A whimsical and provocative look at an investment “strategy” with remarkable efficacy—how 20-year-old cap weights can beat today's cap-weighted market.
The Fundamental Index™ strategy—now boasting a 10-year track record of actual results—has transformed equity investing in the United States and around the world. See and hear how it works and why it might be a sensible choice for your portfolio.
Financial theory continues to advance, but investors still can’t tell when a strongly trending market will reverse direction. Some blue-sky thinking about future research—and, in the meantime, a practical stance for long-term investors.
Beyond the debate over definitions, smart beta strategies can be the prime alternative to active management for our times just as cap-weighted index funds served so admirably in that role for the past four decades.
Long-term simulations in U.S., global developed, and emerging markets confirm that low volatility strategies can potentially access risk-diversifying sources of excess return. However, portfolio construction methods should be sensitive to investibility and valuations.
The controversial term “smart beta” is used so broadly in the marketplace that it risks becoming meaningless. This article describes the characteristics of equity strategies that, in our view, merit the smart beta designation.
The publish-or-perish syndrome and the smart beta movement have motivated academics and practitioners to come up with a spate of new factors. How can investors determine which ones are legitimate and how to use them in their equity portfolios?
Smart beta strategies capture the value premium more efficiently than traditional value style indices. This article compares the two approaches and explains how smart beta’s rebalancing rule effectively carries out dollar cost averaging.
Quality is not a separate factor, but value investing conditioned upon well-chosen quality indicators is a promising investment strategy.
Comparing the investment results of equal- and fundamental-weight strategies, both gross and net of indirect costs, reveals how the implementation of smart beta strategies can affect performance.
Due to the variability of common stock valuation levels, the emerging markets illustrate with unique clarity how smart beta strategies work. This white paper analyzes the impact of active sector weights that naturally arise from smart beta strategies’ bottom-up portfolio construction and rebalancing processes.
Not all smart beta strategies are created equal. Although both equal-weighting and fundamental-weighting strategies earn long-term excess returns over capitalization-weighted indices, they differ in their performance and cost structure. We take a look at the dissimilarities.
Chris Brightman explains the basic principle of smart beta strategies—rebalancing to weights that are unrelated to stock prices.
Research shows that smart beta strategies earn long-term returns around 2% higher than market-cap weighted indices. However, the stock market is an equilibrium market, begging the question, who’s on the other side of the smart beta trade?
Is the stock market inefficient or do investors have varying preferences? How does behavior affect wealth accumulation? Unpopular choices can result in improved outcomes.
Smart Beta Investing in Corporate Bonds: Conceptual and Empirical Grounds
Does it make sense to weight companies by how much debt they issue?
Weighting according to fundamental measures results in a higher quality index
with a more efficient exposure to the beta available in the credit
Measuring the "Skill" of Index Portfolios
Investors devote significant resources to deciding whether a manager is skillful. When it comes to passive investing, they appear to lose their critical faculties.
It’s not merely interesting that the value premium tends to revert toward the long-term average; it’s strategically consequential, too.
Value investing is uncomfortable because it goes against our genetic programming; on our evolutionary path, fear and greed probably served to keep us safe.
Fundamentals-weighted index investing extracts the value premium through contrarian rebalancing in a diversified core portfolio.
Cost is a key aspect of portfolio implementation. This paper offers a new framework for estimating indirect costs for various index strategies.
The conventional ex-post risk measures of tracking error and the information ratio must be reinterpreted for Smart Beta strategies.
Smart Beta’s efficiency comes, not from optimization, but from a more balanced distribution across equity premium sources.
Emerging market debt has evolved into a stand-alone asset class. But which is better--U.S. dollar denominated debt or local currency debt?
Active quant strategies primarily seek alpha through proprietary return forecasting. In contrast, Smart Beta strategies are a good fit for the core equity portfolio.
Low volatility investing has garnered strong investor interest. Why does it work? Where does it fit into portfolios? This paper explains the benefits and drawbacks of the strategy.
What Makes Alternative Beta Smart?
A Smart Beta strategy should be “low cost, transparent and systematic,” according to Towers Watson. Our research suggests many alternative beta strategies fall short.
