Another anniversary to celebrate

So I left hedge fund world to work on Fozzie and lots of renewable energy projects.  One of my last projects at AHL, indeed the focus of much of my time in the final 12 months or so, was the creation of a mutual fund version of the flagship managed futures hedge fund.  It took a lot of effort in many directions – regulatory, marketing, counterparties, portfolio creation, etc. etc. – so I’m happy to see the fund building a decent asset base and keeping pace with the ‘big guys’ in the space:

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 10.29.16.png

Doing pretty well – the AHL mutual fund versus the ‘big guys’ – AQR (source: Google Finance).

Anyway, just another bit of year-end navel gazing.  And to answer your question: no, I don’t have any ‘skin in the game’ with the mutual fund; I’m just happy to see the fund achieving its objective, and the guys at AHL doing well.


Happy Birthday to Foz


Fozzie’s namesake

Hello again.

As many know, I left the corporate/hedge fund world to trade for myself.  Until renewable energy took most of my waking hours, anyway.  But while I have been away, doing my best to help build waste-to-energy power plants, my trading system has been quietly ‘waka-waka’ -ing in the background.  And so, one year after switching on Fozzie, here is the result (thanks to Fundseeder for the free admin/tracking tool):

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.22.56.png

The Foz, one year on from live trading (source: Fundseeder)

Some characteristics and thoughts regarding Fozzie:

  1. Momentum still works.  At its core, this is a momentum system.  How can you tell from the above?  Winning months tend to be larger than losing months (in size), which gets reflected in the positive skewness in the statistics.  The Sharpe is in line with a momentum system.  And the system has already been through a pretty sustained drawdown period.
  2. Diversification works.  Though not obvious from the above, the system’s gains were spread across just about all assets traded (which is an admittedly small pool of 12 futures contracts).  But there were contributions from FX, bonds, equities, and commodities.
  3. Amibroker works.  I mentioned before that I’m too lazy and not skilled enough to code and take ownership of my code for production trading.  My solution has been Amibroker, which works very well for my purposes.

Finally, acknowledgements:

  • Tech: my wife, who allowed me to purchase a new MacPro for the system.  Ultimately, it was way over spec’d.  But who would’ve known?  Also to Amibroker for a great program, and Fundseeder for the above.
  • Interactive Brokers: low cost; API.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Mentors: Rob Carver and Thomas Smith.
  • My new job. for keeping my Foz interventions to a minimum.

So: what’s next for Foz?  Probably scaling up, and probably moving the system to the cloud.  I may re-examine exit logic as well, using some Bayesian shenanigans from the existing and ongoing trade records.

A green energy-induced hiatus

Spending time with the greenies.  Source: Google Images.

Spending time with the greenies. Source: Google Images.

I feel the need to apologise for being utterly absent these past couple weeks.  The truth is I’m now spending quite a bit of time on a (paying!) project – helping build a number of renewable energy power plants.  Something deeply satisfying about working with tangible inputs and outputs for once.

Anyway, once the dust settles with company start-ups and related work, I’ll be back to my old musings.

Brand name batteries

Charged up.  Source: Google images.

Charged up. Source: Google images.

Late to the game with this, but Tesla’s new home battery is proper exciting.  Why?  Well…

  • First, the somewhat negative angle.  The technology isn’t really new, it’s like a repackaging of the best available production tech.  We’ve all heard of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in loads of applications (e.g. laptops and Tesla cars).  So not exactly a tech marvel.
  • BUT.  Think Apple with the iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc.  Not exactly new tech, but new fun applications of same tech.  If Tesla can take what seems to be a big car battery and convince folks to stick it on a wall, the environmental and economic effects can be massive.
  • Massive?  I’ve written before about how battery storage is THE way of the future for electricity supply.  In sum, the very environmentally friendly electricity comes at the cost of intermittency – think about when the sun shines or wind blows.  We need efficient and inexpensive battery storage to compensate for the intermittency (the other method is natural gas…not as eco friendly).  Tesla’s home battery is a step in that very direction – use the big battery to smooth out demand from the power grid, taking power when it’s cheap and providing power when it’s expensive.
  • But could there be more?  Consider developing economies, which use a lot less electricity than the US on a per-capita basis.  Now the existing tech might actually provide days worth of power (maybe), such that no grid is necessary – just have the neighbourhood solar cells or windmill.  Just like the village well, this might help out a lot of very remote people.
  • Still too early.  I was happy to see this brief economic analysis of the home battery (I wanted to see some figures before I commented).  It seems the pricing of the battery is kinda-there for those with high electricity bills (e.g. California, Europe).  If the Tesla ‘giga-factory’ can really churn these out, such that costs drop by the 50% or so mooted, the battery goes from early-adopters to mainstream, methinks.  Exciting.

Anyway, I can’t wait for the day when all the NIMBY complaints can focus on windmills or solar cells, rather than high-voltage power lines.  The former seem to me a lot more parochial and funny than the latter – i.e. they have a point to complain about eye-sores that may cause cancer.

Latest project: mortgage craziness

UK mortgages: financial innovation run amok.  Source: Google images.

UK mortgages: financial innovation run amok. Source: Google images.

