A Review of James Picerno’s Quantitative Investment Portfolio Analytics in R

This is a review of James Picerno’s Quantitative Investment Portfolio Analytics in R. Overall, it’s about as fantastic a book as you can get on portfolio optimization until you start getting into corner cases stemming from large amounts of assets.

Here’s a quick summary of what the book covers:

1) How to install R.

2) How to create some rudimentary backtests.

3) Momentum.

4) Mean-Variance Optimization.

5) Factor Analysis

6) Bootstrapping/Monte-Carlo simulations.

7) Modeling Tail Risk

8) Risk Parity/Vol Targeting

9) Index replication

10) Estimating impacts of shocks

11) Plotting in ggplot

12) Downloading/saving data.

All in all, the book teaches the reader many fantastic techniques to get started doing some basic portfolio management using asset-class ETFs, and under the assumption of ideal data–that is, that there are few assets with concurrent starting times, that the number of assets is much smaller than the number of observations (I.E. 10 asset class ETFs, 90 day lookback windows, for instance), and other attributes taken for granted to illustrate concepts. I myself have used these concepts time and again (and, in fact, covered some of these topics on this blog, such as volatility targeting, momentum, and mean-variance), but in some of the work projects I’ve done, the trouble begins when the number of assets grows larger than the number of observations, or when assets move in or out of the investable universe (EG a new company has an IPO or a company goes bankrupt/merges/etc.). It also does not go into the PortfolioAnalytics package, developed by Ross Bennett and Brian Peterson. Having recently started to use this package for a real-world problem, it produces some very interesting results and its potential is immense, with the large caveat that you need an immense amount of computing power to generate lots of results for large-scale problems, which renders it impractical for many individual users. A quadratic optimization on a backtest with around 2400 periods and around 500 assets per rebalancing period (days) took about eight hours on a cloud server (when done sequentially to preserve full path dependency).

However, aside from delving into some somewhat-edge-case appears-more-in-the-professional-world topics, this book is extremely comprehensive. Simply, as far as managing a portfolio of asset-class ETFs (essentially, what the inimitable Adam Butler and crew from ReSolve Asset Management talk about, along with Walter’s fantastic site, AllocateSmartly), this book will impart a lot of knowledge that goes into doing those things. While it won’t make you as comfortable as say, an experienced professional like myself is at writing and analyzing portfolio optimization backtests, it will allow you to do a great deal of your own analysis, and certainly a lot more than anyone using Excel.

While I won’t rehash what the book covers in this post, what I will say is that it does cover some of the material I’ve posted in years past. And furthermore, rather than spending half the book about topics such as motivations, behavioral biases, and so on, this book goes right into the content that readers should know in order to execute the tasks they desire. Furthermore, the content is presented in a very coherent, English-and-code, matter-of-fact way, as opposed to a bunch of abstract mathematical derivations that treats practical implementation as an afterthought. Essentially, when one buys a cookbook, they don’t get it to read half of it for motivations as to why they should bake their own cake, but on how to do it. And as far as density of how-to, this book delivers in a way I think that other authors should strive to emulate.

Furthermore, I think that this book should be required reading for any analyst wanting to work in the field. It’s a very digestible “here’s how you do X” type of book. I.E. “here’s a data set, write a backtest based on these momentum rules, use an inverse-variance weighting scheme, do a Fama-French factor analysis on it”.

In any case, in my opinion, for anyone doing any sort of tactical asset allocation analysis in R, get this book now. For anyone doing any sort of tactical asset allocation analysis in spreadsheets, buy this book sooner than now, and then see the previous sentence. In any case, I’ll certainly be keeping this book on my shelf and referencing it if need be.

Thanks for reading.

Note: I am currently contracting but am currently on the lookout for full-time positions in New York City. If you know of a position which may benefit from my skills, please let me know. My LinkedIn profile can be found here.


A Different Way To Think About Drawdown — Geometric Calmar Ratio

This post will discuss the idea of the geometric Calmar ratio — a way to modify the Calmar ratio to account for compounding returns.

So, one thing that recently had me sort of annoyed in terms of my interpretation of the Calmar ratio is this: essentially, the way I interpret it is that it’s a back of the envelope measure of how many years it takes you to recover from the worst loss. That is, if a strategy makes 10% a year (on average), and has a loss of 10%, well, intuition serves that from that point on, on average, it’ll take about a year to make up that loss–that is, a Calmar ratio of 1. Put another way, it means that on average, a strategy will make money at the end of 252 trading days.

But, that isn’t really the case in all circumstances. If an investment manager is looking to create a small, meager return for their clients, and is looking to make somewhere between 5-10%, then sure, the Calmar ratio approximation and interpretation makes sense in that context. Or, it makes sense in the context of “every year, we withdraw all profits and deposit to make up for any losses”. But in the context of a hedge fund trying to create large, market-beating returns for its investors, those hedge funds can have fairly substantial drawdowns.

Citadel–one of the gold standards of the hedge fund industry, had a drawdown of more than 50% during the financial crisis, and of course, there was https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fund-volatility/exclusive-ljm-partners-shutting-its-doors-after-vol-mageddon-losses-in-u-s-stocks-idUSKCN1GC29Hat least one fund that blew up in the storm-in-a-teacup volatility spike on Feb. 5 (in other words, if those guys were professionals, what does that make me? Or if I’m an amateur, what does that make them?).

