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Market Lab Report - A Lesson in Drawdowns

VIX Volatility Model (VVM) was up +54.3% in 2017 as of 3-17-17 in real-time trading which was the high watermark so far this year. This has been reduced to a small loss at the time of this writing due primarily to the VIX having one of its worst gaps lower on April 24, 2017 in its multi-decade price history. This indeed was a rare occurrence though the strategy is no stranger to big moves in either direction, thus is still within the performance expectations of the strategy, and time back to high watermark is typically within a couple of months or less (see below).

It was stated incorrectly that the model would have gone to cash. It would have instead remained on its buy signal thus the loss would have stood as fail-safes cannot guard against gap downs. 

I will be closely monitoring how VVM performs with and without the recent adjustment made starting with the sell signal on 4-3-17.

That said, the reason behind the adjustment that allows for greater fail-safe loss is to substantially reduce the number of whipsaws. In running tests back to early 2009, or more than 8 years, as well as spot checks conducted in prior periods, the risk/reward was materially improved as a result of this adjustment.

More specifically, profits were boosted even beyond the backtested triple digit percentages shown in the small 2009-2016 performance table in the VVM portion of the results section. This came as a result of :

1) suffering far fewer whipsaw trades thus fewer losses

2) staying in position longer to realize substantial profits in some cases that otherwise would have been reduced by the whipsaws along the way

Meanwhile, even with the fail-safe adjustment, the strategy's worst total drawdowns (losses from peak to trough) were kept roughly similar. The downside is that the size of a loss for an individual signal can be greater.

The current fail-safe modification remains in place as the profit/loss improvements are significant albeit with potentially greater losses for individual signals.

Keep in mind UVXY is highly volatile so after further thorough testing, a maximum fail-safe of 12% has been set. For XIV used in sell signals, a maximum fail-safe of 6% has been set. Greater losses would be due to rare, sizable gap-downs. Brexit and the recent "Frexit" on April 24 are two of the only such examples in backtests going back to Jan 2009 where the model was on the wrong side. That's not to say the model has not experienced overnight gaps against its position, but such gaps resulted in smaller one-day losses and often, the whole signal ended up being profitable. IMPORTANT: Fail-safes may trigger at a smaller loss depending on the situation. Based on backtests and real-time trading, the maximum fail-safes are triggered roughly 11% of the time, thus profits should far outweigh such infrequent events. Such maximum fail-safes can cluster such that the same buy or sell signal may trigger the maximum failsafe more than once.

Success especially in volatile strategies such as this one depends on one's ability to avoid getting shaken out by fear during the inevitable drawdowns. VVM walks the tightrope at times as it often avoids getting pushed prematurely into cash while protecting the downside by switching out of its signal if necessary.

Gaps higher or lower can occur especially during one-off events such as today's unusual news event. Note that while gap downs in stocks should be sold, this does not apply to this strategy which deals in volatility. That said, one may wish to manage their stop losses to fit their own personal risk tolerance levels. While some prefer to have their own maximum stop loss levels in place which may have brought them to cash by Friday's close, others prefer to position size smaller so they are more likely to stay in position by following the model's signals.

Remember that in hoping to get to our annual goal of triple digit percentage returns, expect some drawdowns along the way (though usually contained to less than 20%) as this strategy can be volatile, and nothing goes up in a straight line. That said, time to recover the high watermark is usually fairly rapid, on the order of a few weeks to a few months. Note that the model did achieve a +54.3% return in just 10 weeks from 1-2-17 to 3-17-17 in real-time trading, and has done this a number of times over this sort of timeframe in backtests. Keep in mind that just because it has been able to do this in backtests and once in real-time trading does not mean it must automatically do it again for the following cautionary reasons:

1) Though rare events, markets can materially change. While the strategy is designed to change with material changes in markets as it is not a static black box strategy, profitability will be affected if the strategy cannot adequately adjust to the changes. There is no guarantee that the strategy will be able to adequately adjust to all market changes in the coming years as some market changes may be less adaptable than others.

2) Backtests, while necessary, are still predictions of the past, thus no backtest can 100% guarantee that results will continue into the future. That said, the longer the backtest, the better. While it is noteworthy that the strategy was able to achieve a +54.3% return from 1-2-17 to 3-17-17 in real-time trading, it is a brief timeframe. This is why testing in real-time is essential as discussed HERE.

3) Should the adjustment made starting on the 4-3-17 signal prove to create too much risk in the coming months even though backtests show otherwise, the strategy will revert back to before the adjustment was implemented.

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