AgPa #80: Forget Factors and Keep it Simple?

Keeping it Simple: The Disappearance of Premia for Standard Non-Market Factors (2023)
Avanidhar Subrahmanyam
SSRN Working Paper, URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is almost a cheat as it is only 3 pages long. I found the paper in the newsletter of a German journalist and thought it is so unconventional that I have to write about it. The author, Avanidhar Subrahmanyam, is a well-known financial economist at the UCLA School of Management and articulates a very simple statistical critique on factor investing. I believe it is important to seek disconfirming evidence, so I regard it as duty to look at this paper with an open mind.

  • Only two factors are significant over the last 27+ years

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AgPa #74: Peer-Reviewed Research is Not Helpful to Predict Returns – Really?

Does peer-reviewed theory help predict the cross-section of stock returns? (2023)
Andrew Y. Chen, Alejandro Lopez-Lira, Tom Zimmermann
Working Paper, URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines the holy grail of empirical research and systematic investing. Is all the research from those smart academics and practitioners really helpful to predict stock returns? Or are we all victims of data mining? The paper if of course not the first one examining this issue, but the approach is in my opinion quite interesting and the authors derive some thought-provoking implications. Pure data mining matches the results from decades of peer-reviewed research surprisingly well. The practical implications, however, are in my opinion not as clear as the statistical ones.

Putting all of this together, the authors may be right that peer-reviewed research and theory are (statistically) not helpful to predict stock returns. I do believe, however, that theory and rigor research in the sense of understanding what you are attempting to do is helpful for real-world investing.

  • Return predictors decay out-of-sample – with and without theory
  • Data mining generates similar patterns like peer-reviewed research
  • Out-of-sample decays are similar for data mining and peer-reviewed research

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AgPa #70: Equal vs. Market Cap Weights

Why Do Equally Weighted Portfolios Beat Value-Weighted Ones? (2022)
Alexander Swade, Sandra Nolte, Mark Shackleton, Harald Lohre
The Journal of Portfolio Management 49 (5), URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines one of the most common ideas of portfolio construction. Equal weighting. At least on paper, equal weighted strategies often outperform market cap weights and sometimes even more sophisticated optimizations. In a very simple, yet somehow brilliant analysis, this week’s authors examine where this historical outperformance comes from…

  • EW portfolios outperformed VW ones in the US market
  • EW bets on Size, Value, and against Momentum, Quality, and Low-Risk
  • The EW-VW spread is an imperfect, but cheap and simple proxy for the size effect

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AgPa #69: Rebalancing Luck

Fundamental Indexation: Rebalancing Assumptions and Performance (2010)
David Blitz, Bart van der Grient, Pim van Vliet
The Journal of Index Investing Fall 2010, 1(2), URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is already more than 10 years old, but still carries a very important message. The core idea is very simple. If you design an investment strategy, you must make decisions about rebalancing. There are two aspects to consider. How much and when. This week’s authors examine the when at the example of fundamental indices. They show that choosing arbitrary rebalancing date(s) introduces substantial luck or bad luck to a strategy. Even more important, this luck or bad luck doesn’t seem to cancel out over time and thus permanently affects real-world returns. Fortunately, however, there are ways to make yourself less dependent from rebalancing luck…

  • Different rebalancing dates lead to different outcomes
  • Rebalancing luck (or bad luck) is relevant and persistent
  • There is a solution: stretch rebalancing over the year

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AgPa #63: Fire the Winners and Hire the Losers

The Folly of Hiring Winners and Firing Losers (2018)
Rob Arnott, Vitali Kalesnik, Lillian Wu
The Journal of Portfolio Management Fall 2018, 45 (1), URL/research affiliates

I am still in my research on manager selection, so apologies to everyone who doesn’t find that too interesting. We already touched the question on what to do with underperforming managers in AgPa #59 and #60. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper, however, examines this problem somewhat more generally and delivers some really simple (but psychologically hard-to-execute) common-sense conclusions.