What is Smart Beta and how can it help investors? In the first part of a new series, CIO Jason Hsu relates Smart Beta to traditional passive and active management.
Smart Beta and the Pendulum of Mispricing
Like a pendulum, stock prices that are out of whack
revert to mean over the long term. Here is how smart beta strategies can profit.
Why are investors less likely to buy assets when prices are cheap and sell assets when prices are high?
Investors are turning to low vol stocks to enhance returns and avoid the equity roller coaster.
Investors increasingly are attracted to momentum as a key ingredient in their portfolios. But how does momentum fare as a stand-alone strategy?
The Surprising Alpha From Malkiel's Monkey and Upside-Down Strategies
Smart Beta strategies have beaten the market over long time periods. Outperformance persists even when these strategies are turned "upside down."
When low volatility stock prices soar because of strong demand, what should investors do? There is a better way to design such portfolios.
A low volatility strategy constructed by combining the return-enhancement engine of the fundamentals-based methodology with a low volatility design, attains a superior Sharpe ratio while achieving lower turnover, higher investment capacity, relative transparency, and broader market representativeness than alternative approaches.
Why do low volatility stocks outperform riskier ones over time? This article summarizes four complementary hypotheses that explain the low volatility anomaly, and explains how low vol portfolios offer improved risk-return profiles to traditional capitalization-weighted core portfolios.
Over the last five years, a new class of equity index products known as strategy indexes, or smart betas, has emerged. These strategies are non-cap-weighted index strategies based on transparent quantitative methodologies. Investors choosing among smart betas should consider if they are more sensitive to volatility or benchmark risk.
Traditional risk parity strategies are based on equal risk weighting of selected asset classes. The method seeks to equalize the risk contribution by the asset classes in an asset allocation portfolio. The intuitive appeal of this asset allocation scheme is in its iimprovement in asset class diversification versus the traditional strategic asset allocation ...
The European sovereign debt crisis is roiling global financial markets. This scenario may seem obvious in retrospect: profligate nations with high deficits and a history of devaluation committed themselves to issuing debt in a hard currency beyond their control--what other outcome should we have expected?
Value stocks typically enjoy higher dividends than growth stocks. Growth stocks, on the other hand, typically enjoy faster dividend growth. What most investors miss is that a portfolio of value stocks generates faster growth in dividends than a portfolio of growth stocks.
To set fair prices, efficient markets require market participants who base their investment decisions on risk-return tradeoffs. But financial repression—government policies that channel funds toward their own debt—distort the market. Investors need to tilt the odds back in their favor.
Most people tend to measure wealth in terms of the dollar value of a portfolio. We believe it is better to measure wealth in terms of the real spending the portfolio can sustain over the entire life of the obligations served by the portfolio. We call this approach “sustainable spending.” But focusing on sustainable spending requires real courage.
Generations ago, people had large families. Now, families are small and we face a mountain of debt and soaring deficits. The implications of these changing demographics include higher inflation and interest rates, and slower GDP growth. Investors should prepare for lower expected returns and higher inflation.
Last year, securities prices moved like a school of sardines. With little cross-sectional mean reversion and a value headwind, this environment made life difficult for both active managers and the Fundamental Index approach. In this issue, we examine what happened in 2011 and the opportunities for breaking loose this year.
There is an alternative to traditional passive and active equity allocations—“alternative” beta” or “strategy index” options. Our research on this subject compares seven leading alternative beta strategies. The results—originally published in the Financial Analysts Journal--may surprise you.
The price of a stock may differ from its fundamental value by a random noise. In this case, small-capitalization and value stocks are more likely to have negative noise, while large-capitalization and growth stocks are likely to have positive noise. Negative price noise implies that small-capitalization and value stocks are more likely undervalued and ...
An important contributor to performance for any portfolio is the selection of companies for inclusion, no less so for indexes than for active portfolios. Rather than exploring this topic broadly, as many have done, we focus on the differences between two well-known lists of companies: the Fortune 500 and the Standard & Poor's (S&P) 500.
