Momentum Crashes

September 01, 2016

Journal of Financial Economics

A momentum strategy is a bet that past returns will predict future returns in the cross-section of assets, and is typically implemented by buying past winners and selling past losers. Momentum is pervasive: the academic finance literature documents the efficacy of momentum strategies across time periods, markets and asset classes. Momentum is a strategy employed by quantitative investors and even by mutual fund managers.

Despite the pervasive evidence of momentum, the underlying mechanism responsible for its returns is as yet unknown. By virtue of the high Sharpe ratios associated with momentum strategies, the return patterns are difficult to explain within the standard rational-expectations asset pricing framework.

In “normal” environments we see consistent price momentum that is both statistically and economically strong and manifests itself across numerous equity markets and a wide range of diverse asset classes.

However, in extreme market environments after a long market downturn, the market prices of past losers embody a very high premium. When poor market conditions ameliorate and the market starts to rebound, the losers experience strong gains, resulting in a “momentum crash” as momentum strategies short these assets.

Since part of these crash periods are predictable, we use bear market indicators and volatility estimates to forecast the conditional mean and variance of momentum strategies. Armed with these estimates, we create a simple dynamically weighted version of the momentum portfolio that approximately doubles the Sharpe ratio of the static strategy — and does so consistently in every market, asset class and time period we study.

Swiss Finance Institute Outstanding Paper Award 2013

  • AQR Capital Management, LLC, (“AQR”) provide links to third-party websites only as a convenience, and the inclusion of such links does not imply any endorsement, approval, investigation, verification or monitoring by us of any content or information contained within or accessible from the linked sites. If you choose to visit the linked sites, you do so at your own risk, and you will be subject to such sites' terms of use and privacy policies, over which has no control. In no event will AQR be responsible for any information or content within the linked sites or your use of the linked sites.

  • The information contained herein is only as current as of the date indicated, and may be superseded by subsequent market events or for other reasons. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AQR Capital Management, LLC, its affiliates or its employees.

    This information is not intended to, and does not relate specifically to any investment strategy or product that AQR offers. It is being provided merely to provide a framework to assist in the implementation of an investor’s own analysis and an investor’s own view on the topic discussed herein. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.