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

Read the Full Post

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

Read the Full Post

AgPa #68: Machine-Learned Manager Selection (4/4)

A Cross-Sectional Machine Learning Approach for Hedge Fund Return Prediction and Selection (2021)
Wenbo Wu, Jiaqi Chen, Zhibin (Ben) Yang, Michael L. Tindall
Management Science 67(7), URL/SSRN

The fourth and at least for the moment final AGNOSTIC Paper on Machine Learned Manager Selection. After examining equity mutual funds in the last three papers, this week‘s authors provide an interesting out-of-sample test and explore machine learning models for selecting hedge funds. Importantly, this week‘s paper appeared in one of the leading business journals already back in 2021. This increases the likelihood that the results are actually robust and strengthens the evidence.

  • Machine learning helps to identify outperforming hedge funds
  • Risk measures and VIX-correlations are the most important features

Read the Full Post

AgPa #67: Machine-Learned Manager Selection (3/4)

Selecting Mutual Funds from the Stocks They Hold: A Machine Learning Approach (2020)
Bin Li, Alberto G. Rossi
SSRN Working Paper, URL

The third AGNOSTIC Paper on the application of machine learning in manager selection. This week’s paper is very similar to AgPa #65 and AgPa #66, and again examines the data on US mutual funds. Despite somewhat different methodology, the results point in a similar direction. This, of course, increases the evidence that machine learning is actually useful for manager selection…

  • Machine learning helps to identify outperforming funds
  • The best and worst funds share common characteristics
  • Trading Frictions and Momentum are the most relevant variables

Read the Full Post

AgPa #66: Machine-Learned Manager Selection (2/4)

Machine Learning and Fund Characteristics Help to Select Mutual Funds with Positive Alpha (2023)
Victor DeMiguel, Javier Gil-Bazo, Francisco J. Nogales, Andre A. P. Santos
SSRN Working Paper, URL

The second AGNOSTIC Paper on the application of machine learning in manager selection. This week’s paper follows essentially the same idea as Kaniel et al. (2022) in AgPa #65. The authors also examine a comprehensive sample of US mutual funds and although they use slightly different methodology, arrive at generally similar conclusions. This, of course, increases the evidence that machine learning is indeed helpful for manager selection…

  • Machine learning helps to identify outperforming funds
  • Past performance and measures of activeness are the most relevant variables
  • Given their alpha, machine-selected funds remain too small

Read the Full Post

AgPa #65: Machine-Learned Manager Selection (1/4)

Machine-Learning the Skill of Mutual Fund Managers (2022)
Ron Kaniel, Zihan Lin, Markus Pelger, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh
NBER Working Paper 29723, URL

To conclude the posts on manager selection, at least for the moment, I will dive into one of the most recent research frontiers in this area. Since the application of machine learning in investment management has been intensively studied among equities for more than three years now, it is not surprising that researchers also start to apply such algorithms to other asset classes. A natural candidate for this are equity mutual funds and this is exactly where this and the next four week’s AGNOSTIC Papers come in.

  • Machine learning helps to identify outperforming funds
  • Less is more – not all information is necessary
  • Alpha is easier to predict than total returns

Read the Full Post

AgPa #64: Fund Manager Multitasking

Managerial Multitasking in the Mutual Fund Industry (2023)
Vikas Agarwal, Linlin Ma, Kevin Mullally
Financial Analysts Journal 79(2), URL/SSRN

Some days ago, I came across yet another interesting study on manager selection. The idea of this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is very straight forward. When you hire a fund manager, you want this person to focus on your money and not do much else. Probably no one would agree to a surgery where the surgeon operates on five patients at the same time. So why hire a fund manager who manages more than one fund?

  • Manager multitasking strongly increased from 1990 to 2018
  • Managers who start multitasking tend to have better track records
  • Fund performance decreases significantly after managers start multitasking
  • The number of managed funds amplifies the effect of multitasking
  • Investors put less money into existing funds of multitasking managers

Read the Full Post

AgPa #61: Minivans versus Sports Cars

Sensation Seeking and Hedge Funds (2018)
Stephen Brown, Yan Lu, Sugata Ray, Melvyn Teo
The Journal of Finance 73(6), 2871-2914, URL/SSRN

Tell me about the car you drive and I tell you who you are. In the hope of not offending the car enthusiasts too much, this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper relates the performance and characteristics of hedge fund managers to the type of car they drive. As announced in last week’s article, this is a funny example for the important soft factors that investors should consider when selecting an asset manager.

  • Sports car drivers take more risk and deliver lower performance
  • Funds of sports car drivers come with more operational risk
  • Sports-car-driving investors want sports-car-driving fund managers

Read the Full Post

AgPa #56: The Equity Risk Premium of Small Businesses

Small Business Equity Returns: Empirical Evidence from the Business Credit Card Securitization Market (2023)
Matthias Fleckenstein, Francis A. Longstaff
The Journal of Finance 78(1), URL

In 2020, there were more than 31M small private businesses in the US. Even though the estimated value of those businesses is “just” $12T, the sheer number is astonishing when compared to about 4,000 tradable US stocks (excluding penny stocks). For stocks, we typically use measures like returns, multiples, and volatilities. But given the lack of daily prices, it is difficult to calculate those measures for small private businesses. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is an attempt to change that…

  • Small businesses had an equity risk premium of 10.7% and a volatility of 56%
  • Robustness: the model generates plausible results for S&P 500 stocks

Read the Full Post

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”

Read the Full Post