After reviewing the methodologies behind the more popular quantitative investment strategies offered to investors as passive equity indices, the authors devised an integrated evaluation framework.
August 2007 deserves more attention by today’s investors. Analyzing the underlying causes of the quant meltdown helps reveal the perils of complex quantitative strategies and highlights the difference between transparent and rules-based alternative beta strategies such as the Fundamental Index methodology and newer optimized approaches.
Investors typically use one of three “standard” strategies to construct their equity portfolios: 100% passive management using a cap-weighted index, 100% active management, or core-satellite, a combination of passive and active management. We suggest an alternative approach, but it requires some “out-of-the-box” type thinking.
The selection of active managers is an exhaustive and time-consuming activity. Certainly, some investors rely on track records to gauge skill but “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Selecting a manager requires separating manager skill from pure luck. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
Why does the Fundamental Index methodology overweight and underweight certain sectors? What’s the rationale? In fact, such structural sector bets, don’t matter over the long term. The RAFI strategy can be wrong on average but right in the long run because of its ability to contra-trade against market fads, crashes, bubbles, and speculation.
In the five years since the launching of Fundamental Index strategies as live portfolios, the effectiveness of the strategy and source of its outperformance have been strenuously debated. The initial research by Arnott, Hsu, and Moore  presented the concept as a simple quantitative way to sidestep a crucial shortcoming of cap-weighted indexin ...
It is often said that the devil is in the details. We examine three seemingly innocuous construction details of the Fundamental Index methodology that can have sizeable impacts on performance and help distinguish the RAFI approach from other fundamentally weighted indices. The bottom line: Details matter.
At the bare minimum, a benchmark index should measure the performance of an investment strategy or asset class. But as far as investors are concerned, although most fixed-income indexes meet this threadbare requirement, they fail miserably on most other counts.
When the Fundamental Index concept was introduced, critics decried its backtested results as data-mining or said the approach was just repackaged value investing. Five years after the first RAFI indices went live, the proof is in: The methodology has generated superior performance during a period when value has lagged growth all over the world.
We live in a world profoundly addicted to debt-financed consumption. For most of us, our first car and our first home were financed with debt. We borrowed with intent to repay, and most of us did just that. We were, of course, no richer because we'd just borrowed to buy a house or a car: We had a new asset, exactly offset by a new liability.
How can investors meet their return targets in a world of low stock and bond yields? The solution requires abandoning the classic 60/40 blend of stocks and bonds and adopting an asset mix different from one’s peers. Taking these steps is not comfortable, but comfort is rarely rewarded.
For investors using a core-satellite approach to strategic asset allocation, traditional style indices, such as value and smallcap indices, represent convenient passive vehicles for achieving strategic or even tactical portfolio tilts.
We live in a world profoundly addicted to debt-financed consumption. When the debt comes due, borrowers will replace it with new debt. But this borrowing inevitably will end in tears. The looming sovereign debt crisis will be a defining influence on capital market returns over the next 10 years.
The U.S. stock market has gyrated between value and growth in recent years. Is there a better way to invest than having a 50/50 split between value and growth? Because of its rebalancing process, the Fundamental Index® strategy resembles a deep value portfolio after strong growth runs and has a mild value orientation after value outperforms.
Deficits, debt and demographics are creating structural headwinds for most developed markets. But investors in emerging market equities have not been rewarded for the risk they have taken on—at least not as measured by cap-weighted indices. We believe this weak performance results from the return drag from capitalization weighting.
Valuation-indifferent weighting has gained significant interest as a strategy for creating alternative indices or quasi-indices. The weighting scheme has empirical support from Arnott, Hsu, and Moore  and many subsequent papers extending their approach.
Will Rogers once quipped, “Popularity is the easiest thing in the world to gain and it is the hardest thing to hold.” The top of the capitalization-weighted index is filled with companies at their peak popularity, many of whom fall out of favor. In contrast, the Fundamental Index approach avoids fads and bubbles.
In the last decade, the S&P 500 Index landed in the 90th percentile compared to a universe of U.S. large-cap core equity managers. But the figures can be misleading. When you take out survivorship bias, backfilled data, and fees, active managers look a lot less attractive.
