QuantDesk® Machine Learning Forecast

for the Week of May 22nd

Dear Friends of Lucena,

CNBC’s Bob Pisani and Alien: Covenant

I know the title may seem a bit obscure, but what does Bob Pisani from CNBC have to do with the latest film in the Alien series?

 

Robert Pisani, Financial News Correspondent for CNBC since 1990

Michael Fassbender plays a robot in “Alien: Covenant.” Credit 20th Century Fox

 

Here it goes… I was compelled to insert myself into the discussion of the future of mankind in the context of machine learning and artificial intelligence a few weeks ago following BlackRock’s bombshell announcement that shook up the wealth management world and dominated the financial media. BlackRock, the largest wealth management entity in the world with over $5.4 trillion in assets under management, announced the replacement of human portfolio managers with machine learning-based algorithms to manage their active ETF portfolios. Applying machine learning for investment is not a new concept but when Laurence Fink, BlackRock’s founder and chief executive, casts his lot with machines over humans, traditional investment advisors pay attention. Financial media outlets started to flood the wires with stories about the end of an era and/or the end of the human portfolio manager. Are we truly going to see the financial advisor profession become obsolete, falling victim to automation and machine intelligence? For us machine learning professionals, this new media attention seems like good news on the surface. In reality, however, it sets unrealistic expectations about the infallibility of machines. So, I decided to write a blog explaining why I strongly believe that we are light-years away from replacing the human portfolio manager. At Lucena, we advocate a hybrid, cyborg-like approach of humans empowered by artificial intelligence, but not replaced by it. For the article please click here.

Now to Bob Pisani and Alien: Somehow my article hit someone’s radar at CBNC and I was invited to speak with Bob Pisani in his office at the New York Stock Exchange. As Tucker Balch Ph.D, my co-founder and our chief scientist, and I passed security, we met Pisani in the hallway rushing back to his office. I stopped him to introduce ourselves and was welcomed with a somewhat hesitant response as if he regretted that he invited us. Reluctantly, he pointed the way to his office overlooking the NYSE floor, and told us that we have 15 minutes. As the conversation unfolded and the discussion extended to more than an hour, I found Pisani to be bright, quick on his feet, and extremely well informed and with a strong personal interest in advanced machine learning concepts, the industry, and the leaders in the space. Needless to say, we had a lovely conversation but not without a healthy dose of respectful disagreements. Pisani believes that machines are going to transform the fabric of society in ways that will make humans obsolete in most professions. He went as far as stating that in the next few decades, even his job as a reporter could be replaced by a machine. When I watched the movie Alien last night I finally realized what truly propelled this line of thinking. At its core, Alien: Covenant isn’t much different from other “machines-taking-over-the -world” movies. As exemplified by the Terminator and Alien movies, this theme seems to repeat itself and capture viewers’ curiosity and imagination. Indeed, the speed with which technology has evolved in the last few decades — cell phones, autonomous cars, and breakthroughs in genome science, to cite a few examples — blurs the lines between what we see in science fiction films and reality. In short, no idea is too far-fetched.

For me, it’s important to set expectations for active management (not to be confused with high frequency trading, in which the human factor is negligible). Employing machine learning for investment is not a magic bullet that can do no harm. The dynamic nature and the unpredictability of the market should always make room for the portfolio manager to override the machine. In other words, integrate machine learning analysis with traditional research channels. Ultimately, we want the PM to have the final say and apply his/her intuition.

Strategy’s Update

As in past weeks, I wanted to briefly update you on how the model portfolios, and the theme-based strategies we covered recently are performing.

Tiebreaker – Lucena’s Long/Short Equity Strategy – YTD return of 6.82% vs. benchmark of -5.02%
Tiebreaker has been forward traded since 2014 and to date it has enjoyed remarkably low volatility and boasts an impressive return of 40.45%, a low max-drawdown of 6.16%, and a Sharpe of 1.83! (You can see a more detailed view of Tiebreaker’s performance below in this newsletter.)

Image 1: Tiebreaker YTD– benchmark is VMNIX (Vanguard Market Neutral Fund Institutional Shares
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

BlackDog – Lucena’s Risk Parity – YTD return of 12.56 % vs. benchmark of 6.42%
We have recently developed a sophisticated multi-sleeve optimization engine set to provide the most suitable asset allocation for a given risk profile, while respecting multi-level allocation restriction rules.
In essence, we strive to obtain an optimal decision while taking into consideration the trade-offs between two or more conflicting objectives. For example, consider a wide universe of constituents, we can find a subset selection and their respective allocations to satisfy the following:

  • Maximizing Sharpe
  • Widely diversified portfolio with certain allocation restrictions across certain asset classes, market sectors and growth/value classifications
  • Restrict volatility
  • Minimize turnover

We can also determine the proper rebalance frequency and validate the recommended methodology with a comprehensive backtest.

