I'm going to start with the actual change in the cash value of my account. The numbers here are shown as a percentage of the capital I began the year with. The average capital at risk over the year varied (I'll go into this below).
So I've more than doubled my money, at least before the tax man takes his share. Let's have a look at where I gained or lost that in some more detail.
To complicate things slightly I partly fund my trading account with stocks (rather than sell them and pay capital gains tax), and I sometimes have to borrow some money secured on them for margin. Because I don't want the stock exposure to affect my account value the stocks are hedged with FTSE and EUROSTOXX futures. All this adds a bit of noise to my profits as no hedge is perfect; you can think of this as a mini equity neutral hedge fund.
Mark to market: 9.2%
Stamp duty: -0.38%
Sub total: 15.9%
Mark to market: -18.1%
Sub total: -18.1%
Total for stocks + hedge: -2.3%
Main futures trading:
Gross profit: 130.4%
Data fees: -0.04%
FX trading: -0.8%
Total for main trading: 126.4%
Grand total: 124.1%
Couple of things to note. Firstly my hedge was reasonably successful, but not perfect. Given the large size of a typical futures contract its as good as it can be.
The 'costs of doing business' are worth unpicking. We can't control revenue, but we can to an extent control costs. Commissions and slippage I discuss in more detail below. Data fees are pretty much as low as they can be.
FX trading and interest go together. Because I need to hold margin in foreign currency I have two choices. I can eithier borrow it, pay interest, and risk the foreign currency appreciating. Or I can exchange GBP for foreign currency, pay no interest, and risk the foreign currency depreciating.
I mix and match these approaches, trying to borrow only in low interest currencies like CHF, and avoid keeping large excess cash balances in any currrency as they don't pay much interest and give me more risk. The 1.1% cost here is more than I'd like, and was mainly due to losses in holding EUR balances which depreciated against the GBP, of 1.9% of starting capital. But I did make about 4% of starting capital betting against EUR futures as part of my main trading.
This is a cost of doing business, which hopefully will even out over several years.
Performance for capital at risk
I don't think cash performance is the best way of evaluating performance. This is because I adjusted the amount of maximum risk in my portfolio throughout the year (both the amount of money at risk, and the target volatility).
(In subsequent years I intend to keep this maximum constant, so things will be simpler)
Here is the performance when the effect of changing maximum risk is removed. This is shown as a percentage of capital, with a constant annualised risk target of 25% as I currently run.
Note that the risk is more stable. Its more appropriate to work out things like Sharpe Ratio on account curves like these. A hypothetical investor in my "fund" would have received a compounded version of these returns; their returns would be the same as these on a log scale.
Here are some statistics.
Sharpe Ratio: 2.54
Realised annualised standard deviation: 22.0% (versus target 25%)
Average weekly gain versus loss: 1.16
Hit rate (proportion of positive weeks): 0.68
Profit factor: 2.45
Average drawdown: -2.3%
Worst Drawdown: 8.9%
Proportion of weeks in drawdown: 77%
My trading system mostly uses a combination of trend following and carry, over a diversified set of futures markets. This makes it similar, although much simpler and less diversified, than the strategies run by the likes of AHL, Winton and Aspect.
Looking at whole months AHL's flagship fund made around 33% to the end of March. Here are my monthly returns, with the same figures for AHL (Man AHL Diversity GBP) in brackets:
April: 5.8% (1.3%)
May: 14.6% (6.6%)
June: 9.4% (2.4%)
July: -4.1% (-0.1%)
August: 11.1% (5.1%)
September: -4.4% (0.2%)
October: 1.8% (1.0%)
November: 9.2% (5.7%)
December: 0.6% (2.7%)
January: 8.0% (5.7%)
February: 5.4% (1.2%)
March: -0.4% (1.3%)
April: -0.1% [part]
Based purely on the 12 matching monthly figures the annualised Sharpe Ratios are 2.8 (me) versus 4.0 (AHL). The correlation was 0.84. So my performance was good, but not as good as my former employer, especially when you consider that fees have been deducted from their performance.
AHL was an exceptional stand out performer in the CTA universe, but other large CTA's did well, with Sharpes from around 2.4 (Cantab) up to 3.6 (Aspect), with Bluetrend and Winton somewhere in between.
As I said in my simulation the last 12 months have been amazing for trend following, but not quite as good for other types of signals. AHL and other CTA's probably have higher allocations to trend following than I did and this partly explains their outperformance; I would probably have done better on a relative basis in 2009-2013 when trend following signals struggled.
However I'd expect AHL to do better in the long run as they trade over 300 markets versus 45 (which is a huge advantage) and have a more sophisticated set of trading strategies (which is less of an advantage than you might expect). You'd hope that 100 or so people working full time could beat one guy, spending 10 minutes a day.
Performance by futures contract
Which instruments did best last year? Let's look at it by asset class first. Numbers shown are the contribution to total profits.
Oil and Gas: 5.4%
Clearly this has been the year of the bond, or at least the rolling 12 month of the bond. Let's dig into individual instruments.
First the bad news. The worst performers were Korean KOSPI equities (-1.2%), Lean Hogs (-1%) and Swiss SMI equities (-0.9%). The best were French OAT bonds (contributing 7.9%), Italian BTP bonds (6.3%), VIX (4.9%) and Korean 3 year bonds (3.9%).
So we don't need to look very far for the reason for the performance in bonds. Here are the country by country returns:
Prices of European bonds went up in a straight line, with only a brief pause in September. Although you can see the jump in March when QE was announced this was just the icing on what was already a very large cake. Other bonds, and STIR, also contributed but not by as much, bringing us to the bizarre situation where German 10 year yields are 19bp, French 50bp, Italian 1.30%, and US yields are nearly 2%.
