year U.S. Treasuries index is a constant maturity index calculated by assuming a 10-year bond is purchased at the beginning of every month and sold at the end of that month to purchase a new bond at par at the beginning of the next month. You cannot invest directly in an index and unmanaged index returns do not reflect any fees, expenses or sales charges. Past performance is not indicative of future results. 

Note how the concave payoff function appears to “unbend” and the 12-month tranche appears similar in shape to payoff of the 90% strategic rebalance / 10% momentum strategy portfolio we plotted in the introduction.

Why might this be the case?  Recall that not rebalancing can be effective so long as there is continuation (i.e. momentum / trend) in the relative performance between stocks and bonds.  By allowing our portfolio to drift, our portfolio will naturally tilt itself towards the out-performing asset.  Furthermore, drift serves as an interesting amplifier to the momentum signal: the more persistent the relative out-performance, and the larger the relative out-performance in magnitude, the greater the resulting tilt.

While tranching naturally helps reduce rebalance timing luck by de-emphasizing each specific rebalance, we can also see that we may be able to naturally embed momentum into our process.

Conclusion

In portfolio management research, the answer we find is often a reflection of the angle by which a question is asked.

For example, in prior research notes, we have spent considerable time documenting the impact of rebalance timing luck in strategic asset allocation, tactical asset allocation, and factor investing.  The simple choice of when, though often overlooked in analysis, can have a significant impact upon realized results.  Therefore, in order to de-emphasize the choice of when, we introduce portfolio tranching.

We have also spent a good deal of time discussing the how axis of diversification (i.e. process).  Not only have we research this topic through the lens of ensemble techniques, but we have also explored it through the payoff profiles generated by each process.  We find that by combining diversifying concave and convex profiles – e.g. mean-reversion and momentum – we can potentially create a return profile that is more robust to different outcomes.

Herein, we found that tranching the rebalance of a strategic asset allocation may, in fact, allow us to naturally embed momentum without having to explicitly introduce a momentum strategy.  What we find, then, is that the two topics may not actually be independent avenues of research about when and how.  Rather, they may just different ways of exploring how to diversify the impacts of convexity and concavity in portfolio construction.

 


 

  1. Portfolio tranching is the optimal choice for avoiding rebalance timing luck but does not consider trading costs.  In practice, investors should take care to balance their drift from model weights versus the cost of trading to those weights.

Corey is co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of Newfound Research, a quantitative asset manager offering a suite of separately managed accounts and mutual funds. At Newfound, Corey is responsible for portfolio management, investment research, strategy development, and communication of the firm's views to clients. Prior to offering asset management services, Newfound licensed research from the quantitative investment models developed by Corey. At peak, this research helped steer the tactical allocation decisions for upwards of $10bn. Corey holds a Master of Science in Computational Finance from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, cum laude, from Cornell University. You can connect with Corey on LinkedIn or Twitter.