Tag: ETF

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.

MSCI USA Momentum Index

In our previous post, Momentum: Peek under the hood before you invest, we compared a couple of momentum ETFs listed in the US. The most popular one, MTUM, was launched in April 2013. For an investor who is considering it, a five-year sample size is hardly enough. Thankfully, the ETF tracks the MSCI USA Momentum Index. And even though the index itself was launched in February 2013, MSCI has back-filled index levels going back from 1975.

USA Momentum vs. S&P 500 Annual Returns


USA Momentum vs. S&P 500 Cumulative Returns


It looks like the Momentum Index is highly correlated with the S&P 500 index and for a little bit more volatility, investors end up with quite a bit of excess returns. Does it make sense to swap out the staid old market-cap weighted SPY with MTUM?

Of GURUs and MOATs

If we had to point to one financial innovation that upended classical asset management over the last decade, it would be Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs.) At first, there were a handful of them. They were pure market cap weighted funds that mirrored a popular broad market index, the S&P 500 index for example. But over the last decade, the number of ETFs and the strategies they allow investors to access have exploded. Currently, there are over 2,200 ETFs listed in the US. Most of them are cap-weighted, some are “smart-beta”, some are traditional momentum/value, etc. But there are a few of them that are completely bonkers. Here are two of them.


Hedge funds, in the US, are supposed to disclose their holdings that cross a certain threshold to the SEC. The GURU ETF parses those filings and creates a portfolio of “highest conviction” ideas. From its website:

GURU allows everyday investors to access the high conviction investments of some of the largest, most sophisticated hedge funds in the world. Traditionally, investing with a hedge fund requires paying an ongoing 2% management fee and 20% of profits. GURU has an expense ratio of 0.75%, potentially allowing for greater cost efficiency, while providing access to hedge fund ideas.

On the face of it, it is a ridiculous idea. Hedge funds are much more than just long-only equity. Besides, the filings are done months after those funds have built a position in those stocks. So surely, it should be a disaster?

Compared to the broad-market Russell 1000 ETF from Vanguard, it is not so bad. Annualized returns for GURU and VONE were 12.09% and 13.40%, respectively. It seems to have out-performed initially then suffered a deep drawdown from which it staged a middling recovery. Is it a case of the rising tide of a bull market lifting all boats? Can’t say.

We still don’t like the idea but turns out that it was not a very bad one.


All value investors ever want are “attractively priced companies with sustainable competitive advantages.” MOAT promises that for 48bps. Surely, it can’t be that obvious?

Annualized returns for MOAT and VONE were 12.73% and 11.67%, respectively. Back in May 2018, Elon Musk thought “moats are lame.” Not so lame, it turns out.


There are strong reasons for Indian investors to open a US brokerage account and diversify their holdings into dollar assets. ETFs in the US are cheap and cover a wide array of investment strategies – there are at least two for every one that you can think of. Make you move now!

Charts above were created using our Compare Tool. Check it out.

Momentum: Peek under the hood before you invest

Quantitative momentum investing is fairly new in India. To compare different strategies, you need real-world data spanning a complete cycle. The best proxy for this turns out to be US listed ETFs – they have one price (unlike mutual fund share classes) and their adjusted prices can be easily downloaded. Here, we take a look at two momentum ETFs, DWAQ and MTUM, to highlight why investors should go beyond just running a screen for “momentum” and investing in whatever comes up first.


DWAQ, the Invesco DWA NASDAQ Momentum ETF, was listed back in May 2003. QQQ is a plain vanilla market cap ETF based on the Nasdaq-100 Index. Here are the descriptions from their issuer websites:

The Invesco DWA NASDAQ Momentum ETF is based on the Dorsey Wright® NASDAQ Technical Leaders Index. The Index is comprised of approximately 100 securities from an eligible universe of approximately 1,000 securities of large capitalization companies from the NASDAQ US Benchmark Index. All securities in the universe are ranked using a proprietary relative strength (momentum) measure. Each security’s score is based on intermediate and long-term price movements relative to a representative market benchmark and the other eligible securities. The top 100 securities are selected for the Index. (Invesco)

The Invesco QQQ is an exchange-traded fund based on the Nasdaq-100 Index®. The Index includes 100 of the largest domestic and international nonfinancial companies listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market based on market capitalization. (Invesco)

Here are their relative returns:

Not the torch bearer for momentum that we had hoped for.


MTUM, the iShares Edge MSCI USA Momentum Factor ETF, came a good 10 years after DWAQ. Not constrained just to the Nasdaq, it provides wider exposure to large- and mid-cap U.S. stocks exhibiting relatively higher price momentum. (iShares) It is only fair that we compare it to VONE, which is Vanguard’s Russell 1000 ETF. Russell 1000 covers most of the US large- and mid-cap universe. (Vanguard)

Here are their relative returns:

Not bad! That’s almost a 4% difference in annualized returns.


DWAQ trailed MTUM by about 5% in annualized returns for the period. Probably because it has a more diversified portfolio compared to MTUM’s. This should have lead to shallower drawdowns but that is not the case – DWAQ returns are a lot more volatile than MTUM’s. Will MTUM’s volatility adjusted price momentum continue to out-perform DWAQ’s “proprietary relative strength” momentum? Who knows?

If you think it is a tough job deciding between the two, consider this: there are over 40 momentum ETFs currently listed in the US. Each one slices the data a bit differently, making it absolutely essential that you peek under the hood before you click that buy button!

Charts created using the StockViz Compare Tool.