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Factor/Smart Beta Investing Unsustainably Faddish?

Posted in Momentum Investing, Size Effect, Value Premium, Volatility Effects

Does transient factor popularity drive factor/smart beta portfolio performance by pushing valuations of associated stocks up and down? In their February 2016 paper entitled "How Can 'Smart Beta' Go Horribly Wrong?", Robert Arnott, Noah Beck, Vitali Kalesnik and John West examine degrees to which factor hedge portfolio and stock factor tilt (smart beta) backtests are attractive due to:

  1. Steady and clearly sustainable factor premiums; or,
  2. Changes in factor relative valuations, measured as average price-to-book value ratio of stocks with high expected returns (factor portfolio long side) divided by average price-to-book ratio of stocks with low expected returns (factor portfolio short side). This ratio tends to increase (decrease) as investor assets move into (out of) factor portfolios.

They consider six long-short factor hedge portfolios: value, momentum, market capitalization (size), illiquidity, low beta and gross profitability. They also consider six smart beta portfolios, which they (mostly) require to sever the relationship between stock price and portfolio weight and to have low turnover, substantial market breadth, liquidity, capacity, transparency, ease of testing and low fees: equal weight, fundamental index, risk efficient, maximum diversification, low volatility and quality. Using specified annual and monthly factor measurement data and returns for a broad sample of U.S. stocks during January 1967 through September 2015, they find that:

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