In any case, in order to recover from such losses, it’s clear that a strategy would need to make back a lot more than what it lost. Lose 25%? 33% is the high water mark. Lose 33%? 50% to get back to even. Lose 50%? 100%. Beyond that? You get the idea.

In order to capture this dynamic, we should write a new Calmar ratio to express this idea.

So here’s a function to compute the geometric calmar ratio:


geomCalmar <- function(r) {
  rAnn <- Return.annualized(r)
  maxDD <- maxDrawdown(r)
  toHighwater <- 1/(1-maxDD) - 1
  out <- rAnn/toHighwater

So, let's compare how some symbols stack up. We'll take a high-volatility name (AMZN), the good old S&P 500 (SPY), and a very low volatility instrument (SHY).

getSymbols(c('AMZN', 'SPY', 'SHY'), from = '1990-01-01')
rets <- na.omit(cbind(Return.calculate(Ad(AMZN)), Return.calculate(Ad(SPY)), Return.calculate(Ad(SHY))))
compare <- rbind(table.AnnualizedReturns(rets), maxDrawdown(rets), CalmarRatio(rets), geomCalmar(rets))
rownames(compare)[6] <- "Geometric Calmar"

The returns start from July 31, 2002. Here are the statistics.

                           AMZN.Adjusted SPY.Adjusted SHY.Adjusted
Annualized Return             0.3450000   0.09110000   0.01940000
Annualized Std Dev            0.4046000   0.18630000   0.01420000
Annualized Sharpe (Rf=0%)     0.8528000   0.48860000   1.36040000
Worst Drawdown                0.6525491   0.55189461   0.02231459
Calmar Ratio                  0.5287649   0.16498652   0.86861760
Geometric Calmar              0.1837198   0.07393135   0.84923475

For my own proprietary volatility trading strategy, a strategy which has a Calmar above 2 (interpretation: finger in the air means that you make a new equity high every six months in the worst case scenario), here are the statistics:

> CalmarRatio(stratRetsAggressive[[2]]['2011::'])
Calmar Ratio 3.448497
> geomCalmar(stratRetsAggressive[[2]]['2011::'])
Annualized Return 2.588094

Essentially, because of the nature of losses compounding, the geometric Calmar ratio will always be lower than the standard Calmar ratio, which is to be expected when dealing with the geometric nature of compounding returns.

Essentially, I hope that this gives individuals some thought about re-evaluating the Calmar Ratio.

Thanks for reading.

NOTES: registration for R/Finance 2018 is open. As usual, I’ll be giving a lightning talk, this time on volatility trading.

I am currently contracting and seek network opportunities, along with information about prospective full time roles starting in July. Those interested in my skill set can feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn here.

How to Make Like A Chrono Trigger Character and Survive the Apocalypse

This impromptu post will be talking about the events of Feb 5, 2018 in the volatility markets.

Allow me to indulge in a little bit of millennial nostalgia. For those that played Chrono Trigger, odds are, one of their most memorable experiences is first experiencing the Kingdom of Zeal–it was a floating kingdom above the clouds of a never-ending ice age, complete with warm scenery, and calming music.

Long story short, it was powered by harvesting magic from…essentially the monster that was the game’s final enemy. What was my favorite setting in the game eventually had this happen to it.


Essentially, the lesson taken from that scenario is: exercise caution first and foremost, and don’t mess around with things one does not understand. After the 2017 that XIV had, when it was seemingly impossible to do any wrong, many system traders looked foolish. Well, it seems that all good things must come to an end, though it isn’t often that they do so this violently.

For the record, my aggressive subscription strategy was flat starting on January 31st, while my conservative strategy was flat for far longer. In short, discretion is sometimes the better part of valor, though those that are interested in what actually constitutes as valor and want to hear it from a quant, you can head over to Alpha Architect. Wes Gray and Jack Vogel will tell you far more about being a badass than I ever could.

However, to put some firm numbers on my trading philosophy:

1*(1+1) = 2.
1*(1-1) = 0.

Make 100% on a trade? You’re a hero for some finite amount of time.
Lose 100%? You’re not just an idiot. You’re done. Kaput. Finished. Career over.

The way I see it is this: in trading, there’s no free lunch, and there are a lot of smart people in the industry.

The way I see it is this:

Risk in the financial markets (especially the volatility trading markets) isn’t like this: shortTail

But like this: longtail

The tails are very long. And in the financial markets, they aren’t so fluffy.

For the record, my subscription strategy, beyond taking a look at my VXX signal, is unaffected by XIV’s termination, as SVXY will slot right in to replace it.

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: I am currently seeking full time employment, consulting opportunities, and networking opportunities in relation to the skills I’ve demonstrated. Contact me on LinkedIn here.

Which Implied Volatility Ratio Is Best?

This post will be about comparing a volatility signal using three different variations of implied volatility indices to predict when to enter a short volatility position.

In volatility trading, there are three separate implied volatility indices that have a somewhat long history for trading–the VIX (everyone knows this one), the VXV (more recently changed to be called the VIX3M), which is like the VIX, except for a three-month period), and the VXMT, which is the implied six-month volatility period.

This relationship gives investigation into three separate implied volatility ratios: VIX/VIX3M (aka VXV), VIX/VXMT, and VIX3M/VXMT, as predictors for entering a short (or long) volatility position.

So, let’s get the data.



VIX <- fread("http://www.cboe.com/publish/scheduledtask/mktdata/datahouse/vixcurrent.csv", skip = 1)
VIXdates <- VIX$Date
VIX$Date <- NULL; VIX <- xts(VIX, order.by=as.Date(VIXdates, format = '%m/%d/%Y'))

vxv <- xts(read.zoo("vxvData.csv", header=TRUE, sep=",", format="%m/%d/%Y", skip=2))
vxmt <- xts(read.zoo("vxmtData.csv", header=TRUE, sep=",", format="%m/%d/%Y", skip=2))


xiv <- xts(read.zoo("longXIV.txt", format="%Y-%m-%d", sep=",", header=TRUE))

xivRets <- Return.calculate(Cl(xiv))

One quick strategy to investigate is simple–the idea that the ratio should be below 1 (I.E. contango in implied volatility term structure) and decreasing (below a moving average). So when the ratio will be below 1 (that is, with longer-term implied volatility greater than shorter-term), and the ratio will be below its 60-day moving average, the strategy will take a position in XIV.

Here’s the code to do that.

vixVix3m <- Cl(VIX)/Cl(vxv)
vixVxmt <- Cl(VIX)/Cl(vxmt)
vix3mVxmt <- Cl(vxv)/Cl(vxmt)

stratStats <- function(rets) {
  stats <- rbind(table.AnnualizedReturns(rets), maxDrawdown(rets))
  stats[5,] <- stats[1,]/stats[4,]
  stats[6,] <- stats[1,]/UlcerIndex(rets)
  rownames(stats)[4] <- "Worst Drawdown"
  rownames(stats)[5] <- "Calmar Ratio"
  rownames(stats)[6] <- "Ulcer Performance Index"

maShort <- SMA(vixVix3m, 60)
maMed <- SMA(vixVxmt, 60)
maLong <- SMA(vix3mVxmt, 60)

sigShort <- vixVix3m < 1 & vixVix3m < maShort
sigMed <- vixVxmt < 1 & vixVxmt < maMed 
sigLong <- vix3mVxmt < 1 & vix3mVxmt < maLong 

retsShort <- lag(sigShort, 2) * xivRets 
retsMed <- lag(sigMed, 2) * xivRets 
retsLong <- lag(sigLong, 2) * xivRets

compare <- na.omit(cbind(retsShort, retsMed, retsLong))
colnames(compare) <- c("Short", "Medium", "Long")

With the following performance:


> stratStats(compare)
                              Short    Medium     Long
Annualized Return         0.5485000 0.6315000 0.638600
Annualized Std Dev        0.3874000 0.3799000 0.378900
Annualized Sharpe (Rf=0%) 1.4157000 1.6626000 1.685600
Worst Drawdown            0.5246983 0.5318472 0.335756
Calmar Ratio              1.0453627 1.1873711 1.901976
Ulcer Performance Index   3.7893478 4.6181788 5.244137

In other words, the VIX3M/VXMT sports the lowest drawdowns (by a large margin) with higher returns.

So, when people talk about which implied volatility ratio to use, I think this offers some strong evidence for the longer-out horizon as a predictor for which implied vol term structure to use. It’s also why it forms the basis of my subscription strategy.

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: I am currently seeking a full-time position (remote or in the northeast U.S.) related to my skill set demonstrated on this blog. Please message me on LinkedIn if you know of any opportunities which may benefit from my skill set.

Replicating Volatility ETN Returns From CBOE Futures

This post will demonstrate how to replicate the volatility ETNs (XIV, VXX, ZIV, VXZ) from CBOE futures, thereby allowing any individual to create synthetic ETF returns from before their inception, free of cost.

So, before I get to the actual algorithm, it depends on an update to the term structure algorithm I shared some months back.

In that algorithm, mistakenly (or for the purpose of simplicity), I used calendar days as the time to expiry, when it should have been business days, which also accounts for weekends, and holidays, which are an irritating artifact to keep track of.

So here’s the salient change, in the loop that calculates times to expiry:


masterlist <- list()
timesToExpiry <- list()
for(i in 1:length(contracts)) {
  # obtain data
  contract <- contracts[i]
  dataFile <- paste0(stem, contract, "_VX.csv")
  expiryYear <- paste0("20",substr(contract, 2, 3))
  expiryMonth <- monthMaps$monthNum[monthMaps$futureStem == substr(contract,1,1)]
  expiryDate <- dates$dates[dates$dateMon == paste(expiryYear, expiryMonth, sep="-")]
  data <- tryCatch(
    }, error = function(e){return(NULL)}
  if(!is.null(data)) {
    # create dates
    dataDates <- as.Date(data$`Trade Date`, format = '%m/%d/%Y')
    # create time to expiration xts
    toExpiry <- xts(bizdays(dataDates, expiryDate), order.by=dataDates)
    colnames(toExpiry) <- contract
    timesToExpiry[[i]] <- toExpiry
    # get settlements
    settlement <- xts(data$Settle, order.by=dataDates)
    colnames(settlement) <- contract
    masterlist[[i]] <- settlement

The one salient line in particular, is this:

toExpiry <- xts(bizdays(dataDates, expiryDate), order.by=dataDates)

What is this bizdays function? It comes from the bizdays package in R.

There’s also the tradingHolidays.R script, which makes further use of the bizdays package. Here’s what goes on under the hood in tradingHolidays.R, for those that wish to replicate the code:

easters <- read.csv("easters.csv", header = FALSE)
easterDates <- as.Date(paste0(substr(easters$V2, 1, 6), easters$V3), format = '%m/%d/%Y')-2

nonEasters <- read.csv("nonEasterHolidays.csv", header = FALSE)
nonEasterDates <- as.Date(paste0(substr(nonEasters$V2, 1, 6), nonEasters$V3), format = '%m/%d/%Y')

weekdayNonEasters <- nonEasterDates[which(!weekdays(nonEasterDates) %in% c("Saturday", "Sunday"))]

hurricaneSandy <- as.Date(c("2012-10-29", "2012-10-30"))

holidays <- sort(c(easterDates, weekdayNonEasters, hurricaneSandy))
holidays <- holidays[holidays > as.Date("2003-12-31") & holidays < as.Date("2019-01-01")]


create.calendar("HolidaysUS", holidays, weekdays = c("saturday", "sunday"))
bizdays.options$set(default.calendar = "HolidaysUS")

There are two CSVs that I manually compiled, but will share screenshots of–they are the easter holidays (because they have to be adjusted for turning Sunday to Friday because of Easter Fridays), and the rest of the national holidays.

Here is what the easters csv looks like:


And the nonEasterHolidays, which contains New Year’s Day, MLK Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day (along with their observed dates) nonEasterScreenshot CSV:

Furthermore, we need to adjust for the two days that equities were not trading due to Hurricane Sandy.

So then, the list of holidays looks like this:

> holidays
  [1] "2004-01-01" "2004-01-19" "2004-02-16" "2004-04-09" "2004-05-31" "2004-07-05" "2004-09-06" "2004-11-25"
  [9] "2004-12-24" "2004-12-31" "2005-01-17" "2005-02-21" "2005-03-25" "2005-05-30" "2005-07-04" "2005-09-05"
 [17] "2005-11-24" "2005-12-26" "2006-01-02" "2006-01-16" "2006-02-20" "2006-04-14" "2006-05-29" "2006-07-04"
 [25] "2006-09-04" "2006-11-23" "2006-12-25" "2007-01-01" "2007-01-02" "2007-01-15" "2007-02-19" "2007-04-06"
 [33] "2007-05-28" "2007-07-04" "2007-09-03" "2007-11-22" "2007-12-25" "2008-01-01" "2008-01-21" "2008-02-18"
 [41] "2008-03-21" "2008-05-26" "2008-07-04" "2008-09-01" "2008-11-27" "2008-12-25" "2009-01-01" "2009-01-19"
 [49] "2009-02-16" "2009-04-10" "2009-05-25" "2009-07-03" "2009-09-07" "2009-11-26" "2009-12-25" "2010-01-01"
 [57] "2010-01-18" "2010-02-15" "2010-04-02" "2010-05-31" "2010-07-05" "2010-09-06" "2010-11-25" "2010-12-24"
 [65] "2011-01-17" "2011-02-21" "2011-04-22" "2011-05-30" "2011-07-04" "2011-09-05" "2011-11-24" "2011-12-26"
 [73] "2012-01-02" "2012-01-16" "2012-02-20" "2012-04-06" "2012-05-28" "2012-07-04" "2012-09-03" "2012-10-29"
 [81] "2012-10-30" "2012-11-22" "2012-12-25" "2013-01-01" "2013-01-21" "2013-02-18" "2013-03-29" "2013-05-27"
 [89] "2013-07-04" "2013-09-02" "2013-11-28" "2013-12-25" "2014-01-01" "2014-01-20" "2014-02-17" "2014-04-18"
 [97] "2014-05-26" "2014-07-04" "2014-09-01" "2014-11-27" "2014-12-25" "2015-01-01" "2015-01-19" "2015-02-16"
[105] "2015-04-03" "2015-05-25" "2015-07-03" "2015-09-07" "2015-11-26" "2015-12-25" "2016-01-01" "2016-01-18"
[113] "2016-02-15" "2016-03-25" "2016-05-30" "2016-07-04" "2016-09-05" "2016-11-24" "2016-12-26" "2017-01-02"
[121] "2017-01-16" "2017-02-20" "2017-04-14" "2017-05-29" "2017-07-04" "2017-09-04" "2017-11-23" "2017-12-25"
[129] "2018-01-01" "2018-01-15" "2018-02-19" "2018-03-30" "2018-05-28" "2018-07-04" "2018-09-03" "2018-11-22"
[137] "2018-12-25"

So once we have a list of holidays, we use the bizdays package to set the holidays and weekends (Saturday and Sunday) as our non-business days, and use that function to calculate the correct times to expiry.

So, now that we have the updated expiry structure, we can write a function that will correctly replicate the four main volatility ETNs–XIV, VXX, ZIV, and VXZ.

Here’s the English explanation:

VXX is made up of two contracts–the front month, and the back month, and has a certain number of trading days (AKA business days) that it trades until expiry, say, 17. During that timeframe, the front month (let’s call it M1) goes from being the entire allocation of funds, to being none of the allocation of funds, as the front month contract approaches expiry. That is, as a contract approaches expiry, the second contract gradually receives more and more weight, until, at expiry of the front month contract, the second month contract contains all of the funds–just as it *becomes* the front month contract. So, say you have 17 days to expiry on the front month. At the expiry of the previous contract, the second month will have a weight of 17/17–100%, as it becomes the front month. Then, the next day, that contract, now the front month, will have a weight of 16/17 at settle, then 15/17, and so on. That numerator is called dr, and the denominator is called dt.

However, beyond this, there’s a second mechanism that’s responsible for the VXX looking like it does as compared to a basic futures contract (that is, the decay responsible for short volatility’s profits), and that is the “instantaneous” rebalancing. That is, the returns for a given day are today’s settles multiplied by yesterday’s weights, over yesterday’s settles multiplied by yesterday’s weights, minus one. That is, (S_1_t * dr/dt_t-1 + S_2_t * 1-dr/dt_t-1) / (S_1_t-1 * dr/dt_t-1 + S_2_t-1 * 1-dr/dt_t-1) – 1 (I could use a tutorial on LaTeX). So, when you move forward a day, well, tomorrow, today’s weights become t-1. Yet, when were the assets able to be rebalanced? Well, in the ETNs such as VXX and VXZ, the “hand-waving” is that it happens instantaneously. That is, the weight for the front month was 93%, the return was realized at settlement (that is, from settle to settle), and immediately after that return was realized, the front month’s weight shifts from 93%, to, say, 88%. So, say Credit Suisse (that issues these ETNs ), has $10,000 (just to keep the arithmetic and number of zeroes tolerable, obviously there are a lot more in reality) worth of XIV outstanding after immediately realizing returns, it will sell $500 of its $9300 in the front month, and immediately move them to the second month, so it will immediately go from $9300 in M1 and $700 in M2 to $8800 in M1 and $1200 in M2. When did those $500 move? Immediately, instantaneously, and if you like, you can apply Clarke’s Third Law and call it “magically”.

The only exception is the day after roll day, in which the second month simply becomes the front month as the previous front month expires, so what was a 100% weight on the second month will now be a 100% weight on the front month, so there’s some extra code that needs to be written to make that distinction.

That’s the way it works for VXX and XIV. What’s the difference for VXZ and ZIV? It’s really simple–instead of M1 and M2, VXZ uses the exact same weightings (that is, the time remaining on front month vs. how many days exist for that contract to be the front month), uses M4, M5, M6, and M7, with M4 taking dr/dt, M5 and M6 always being 1, and M7 being 1-dr/dt.

In any case, here’s the code.

syntheticXIV <- function(termStructure, expiryStructure) {
  # find expiry days
  zeroDays <- which(expiryStructure$C1 == 0)
  # dt = days in contract period, set after expiry day of previous contract
  dt <- zeroDays + 1
  dtXts <- expiryStructure$C1[dt,]
  # create dr (days remaining) and dt structure
  drDt <- cbind(expiryStructure[,1], dtXts)
  colnames(drDt) <- c("dr", "dt")
  drDt$dt <- na.locf(drDt$dt)
  # add one more to dt to account for zero day
  drDt$dt <- drDt$dt + 1
  drDt <- na.omit(drDt)
  # assign weights for front month and back month based on dr and dt
  wtC1 <- drDt$dr/drDt$dt
  wtC2 <- 1-wtC1
  # realize returns with old weights, "instantaneously" shift to new weights after realizing returns at settle
  # assumptions are a bit optimistic, I think
  valToday <- termStructure[,1] * lag(wtC1) + termStructure[,2] * lag(wtC2)
  valYesterday <- lag(termStructure[,1]) * lag(wtC1) + lag(termStructure[,2]) * lag(wtC2)
  syntheticRets <- (valToday/valYesterday) - 1
  # on the day after roll, C2 becomes C1, so reflect that in returns
  zeroes <- which(drDt$dr == 0) + 1 
  zeroRets <- termStructure[,1]/lag(termStructure[,2]) - 1
  # override usual returns with returns that reflect back month becoming front month after roll day
  syntheticRets[index(syntheticRets)[zeroes]] <- zeroRets[index(syntheticRets)[zeroes]]
  syntheticRets <- na.omit(syntheticRets)
  # vxxRets are syntheticRets
  vxxRets <- syntheticRets
  # repeat same process for vxz -- except it's dr/dt * 4th contract + 5th + 6th + 1-dr/dt * 7th contract
  vxzToday <- termStructure[,4] * lag(wtC1) + termStructure[,5] + termStructure[,6] + termStructure[,7] * lag(wtC2)
  vxzYesterday <- lag(termStructure[,4]) * lag(wtC1) + lag(termStructure[, 5]) + lag(termStructure[,6]) + lag(termStructure[,7]) * lag(wtC2)
  syntheticVxz <- (vxzToday/vxzYesterday) - 1
  # on zero expiries, next day will be equal (4+5+6)/lag(5+6+7) - 1
  zeroVxz <- (termStructure[,4] + termStructure[,5] + termStructure[,6])/
    lag(termStructure[,5] + termStructure[,6] + termStructure[,7]) - 1
  syntheticVxz[index(syntheticVxz)[zeroes]] <- zeroVxz[index(syntheticVxz)[zeroes]]
  syntheticVxz <- na.omit(syntheticVxz)
  vxzRets <- syntheticVxz
  # write out weights for actual execution
  if(last(drDt$dr!=0)) {
    print(paste("Previous front-month weight was", round(last(drDt$dr)/last(drDt$dt), 5)))
    print(paste("Front-month weight at settle today will be", round((last(drDt$dr)-1)/last(drDt$dt), 5)))
      print("Front month will be zero at end of day. Second month becomes front month.")
  } else {
    print("Previous front-month weight was zero. Second month became front month.")
    print(paste("New front month weights at settle will be", round(last(expiryStructure[,2]-1)/last(expiryStructure[,2]), 5)))
  return(list(vxxRets, vxzRets))

So, a big thank you goes out to Michael Kapler of Systematic Investor Toolbox for originally doing the replication and providing his code. My code essentially does the same thing, in, hopefully a more commented way.