In a never-ending saga, I’ve spent quite a lot of free time these past few weeks studying the UK mortgage market.  In sum: crazy:

  • Where I’m coming from: US mortgages.  In particular, the fixed-rate 30-year mortgage guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.  When my wife and I bought a house in the US, the choices were pretty much either a 15-year or 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Simples.
  • How about a 30-year fix in the UK? Nope, not available.  If only Americans fully appreciated how sweet the government support of housing is in the US.  No dice in the UK.  BTW, for those wondering – mortgage interest is tax-deductible in the US, but not in the UK.  But anyway.
  • What do Britons do?  Fix for 2 years.  The standard mortgage here seems to be a 2-year fixed rate, which then reverts to a penal ‘Standard Variable Rate (SVR)’ charged by the bank.  Given low rates, there are several offerings for 3-, 5- and 10-year fixes these days.  In practice, the assumption is the mortgager refinances by the end of the fixed rate period – spending another £1,000 or so on fees for the privilege of keeping a discounted fixed rate.  Or they move, or pay off the debt, or…
  • How to take advantage of low rates?  Variable/tracker mortgages.  If you believe rates will continue to fall, there are mortgages which either reflect changes in that SVR (‘variable’) or changes in the Bank of England base rate (‘tracker’). Those smart cookies who successfully predicted the massive fall in BoE base rates entered a strange world of negative mortgage payments in 2008/9.  With the base rate at 50bps, I’m guessing there isn’t much further to go.
    • Extension: but what if I wanted to ‘fix’ my own 30-year mortgage?  The SVR is completely at the discretion of the mortgagee – they can change at will, so very hard to hedge interest rate risk on a variable, or indeed 2-year fixed, mortgage.  The tracker is more interesting – BoE interest rate decisions generally take place at meetings announced well in advance, so could in theory be hedged.  I’m looking into solutions involving Short Sterling and/or UK gilt futures to achieve the fix.
  • Brilliant UK innovation – offset mortgages.  It’s well-known that paying off mortgage principal early is a good thing, to build equity and lower total interest paid.  But what if you come across a load of cash (a bonus, perhaps), with a potential need for said cash in the future (early retirement, perhaps)?  The offset mortgage allows your cash savings to offset the mortgage principal; you can still access your cash if needed, but otherwise you only pay interest on the net amount of principal outstanding.  I like that feature, though it comes at the cost of higher interest expense.
  • But wait – don’t you loathe the UK housing market?  Hmm… yes, particularly in London area.  Upon further research, housing in the Midlands and North of England (+ Scotland and N Ireland) isn’t as overpriced/undersupplied as the dreaded Southeast.  This is reflected in gross rental yields: London yields are a joke (3% p.a. before fees/fixes?  Happy to rent with that.), while yields elsewhere are much more reasonable.  So maybe worth investigating a purchase further afield.

What fun, investigating financial products.  Ah, to have a 3.8%, 30-year fixed mortgage with a tax credit to boot instead.

Retirement in your 30s…new blogs for the list

From the weekend reading, I learned about a few awesome blogs on the topic of (very) early retirement.  There seem to be several folks out there making a go of living financially independent lives in their 30s.  They generally have a few things in common:

  • A high-paying job in their 20s (e.g. software engineer), usually in concert with a high-paid spouse.
  • True dedication to savings – most are socking away 50-70% of income during working years.  Experiences vary on how to achieve this – some are more ascetic than others.
  • Good financial sense – just solid practices, such as maxing out retirement savings, sticking with cheap index funds, etc.  Nothing particularly fancy, though some pretty sweet tax planning to be found.

In any case, here are the 3 new blogs on my list.  I’ve already picked up a few tips to save on my taxes, so worth every penny of reading!

  • Go Curry Cracker – a couple doing the early retirement thing in Mexico/US.  Great transparency on their finances/expenses for how to make things work.
  • Mad Fientist – brilliant resource for tax planning.
  • Jim Collins – a resource for investing basics, particularly stock investing.

How far to soak the rich… Optimal top tax rates

You said it.  Source: Google images.

You said it. Source: Google images.

A quick read from this morning’s press turned up an interesting article – Determining the optimal U.S. tax rate for high earners.  In brief, the author summarises existing economic literature which empirically estimates the top tax band (NB: the top tax rate in the US is currently 39.6%, compared with 45% in the UK).  He finds the top rate can and should be substantially higher, using 3 elasticity approaches.

Some thoughts:

  • Background: tax policy is especially important in the US, relative to other countries, in order to achieve income redistribution.  Americans seem happier to use progressive taxation, rather than cash transfers, to help level the playing field.  Here’s some OECD data, summarised by Greg Mankiw, on the topic of US versus other countries in measuring tax progressiveness.
  • The issue: policy makers need to set top tax bands to achieve both needed revenue and a feeling from society that the rich are paying their fair share.  The big concern is the substitution effect, which means the rich will work less as their effective (after-tax) pay is cut.  The measure of this effect is called elasticity, which is measured in 3 ways by the research quoted in the article.
  • The result: in all 3 cases, the optimal higher tax rate is far above the existing rate – between 57% and 83%.  For history buffs, the latter is roughly where the top rate was in the 1930s-1950s.
  • How can that be true?  From the article, it seems high earners don’t care about their marginal tax rate – again spitting in the face of rational economic theory.  Perhaps they’re working for other reasons than earning a lot, and/or still feel rich with high marginal rates.
  • So what?  Part of me reads the article and feels the usual cynicism, e.g. “like that’ll ever happen”.  So worth asking why the US would raise the rates…maybe to squeeze just a bit more out of an already progressive tax system, in order to fund more progressive cash transfer system?  Also worth wondering what the elasticity would be for leaving town – testing the common argument that high earners will quickly leave town if rates are increased (e.g. London hedge fundies moving to Geneva when the top rate was increased to 50%, only to regret it later).  Finally, would hiking top tax rates actually raise additional revenue?  The elasticities in the article would hint at ‘yes’, but other authors suggest otherwise.

In sum: let’s put these findings in the basket of “hollow arguments the rich make to frighten working/middle class voters into voting against their best interests”.  Higher top tax rates may help raise revenue and social equality, with little effect on tax avoidance or decreased effort on behalf of high earners.