Description of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio

David Swensen is manager of Yale University's endowment fund. He has addressed how investors should set up and manage their investments in his book, Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment.

The Swensen portfolio consists of six core asset class allocations:

US equity: 30%

Foreign developed equity: 15%

Emerging market equity: 5%

US REITS: 20%

US Treasury bonds: 15%

US TIPS: 15%

Statistics of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio (YTD)

What do these metrics mean? [Read More] [Hide]

TotalReturn:

'The total return on a portfolio of investments takes into account not only the capital appreciation on the portfolio, but also the income received on the portfolio. The income typically consists of interest, dividends, and securities lending fees. This contrasts with the price return, which takes into account only the capital gain on an investment.'

Which means for our asset as example:
  • The total return, or performance over 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio is 34.1%, which is lower, thus worse compared to the benchmark SPY (66.2%) in the same period.
  • Looking at total return, or performance in of 24.6% in the period of the last 3 years, we see it is relatively smaller, thus worse in comparison to SPY (47.5%).

CAGR:

'The compound annual growth rate isn't a true return rate, but rather a representational figure. It is essentially a number that describes the rate at which an investment would have grown if it had grown the same rate every year and the profits were reinvested at the end of each year. In reality, this sort of performance is unlikely. However, CAGR can be used to smooth returns so that they may be more easily understood when compared to alternative investments.'

Which means for our asset as example:
  • Looking at the annual performance (CAGR) of 6% in the last 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio, we see it is relatively smaller, thus worse in comparison to the benchmark SPY (10.7%)
  • Compared with SPY (13.9%) in the period of the last 3 years, the annual performance (CAGR) of 7.6% is smaller, thus worse.

Volatility:

'In finance, volatility (symbol σ) is the degree of variation of a trading price series over time as measured by the standard deviation of logarithmic returns. Historic volatility measures a time series of past market prices. Implied volatility looks forward in time, being derived from the market price of a market-traded derivative (in particular, an option). Commonly, the higher the volatility, the riskier the security.'

Which means for our asset as example:
  • Looking at the historical 30 days volatility of 8.2% in the last 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio, we see it is relatively smaller, thus better in comparison to the benchmark SPY (13.3%)
  • Compared with SPY (12.5%) in the period of the last 3 years, the volatility of 7.7% is lower, thus better.

DownVol:

'Downside risk is the financial risk associated with losses. That is, it is the risk of the actual return being below the expected return, or the uncertainty about the magnitude of that difference. Risk measures typically quantify the downside risk, whereas the standard deviation (an example of a deviation risk measure) measures both the upside and downside risk. Specifically, downside risk in our definition is the semi-deviation, that is the standard deviation of all negative returns.'

Applying this definition to our asset in some examples:
  • The downside volatility over 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio is 9.1%, which is lower, thus better compared to the benchmark SPY (14.6%) in the same period.
  • Compared with SPY (14.2%) in the period of the last 3 years, the downside volatility of 8.9% is lower, thus better.

Sharpe:

'The Sharpe ratio (also known as the Sharpe index, the Sharpe measure, and the reward-to-variability ratio) is a way to examine the performance of an investment by adjusting for its risk. The ratio measures the excess return (or risk premium) per unit of deviation in an investment asset or a trading strategy, typically referred to as risk, named after William F. Sharpe.'

Using this definition on our asset we see for example:
  • Looking at the ratio of return and volatility (Sharpe) of 0.43 in the last 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio, we see it is relatively smaller, thus worse in comparison to the benchmark SPY (0.62)
  • Looking at ratio of return and volatility (Sharpe) in of 0.67 in the period of the last 3 years, we see it is relatively smaller, thus worse in comparison to SPY (0.91).

Sortino:

'The Sortino ratio measures the risk-adjusted return of an investment asset, portfolio, or strategy. It is a modification of the Sharpe ratio but penalizes only those returns falling below a user-specified target or required rate of return, while the Sharpe ratio penalizes both upside and downside volatility equally. Though both ratios measure an investment's risk-adjusted return, they do so in significantly different ways that will frequently lead to differing conclusions as to the true nature of the investment's return-generating efficiency. The Sortino ratio is used as a way to compare the risk-adjusted performance of programs with differing risk and return profiles. In general, risk-adjusted returns seek to normalize the risk across programs and then see which has the higher return unit per risk.'

