Should You Be Factor Investing? | Summary and Q&A

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August 31, 2018
by
Ben Felix
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Should You Be Factor Investing?

TL;DR

Factor investing is a strategy that uses quantitative characteristics shared across a set of securities to outperform the market without relying on stock picking or timing.

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Key Insights

  • 🧑‍🏭 Factors are quantitative characteristics that drive asset returns and can be used to outperform the market.
  • 🧑‍🏭 Active fund managers' outperformance can often be explained by factor exposure instead of skill.
  • 🧑‍🏭 Factor models explain over 95% of the return differences between diversified portfolios, limiting the benefits of active management.
  • 💓 Investing in factor index funds can save investors on fees and capture market-beating returns.
  • 💨 Factor research has become important in financial understanding and a way for researchers to make a name for themselves.
  • 👿 More than 300 factors have been identified, but many do not pan out or lack robustness.
  • 🧑‍🏭 Dimensional Fund Advisors is a company that effectively implements factor research in their products.

Transcript

Factor investing is currently one of the hottest  terms used to sell financial products. You may   have also heard the term smart beta, which is  referring to the same concept. A simple way to   think about factors is that they are quantitative  characteristics shared across a set of securities. The reason that we care about factors is  that those ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What are factors in investing, and how do they influence portfolio performance?

Factors are quantitative characteristics shared across a set of securities, such as size, value, momentum, profitability, and investment. These factors can explain the return differences between diversified portfolios and can be used to structure an investment portfolio for better performance without relying on stock picking or timing.

Q: How do factor models affect the ability of active fund managers to beat the market?

Factor models explain over 95% of the return differences between diversified portfolios, challenging the assumption that active fund managers' outperformance is solely due to skill. Many active fund managers' outperformance can be explained by factor exposure, making factor index funds a cost-effective alternative.

Q: How did factor research emerge, and what are the key factors identified?

Factor research emerged with Eugene Fama and Ken French's 1992 paper, which identified small stocks and value stocks as factors that outperform over time. Later, the momentum and profitability factors were added. Currently, factor models combine market, size, relative price, profitability, and investment.

Q: Why is it challenging for investors to navigate the multitude of factors identified in academic literature?

Academic researchers have identified over 300 factors, creating complexity for investors. However, many of these factors turn out to be re-packaging or not robust. To be considered, a factor should be persistent, pervasive, robust, investable, and have a sensible explanation for its returns.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Factors are quantitative characteristics that can be used to structure an investment portfolio for better returns.

  • Factor investing emerged when diversified portfolios of small stocks outperformed larger stocks, leading to the discovery of certain characteristics that explain return differences.

  • Active fund managers' ability to beat the market is often explained by factor exposure rather than skill, making factor index funds a cost-effective alternative.

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