So, ultimately, does it work? Well, using my updated term structure code, I can test that.

While I’m not going to paste my entire term structure code (again, available here, just update the script with my updates from this post), here’s how you’d run the new function:

> out <- syntheticXIV(termStructure, expiryStructure)
[1] "Previous front-month weight was 0.17647"
[1] "Front-month weight at settle today will be 0.11765"

And since it returns both the vxx returns and the vxz returns, we can compare them both.

compareXIV <- na.omit(cbind(xivRets, out[[1]] * -1))
colnames(compareXIV) <- c("XIV returns", "Replication returns")

With the result:


Basically, a perfect match.

Let’s do the same thing, with ZIV.

compareZIV <- na.omit(cbind(ZIVrets, out[[2]]*-1))
colnames(compareZIV) <- c("ZIV returns", "Replication returns")


So, rebuilding from the futures does a tiny bit better than the ETN. But the trajectory is largely identical.

That concludes this post. I hope it has shed some light on how these volatility ETNs work, and how to obtain them directly from the futures data published by the CBOE, which are the inputs to my term structure algorithm.

This also means that for institutions interested in trading my strategy, that they can obtain leverage to trade the futures-composite replicated variants of these ETNs, at greater volume.

Thanks for reading.

NOTES: For those interested in a retail subscription strategy to trading volatility, do not hesitate to subscribe to my volatility-trading strategy. For those interested in employing me full-time or for long-term consulting projects, I can be reached on my LinkedIn, or my email: ilya.kipnis@gmail.com.

(Don’t Get) Contangled Up In Noise

This post will be about investigating the efficacy of contango as a volatility trading signal.

For those that trade volatility (like me), a term you may see that’s somewhat ubiquitous is the term “contango”. What does this term mean?

Well, simple: it just means the ratio of the second month of VIX futures over the first. The idea being is that when the second month of futures is more than the first, that people’s outlook for volatility is greater in the future than it is for the present, and therefore, the futures are “in contango”, which is most of the time.

Furthermore, those that try to find decent volatility trading ideas may have often seen that futures in contango implies that holding a short volatility position will be profitable.

Is this the case?

Well, there’s an easy way to answer that.

First off, refer back to my post on obtaining free futures data from the CBOE.

Using this data, we can obtain our signal (that is, in order to run the code in this post, run the code in that post).

xivSig <- termStructure$C2 > termStructure$C1

Now, let’s get our XIV data (again, big thanks to Mr. Helmuth Vollmeier for so kindly providing it.



         destfile="longVXX.txt") #requires downloader package

xiv <- xts(read.zoo("longXIV.txt", format="%Y-%m-%d", sep=",", header=TRUE))
xivRets <- Return.calculate(Cl(xiv))

Now, here’s how this works: as the CBOE doesn’t update its settles until around 9:45 AM EST on the day after (EG a Tuesday’s settle data won’t release until Wednesday at 9:45 AM EST), we have to enter at close of the day after the signal fires. (For those wondering, my subscription strategy uses this mechanism, giving subscribers ample time to execute throughout the day.)

So, let’s calculate our backtest returns. Here’s a stratStats function to compute some summary statistics.

stratStats <- function(rets) {
  stats <- rbind(table.AnnualizedReturns(rets), maxDrawdown(rets))
  stats[5,] <- stats[1,]/stats[4,]
  stats[6,] <- stats[1,]/UlcerIndex(rets)
  rownames(stats)[4] <- "Worst Drawdown"
  rownames(stats)[5] <- "Calmar Ratio"
  rownames(stats)[6] <- "Ulcer Performance Index"
stratRets <- lag(xivSig, 2) * xivRets

With the following results:


Annualized Return         0.3749000
Annualized Std Dev        0.4995000
Annualized Sharpe (Rf=0%) 0.7505000
Worst Drawdown            0.7491131
Calmar Ratio              0.5004585
Ulcer Performance Index   0.7984454

So, this is obviously a disaster. Visual inspection will show devastating, multi-year drawdowns. Using the table.Drawdowns command, we can view the worst ones.

> table.Drawdowns(stratRets, top = 10)
         From     Trough         To   Depth Length To Trough Recovery
1  2007-02-23 2008-12-15 2010-04-06 -0.7491    785       458      327
2  2010-04-21 2010-06-30 2010-10-25 -0.5550    131        50       81
3  2014-07-07 2015-12-11 2017-01-04 -0.5397    631       364      267
4  2012-03-27 2012-06-01 2012-07-17 -0.3680     78        47       31
5  2017-07-25 2017-08-17 2017-10-16 -0.3427     59        18       41
6  2013-09-27 2014-04-11 2014-06-18 -0.3239    182       136       46
7  2011-02-15 2011-03-16 2011-04-26 -0.3013     49        21       28
8  2013-02-20 2013-03-01 2013-04-23 -0.2298     44         8       36
9  2013-05-20 2013-06-20 2013-07-08 -0.2261     34        23       11
10 2012-12-19 2012-12-28 2013-01-23 -0.2154     23         7       16

So, the top 3 are horrendous, and then anything above 30% is still pretty awful. A couple of those drawdowns lasted multiple years as well, with a massive length to the trough. 458 trading days is nearly two years, and 364 is about one and a half years. Imagine seeing a strategy be consistently on the wrong side of the trade for nearly two years, and when all is said and done, you’ve lost three-fourths of everything in that strategy.