(All these graphs show the total return of the future on the top panel, and the accumulated profits as a proportion of total capital on the bottom)
Volatility was a more interesting story. Essentially we benefited from a squeeze in volatility that lasted just two months. After that vol has been all over the place. A good trading system will capitalise on opportunities; then carefully husband its capital when they aren't around. You can clearly see that happening here.
Another 'one off' trend was in crude oil and other energy products, where we had a decent downtrend for the second half of 2014. I participated in some of that; here the problem was the relatively large risk of the crude oil future which meant I couldn't hold a position until the trend was half over (I had similar problems in Gas and heating oil). However we still ended the year in profit.
Another more recent trend has been the rally in the dollar, accompanied in its deadly duet with a collapse in the Euro. Here again we see a classic trend following account curve. We have minimal risk until the trend begins in earnest at the start of the year. Then we participate in the move, until it reverses. The reversal costs us something, but we hang on to most of our profits, and then reduce our risk again waiting for another move.
In contrast the other asset classes have been disappointing. Although there were no massive horror shows, it's probably worth reminding ourselves of the dangers of trading with one final picture from one of the worst markets.
The Swiss equity market was as boring as the country itself for most of the year (with apologies to my swiss friends for the national stereotyping). Then the SNB, in their infinite wisdom, decided to depeg the Euro. You can probably just about make out on the chart where it was. I wasn't, fortunately, trading the CHFEUR FX rate or CHFUSD future. I thought that having anything to do with this rigged market was the height of madness. Had I been doing so the damage from this debacle would have been much worse.
The long view
A few weeks ago I showed that a simulation of this system had a pre-cost Sharpe Ratio of around 0.94, with around 0.06 spent on costs (around 1.5% of capital with 25% annualised risk). If we assume that 0.88 is the 'true' SR, and that annual returns are normally distributed, then a one year SR of 2.54 is a one in twenty year event. It's nice to start off this way, but such amazing trends in bonds, with a few chucked in for other markets, is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.
Risk versus expectations
I am obsessed with two things: risk, and costs (okay there are other things I'm obsessed with, like my weird crush on Olivia Colman but I'm talking specifically about this trading system now). I am not obsessed with performance (except in as much as day to day p&l tells me what my realised risk is). You probably don't believe me but until I did this performance exercise I was completely unaware of the italian bond yield, or that french bonds had been responsible for such a big chunk of my performance; though I had been vaguely aware of the VIX squeeze last year, and the dollar downtrend this year.
So why I am obsessed with risk, and costs? It's because unlike performance they are controllable. You can't control performance, it's just down to luck. Having the illusion of control can lead to meddling with your system, and destroying it's performance.
Anyway here is my actual and expected risk (measured in units of annual vol per year, and correcting for changes in risk targeting. Expected risk is missing before June as before then I didn't calculate it). The long run system target is 25%. They track each other reasonably well, although the actual risk measure is noisier. I'm comfortable with how well my risk targeting is working.
The other thing I am obsessed with is trading costs, both commissions and slippage (the difference between where I get filled, and the mid price when I submit the order).
In terms of expectations I said I expect my overall cost bill to be around 1.5% a year, based on simulation. The split it varies by market, but very roughly around 20% of that (or 30bp) should be commission, and the rest (120bp) slippage.
My commission bill for the year (once I've corrected for changes in capital at risk - so its different from the cash figure above) comes in at 48bp, which is a little higher. There are a few reasons for that. Firstly my simulated cost bill doesn't include rolling costs. Secondly I've experimented with trading my system at two or three different speeds over the last year; now I'm comfortable with my trading costs I've settled at a slightly slower speed which the simulated expectation reflects.
The good news is I've only paid 17bp of slippage. If I look at a time series of slippage paid over the year its quite noisy, but it looks like I've effectively paid negative slippage (i.e. been paid to trade) since I started using a simple execution algo for trading, rather than just placing market orders.
Overall I'm comfortable that 1.5% should be a very conservative figure to pay in costs annually.
Don't focus on things you shouldn't control- only the things you canKeep your costs low. Don't trade quickly on expensive markets in the expectation you'll get enough of a high Sharpe Ratio to compensate. Watch your risk like a hawk.
Ignore your performance, or you'll be tempted to meddle. A well designed system will do all the right things for you. Don't read the financial news. I can't believe I'm lending money to the Italian government at 1.3% (Apologies to my Italian friends. Actually, no apologies. I know for a fact none of you guys would lend them money at any rate). If I'd realised this sooner I might have cut a very profitable position.
DiversifyWho knows where the next mega trend will come from? If I'd just been trading US bonds, or commodities, I would have been barely up, flat or even down this year. Have the most diversified portfolio you can for the amount of money you have.
Patience and realismIt's been fantastic to start off like this. But a downside of that is when (not if) I start to lose money, and enter say a 15 or 25% drawdown, it will be harder not to be patient since if I'm not careful I'll have unrealistic expectations. Anyone starting to trade this kind of system in 2009 would have really been hacked off by March 2014. If they'd thrown in the towel then they'd have missed out on the incredible performance we've seen since then.
If you believe in your system, then sooner or later the markets will turn in your favour. Until then your job is to lose the minimum amount of money whilst you wait. Those losses are just the antes you have to pony up whilst you wait for a decent hand (yes I've been reading poker books recently, can you tell?).