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One, Three, Five or Seven Stock Return Factors?

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

How many, and which, factors should investors include when constructing multi-factor smart beta portfolios? In their August 2017 paper entitled "How Many Factors? Does Adding Momentum and Volatility Improve Performance", Mohammed Elgammal, Fatma Ahmed, David McMillan and Ali Al-Amari examine whether adding momentum and low-volatility factors enhances the Fama-French 5-factor (market, size, book-to-market, profitability, investment) model of stock returns. They consider statistical significance, economic sense and investment import. Specifically, they:

  • Determine whether factor regression coefficient signs and values distinguish between several pairs of high-risk and low-risk style portfolios (assuming stock style portfolio performance differences derive from differences in firm economic risk).
  • Relate time-varying factor betas across style portfolios to variation in economic and market risks as proxied by changes in U.S. industrial production and S&P 500 Index implied volatility (VIX), respectively.
  • Test an out-of-sample trading rule based on extrapolation of factor betas from 5-year historical rolling windows to predict next-month return for five sets (book-to-market, profitability, investment, momentum, quality) of four style portfolios (by double-sorting with size) and picking the portfolio within a set with the highest predicted returns.

Using monthly factor return data during January 1990 through October 2016, they find that:

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