Investing in Smart Beta

Smart beta strategies offer investors an uncompromised choice.

Smart Beta, the Research Affiliates Way…

Breaks the link between price and portfolio weight
The most important component of smart beta is breaking the link between the price of an asset and its weight in the portfolio.

Our research indicates that any structure which breaks the link between price and weight outperforms a cap-weighted index over the long run. Such strategies include fundamental weighting, equal weighting, minimum variance, and Shiller CAPE index. Breaking the link can be done simply and inexpensively and has been shown to have good historical efficacy in regions and markets all over the world.

Strategies that use market capitalization to select and/or weight securities, such as cap-weighted value indices, leave money on the table because of the return drag afflicting all cap-weighted strategies, and are not smart beta as defined by Research Affiliates.

Regularly rebalances
At Research Affiliates, we believe the largest and most persistent active investment opportunity is long-horizon mean reversion. Our fundamental index approach systematically and methodically sells recent winners and buys recent losers. This regular periodic rebalancing flows naturally from our central belief in mean reversion—undervalued securities will ultimately rise to their normal valuation level.

Retains the positives of passive indexing
The benefits of a passive strategy are all part of the fundamental index approach: transparency, low cost, rules based, and systematic. Additionally, our smart beta strategy is designed to be high capacity and liquid. Costs are kept low in both due diligence and monitoring, and portfolios are well diversified without industry or country concentrations.

A Research Affiliates Smart Beta Investor…

Favors simplicity
When investors understand the investment philosophy, construction process, and return drivers around a strategy, they are more likely to understand why it may underperform over part of a market cycle. The transparent, rules-based nature of smart beta is simple to understand. In contrast, a multi-factor approach may be appealing when its performance is good, but easy to give up on when complexity makes understanding its poor performance quite difficult.

Practices patience
Mean reversion is unreliably reliable and, as such, demands a patient investor. Prices revert to “normal” valuations at varying paces and over fluctuating time frames. When markets do return stocks to more normal valuations, the valuation may be the stock’s historical mean or a completely different level. Investors who commit to a smart beta strategy should do so with a 10-year horizon, and memorialize their rationale for future decision makers.

Understands the impact of current valuations
Rising valuations, above their historical normal levels, can artificially inflate past performance and reduce the future return prospects of a smart beta strategy. Higher valuations create an added risk of mean reversion down to historical valuation norms, threatening an abrupt reversal of past performance. An investor must look “under the hood” to understand how a strategy produces its alpha. Value-added can be structural—a plausible source of future alpha. Or it can be situational—a consequence of rising enthusiasm for, and valuation of, the selected strategy. Netting out the effect of changing valuations on past returns results in a more reliable estimate of a strategy’s true alpha-producing ability. 

Can live with the ups and downs of contrarian investing
The fundamental index approach rebalances by selling winners and buying losers, a quintessentially contrarian exercise, also the wise council of the father of security analysis, Benjamin Graham. Investors considering this strategy need to be honest with themselves about their ability to persevere during periods of underperformance while they await the market’s recognition that their portfolio’s undervalued securities are indeed undervalued, and the market’s subsequent shift to value them consistent with their true underlying fundamentals. For most investors, a contrarian strategy is a diversifying strategy, selected as one strategy among several in their portfolio. 

But smart beta is not every investor’s cup of tea…
Obviously not every investor is a smart beta investor. For those who prefer to own the broad market, to pay next to nothing for market exposure, and do not want to play a performance-seeking game, a cap-weighted index strategy is a sensible choice. The market is not always efficient, however, and a cap-weighted index can assume disproportionately heavy concentrations in companies likely to be overvalued and light allocations in companies undervalued relative to their fundamentals. 


​A Preference for Discomfort

Is the stock market inefficient or do investors have varying preferences? How does behavior affect wealth accumulation? Unpopular choices can result in improved outcomes.

The Confounding Bias for Investment Complexity

Complexity can dampen investor understanding, leading to poor investment decision making and ultimately derailing long-term financial goals—yet the bias toward investment complexity persists, reinforced by explanations that are behavioral in nature.

Slugging It Out in the Equity Arena

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?


“A smart beta strategy should be simple in structure, transparent in its source of value added, balance risk against return, and keep implementation costs low.”

Chris Brightman, Chief Investment Officer

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