Putting together quant portfolios

One of the more overlooked areas of quantitative investing is how to integrate quant strategies into a diversified portfolio. Let’s look at a few of the issues involved and some possible solutions.

I’ve discussed the big allocation decision already, i.e. how much to put into quant strategies vs bonds already. I think this decision should be primarily driven by how much risk one is willing to take. I use maximum portfolio drawdown as the primary metric to judge how much risk I’m willing to take. Here is the max drawdown table from that post.

Quant system vs max DD nov 2014

For example, to limit annual drawdowns to less than 10% and 30% quant portoflio 70% bond portfolio would be the appropriate allocation. If a 15% max DD is more suited to your risk tolerance then you can go up to a 70% quant portfolio 30% bond portfolio allocation. Of course, this is dependent on the type of quant strategies used but surprisingly it doesn’t matter as much as you may think. The XLP/XLU quant strategy is one of the most conservative strategies while TV is one of the most aggressive and best performing yet in terms of max DD there is not that big a difference. OK, now for some of the subtle details of building quant portfolios.

First, why pick more than one quant strategy? Shouldn’t you just pick the best one with respect to whatever metric you want? I would argue no mainly due to behavioral factors. Investors have a hard time with under performance no matter what the long term track record of a strategy may be. Lets take this year as an example and compare one of the best performing quant strategies over time, a value and momentum microcap stock quant portfolio, to a conservative utility value strategy. The micro cap quant strategy has returned over 22% a year since the late 60s as compared  16% a year for the utility value strategy. In 2014 the micro cap strategy is up 3% while the utility strategy is up over 29%! That kind of divergence is hard to swallow for most investors and leads to performance chasing. The best way to avoid this is to choose multiple strategies and choose strategies with high base rates. At the simplest level using more strategies increases the odds the at least one is outperforming and thus lessens the odds of making behavioral mistakes.

OK, now that we’re going to choose multiple quant strategies we need to avoid a few pitfalls. The two big ones for me are over diversification and excessive fees. The quant strategies I’ve presented on the blog usually have 25 individual stocks in a portfolio. If  you’re going to go with 3 quant strategies then we’re talking about 75 individual stocks. Besides paying way more in fees by holding too many stocks we reduce the power of the quant strategies. Two great post on this subject are, Avoid Diworsification, and You need to Dare to be Great. Here is the money pic.

return vs number of stocks for quant systems nov 2014


10-15 individual stocks gives about the best bang for the buck for any one of the individual quant systems. So lets say we go a bit crazy and choose 5 different quant systems that we’d like in our overall portfolio. We’ll choose the TV2 systems, the EDY system, the Large stock SHY system, the XLP system, and the XLU system. I’ve posted all of these systems before. See here for a list of all my quant posts. 10 stocks each. Yearly holding period and go back as far as we can, Dec 2008, for the P123 book simulation tool that I use. I’ll call this the Quant 5. Results of the overall quant portfolio are below.

the quant 5 performance nov 2014

Pretty impressive results. Over the full period all of the quant systems beat the market handily. But there have been significant periods of under performance for several of the systems. For example, over the last 3 years, the EDY systems and the XLU system have under performed the market and the other systems. The top quant system over the full period from 2008 turned out to be the large stock SHY system even though going back further to 1999 other systems have performed better. Of course, how could you know that before hand? You can’t.

Bottom line. It pays to diversify, but not too much. Not just in terms of risk adjusted returns but probably more importantly in terms of an investor being able to stick with quant investing over the long term.

Full Disclaimer - Nothing on this site should ever be considered advice, research or the invitation to buy or sell securities. These are my personal opinions only.

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2 Responses to Putting together quant portfolios

  1. I’ve been following your quant posts for a while, and have a couple of questions about actual implementation:

    1) What are you using (or recommend using) for the bond portion of your allocation? If you were implementing this today, it would involve large bond investments at a time of historically low interest rates.

    2) In another article, you talked about projected future returns vs. CAPE-Schiller. What are your thoughts about investing in a quant portfolio today, given the current high CAPE-schiller ratio?

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hi Steve, great questions.

      1. For my models, I always use the 10 year US treasury to represent intermediate term US gov’t bonds. In my personal portfolio, based on my tax situation I use a mix of intermediate US gov’t bonds and intermediate US municipal bonds. Bonds are primarily in the portfolio as a diversifier and risk reducer, the absolute level of rates is of lesser importance to the overall portfolio’s return. I also trend follow my bond portfolio to protect against big drawdowns.

      2. I fully expect returns to be much lower going forward than in the past based on valuation. That is the probable outcome based on the past. But I still expect quant systems to trash the market on a relative basis. In the current environment I expect my IVY systems to outperform my quant stock systems but who knows. It hasn’t impacted my asset allocations too much.

      So, lower returns going forward but that seems to be true of all asset classes right now. And who knows how far the current run goes on for.


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