  • Current winners tend to be future losers
  • High fees are the most reliable way to underperform
  • Investors should use factor exposures and valuations to evaluate fund managers

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AgPa #47: Equity Factors without Shorting

When Equity Factors Drop Their Shorts (2020)
David Blitz, Guido Baltussen, Pim van Vliet
Financial Analysts Journal, 76(4), URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines the important issue of performance contributions from the long and short legs of the major factor premiums. In English: can we profitably invest in factors without shorting a large number of stocks?

  • The long-legs of factors are more important than the short-legs
  • The same pattern holds in international markets

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AgPa #46: Transaction Costs and Capacities of Factor Strategies

Transaction Costs of Factor-Investing Strategies (2019)
Feifei Li, Tzee-Man Chow, Alex Pickard, Yadwinder Garg
Financial Analysts Journal 75(2), 47-61, URL

In this week’s AGNOSTIC paper, the authors develop a transaction cost model and use it to estimate the capacity of the major factors. There are many ways to define capacity in more detail, but the general idea is quite simple. It is the amount of money you can invest in a profitable strategy before you move prices too much and lose your advantage. Unfortunately, what theoretically sounds simple and intuitive is actually quite difficult to estimate in practice…

  • Implementation costs depend on tilt, turnover, and execution speed
  • Capacities of factors for a maximum cost of 0.5% per year
  • There is not yet a consensus on factor capacities

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AgPa #45: Factor Investing in Private Debt

Investing with Style in Liquid Private Debt (2022)
Thomas Mählmann, Galina Sukonnik
Financial Analysts Journal 78(3), URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is yet another out-of-sample test of the Momentum and Value factor. The authors apply the factors within the relatively new asset class of private debt. More specifically, for “[…] loans to non-investment grade issuers, commonly known as leveraged loans.” This is obviously not my main area of expertise, but I learned from the paper that there is quite some trading of such loans in private secondary markets. Implementing a factor strategy for leveraged loans is obviously more complicated than for equities, but this is exactly what makes this study so interesting.

  • Private debt improves multi-asset portfolios
  • Value and Momentum are profitable within private debt

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AgPa #44: Betting against Quant – Thematic Indices

Betting against Quant: Examining the Factor Exposures of Thematic Indexes (2021)
David Blitz
The Journal of Beta Investment Strategies Winter 2021, URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines a recent trend in the asset management industry: thematic indices. The sales pitch is simple. With a thematic index you can easily invest in the “next big things”. Artificial intelligence, aging population, e-sports and gaming, healthcare breakthroughs – just name your buzzword and you will find an investment product for it. This week’s paper is among the first that examine such thematic investments through the lens of the major factor premiums.

  • Thematic indices are more volatile and have higher betas than the overall market
  • Thematic indices tend to hold expensive, low-quality stocks with neutral momentum
  • There are still reasons why thematic indices exist

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AgPa #43: Buffett’s Alpha

Buffett’s Alpha (2018)
Andrea Frazzini, David Kabiller, Lasse Heje Pedersen
Financial Analysts Journal 74(4), URL

In this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper, the authors use the major factor premiums to examine one of the best long-term investment track records in the world – Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. The latest annual report just came out a few days ago and (as usual) summarizes Berkshire’s performance on the first page. From 1965 to 2022, Berkshire returned 19.8% per year versus 9.9% for the S&P 500. That’s a 24,708% cumulative return for the S&P 500, and an unbelievable 3,787,464% return for Berkshire. There are some investors who achieved even better results over shorter time periods. But to the best of my knowledge, there is no 58-year track record that is even remotely comparable to Buffett.

  • How good is Berkshire? Damn good…
  • The Buffett Style: cheap stocks with high-quality and low-risk
  • Don’t practice what you preach – Buffett’s Leverage…
  • Systematizing Buffett and Berkshire

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