The outlook for the ubiquitous 60/40 blend of stocks and bonds remains bleak. The key to better returns hinges on shifting risk exposures: We choose to take long-term risk when risk-bearing is likely to be rewarded, and a conservative, well-diversified posture when it is not.
For over 40 years, our industry has relied on the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) beta and the capitalization-weighted market portfolio for asset allocation, for market representation and for our default core equity investments. This elegant worldview is now under siege from various directions.
Stocks are generally used to provide higher returns in the long run. But the dramatic fall in equity prices at the beginning of this century, triggering large underfundings in pension plans, raised the question as to whether stocks can really help mend the asset and liability mismatch.
The naughts were the worst decade ever for U.S. equity investors, even after an astounding rebound in the past 10 months of 2009. The picture grows far worse when we incorporate typical pension liabilities and 401(k) plan target returns. But did the picture have to be so bleak?
The Take No Prisoners market of 2008 and early 2009 was followed by the Mother of All Recoveries. Too often, investors lock in losses and fail to take advantage of tremendous buying opportunities. A buy-and-hold “Rip Van Winkle” investment strategy has interesting lessons for asset allocation, risk premiums, and diversification.
Are the FTSE RAFI portfolios adding value or is capitalization weighting underperforming? The answer depends on the frame of reference. From an economic frame of reference, the cap-weighted market is an active growth-tilted portfolio with the RAFI approach contra-trading against these constantly changing market bets.
The value effect, in which value stocks significantly and consistently outperform growth stocks for investors who are patient enough to ride out the often-extended periods of growth dominance, has been a topic of discussion within the investment community for more than four decades.
Did avoiding overconcentration of stocks in the portfolio, periodic rebalancing and not chasing winners help avoid negative alpha in the Global Fiscal Crisis and its aftermath? ? In each case, the answer is yes. Investors can take simple steps to avoid these drags on returns.
For four decades, from time to time, we hear this question: Why bother with bonds at all? Bond skeptics generally point out that stocks have beaten bonds by 5 percentage points a year for many decades, and that stock returns mean-revert, so that the true long-term investor enjoys that higher return with little additional risks in 20-year and longer ...
Rob Arnott, Feifei Li, and Katy Sherrerd recast a stock’s ex post realized value as its “clairvoyant value,” that is, the value that investors with perfect foresight would have placed on the company at the beginning of the measurement period. Their findings provide intriguing historical evidence on the value effect as well as the efficiency of the stock ...
Many people argue in favor of active management over passive management because they believe that “experts” actively managing a portfolio will be able to outperform the relevant passive alternative. We believe that disappointing performance by active managers in 2008 will reignite the active-passive debate.
The Fundamental Index advantage arises from breaking the link between prices and portfolio weights. This advantages comes from the strategy’s value tilt and maintaining a steady weight for a stock over time, providing an objective and rational anchor for rebalancing. Over the short term, however, investors may experience a bumpy ride.
Few topics have captured the attention of index investors more during the past decade than that of fundamentally weighted indexes. The core idea is simple: Advocates of fundamentally weighted indexes argue that you can significantly improve the risk-adjusted returns of an index-based strategy simply by weighting the index by a factor other than price. ...
In 2008, the S&P 500 Index posted its worst year since 1931 and virtually all risky asset classes produced breathtaking losses. But this dramatic decline in valuations will reveal a host of opportunities for both GTAA and Fundamental Index® strategies.
When the 2000 bubble burst, many of us characterized it as a “perfect storm” for pensions: the falling yields boosted the mark-to-market value of the pension liabilities hugely, while falling stocks crushed asset values. This left us with sharp erosion in funded ratios. The question is: What can be done?
Emerging market equities have been savaged in the bear market of 2008 as the financial crisis has morphed into a nearly certain global economic slowdown. But with the category’s “half-off sale” comes a potentially rewarding entry point for long-term investors willing to cope with high interim volatility.
