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Bringing Order to the Factor Zoo?

Posted in Equity Premium, Momentum Investing, Value Premium

From a purely statistical perspective, how many factors are optimal for explaining both time series and cross-sectional variations in stock anomaly/stock returns, and how do these statistical factors relate to stock/firm characteristics? In their July 2018 paper entitled "Factors That Fit the Time Series and Cross-Section of Stock Returns", Martin Lettau and Markus Pelger search for the optimal set of equity factors via a generalized Principal Component Analysis (PCA) that includes a penalty on return prediction errors returns. They apply this approach to three datasets:

  1. Monthly returns during July 1963 through December 2017 for two sets of 25 portfolios formed by double sorting into fifths (quintiles) first on size and then on either accruals or short-term reversal.
  2. Monthly returns during July 1963 through December 2017 for 370 portfolios formed by sorting into tenths (deciles) for each of 37 stock/firm characteristics.
  3. Monthly excess returns for 270 individual stocks that are at some time components of the S&P 500 Index during January 1972 through December 2014.

They compare performance of their generalized PCA to that of conventional PCA. Using the specified datasets, they find that:

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