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Can value and small companies outperform forever?
Old 10-26-2009, 11:52 PM   #1
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Can value and small companies outperform forever?

In the spirit of questioning the conventional wisdom, here is a thought that occurred to me recently... Many studies seem to show that over long periods of time value stocks outperform growth stocks and small companies outperform larger ones. As a result, many give higher weight to these two classes in their asset allocations.

Now, here is the issue... (let's talk about small stocks, but same logic applies to values ones or really any other subset of the market)

Short version: if small stocks outperform rest of market, they will eventually become 99% of the market

Longer version:
Let's say I split all stocks in the market (set M) into two subsets: small ones (set S) and the rest (set L for "larger"). So M = S + L (where + is union). Now, say people can only invest in two funds: one that invests in all companies in S and another that invests in all companies in L. If we believe that S will outperform L say by 1% on average, that means that over long enough period of time, S will get larger and larger part of M and L will get smaller and smaller chunk of M. So for example after some number of years, S will be 99% of overall market cap M and L will be the remaining 1%...

Do you see how this does not make sense... ? Am I missing anything?

By the way, this same argument is applied by academia to indicate that when you evaluate a value of a company, make sure their terminal growth rate is less than that of the market, because otherwise, it would effectively BECOME the market. I don't recall seeing anyone making this argument for small / value companies as a class though.
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Old 10-27-2009, 12:57 AM   #2
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The fallacy in your argument is in assuming that "value" is a fixed set. In fact it gets redefined each investment period, usually each year but it could even be each day if the investigator wanted to do it that way. So if value in fact does well, it is no longer value, and so it will no longer do well.

Same with small. If small does well, it becomes large and will no longer enjoy the supposedly beneficent effect of being small.

Ha
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Old 10-27-2009, 08:13 AM   #3
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Right, what haha said.
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Old 10-27-2009, 08:41 AM   #4
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Another idea in the same vein as the OP, if each member of the universe of stocks is properly priced by the efficient market, then each member of a subset is also properly priced. If that is true, then why are the small and value subsets constantly mis-priced by the market over time? (that is, how can the small and value premium exist, and who pays this premium?)

Then, if it is true that these small and value premiums exist, and now that there are easy ways to invest in them, why doesn't the demand for these drive up the price and reduce the size of the premium?

With regard to the different sets argument, has anyone seen a study that evaluated the effects of the changes? (i.e. the effect on the size/value premium due to dropped/added stocks)
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Old 10-27-2009, 09:33 AM   #5
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@haha, samclem: I do not see the fallacy there. Yes, stocks can move from one class to another. In my example I did not say S and L cannot change their composition. In fact they can! The point is that AFTER this rebalancing done by the funds, people still assume their small and value funds will outperform overall M rates... and this does not seem to be true following the argument I gave.

An example: say S went from 10 to 20 while your L went from 10 to 15. You sell some stocks from S which became "large" and reinvest those gains into new set of small companies (including those that fell from L into S category and just brand new ones). At the same time you make analogous adjustments to L. After these adjustments, S value should still be at 20 and L value is still at 15 - you just moved some stocks around, that's all, but market value of your holdings is the same. Now, in the next period, S again moves at higher rate than L, and the process repeats... This would make S grow to higher and higher percentage of M.
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Old 10-27-2009, 10:53 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by rgarling View Post
Another idea in the same vein as the OP, if each member of the universe of stocks is properly priced by the efficient market, then each member of a subset is also properly priced. If that is true, then why are the small and value subsets constantly mis-priced by the market over time? (that is, how can the small and value premium exist, and who pays this premium?)

Then, if it is true that these small and value premiums exist, and now that there are easy ways to invest in them, why doesn't the demand for these drive up the price and reduce the size of the premium?
Right. Do a search for "Fama" and "French" and "value premium" to learn more about this. There have been hundreds of papers and articles about the reasons for the existence of the premiums for value and small stocks within an efficient market. Lots of possible explanations (in addition--there's an especially big premium for small value stocks (as one might expect) but historically there's no premium for small growth stocks. Go figure).
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Old 10-27-2009, 11:54 AM   #7
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@haha, samclem: I do not see the fallacy there.
I guess I'm not following your examples. Two observations:
a. There is no fixed universe of equities "M." Additional companies go publc every day, and others are merged or delisted. This dynamic coming and going is not captured in your examples and might be a cause of the problem.
b. There s no set definition of a "value stock." Vanguard's definition appears o be pretty broad--aprox the most "value-ee" 50% of the entire universe of equities. DFA's value index mutual funds might be just the lowest decile of stocks, so they would be considerably more "value-ee" than Vanguard's offerings. Regardless, in neither case can value stocks "take over" the market, because by definition they are the lowest 50% or 10% of that market.

