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Size Effect

Do the stocks of small firms consistently outperform those of larger companies? If so, why, and can investors/traders exploit this tendency? These blog entries relate to the size effect.

Stock Size and Excess Stock Portfolio Growth

Why do simple stock portfolios such as equal weighting and random weighting beat market capitalization weighting over the long run? In their June 2018 paper entitled “Diversification, Volatility, and Surprising Alpha”, Adrian Banner, Robert Fernholz, Vassilios Papathanakos, Johannes Ruf and David Schofield tackle this question by decomposing expected stock portfolio log-return into average growth rate and excess growth rate (EGR). They focus on average log-return because, unlike arithmetic and geometric averages, it is an unbiased estimator of long-term performance. They apply two formulas derived in prior work to estimate portfolio log-returns:

  1. Expected portfolio log-return = weighted average stock log-return + EGR
  2. EGR = (weighted average stock return variance – portfolio return variance)/2

They apply these formulas to the following five portfolios, each consisting of monthly overlapping sub-portfolios formed from the 1,000 U.S. stocks with the (each day) largest market capitalizations and rebalanced annually with stock weights normalized to a sum of one:

  1. Capitalization-weighted (CW) – stock weights are proportional to their respective market capitalizations.
  2. Equal-weighted (EW) – weight of each stock is 1/1000.
  3. Large-overweighted (LO) – stock weights are proportional to the square of their respective market capitalizations.
  4. Random-weighted (RW) – stock weights are proportional to random values between zero and one (median of 1,000 trials).
  5. Inverse random-weighted (IRW) – stock weights are proportional to the reciprocals of random values between zero and one (median of 1,000 trials).

EGR quantifies the extent to which portfolio volatility is less than constituent stock volatilities and is always positive for long-only portfolios. Higher constituent stock volatilities generate higher portfolio EGRs. Using daily prices for the 1,000 U.S. stocks with the largest market capitalizations each day during 1964 through 2012 (5,384 distinct stocks over 49 years), they find that:

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Evolution of Quantitative Stock Investing

Quantitative investing involves disciplined rule-based approaches to help investors structure optimal portfolios that balance return and risk. How has such investing evolved? In their June 2018 paper entitled “The Current State of Quantitative Equity Investing”, Ying Becker and Marc Reinganum summarize key developments in the history of quantitative equity investing. Based on the body of research, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Excluding Bad Stock Factor Exposures

The many factor-based indexes and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track them now available enable investors to construct multi-factor portfolios piecemeal. Is such piecemeal construction suboptimal? In their July 2018 paper entitled “The Characteristics of Factor Investing”, David Blitz and Milan Vidojevic apply a multi-factor expected return linear regression model to explore behaviors of long-only factor portfolios. They consider six factors: value-weighted market, size, book-to-market ratio, momentum, operating profitability and investment(change in assets). Their model generates expected returns for each stock each month, and further aggregates individual stock expectations into factor-portfolio expectations holding all other factors constant. They use the model to assess performance differences between a group of long-only single-factor portfolios and an integrated multi-factor portfolio of stocks based on combined rankings across factors. The focus on gross monthly excess (relative to the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield) returns as a performance metric. Using data for a broad sample of U.S. common stocks among the top 80% of NYSE market capitalizations and priced at least $1 during June 1963 through December 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

Doubling Down on Size

“Is There Really an Size Effect?” summarizes research challenging the materiality of the equity size effect. Is there a counter? In their June 2018 paper entitled “It Has Been Very Easy to Beat the S&P500 in 2000-2018. Several Examples”, Pablo Fernandez and Pablo Acin double down on the size effect via a combination of market capitalization thresholds and equal weighting. Specifically, they compare values of a $100 initial investment at the beginning of January 2000, held through April 2018, in:

  • The market capitalization-weighted (MW) S&P 500.
  • The equally weighted (EW) 20, 40, 60 and 80 of the smallest stocks in the S&P 1500, reformed either every 12 months or every 24 months.

All portfolios are dividend-reinvested. Their objective is to provide investors with facts to aid portfolio analysis and selection of investment criteria. Using returns for the specified stocks over the selected sample period, they find that:

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Is There Really an Size Effect?

Do small market capitalization stocks really outperform big ones, as strongly implied by the prominence of the size effect in published research and factor models? In their May 2018 paper entitled “Fact, Fiction, and the Size Effect”, Ron Alquist, Ronen Israel and Tobias Moskowitz survey the body of research on the size effect and employ simple tests to assess claims made about it. Based on published and peer-reviewed academic papers and on tests using data for U.S. stocks and equity factor premiums, international developed and emerging market stocks and stock indexes, U.S. bonds and various currencies as available through December 2017, they find that: Keep Reading

Simple Volatility-Payout-Momentum Stock Strategy

Is there an easy way for investors to capture jointly the most reliable stock return factor premiums? In their March 2018 paper entitled “The Conservative Formula: Quantitative Investing Made Easy”, Pim van Vliet and David Blitz propose a stock selection strategy based on low return volatility, high net payout yield and strong price momentum. Specifically, at the end of each quarter they:

  1. Segment the then-current 1,000 largest stocks into 500 with the lowest and 500 with the highest 36-month return volatilities.
  2. Within each segment, rank stocks based on total net payout yield (NPY), calculated as dividend yield minus change in shares outstanding divided by its 24-month moving average.
  3. Within each segment, rank stocks based on return from 12 months ago to one month ago (with the skip-month intended to avoid return reversals).
  4. Within the low-volatility segment, average the momentum and NPY ranks for each stock and equally weight the top 100 to reform the Conservative Formula portfolio.
  5. Within the high-volatility segment, average the momentum and NPY ranks for each stock and equally weight the bottom 100 to reform the Speculative Formula portfolio.