In a volatile market, two approaches provide insurance against price reversals—a disciplined, relative-value approach to asset allocation in the broad capital markets and an indexing approach that anchors on metrics of fundamental size rather than capitalization. Both are critical in the face of an uncertain and unsettling investment environment.
Are markets efficient? The answer depends on who you ask. Market efficiency advocates favor indexing while inefficient market believers prefer active management. However, there is a third choice between the hollow promise of active management and the propensity of traditional index funds to ignore mispricing.
The expected value added from the Fundamental Index strategy rises in inefficient markets, making it an attractive alternative to traditional active management. Yet, unlike active managers, the Fundamental Index strategy maintains the broad coverage, high capacity, and low fees reflecting the positives of index implementation.
Traditional indexers argue that the Fundamental Index strategy is a new form of active management and that only the cap-weighted portfolio is passive. However, a more pragmatic definition of an index suggests at the Fundamental Index portfolio is an index, or at least a passive strategy, while most cap-weighted indices fail the test.
We model a continuous time one factor economy where stock prices are noisy proxies of the informationally efficient stock values.
In a growth-oriented market, the RAFI strategy outperformed value strategies and most quantitative enhanced index strategies. Our “live” three-year track record shows that when value beats growth, the RAFI strategy captures 30–70% of the differential; when growth beats value, the RAFI strategy’s shortfall is only 20% of the differential.
Investing in index-based ETFs has become popular with both retail and institutional investors. Reasons include the fact that index-based funds consistently outperform those that are actively managed, are cheap, and are easy to understand.
Traditional benchmarks like the Standard & Poor's 500 index habitually overweight overvalued stocks and underwight undervalued stocks, leading to a performance drag. Fundamentally based indexes correct this shortcoming by reweighting benchmarks in a way that is willfully ignorant of market cap. So why all the controversy?
Since the initial circulation of Fundamental Indexation research in mid-2004, the concept has spurred great interest and debate in the investment community. At its core, Fundamental Indexing argues that cap weighting systematically overweights overvalued stocks and underweights undervalued stocks in a portfolio, which leads to a return drag in traditional ...
In this paper, we show that under a fairly innocuous assumption on price inefficiency, market capitalization weighted portfolios are sub-optimal. If market prices are more volatile than is warranted by changes in firm fundamentals, then cap-weighted portfolios do not capture the full premium commensurate their risk.
Indexing is a powerful model for equity investing. It is inexpensive to implement and absolutely transparent. The strategy has immense capacity, is highly liquid and is naturally well diversified. More importantly, there is overwhelming evidence that index investing, in the long run, outperforms active investing.
In this report, we present the new concept of fundamental indexing developed by Robert D. Arnott et al (2005). Fundamental indexing assigns index weightings to stocks based on the use of fundamentals that are not tied to share prices, rather than using the commonly accepted method of assigning index weightings based on market capitalization.
The finance community has published thousands of articles and doctoral dissertations exploring the size effect, the value effect, the momentum effect, and various combinations and permutations of the three‑now often referred to as the "Fama-French factors."
By the end of the 20th century, even casual investors had become comfortable with the idea of index funds. The idea of a better index fund (see Arnott, Hsu, and Moore 2005), however, is mind-boggling. This article offers one man's view of why it will actually work.
A trillion-dollar industry is based on investing in or benchmarking to capitalization-weighted indices, even though the finance literature rejects the mean–variance efficiency of such indices. This study investigates whether stock market indices based on an array of cap-indifferent measures of company size are more mean–variance efficient than those ...
If we earn 50 percent this year and then lose 50 percent next year, are we back where we started? Of course not. We are down 25 percent. This trivial truism has many implications, some simple and some profound.
The traditional choice: active vs. passive
In the past, equity investors had two choices. Those who believed markets were largely efficient, or doubted their ability to select skillful managers, leaned toward low-cost capitalization-weighted index funds. Those who believed markets were inefficient and had confidence in their manager selection process were more inclined to opt for active management.