Image 2: BlackDog YTD– benchmark is AQR’s Risk Parity Fund Class B
Past performance is not indicative of future returns.

Utilities – Large-Cap Based Actively Managed – YTD return of 15.15% vs. 8.04% of the benchmark!!!
I wrote about utilities last year in an attempt to demonstrate how Lucena’s technology can be deployed to identify fixed income alternatives. Since November 2016 we have been tracking our utilities portfolio, and it has been performing exceptionally well in both total return and low volatility — well ahead of the S&P and its benchmark, the XLU.

Image 3: Utilities based strategy– captured since November of 2016. Benchmark is XLU – Utilities select sector SPDR
Past performance is not indicative of future returns.

Industrials – Large-Cap Based and Actively Managed – YTD Return of 5.08% vs. benchmark of 2.98%
I wrote about an Industrial centric portfolio on January this year. This portfolio was designed to anticipate the administration’s strong desire to invest in infrastructure. The portfolio identifies a well-diversified industrial stock set to track and outperform the XLI (its benchmark).

Image 4: Industrials-based strategy– captured since January 27, 2017 (covered during that week’s newsletter).
Benchmark is XLI – Industrials select sector SPDR ETF
Past performance is not indicative of future returns.

Forecasting the Top 10 Positions in the S&P

Lucena’s Forecaster uses a predetermined set of 10 factors that are selected from a large set of over 500. Self-adjusting to the most recent data, we apply a genetic algorithm (GA) process that runs over the weekend to identify the most predictive set of factors based on which our price forecasts are assessed. These factors (together called a “model”) are used to forecast the price and its corresponding confidence score of every stock in the S&P. Our machine-learning algorithm travels back in time over a look-back period (or a training period) and searches for historical states in which the underlying equities were similar to their current state. By assessing how prices moved forward in the past, we anticipate their projected price change and forecast their volatility.

The charts below represent the new model and the top 10 positions assessed by Lucena’s Price Forecaster.

Image 5: Default model for the coming week.

The top 10 forecast chart below delineates the ten positions in the S&P with the highest projected market-relative return combined with their highest confidence score.

Image 6: Forecasting the top 10 position in the SPY for the coming week.
The yellow stars (0 stars meaning poorest and 5 stars meaning strongest) represent the confidence score based on the forecasted volatility, while the blue stars represent backtest scoring as to how successful the machine was in forecasting the underlying asset over the lookback period — in our case, the last 3 months.

To view a brief introduction video of all the major functions of QuantDesk, please click on the following link:
Forecaster

Analysis:

The table below presents the trailing 12-month performance and a YTD comparison between the two model strategies we cover in this newsletter (BlackDog and Tiebreaker), as well as the two ETFs representing the major US indexes (the DOW and the S&P).

Image 7: Last week’s changes, trailing 12 months, and year-to-date gains/losses.

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

Model Tiebreaker: Lucena’s Active Long/Short US Equities Strategy:

Tiebreaker: Paper trading model portfolio performance compared to the SPY and Vanguard Market Neutral Fund since 9/1/2014.
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

Model BlackDog 2X, Lucena’s Tactical Asset Allocation Strategy:

BlackDog: Paper trading model portfolio performance compared to the SPY and Vanguard Balanced Index Fund since 4/1/2014.
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

Appendix

For those of you unfamiliar with BlackDog and Tiebreaker, here is a brief overview: BlackDog and Tiebreaker are two out of an assortment of model strategies that we offer our clients. Our team of quants is constantly on the hunt for innovative investment ideas. Lucena’s model portfolios are a byproduct of some of our best research, packaged into consumable model-portfolios. The performance stats and charts presented here are a reflection of paper traded portfolios on our platform, QuantDesk®. Actual performance of our clients’ portfolios may vary as it is subject to slippage and the manager’s discretionary implementation. We will be happy to facilitate an introduction with one of our clients for those of you interested in reviewing live brokerage accounts that track our model portfolios.

Tiebreaker:
Tiebreaker is an actively managed long/short equity strategy. It invests in equities from the S&P 500 and Russell 1000 and is rebalanced bi-weekly using Lucena’s Forecaster, Optimizer and Hedger. Tiebreaker splits its cash evenly between its core and hedge holdings, and its hedge positions consist of long and short equities. Tiebreaker has been able to avoid major market drawdowns while still taking full advantage of subsequent run-ups. Tiebreaker is able to adjust its long/short exposure based on idiosyncratic volatility and risk. Lucena’s Hedge Finder is primarily responsible for driving this long/short exposure tilt.

