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.
It’s well known among market professionals that value investors are congenitally grumpy (for example, the retired keeper of our Undervalued & Unloved stock screen went by the internal nickname of “Eeyore.”) Worse yet, bad market conditions have lately combined with value managers’ bad genetics to make them an especially unhappy lot, even by their own dour standards.