AgPa #52: Happier Employees, Better Returns?

Employee Satisfaction and Long-Run Stock Returns, 1984–2020 (2022)
Hamid Boustanifar, Young Dae Kang
Financial Analysts Journal 78(3), URL/SSRN

A common sales-pitch of ESG strategies is the idea that those strategies not only do good for the planet and other stakeholders, but also generate higher returns. I am generally skeptic about this, but there are studies showing that certain ESG variables historically indeed predicted higher returns. A prominent example for this is the paper on employee satisfaction by Alex Edmans (2011). This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is an out-of-sample test of this study with somewhat more thorough testing.

  • “Best Companies” outperformed several benchmarks
  • “Best Companies” outperformed during crises and out-of-sample
  • Quality and Low-Risk factors explain some of the premium on “Best Companies”

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AgPa #51: Short Sellers vs. Firms

Go Down Fighting: Short Sellers vs. Firms (2012)
Owen A. Lamont
The Review of Asset Pricing Studies 2(1), URL

I like controversial and (in my opinion) misunderstood topics and this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines the next big one: short selling. The paper is unfortunately already more than 10 years old, but it is still a go-to reference for short selling. Apart from that, the fights between firms and short sellers are also quite entertaining – at least from an outsider’s perspective…

  • Short-seller-fighting firms tend to massively underperform
  • The results are robust after controlling for the major factors

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AgPa #48: Investable Machine Learning for Equities

Investable and Interpretable Machine Learning for Equities (2022)
Yimou Li, Zachary Simon, David Turkington
The Journal of Financial Data Science Winter 2022, 4(1), URL

Regular readers of this blog know that machine learning in asset management is one of my favorite topics and I recently found new interesting material. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is the first of two studies and examines an important issue with machine learning models in great detail: interpretability…

  • Machine learning models outperform simpler methods
  • Different models learn different investment approaches

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AgPa #33: World Cups and Stock Markets

Sports Sentiment and Stock Returns (2007)
Alex Edmans, Diego García and Øyvind Norli
The Journal of Finance 62(4), 1967-1998, URL

Given that this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper coincides with the final of the World Cup, I couldn’t resist the temptation. Below you can see a chart of the knockout stage of this year’s tournament. But since you are visiting a nerdy finance website, the focus is not on the results, but on the post-match stock market returns of the playing countries…

You may (understandably) say that this is some nice storytelling but not much more. However, I didn’t made this up to create a story but the idea of this analysis actually comes from this week’s AGNOSTIC paper…

  • Stock markets of losing countries tend to underperform after important matches
  • The effect most likely comes from bad mood after sport losses

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AgPa #32: Agnostic Fundamental Analysis (3/3)

Boosting agnostic fundamental analysis: Using machine learning to identify mispricing in European stock markets (2022)
Matthias X.Hanauer, Marina Kononova, Marc Steffen Rapp
Finance Research Letters 48, URL/SSRN

The third and final post about agnostic fundamental analysis. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper challenges the simple linear methodology and introduces vastly improved valuation models…

  • More sophisticated valuation models yielded better performance
  • Different models emphasize different fundamental variables

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AgPa #31: Agnostic Fundamental Analysis (2/3)

Global market inefficiencies (2021)
Söhnke M. Bartram, Mark Grinblatt
Journal of Financial Economics 139(1), 234-259, URL/SSRN

The second AGNOSTIC Paper on agnostic fundamental analysis. This one is the international out-of-sample test where the authors apply their methodology to stock markets around the world. The results point in the same direction and suggest robust out-of-sample evidence…

  • Undervalued stocks outperformed overvalued stocks – also globally
  • Agnostic fundamental analysis yielded significant alpha – globally and against up to 80 factors
  • Agnostic fundamental analysis remains profitable after transaction costs
  • The degree of market efficiency differs around the world

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AgPa #30: Agnostic Fundamental Analysis (1/3)

Agnostic fundamental analysis works (2018)
Söhnke M. Bartram, Mark Grinblatt
Journal of Financial Economics 128(1), 125-147, URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper tackles a very basic question: Does fundamental analysis work? For that purpose, the authors introduce an agnostic valuation model that explains the market capitalization of companies by their most recent fundamentals. A strategy that bets on the convergence of prices and estimated “fair” values generated strong profits between 1987 and 2012…

  • Undervalued stocks outperformed overvalued stocks by about 0.5% per month
  • Agnostic fundamental analysis yielded significant alpha

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SA #1: MSCI – Even Quality Can Become Too Expensive

MSCI: Even Quality Can Become Too Expensive
November 9, 2022


  • On October 25, MSCI reported quite strong 9M numbers and, for the moment, defended its high multiples (LTM P/E about 44).
  • In this article, I focus on a high-level valuation of MSCI to decide if it’s worth analyzing the stock in more detail.
  • Using a standard DCF-WACC model, market data for interest rates, and reasonable estimates for future fundamentals suggests massive overvaluation (theoretical downside of 54%).
  • The result is very similar when comparing MSCI to common valuation multiples of a peer group. Depending on the multiple, the company trades at a premium of up to 60%.
  • MSCI is undeniably a very high-quality company. But at the current levels, the company just appears way too expensive. So I am not yet interested.

Read the Full Article on Seeking Alpha

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AgPa #28: “Not Selling” of Insiders

Is “Not Trading” Informative? Evidence from Corporate Insiders’ Portfolios (2022)
Luke DeVault, Scott Cederburg, Kainan Wang
Financial Analysts Journal 78(1), 79-100, URL/SSRN

Transactions of insiders are usually a useful source of information when evaluating a stock. Insiders typically have a good understanding of the underlying business and buys are therefore often considered as positive signal. On the other hand, insider sales are not necessarily negative. There are many non-informative reasons to cash out. Maybe the insider needs some cash for personal expenditures or just wants to diversify his assets. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper challenges this asymmetry and creatively shows that even those transactions convey important information…

  • “Not sold” stocks from insider portfolios outperformed
  • A portfolio of “not sold” stocks easily beat the US market
  • “Not sold” stocks with momentum are even better
  • Corporate insiders know more than institutional investors

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AgPa #27: Forecasting DAX Index Changes

Forecasting index changes in the German DAX family (2020)
Friedrich‑Carl Franz
Journal of Asset Management 21, 135-153, URL

Is it possible to forecast and exploit changes in the composition of equity indices? This is the central question of this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper and the author introduces a quite interesting trading strategy for the German DAX family indices…

  • Index changes in the DAX family are predictable
  • Buying index additions and shorting deletions generated strong risk-adjusted returns

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