Equity market themes have been boringly consistent of late; growth beating value, large beating small, and domestic beating international. In the factor world, Momentum and Low Volatility have been investor favorites for most of 2019 while Value resided in last place – the same old, same old. Then, something remarkable occurred on September 9th.
The Momentum style—in which investors buy what has been going up recently—represents an optimistic, hopeful, “I’ll take some of that” mentality. The Low Volatility factor entails a pessimistic, fearful outlook in which investors want (or need) to stay invested in stocks but desire downside protection in case the market performs badly.
Smart beta ETFs have become an immensely popular investment tool, attracting billions of dollars in AUM by providing investors with targeted exposure to factors such as Value, Momentum and Quality. Characteristics such as these have been shown to generate alpha over time, and investors understandably wish to have focused positions in these return-generating styles.
Factors provide investors with the ability to shift their portfolio’s characteristics to fit a particular economic and market outlook. Value might look appealing under one set of conditions while Quality might be more desirable in another. We developed a research platform that analyzes various drivers of factor returns, summarized in Exhibit 1.
Momentum is a smart beta factor that gives investors excellent upside participation in rising markets. Most other smart beta factors are defensive plays, so Momentum is the place to be in strong upward moves. Momentum filled that role admirably in recent years, rising 56% from 2016 to the September top, compared to an average of +26% for the other major factors.
Portfolio managers who tilt toward Value or Growth stocks have long known that each style carries with it an inherent bias toward some sectors and away from others. Our recent piece, Value Style’s 100-Year Flood, highlighted the significant role that sector weights (overweight Financials and Energy, underweight Technology) played in Value’s decade-long stretch of underperformance.
With an abundance of year-end updates in this edition of Perception for the Professional, we plan to release the content for this “Of Special Interest” section separately in mid-January.
Last month we assessed the effectiveness of using valuation factors as a basis for country allocation. Using 20 years of data, our results showed that they work quite well specifically for Emerging Market (EM) country-rotation, however, the same valuation-based strategy does not appear to be value-added for Developed Market (DM) allocation/rotation.
With the exception of Low Volatility and Profitability, all other factor categories produced positive factor performance in July. The month was eventful, however, as Momentum produced a +4% spread through July 12th, only to give up more than half of that advantage as interest rates rolled back over.
Quantitative investing has become an integral component of professional investment management, and smart beta funds have become popular vehicles for advisors as they assemble actively-managed client portfolios.
Also known as smart beta or strategic beta, factor investing has become the hottest portfolio management trend in the last five years. The smart beta space exceeds $600 billion in assets under management.