But both approaches are flawed
Both approaches have their drawbacks. Cap-weighted equity index funds automatically increase their exposure to stocks whose prices appreciate and reduce their exposure to stocks whose prices fall. As a result, they tend to overweight overvalued securities and underweight undervalued ones. Our research demonstrates that this built-in pattern creates a 2% return drag in developed markets and more in less efficient ones. But the other choice, active management, is not transparent, comes with high fees, and tends to underperform the benchmark over long time periods.
Related: Smart Beta: The Second Generation of Index Investing
Traditional bond index investing is also flawed
Conventional bond indices give the biggest weights to the biggest debtors. This situation is particularly acute for sovereign bonds, where some developed market nations have sought to drive down yields, creating inefficiencies in the market and failing to reward investors for the risks they are taking. Smart beta strategies additionally offer corporate and sovereign bond investors a transparent, systematic, low-cost alternative to active management.
Related: Smart Beta for Corporate Bonds
Smart beta strategies offer a third choice
As non-price-weighted indices, smart beta strategies offer investors a third choice. These strategies retain the benefits of traditional capitalization- or market-value-weighted approaches, such as broad market exposure, diversification, liquidity, transparency, and low cost access to markets. At the same time, they have the potential to achieve results that are superior to the market returns of cap-weighted benchmarks at lower cost than active management.*
Smart beta strategies can be simple or complex
Smart beta strategies can be constructed with heuristic weighting methods, using simple and sensible rules. Or they can be built with optimization-based weighting methods, which are complex and subject to errors in estimating returns and covariances.
Heuristic based vs. optimized strategies
Popular heuristic-based weighting policies include equal weighting, fundamentals weighting, risk-cluster equal weighting (where risk clusters, instead of individual stocks, are equal-weighted), and diversity weighting (which combines equal weighting and cap weighting). Popular optimized strategies include minimum variance, maximum diversification, and risk efficient indices.
Related: A Survey of Alternative Equity Index Strategies
Strategies outperform the cap-weighted benchmark
A 2011 research paper by Chow, Hsu, Kalesnik, and Little demonstrated that all of these smart beta methodologies produce simulated excess returns compared to the cap-weighted benchmark over long periods of time. Moreover, a 2013 paper by Arnott, Hsu, Kalesnik, and Tindall showed that non-cap-weighted investment strategies and their inverses similarly produced superior hypothetical results. In both cases, the authors concluded that each of these strategies shares the same vital investment insight—they all break the link between market prices and index weights. Seen from the perspective of multifactor investing, the smart beta strategies inherently have value and small size loadings relative to cap-weighted benchmarks. Thus, investors should look closely at implementation costs, such as excess turnover, reduced liquidity, and decreased investment capacity, in choosing a strategy.
Related: What Makes Alternative Beta Smart?
Low volatility stocks: a different take on risk
Like other smart beta strategies, constructing a portfolio of low-volatility stocks breaks the link between price and weight. Research shows that, on average, “pure” low volatility portfolios should earn a long-term return premium of about 2% in the United States with about 25% less absolute risk than the benchmark. However, these strategies tend to have high tracking error against broad market indices.
Related: Making Sense of Low Volatility Investing
Tracking error vs. risk-adjusted returns
One of the essential challenges investors face is deciding whether they are more concerned about “relative risk,” which is measured by tracking error versus a benchmark, or about total risk, expressed as the portfolio’s standard deviation of returns. The Sharpe ratio, a measure of risk-adjusted return, takes total risk into account. Simulated low volatility strategies generally produce attractive long-term risk-adjusted returns.
Related: Smart Beta Series Part 4—Smart Beta and Benchmark Risk
Combining smart beta strategies
It is difficult for a single portfolio to meet both relative risk and total risk expectations. However, because the simulated returns of smart beta strategies are imperfectly correlated, it is possible to combine portfolios with different factor exposures so as to manage the trade-off between expected tracking error and total risk-adjusted performance. For example, investors can combine value, low volatility, and momentum loadings in various proportions to create overall portfolios with desirable expected risk/return profiles.
Related: Building a Better Beta: Combining Fundamentals Weighting, Low Volatility, and Momentum Strategies
*The opportunity for outperformance may only exist under certain market conditions and over certain periods of time, both of which may vary from historical evidence or research showing such outperformance.
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