V-shape equity recovery: a killer for momentum crossover strategies

Even though the financial markets recently experienced a variety of interesting events, the most surprising one was the fast recovery in equities since they hit their low on March 23rd. Figure 1 shows that the SP500 has pulled back to its 50% Fibo retracement of its yearly high-low range, experiencing one of its fastest rally after plunging by 35%. In addition, we saw that one popular technical indicator, the 50D-200D simple moving average crossover, has been forming a ‘death cross’ in the past, which traditionally indicates a bearish signal to market.

Figure 1


Source: Eikon Reuters

There are many popular momentum strategies based on MA crossovers (both simple and exponential), but the death cross vs. golden cross is a very known one for all asset classes and is closely followed by many market participants. It is a simple systematic strategy, that sends a positive signal when the short-term moving average (50D) trades above the LT MA (200D), which is also called a ‘Golden Cross Formation’, and sends a bearish when the ST MA trades below the LT MA (‘Death Cross Formation’).

Looking at 25 years of daily data, we compute the performance of the Long/Short strategy on the SP500 and compare it to the performance of the SP500 index. Figure 2 shows that the 50/200 crossover strategy generally performs well in periods of slowly trending market (either bull or bear markets), but experiences severe drawdowns in periods of choppy markets. Figure 2 also compares the performance of the L/S strategy with the buy-and-hold one. For a similar volatility, the L/S strategy enhances our annual return by 1.4% to 8.5% for a Shape ratio of 0.44 (vs. 0.37). In addition, drawdowns are significantly reduced as investors are shorting the SP500 in periods of bear equity markets.

Figure 2


Source: Eikon Reuters, RR calculations

Based on these results, it seems very tempting for buy-and-hold investors to change their strategy to the systematic one and therefore avoid severe losses in periods of selloff. However, we think that equities will experience frequent V-shape forms with central banks trying to prevent the stock market from falling by 50%+ in the future, which will be devastating for momentum strategies such as MA crossovers. In other words, it will be the death of the ‘Death Cross’ crossover strategy.