From the end of 2020 through May, stocks in the top quintile of both value and momentum have returned 60% versus 7% for the overall universe. That compares to the brutal stretch from 2016-2020 when the only way momentum investing worked was to not only disregard valuations, but to actively buy the most expensive momentum stocks.
Quant researchers widely agree that Value offers a return premium over time (although not recently) and that High Quality also offers excess returns. The Quality angle seems contrary to intuition, in that investors generally prefer Quality companies and are willing to pay up for them, yet Quality regularly outperforms. Value and Quality are both well-respected investment factors, and we were curious to explore the interaction of these two smart beta stalwarts. Is Value enhanced by adding a layer of Quality, thereby avoiding value traps, or are Value investors better off buying junky, unattractive companies that have the most room to rebound from depressed prices?
The weakness in Value* over the last few months has gotten a lot of attention (Chart 1). While we are still on board with the “Value trade” in general, a subtle but distinct change within the theme has emerged. There is a clear bid for Quality, which had not happened in the massive post-Covid junk rally until recently.
Our ongoing research into the relative performance of active vs. passive styles reveals that market conditions play a significant role in the active/passive return cycle. We identified a set of metrics that describe the market conditions we believe influence which management style is more likely to outperform. This note updates our data through March 2021.
Investors looking for the long-awaited rebound in the Value style point to the potential for rising interest rates as a possible driver of style rotation. Higher rates would benefit many Financial companies, a sector closely linked to the Value style. In fact, many commentators believe that the Value style cannot experience a major run without the participation of Financials. We launched a research effort to examine the link between Financials and Value, seeking to understand whether there is truth in this old saw, or whether this connection is more properly classified as market folklore.
Investors looking for the long-awaited rebound in the Value style point to the potential for rising interest rates as a possible driver of style rotation. Higher rates would benefit many Financial companies—a sector closely linked to the Value style. In fact, numerous commentators believe that Value cannot experience a major run without the participation of Financials.
Driven by massive government stimulus, an imminent vaccine rollout, and the expectation of record earnings in 2021, investors seem to be on the verge of embracing a move away from Large Cap Growth stocks in earnest. The leading candidates offered as broad-based alternatives to Large Growth (LG) include Value, Small Caps, and Emerging Markets.
If Momentum and Growth investors thought they were escaping 2020 unscathed, they learned otherwise on Monday. Pfizer’s promising news about a COVID-19 vaccine was met with universal excitement and investors rearranging portfolios—taking gains in long-term winners and plowing into beaten-down cyclical stocks.
Our Very Long Term (VLT) Momentum algorithm has been a very good “confirmatory” market tool over the years, especially at the onset of a new cyclical bull market. But VLT has proven to be of little to no value in navigating this year’s gyrations. VLT’s latest flip-flops reinforce our view that the market leaderboard is set to be rearranged.
From a top-down view, since 2003, Value’s performance has been much more closely tied to various asset markets and macro drivers. From a bottom-up perspective, we believe the change in Value’s migration behavior might be the key to its failure. We believe macro tailwinds and positive surprises are both necessary for a true Value revival.
Last year we published a report titled Price to Book: The King is Dead (available on the Leuthold Research website) with the objective to better understand the decade-long struggle of the value style. Our findings showed that indexes based on the Price to Book ratio have indeed lagged since 2007 but that other measures of value performed significantly better until just recently.
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.
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.
Value finally performed well during July, turning in its best month of 2018 on a spread basis. While the factor category is still deep in negative territory for the year, almost 85% of its underperformance is coming from the worst quintile outperforming the universe; meaning Value has mostly struggled because of expensive stocks outperforming, not cheap stocks lagging.
Value is the philosophical cornerstone of many legendary portfolio managers and is widely recognized as one of the most robust quantitative investment factors. Yet, despite its compelling conceptual merits and long-term record of superior returns, recent years’ underperformance of Value has lasted long enough to weigh on even 10-year performance records.
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.