Tag: ETF

SMA Strategy Transaction Cost Analysis

In our previous blog post on using SMAs to trade ETFs (SMA Strategies using ETFs,) we saw how using SMAs reduced drawdowns and boosted returns. We also saw how our Tactical Midcap 100 Theme out-performed mid-cap mutual funds even after taking into account STT and brokerage costs. Given the increased interest in our newly launched Tactical Midcap 150 Theme, we added transaction cost analysis to our backtests to give investors an idea of what gross and net returns of different SMA look-backs look like over buy and hold.

Annualized Returns

SMA Strategy Transaction Cost Analysis
transaction cost = 0.2%


1) SMA strategies on the NIFTY 50 index do not produce excess returns over buy-and-hold. However, the 200-day SMA did keep an investor out of the worst of the 2008 drawdown at a reasonable cost.

2) For other indices, perhaps counter-intuitively, 20-day SMA beat 10-day SMA both in Gross and Net returns.

3) SMA strategies will under-perform buy-and-hold when markets are generally trending up. However, they will out-perform when markets turn negative.
NIFTY MIDCAP 150 TR.20.cumulative
NIFTY MIDCAP 150 TR-20.annual

The RETFMID150 ETF tracking the NIFTY MIDCAP 150 index, continues to be well traded on the NSE. You can access the SMA(20) strategy shown above through our Tactical Midcap 150 Theme.

Code and additional charts on github.

What is the right benchmark for funds owning US equities?

Some funds, the Parag Parikh Long Term Equity, for example, have a carve out for international (primarily US) equities. From a tax perspective, if a fund owns at least 65% of its portfolio in Indian stocks, it is treated as “Indian Equity Fund” for taxation – 15% short-term gains and 10% long-term gains (if held beyond one year). Otherwise, short-term gains (if held for less than 3-years) are added to your income and taxed at your marginal rate. So there is some advantage in packaging US stocks inside a an Indian equity fund. However, what is the appropriate benchmark in this case?

The PP-LTE Fund benchmarks against the NIFTY 500 TR index. But based on its portfolio, it should ideally be benchmarked against a 65/35 Indian Midcap/US Large Cap index. If you construct an Index with the M100 ETF making 65% of the portfolio and the rest allocated to the SPY ETF (tracking the S&P 500 index,) you will get an idea of the fund’s alpha/excess returns.

Parag Parikh Long Term Equity vs. 65/35 M100/SPY:

If you rebalance the 65/35 monthly, the LTE Fund’s annualized returns are 16.47% (Reg.) and 17.10% (Dir.) vs. the 65/35’s 15.30%. That’s excess returns of 1.8% for the direct plan, delivered to investors in a tax efficient manner, after all costs have been factored in. Another way to look at this is that even if the present management is replaced and investors do not have faith in the new one, they can just replace the fund with two ETFs and get almost to the same place.

Code and charts on github.

Most investors would be better off indexing

If you had invested in this fund in April 2006, would you still be invested in it?

Between 2006-04-03 and 2019-03-08 (13-years), SBI Magnum MIDCAP FUND – REGULAR PLAN – GROWTH has returned a cumulative 268.66% vs. NIFTY MIDCAP 100 TR’s cumulative return of 321.39%. Annualized returns are 10.96% and 11.96%, respectively.

A point of out-performance, a gallon of pain:

Between 2008-01-01 and 2013-01-01 (5-years), SBI Magnum MIDCAP FUND – REGULAR PLAN – GROWTH has returned a cumulative -27.09% vs. NIFTY MIDCAP 100 TR’s cumulative return of -1.54%. Annualized returns are -6.34% and -0.31%, respectively.