Limiting the stock universe to the top 1,000 based on market capitalization suppresses liquidity risk. Limiting screening parameters to three intensely studied factors that require no accounting data mitigates data snooping and data availability risks. They focus on the 1,000 largest U.S. stocks to test a long sample, but also consider the next 1,000 U.S. stocks (mid-caps) and the 1,000 largest stocks from each of Europe, Japan and emerging markets. They further examine: (1) sensitivity to economic conditions doe the long U.S. sample; and, (2) impact of trading frictions in the range 0.1%-0.3% for developed markets and 0.2%-0.6% for emerging markets. Using quarterly prices, dividends and shares outstanding for the contemporaneously largest 1,000 U.S. stocks since 1926, European and Japanese stocks since 1986 and emerging markets stocks since 1991, all through 2016, they find that:

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Technical Trading of Equity Factor Premiums

Do technical trend trading/intrinsic momentum strategies work for widely used equity factors such as size (small minus big market capitalizations), value (high minus low book-to-market ratios), profitability (robust minus weak), investment (conservative minus aggressive) and momentum (winners minus losers)? In their January 2018 paper entitled “What Goes up Must Not Come Down – Time Series Momentum in Factor Risk Premiums”, Maximilian Renz investigates time variation and trend-based predictability of these five factors and the market factor. He first constructs price series for the six long-short factor portfolios. He then considers seven rules based on a short simple moving average (SMA) crossing above (bullish) or below (bearish) a long SMA measured in trading days: SMA(1, 20), SMA(1, 40), SMA(1, 120), SMA(1, 180), SMA(1, 240), SMA(20, 180) and SMA(20, 240). He also considers two intrinsic (absolute or time series) momentum rules based on change in price over the past 180 or 240 trading days (positive bullish and negative bearish). Motivated by prior research by others, he focuses on SMA(1, 180), daily price crossing its 180-day SMA. He measures trend-based statistical predictability of factor premiums and investigates economic value via a strategy that levers factor exposures between 0 and 1.5 using trend-based signals. Finally, he examines whether incorporating trend information improves accuracies of 1-factor (market), 3-factor (adding size and value) and 5-factor (further adding profitability and investment) models of stock returns. Using daily returns for the six selected U.S. stock market equity factors and for 30 industries during July 1963 through December 2015, he finds that: Keep Reading

Categorization of Risk Premiums

What is the best way to think about reliabilities and risks of various anomaly premiums commonly that investors believe to be available for exploitation? In their December 2017 paper entitled “A Framework for Risk Premia Investing”, Kari Vatanen and Antti Suhonen present a framework for categorizing widely accepted anomaly premiums to facilitate construction of balanced investment strategies. They first categorize each premium as fundamental, behavioral or structural based on its robustness as indicated by clarity, economic rationale and capacity. They then designate each premium in each category as either defensive or offensive depending on whether it is feasible as long-only or requires short-selling and leverage, and on its return skewness and tail risk. Based on expected robustness and riskiness of selected premiums as described in the body of research, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Factor Overoptimism?

How efficiently do mutual funds capture factor premiums? In their April 2017 paper entitled “The Incredible Shrinking Factor Return”, Robert Arnott, Vitali Kalesnik and Lillian Wu investigate whether factor tilts employed by mutual fund managers deliver the alpha found in empirical research. They focus on four factors most widely used by mutual fund managers: market, size, value and momentum. They note that ideal long-short portfolios used to compute factor returns ignore costs associated with real-world implementation: trading costs and commissions, missed trades, illiquidity, management fees, borrowing costs for the short side and inability to short some stocks. Portfolio returns also ignore bias associated with data snooping in factor discovery and market adaptation to published research. They focus on U.S. long-only equity mutual funds, but also consider similar international funds. They apply a two-stage regression first to identify fund factor exposures and then to measure performance shortfalls per unit of factor exposure. Using data for 5,323 U.S. and 2,364 international live and dead long-only equity mutual funds during January 1990 through December 2016, they find that:

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Predicted Factor/Smart Beta Alphas

Which equity factors have high and low expected returns? In their February 2017 paper entitled “Forecasting Factor and Smart Beta Returns (Hint: History Is Worse than Useless)”, Robert Arnott, Noah Beck and Vitali Kalesnik evaluate attractiveness of eight widely used stock factors. They measure alpha for each factor conventionally via a portfolio that is long (short) stocks with factor values having high (low) expected returns, reformed systematically. They compare factor alpha forecasting abilities of six models:

  1. Factor return for the last five years.
  2. Past return over the very long term (multiple decades), a conventionally used assumption.
  3. Simple relative valuation (average valuation of long-side stocks divided by average valuation of short-side stocks), comparing current level to its past average.
  4. Relative valuation with shrunk parameters to moderate forecasts by dampening overfitting to past data.
  5. Relative valuation with shrunk parameters and variance reduction, further moderating Model 4 by halving its outputs.
  6. Relative valuation with look-ahead full-sample calibration to assess limits of predictability. 

They employ simple benchmark forecasts of zero factor alphas. Using 24 years of specified stock data (January 1967 – December 1990) for model calibrations, about 20 years of data (January 1991 – October 2011) to generate forecasts and the balance of data (through December 2016) to complete forecast accuracy measurements, they find that: Keep Reading

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