The Incredible Shrinking Factor Return
30 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2017
Date Written: April 2017
This is the first in a series of papers we will publish in 2017 that demonstrate factor tilts generally deliver far less alpha in live portfolios than they do on paper, or put another way, investment managers generally fail to capture the returns that would be expected based on their factor tilts. We break our research into four parts. In this paper we show that the factor returns realized by fund managers differ starkly from the theoretical factor returns constructed from long–short paper portfolios. Notably, the market, value, and momentum factors are far less rewarding in live fund management than their theoretical long–short paper portfolio returns.
In the second paper of the series, we challenge the idea that factor tilts — portfolios combining several theoretical factor portfolios — are the same as smart beta strategies. We show, using Fundamental Index™, equal-weight, and low-volatility strategies as illustrative examples, that factor tilts cannot successfully replicate smart beta strategies. Although the factor tilts of these strategies are easy to replicate, the resulting portfolios look very different from the originals, with the replication portfolios having far higher turnover, lower performance, and smaller capacity.
In a third paper of the series, we show that the relative valuations of factor loadings can give us the courage to buy mutual funds when factor tilts are at their cheapest, hence, the most out of favor. Along with fees, turnover, and past performance — where low fees, low turnover, and low (yes, low!) past performance are predictive of better future returns — factor loadings can help us improve our forecasts of fund returns. We find the best predictor is prior three-year performance, but with the wrong sign: buying the losers is the winningest strategy.
Finally, a fourth paper will take a closer look at momentum, for which we find the realized alpha in live portfolios is essentially zero compared to a theoretical alpha of around 6% a year. We show why momentum doesn’t work in live portfolios, and also show how momentum can be saved as a useful source of alpha.
Keywords: factor return, factor tilts, smart beta
JEL Classification: G10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation