The Fundamental Index™ advantage arises from breaking the link between prices and portfolio weights. Part of the historical advantage comes from the inherent value tilt associated with reweighting the growth stocks down to their economic scale and the value stocks up to their economic scale. But, a much larger contributor to the historical returns is that the Fundamental Index weight for a stock is very steady over time, providing an objective and rational anchor for rebalancing, for contratrading against the market’s constantly shifting expectations, fads, speculations, bubbles, and crashes.
Over the short term, however, the Fundamental Index strategies take on much greater exposure in volatile markets to companies whose prices have significantly underperformed their relative economic size. The reason is this rebalancing toward the Fundamental Index weight for each company. Shifting money to yesterday’s underperformers results in a portfolio that has a widening discount, as measured by common valuation measures, to the cap-weighted indexes. In this issue we explore the performance implications of the difference in relative valuation multiples.
The Fundamental Index methodology produces a model portfolio based on a company’s recent footprint in the macroeconomy. This is inherently backward-looking. By allocating to each stock in accordance with its financial scale, measured over the past five years, the methodology allocates weights that broadly reflect each company’s recent economic importance. The weights are determined by observable recent financial results. In contrast, capitalization-weighted indexes, such as the S&P 500 Index, represent Wall Street’s best guess as to the composition of tomorrow’s economy. In the cap-weighted methodology, price weights are driven by expectations. Naturally, Wall Street’s assignments of companies’ prospective values can and will shift much faster than the fundamental economic scale of the companies themselves.
The U.S. stock market at the turn of this century provides a classic example of overly optimistic future expectations dominating present economic fundamentals. Operating results in this period were having little impact on stock prices, particularly for those enterprises in so-called old economy industries, such as makers of industrial products. The information superhighway was the future, so the companies that would help build that highway, and ostensibly profit from it, were highly valued. Wild optimism about these companies’ roles in the new economy was the largest determinant of stock prices in 1999 and early 2000.
Reciprocally, today’s bleak expectations dominate any good news that may arise as the economy eventually turns. Pessimistic visions of tomorrow indicate we should expect a “basic needs economy,” with bare-bones credit markets and little in the way of consumer discretionary spending. Reflecting this dire outlook, the cap-weighted S&P 500 now has 41% allocated to the three economic sectors serving basic needs—namely, energy, health care, and consumer staples. This percentage is almost twice the size of the financials and consumer discretionary sectors, which were collectively slightly larger than the basic needs sectors a scant two years ago.