Tiebreaker Model Portfolio Performance Calculation Methodology
Tiebreaker’s model portfolio’s performance is a paper trading simulation and it assumes opening account balance of $1,000,000 cash. Tiebreaker started to paper trade on April 28, 2014 as a cash neutral and Bata neutral strategy. However, it was substantially modified to its current dynamic mode on 9/1/2014. Trade execution and return figures assume positions are opened at the 11:00AM EST price quoted by the primary exchange on which the security is traded and unless a stop is triggered, the positions are closed at the 4:00PM EST price quoted by the primary exchange on which the security is traded. In the case of a stop loss, a trailing 5% stop loss is imposed and is measured from the intra-week high (in the case of longs) and low (in the case of shorts). If the stop loss was triggered, an exit from the position 5% below, in the case of longs, and 5% above, in the case of shorts. Tiebreaker assesses the price at which the position is exited with the following modification: prior to March 1st, 2016, at times but not at all times, if, in consultation with a client executing the strategy, it is found that the client received a less favorable price in closing out a position when a stop loss is triggered, the less favorable price is used in determining the exit price. On September 28, 2016 we have applied new allocation algorithms to Tiebreaker and modified its rebalancing sequence to be every two weeks (10 trading days). Since March 1st, 2016, all trades are conducted automatically with no modifications based on the guidelines outlined herein. No manual modifications have been made to the gain stop prices. In instances where a position gaps through the trigger price, the initial open gapped trading price is utilized. Transaction costs are calculated as the larger of 6.95 per trade or $0.0035 * number of shares trades.

BlackDog:
BlackDog is a paper trading simulation of a tactical asset allocation strategy that utilizes highly liquid ETFs of large cap and fixed income instruments. The portfolio is adjusted approximately once per month based on Lucena’s Optimizer in conjunction with Lucena’s macroeconomic ensemble voting model. Due to BlackDog’s low volatility (half the market in backtesting) we leveraged it 2X. By exposing twice its original cash assets, we take full advantage of its potential returns while maintaining market-relative low volatility and risk. As evidenced by the chart below, BlackDog 2X is substantially ahead of its benchmark (S&P 500).

In the past year, we covered QuantDesk’s Forecaster, Back-tester, Optimizer, Hedger and our Event Study. In future briefings, we will keep you up-to-date on how our live portfolios are executing. We will also showcase new technologies and capabilities that we intend to deploy and make available through our premium strategies and QuantDesk® our flagship cloud-based software.
My hope is that those of you who will be following us closely will gain a good understanding of Machine Learning techniques in statistical forecasting and will gain expertise in our suite of offerings and services.

Specifically:

  • Forecaster – Pattern recognition price prediction
  • Optimizer – Portfolio allocation based on risk profile
  • Hedger – Hedge positions to reduce volatility and maximize risk adjusted return
  • Event Analyzer – Identify predictable behavior following a meaningful event
  • Back Tester – Assess an investment strategy through a historical test drive before risking capital

Your comments and questions are important to us and help to drive the content of this weekly briefing. I encourage you to continue to send us your feedback, your portfolios for analysis, or any questions you wish for us to showcase in future briefings.
Send your emails to: info@lucenaresearch.com and we will do our best to address each email received.

Please remember: This sample portfolio and the content delivered in this newsletter are for educational purposes only and NOT as the basis for one’s investment strategy. Beyond discounting market impact and not counting transaction costs, there are additional factors that can impact success. Hence, additional professional due diligence and investors’ insights should be considered prior to risking capital.

For those of you who are interested in the spreadsheet with all historical forecasts and results, please email me directly and I will gladly send you the data.

If you have any questions or comments on the above, feel free to contact me: erez@lucenaresearch.com

Have a great week!

Lucena Research brings elite technology to hedge funds, investment professionals and wealth advisors. Our Artificial Intelligence decision support technology enables investment professionals to find market opportunities and to reduce risk in their portfolio.

We employ Machine Learning technology to help our customers exploit market opportunities with precision and scientifically validate their investment strategies before risking capital.

Disclaimer Pertaining to Content Delivered & Investment Advice

This information has been prepared by Lucena Research Inc. and is intended for informational purposes only. This information should not be construed as investment, legal and/or tax advice. Additionally, this content is not intended as an offer to sell or a solicitation of any investment product or service.

Please note: Lucena is a technology company and not a certified investment advisor. Do not take the opinions expressed explicitly or implicitly in this communication as investment advice. The opinions expressed are of the author and are based on statistical forecasting based on historical data analysis. Past performance does not guarantee future success. In addition, the assumptions and the historical data based on which an opinion is made could be faulty. All results and analyses expressed are hypothetical and are NOT guaranteed. All Trading involves substantial risk. Leverage Trading has large potential reward but also large potential risk. Never trade with money you cannot afford to lose. If you are neither a registered nor a certified investment professional this information is not intended for you. Please consult a registered or a certified investment advisor before risking any capital.