When it comes to discretionary active management, the problems are many:

  1. There are over 40 asset management companies. Almost all of them have a midcap fund. Almost all of them claim to be “value” investors.
  2. Value, as described in Graham And Dodd, cannot scale to the 10’s of thousands of crores that these funds collectively manage.
  3. So almost all funds are, at best, index plus a value and/or GARP and/or quality tilt.
  4. And occasionally, fund managers blow it. They hop over to other funds. Or retire.
  5. And occasionally, the investing style goes through a bad patch.
  6. And usually, the business of fund management (accumulating assets) wins over the profession of fund management (superior risk adjusted returns.)

There is no way that any investor can dodge all these minefields. So, the risk that a mutual fund investor takes = market risk + manager risk + style risk + capacity risk.

Investors should primarily allocate to index funds (take only market risk.) Actively managed discretionary mutual funds should be a niche.

EM Bonds out-performed EM Equities the last decade

A recent article in WSJ had this to say about emerging market bonds:

Research on hard-currency bonds since Britain and Prussia defeated France at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 shows that on average the return from lending to governments issuing external debt in sterling or dollars delivered a return close to U.S. stocks, with lower volatility.

EM bonds giving better returns than US stocks seems counter-intuitive. There is an ETF that tracks the bond index that the article talks about: EMB – iShares JP Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF. The ETF was launched on December 2007 (not during the Battle of Waterloo,) so we cannot really put that claim to test. However, here are the last 10-years for EMB, EEM (iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF) and SPY (SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust):
ETF.EMB-EEM-SPY.cumulative returns

EM bonds beat EM equities, but not US stocks (SPY). US mega-caps pretty much beat every other equity market. Here are the MSCI indices of USA, WORLD ex US and EM:
USA, WORLD ex-USA, EM cumulative returns

Can’t really single out EM for under-performance when everything trailed. Besides, if you look at performance since 1987, aggregate returns from EM have been on par with those of US with complementary periods:
USA, WORLD ex-USA, EM cumulative returns

So, should you ditch your EM equities portfolio and get into EM bonds and US stocks? Some analysts could look at a decade of EM equity under-performance, point to its valuation spread vs. US mega-caps, and conclude that EMs are a better place to be for the next decade. While others could point out that the US is the home to most of the world’s biggest tech monopolies so it deserves the out-performance. We will only know who is right once 2030 rolls in. Until then, diversify your portfolio and enjoy your life.

Code and annual return charts are on github.

SMA Strategies using ETFs

A simple moving average of an index is nothing but the average of closing prices of that index over a specified period of time. We did a quick backtest to see how an SMA based toggle between going long an index vs. cash performed.

Cumulative returns








The backtest, unsurprisingly, shows that shorter the SMA look-back period, better the performance. However, the boost in performance comes at the expense of higher number of trades. Lower look-backs are only viable now thanks to brokerages where you would pay zero for these trades (however, you still pay the securities transaction tax.) To see how this would shake out in the real world, have a look at how our Tactical Midcap 100 Theme has performed in the last ~2 years:

The Theme used the M100 ETF (Motilal Oswal Midcap 100 ETF) with a 10-day SMA toggle to switch between the ETF and LIQUIDBEES. The blue line represents zero brokerage and 0.1% STT and the green line represents a brokerage of 5p and 0.1% STT. The chart shows it beating an actively managed midcap fund across all transaction fee scenarios.

The snag is that this strategy is tough to scale. The M100 ETF just doesn’t trade enough for this strategy to absorb more than Rs. 10 lakhs. And there is no small cap ETF on the horizon to implement the strategy in that space.

The second problem is that M100 trades to a wide premium/discount to NAV (see: ETF Premium/Discount to NAV.) This is another layer of risk that an investor could do without.

However, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Reliance Capital launched a new ETF recently that tracks the NIFTY MIDCAP 150 index. Their ETFs usually trade better – tighter spreads, narrower tracking errors, better liquidity. Hopefully, it will emerge as a stronger alternative to M100 and allow these strategies to scale. We setup the Tactical Midcap 150 Theme that uses the RETFMID150 ETF instead of the M100 ETF for those who are interested.

In Part II, we will see how adding a simple check on the SMA can reduce drawdowns.

Code and charts are on github.