As stock prices go up, some value investors will find that even DFA's value funds have gotten overpriced by their own personal standards, and they'll stop buying shares. To these investors, at that point there are no more value stocks and growth stocks have taken over the market.
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Old 10-27-2009, 01:30 PM   #8
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Right. Do a search for "Fama" and "French" and "value premium" to learn more about this. There have been hundreds of papers and articles about the reasons for the existence of the premiums for value and small stocks within an efficient market. Lots of possible explanations (in addition--there's an especially big premium for small value stocks (as one might expect) but historically there's no premium for small growth stocks. Go figure).
I am familiar with their work; however, I have never heard a cogent explanation of how these premiums can exist given an efficient market. My impression is that they made a discovery (based on historical data) and built a business around it. Personally, I think their findings might be an artifact in the data and the risk premiums will be driven to zero by investor awareness.

I would like to hear an argument that you find to be convincing. I will point out that whoever owns the market is NOT among those paying the risk premiums to those who choose to hold the small and value subsets.
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Old 10-27-2009, 01:40 PM   #9
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I am familiar with their work; however, I have never heard a cogent explanation of how these premiums can exist given an efficient market. My impression is that they made a discovery (based on historical data) and built a business around it. Personally, I think their findings might be an artifact in the data and the risk premiums will be driven to zero by investor awareness.

I would like to hear an argument that you find to be convincing. I will point out that whoever owns the market is NOT among those paying the risk premiums to those who choose to hold the small and value subsets.
The efficient market theory is not perfect, inefficiencies do exist (Buffet, Lynch, manias, bubbles, etc). The point is that finding and exploiting them, with sufficient confidence that you might gamble your one and only nest egg on your assessment, is a tall order.

Before we go down this road, tell me how you think it is supposed to come out and maybe I can save us some steps:
-"The EMH is vindicated and perfect, any variances from it are due to sampling error."
- "There was once a small/value premium, but by now investors should have figured it out and so I will behave as though it no longer exists."
- "I understand what the EMH says, but if there's data indicating a small/value premium still exists, then I'd act on the observable facts rather than my assessment of what the facts ought to be."
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Old 10-27-2009, 02:59 PM   #10
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The efficient market theory is not perfect, inefficiencies do exist (Buffet, Lynch, manias, bubbles, etc). The point is that finding and exploiting them, with sufficient confidence that you might gamble your one and only nest egg on your assessment, is a tall order.

Before we go down this road, tell me how you think it is supposed to come out and maybe I can save us some steps:
-"The EMH is vindicated and perfect, any variances from it are due to sampling error."
- "There was once a small/value premium, but by now investors should have figured it out and so I will behave as though it no longer exists."
- "I understand what the EMH says, but if there's data indicating a small/value premium still exists, then I'd act on the observable facts rather than my assessment of what the facts ought to be."
These appear to be good assumptions:
1. If you hold the market you get the average return.
2. If you hold a subset of the market, you are competing with others who also hold subsets. Taken as a whole, this group of competitors will get the average return minus expenses.
3. The market is a zero sum system.

When Buffet started investing in the 50s, the market was different than it is today, and he was/is a very focused individual. It would be interesting to see what he would do if limited to straight-up market transactions and a $100k portfolio. With the above assumptions, it can be shown that investors can have a good run of above average returns just by luck. Bubbles are easy to detect in retrospect, but good luck taking advantage of them as they occur.

Anyhow, I am open to any explanation as to why a market subset can have a premium and who pays for it. After all, each member of any given subset is properly priced by the market at any given time. Why is the market always wrong with regard to small and value in retrospect?
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:11 PM   #11
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These appear to be good assumptions:
1. If you hold the market you get the average return.
2. If you hold a subset of the market, you are competing with others who also hold subsets. Taken as a whole, this group of competitors will get the average return minus expenses.
Not quite. Because they tend to trade in and out at non-optimum times (and do even worse than chance would dictate) it is common for the majority of investors to underperform the average returns of the mutual funds in which they are invested. On average, the more they trade, the worse they do.
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Anyhow, I am open to any explanation as to why a market subset can have a premium and who pays for it. After all, each member of any given subset is properly priced by the market at any given time. Why is the market always wrong with regard to small and value in retrospect?
You overstate what I or the data say. No one who has examined the data says "the market is always wrong regarding small and value." (italics added). Let's be precise with our wording. What many people believe is that, over time, investors are overcompensated for the risk they take with small stocks and value stocks.
The market may be (largely) efficient, but people are irrational. There are many studies of our cognitive foibles that help explain how our processing is deficient (recency effect, pattern-finding where none exists, extensions of trends into perpetuity, the impact on cognitive dissonance on information gathering and processing, etc). We are imperfect data processors.