There’s no sugar-coating this: such a strategy can only be called utter trash.

Let’s try one modification: we’ll require both contango (C2 > C1), and that contango be above its 60-day simple moving average, similar to my VXV/VXMT strategy.

contango <- termStructure$C2/termStructure$C1
maContango <- SMA(contango, 60)
xivSig <- contango > 1 & contango > maContango
stratRets <- lag(xivSig, 2) * xivRets

With the results:


> stratStats(stratRets)
Annualized Return         0.4271000
Annualized Std Dev        0.3429000
Annualized Sharpe (Rf=0%) 1.2457000
Worst Drawdown            0.5401002
Calmar Ratio              0.7907792
Ulcer Performance Index   1.7515706


> table.Drawdowns(stratRets, top = 10)
         From     Trough         To   Depth Length To Trough Recovery
1  2007-04-17 2008-03-17 2010-01-06 -0.5401    688       232      456
2  2014-12-08 2014-12-31 2015-04-09 -0.2912     84        17       67
3  2017-07-25 2017-09-05 2017-12-08 -0.2610     97        30       67
4  2012-03-27 2012-06-21 2012-07-02 -0.2222     68        61        7
5  2012-07-20 2012-12-06 2013-02-08 -0.2191    139        96       43
6  2015-10-20 2015-11-13 2016-03-16 -0.2084    102        19       83
7  2013-12-27 2014-04-11 2014-05-23 -0.1935    102        73       29
8  2017-03-21 2017-05-17 2017-06-26 -0.1796     68        41       27
9  2012-02-07 2012-02-15 2012-03-12 -0.1717     24         7       17
10 2016-09-08 2016-09-09 2016-12-06 -0.1616     63         2       61

So, a Calmar still safely below 1, an Ulcer Performance Index still in the basement, a maximum drawdown that’s long past the point that people will have abandoned the strategy, and so on.

So, even though it was improved, it’s still safe to say this strategy doesn’t perform too well. Even after the large 2007-2008 drawdown, it still gets some things pretty badly wrong, like being exposed to all of August 2017.

While I think there are applications to contango in volatility investing, I don’t think its use is in generating the long/short volatility signal on its own. Rather, I think other indices and sources of data do a better job of that. Such as the VXV/VXMT, which has since been iterated on to form my subscription strategy.

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: I am currently seeking networking opportunities, long-term projects, and full-time positions related to my skill set. My linkedIn profile can be found here.

Comparing Some Strategies from Easy Volatility Investing, and the Table.Drawdowns Command

This post will be about comparing strategies from the paper “Easy Volatility Investing”, along with a demonstration of R’s table.Drawdowns command.

First off, before going further, while I think the execution assumptions found in EVI don’t lend the strategies well to actual live trading (although their risk/reward tradeoffs also leave a lot of room for improvement), I think these strategies are great as benchmarks.

So, some time ago, I did an out-of-sample test for one of the strategies found in EVI, which can be found here.

Using the same source of data, I also obtained data for SPY (though, again, AlphaVantage can also provide this service for free for those that don’t use Quandl).

Here’s the new code.


download("http://www.cboe.com/publish/scheduledtask/mktdata/datahouse/vix3mdailyprices.csv", destfile="vxvData.csv")

VIX <- fread("http://www.cboe.com/publish/scheduledtask/mktdata/datahouse/vixcurrent.csv", skip = 1)
VIXdates <- VIX$Date
VIX$Date <- NULL; VIX <- xts(VIX, order.by=as.Date(VIXdates, format = '%m/%d/%Y'))

vxv <- xts(read.zoo("vxvData.csv", header=TRUE, sep=",", format="%m/%d/%Y", skip=2))

ma_vRatio <- SMA(Cl(VIX)/Cl(vxv), 10)
xivSigVratio <- ma_vRatio < 1 
vxxSigVratio <- ma_vRatio > 1 

# V-ratio (VXV/VXMT)
vRatio <- lag(xivSigVratio) * xivRets + lag(vxxSigVratio) * vxxRets
# vRatio <- lag(xivSigVratio, 2) * xivRets + lag(vxxSigVratio, 2) * vxxRets

# Volatility Risk Premium Strategy
spy <- Quandl("EOD/SPY", start_date='1990-01-01', type = 'xts')
spyRets <- Return.calculate(spy$Adj_Close)
histVol <- runSD(spyRets, n = 10, sample = FALSE) * sqrt(252) * 100
vixDiff <- Cl(VIX) - histVol
maVixDiff <- SMA(vixDiff, 5)

vrpXivSig <- maVixDiff > 0 
vrpVxxSig <- maVixDiff < 0
vrpRets <- lag(vrpXivSig, 1) * xivRets + lag(vrpVxxSig, 1) * vxxRets

obsCloseMomentum <- magicThinking # from previous post

compare <- na.omit(cbind(xivRets, obsCloseMomentum, vRatio, vrpRets))
colnames(compare) <- c("BH_XIV", "DDN_Momentum", "DDN_VRatio", "DDN_VRP")

So, an explanation: there are four return streams here–buy and hold XIV, the DDN momentum from a previous post, and two other strategies.

The simpler one, called the VRatio is simply the ratio of the VIX over the VXV. Near the close, check this quantity. If this is less than one, buy XIV, otherwise, buy VXX.

The other one, called the Volatility Risk Premium strategy (or VRP for short), compares the 10 day historical volatility (that is, the annualized running ten day standard deviation) of the S&P 500, subtracts it from the VIX, and takes a 5 day moving average of that. Near the close, when that’s above zero (that is, VIX is higher than historical volatility), go long XIV, otherwise, go long VXX.

Again, all of these strategies are effectively “observe near/at the close, buy at the close”, so are useful for demonstration purposes, though not for implementation purposes on any large account without incurring market impact.

Here are the results, since 2011 (that is, around the time of XIV’s actual inception):

To note, both the momentum and the VRP strategy underperform buying and holding XIV since 2011. The VRatio strategy, on the other hand, does outperform.

Here’s a summary statistics function that compiles some top-level performance metrics.

stratStats <- function(rets) {
  stats <- rbind(table.AnnualizedReturns(rets), maxDrawdown(rets))
  stats[5,] <- stats[1,]/stats[4,]
  stats[6,] <- stats[1,]/UlcerIndex(rets)
  rownames(stats)[4] <- "Worst Drawdown"
  rownames(stats)[5] <- "Calmar Ratio"
  rownames(stats)[6] <- "Ulcer Performance Index"

And the result:

> stratStats(compare['2011::'])
                             BH_XIV DDN_Momentum DDN_VRatio   DDN_VRP
Annualized Return         0.3801000    0.2837000  0.4539000 0.2572000
Annualized Std Dev        0.6323000    0.5706000  0.6328000 0.6326000
Annualized Sharpe (Rf=0%) 0.6012000    0.4973000  0.7172000 0.4066000
Worst Drawdown            0.7438706    0.6927479  0.7665093 0.7174481
Calmar Ratio              0.5109759    0.4095285  0.5921650 0.3584929
Ulcer Performance Index   1.1352168    1.2076995  1.5291637 0.7555808

To note, all of the benchmark strategies suffered very large drawdowns since XIV’s inception, which we can examine using the table.Drawdowns command, as seen below:

> table.Drawdowns(compare[,1]['2011::'], top = 5)
        From     Trough         To   Depth Length To Trough Recovery
1 2011-07-08 2011-11-25 2012-11-26 -0.7439    349        99      250
2 2015-06-24 2016-02-11 2016-12-21 -0.6783    379       161      218
3 2014-07-07 2015-01-30 2015-06-11 -0.4718    236       145       91
4 2011-02-15 2011-03-16 2011-04-20 -0.3013     46        21       25
5 2013-04-15 2013-06-24 2013-07-22 -0.2877     69        50       19
> table.Drawdowns(compare[,2]['2011::'], top = 5)
        From     Trough         To   Depth Length To Trough Recovery
1 2014-07-07 2016-06-27 2017-03-13 -0.6927    677       499      178
2 2012-03-27 2012-06-13 2012-09-13 -0.4321    119        55       64
3 2011-10-04 2011-10-28 2012-03-21 -0.3621    117        19       98
4 2011-02-15 2011-03-16 2011-04-21 -0.3013     47        21       26
5 2011-06-01 2011-08-04 2011-08-18 -0.2723     56        46       10
> table.Drawdowns(compare[,3]['2011::'], top = 5)
        From     Trough         To   Depth Length To Trough Recovery
1 2014-01-23 2016-02-11 2017-02-14 -0.7665    772       518      254
2 2011-09-13 2011-11-25 2012-03-21 -0.5566    132        53       79
3 2012-03-27 2012-06-01 2012-07-19 -0.3900     80        47       33
4 2011-02-15 2011-03-16 2011-04-20 -0.3013     46        21       25
5 2013-04-15 2013-06-24 2013-07-22 -0.2877     69        50       19
> table.Drawdowns(compare[,4]['2011::'], top = 5)
        From     Trough         To   Depth Length To Trough Recovery
1 2015-06-24 2016-02-11 2017-10-11 -0.7174    581       161      420
2 2011-07-08 2011-10-03 2012-02-03 -0.6259    146        61       85
3 2014-07-07 2014-12-16 2015-05-21 -0.4818    222       115      107
4 2013-02-20 2013-07-08 2014-06-10 -0.4108    329        96      233
5 2012-03-27 2012-06-01 2012-07-17 -0.3900     78        47       31

Note that the table.Drawdowns command only examines one return stream at a time. Furthermore, the top argument specifies how many drawdowns to look at, sorted by greatest drawdown first.

One reason I think that these strategies seem to suffer the drawdowns they do is that they’re either all-in on one asset, or its exact opposite, with no room for error.

One last thing, for the curious, here is the comparison with my strategy since 2011 (essentially XIV inception) benchmarked against the strategies in EVI (which I have been trading with live capital since September, and have recently opened a subscription service for):


                             QST_vol    BH_XIV DDN_Momentum DDN_VRatio   DDN_VRP
Annualized Return          0.8133000 0.3801000    0.2837000  0.4539000 0.2572000
Annualized Std Dev         0.3530000 0.6323000    0.5706000  0.6328000 0.6326000
Annualized Sharpe (Rf=0%)  2.3040000 0.6012000    0.4973000  0.7172000 0.4066000
Worst Drawdown             0.2480087 0.7438706    0.6927479  0.7665093 0.7174481
Calmar Ratio               3.2793211 0.5109759    0.4095285  0.5921650 0.3584929
Ulcer Performance Index   10.4220721 1.1352168    1.2076995  1.5291637 0.7555808

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: I am currently looking for networking and full-time opportunities related to my skill set. My LinkedIn profile can be found here.