Given the events of February/March 2020, I had to re-evaluate risk and its presentation in each of the components of my portfolio. Though it was beneficial to add what I consider a god level data point for backtesting purposes, it was not fun to go through. It was the fastest decline and recovery in history. There is no tougher environment to trade through with complex non-directional options strategies. I ended up positive through the event despite the fact that things were broken in the market structure. Things happened that should not have happened. I saw things that I am sure I’ll never see again. This allows me to reconsider risk through what was one of the most market destabilizing events in history. This breaking of various markets and market components has given me a peek into what was naked when the tide left and allowed me to dig deep into my compositions and fine tune with risk management as the main motive. It motivated me to create a systematic approach to my base trades for entries, exits and adjustments. It took 4 months of hard work, but I’ve designed a system that accomplishes all of the risk management goals while maintaining returns that will compound better than before due to the reduced drawdowns. The key to this is maintaining global convexity despite being locally concave in risk profile. This means that risk where it is defined and quantifiable (local risk) while maintaining/financing the ownership of global convex risk on the tails. Short locally and long globally.
The more variant a portfolio is the more it impacts your geometric return. I have an edge, but if I am in extended drawdown, there’s less capital exposed to that edge. The less you draw down the higher your geometric return. It’s the power of compounding and is what Mark Spitznagel calls the volatility tax. The big losses are all that matters to your rate of compounding. Makes sense right? Manage your risks, maintain an edge and let compounding do its magic.
My primary interest lies in the long volatility tail space and coupling that with localized complex option income production. Globally convex locally concave. The long volatility tail portion of the my portfolio closely corresponds to what Universa, Nasim Taleb and Mark Spitznagel research, it’s a convex payout on extreme market events. When you tie in global convexity (extreme payoffs in extreme events) think of the convex shape (shown below) with local concavity (necessary for regular income production), you end up with the best of both worlds. Absolute protection and income production on the tails (which are rare) coupled with regular income production locally.
The composition of both elements in the options space has benefits that are astounding as it not only gives you capital during turmoil but it protects both a traditional portfolio as well as one composed of options. You prevent event draw downs and have made significant returns that can be actioned at market bottoms. That effect is exceptional. The combination of long vol with a traditional income strategy is what allows for the highest geometric return profiles.
Coupled with the long vol tail hedge, I’ve worked on systematizing the income strategies that are completely mechanical in nature. There is no room for human bias. I worked out a mechanical system that has no decision bias in both the long vol component as well as the income production component. It prevents the human factors issues that can cause mistakes and under performance.
We’ve got so many great data sets now, we’ve got the vol events of Aug 2019, the bear shocks of Oct and Dec 2018, the volmageddon of 2018, the time skew issues of Aug 2017, Aug 2015, Jan 2016 and so on. We’ve got a plethora of data. The period from February to June of 2020 used this data to do a deep dive into restructuring the portfolio and analyzing its risk factors. It was long, arduous and sometimes frustrating when you realize that everything has risk and the only true way to eliminate or minimize is by true diversification.
The lock down forced me to work long hours daily to re-evaluate my systems and to fine tune a new system setup. This was a period of heavy backtesting, reading, daily hour long phone call discussions with a trade buddy, trials, and analytics. I left no stone unturned even exploring things I would normally say was trade style heresy. The main discovery is the need for systematized approach in all base core strategies. The management is systematically rules based. My entire portfolio will follow this tenant. It’s a minimization of human factors. As Jerry Parker puts it :
“We are not really interested in people who are experts at the french stock market or german bond markets due to technical nature of trading…it does not take a huge monster infrastructure: neither Harvard MBAs nor people from Goldman Sachs…I would hate if it the success of Chesapeake was based on my being some great genius. It’s the system that wins., Fundamental economics are nice but useless in trading. True Fundamentals are always unknown. Our system allows for no intellectual capability.” Jerry Parker
Related to the above statement, I’ve had a realization to systematically use quantitative analysis and trend indicators to manage trades with respect to risk, entries and exits. QA gives me a way to manage the trade risks systematically while keeping me on the right side of the market trend, it’s what the university endowments use and it’s what Jerry Parker helped systematize in the 80s and 90s. I am using it to err the trades in the direction where the sum of the quantitative analysis points us. The delta adjustment range is -3 to +3 per unit. If it’s a bearish trend, we’ll keep it in the -3 range and if it’s a bullish trend we’ll keep it in the +3 range. Lastly, it lets us know when to exit trades. If we use Vix/Vix3M ratios, force index, OBV, ATR expansion etc we can avoid every major event in the last 10 years. I have now incorporated mandatory exit signals. If the signals do not show and we have a black swan, that is protected as well because of our long vol component.
It’s important to have a system that removes emotions and biased decisions. It removes human factors and that gives you something that’s concrete and sustainable. Decisions cause fatigue especially when tied to large money. Through the lock down, I tried investigating several things with an open mind, including taking advantage of zero day premium trades (PR hedgies) and cycle indications trades. This led me to making polarized decisions on an hourly basis. That’s not sustainable, it’ll exhaust and it’ll burn out. It solidified my requirement for a systematic rules based core portfolio. You can adjust/fine tune the rules but you cannot disobey them once they are live.