Which means for our asset as example:
  • Looking at the excess return divided by the downside deviation of 0.39 in the last 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio, we see it is relatively lower, thus worse in comparison to the benchmark SPY (0.56)
  • Looking at excess return divided by the downside deviation in of 0.58 in the period of the last 3 years, we see it is relatively smaller, thus worse in comparison to SPY (0.8).

Ulcer:

'Ulcer Index is a method for measuring investment risk that addresses the real concerns of investors, unlike the widely used standard deviation of return. UI is a measure of the depth and duration of drawdowns in prices from earlier highs. Using Ulcer Index instead of standard deviation can lead to very different conclusions about investment risk and risk-adjusted return, especially when evaluating strategies that seek to avoid major declines in portfolio value (market timing, dynamic asset allocation, hedge funds, etc.). The Ulcer Index was originally developed in 1987. Since then, it has been widely recognized and adopted by the investment community. According to Nelson Freeburg, editor of Formula Research, Ulcer Index is “perhaps the most fully realized statistical portrait of risk there is.'

Applying this definition to our asset in some examples:
  • The Downside risk index over 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio is 3.51 , which is lower, thus worse compared to the benchmark SPY (3.96 ) in the same period.
  • During the last 3 years, the Ulcer Ratio is 3.07 , which is lower, thus worse than the value of 4.01 from the benchmark.

MaxDD:

'A maximum drawdown is the maximum loss from a peak to a trough of a portfolio, before a new peak is attained. Maximum Drawdown is an indicator of downside risk over a specified time period. It can be used both as a stand-alone measure or as an input into other metrics such as 'Return over Maximum Drawdown' and the Calmar Ratio. Maximum Drawdown is expressed in percentage terms.'

Using this definition on our asset we see for example:
  • Looking at the maximum drop from peak to valley of -11.9 days in the last 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio, we see it is relatively higher, thus better in comparison to the benchmark SPY (-19.3 days)
  • Looking at maximum DrawDown in of -11.9 days in the period of the last 3 years, we see it is relatively higher, thus better in comparison to SPY (-19.3 days).

MaxDuration:

'The Maximum Drawdown Duration is an extension of the Maximum Drawdown. However, this metric does not explain the drawdown in dollars or percentages, rather in days, weeks, or months. It is the length of time the account was in the Max Drawdown. A Max Drawdown measures a retrenchment from when an equity curve reaches a new high. It’s the maximum an account lost during that retrenchment. This method is applied because a valley can’t be measured until a new high occurs. Once the new high is reached, the percentage change from the old high to the bottom of the largest trough is recorded.'

Applying this definition to our asset in some examples:
  • The maximum days below previous high over 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio is 281 days, which is higher, thus worse compared to the benchmark SPY (187 days) in the same period.
  • Compared with SPY (139 days) in the period of the last 3 years, the maximum days below previous high of 146 days is higher, thus worse.

AveDuration:

'The Drawdown Duration is the length of any peak to peak period, or the time between new equity highs. The Avg Drawdown Duration is the average amount of time an investment has seen between peaks (equity highs), or in other terms the average of time under water of all drawdowns. So in contrast to the Maximum duration it does not measure only one drawdown event but calculates the average of all.'

Using this definition on our asset we see for example:
  • Looking at the average days under water of 63 days in the last 5 years of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio, we see it is relatively higher, thus worse in comparison to the benchmark SPY (41 days)
  • During the last 3 years, the average days below previous high is 43 days, which is higher, thus worse than the value of 36 days from the benchmark.

Performance of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio (YTD)

Historical returns have been extended using synthetic data.

Allocations of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio
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Allocations

Returns of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio (%)

  • "Year" returns in the table above are not equal to the sum of monthly returns due to compounding.
  • Performance results of Yale U's Unconventional Portfolio are hypothetical, do not account for slippage, fees or taxes, and are based on backtesting, which has many inherent limitations, some of which are described in our Terms of Use.