A short piece by Larry Swedrow on the value premium.

Here's a synopsis from an academic paper concerning possible reasons for the value premium:
Quote:
There is a topical and controversial debate about the source of the value premium with current explanations falling into one of three categories; however, there is little evidence to help us decide which of these explanations is correct.:
-- One explanation is that the value premium is a rational phenomenon, which is priced in equilibrium, and is compensation for systematic risk. Both Fama and French (1995) and Lakonishok et al. (1994) show that the value premium appears to be associated with the degree of ‘relative distress’ in the economy. Fama and French (1996 and 1998) build on this and argue that, in equilibrium, the value premium is priced in addition to the traditional CAPM-type market risk, because there is “common variation in the returns on distressed stocks that is not explained
by the market return” (Fama and French, 1998, p.1975). In a weakening economy investors require a higher risk premium on firms with distress characteristics. Since distressed stocks perform poorly just when the investor least wants to hold a poorly performing stock, value stocks must offer a higher average return in reward for the extra systematic risk borne by the investor. The observed higher returns produced by value
stocks are therefore justified, being compensation for the risk borne by those who invest in value stocks (see also, Ball 1978 and Berk, 1995).
Volume 30 Number 1 2004 57)
- Another explanation for the higher returns from a value strategy is the behavioural or irrational view. Contrarian strategies produce higher returns because they exploit the tendency of some investors to overreact to good or bad news. Overreaction means that prices adjust by more than is justified by fundamentals. Unpopular value stocks that have done badly are oversold, become under-priced, and are corrected at some point in the future when a switch in investor sentiment raises the prices of these stocks. This view can be associated with the already extensive literature dealing with different aspects of irrational investor behaviour (see, Rosenthal and Young 1990, Fama 1991, 1998, Fraser and McKaig 1998, Kothari, 2000, Lee and Swaminathan, 1999, Griffin and Lemon, 2001,
Hirshleifer, 2002, Daniel et al. 2002, Barberis et al., 1998, Hong and Stein, 1999). . .
- The final explanation for the value premium is not because of rational or irrational investor behaviour, but because of random occurrences, which are unlikely to occur again in the future (Lo and MacKinlay 1988, Breen and Korajczyk 1995 and Kothari, Shanken and Sloan 1995). In this situation the value premium is no more than a vagary of chance,
being neither reward-for-risk nor the basis for a profitable trading strategy.
To me, explanation 2 seems to best explain what actually happens, but explanation 1 is not inconsistent with explanation 2.

I recommend William Bernstein and Larry Swedrow.
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:17 PM   #12
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I recommend William Bernstein and Larry Swedrow.
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:47 PM   #13
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After these adjustments, S value should still be at 20 and L value is still at 15 - you just moved some stocks around, that's all, but market value of your holdings is the same.
No. Because if "M" represents the whole market, then some companies move out of the "S" category and join the "L" category. "S" ends up smaller than 20 and "L" ends up larger than 15.

The size of "S" is actually limited by how we define what it means to be "S"mall. If we say that any company with a market cap of $1B or less is small, then we've set an upper limit to the size of that market determined by how many companies have a market cap below that threshold. Meanwhile, the size of "L" has no upper limit.

As ha ha pointed out, "Value" stocks face a similar limit based on how we define what it means to be "Value".
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Old 10-27-2009, 06:07 PM   #14
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I guess I'm not following your examples.
Let me try to simplify... Person A buys 10k worth of small value index fund (e.g. VISVX) and holds it forever (let's imagine immortality is a solved problem). Person B buys 10k worth of total US market index (e.g. VTSMX) fund and also holds it forever. Let's say they have same expense ratio.

If you believe that over long period of time person A's fund will grow at the rate of 9% and person B's fund will grow at the rate of 8%, then eventually (240 years from now) person A's holding will be 90% of combined person A and person B's holding.

So, the question is do you believe this or not? Do you see any issues with this?

To your point on new/disappearing companies... For all of the small value companies to still be at same (small) percentage of overall market as today, it would mean that overall large and/or non-value companies MUST come into the market at higher rate than small-value ones. So, by this reasoning, if we look at just small vs large - it means that over time, more large corporations appear than small ones (based on their combined market cap). Or if we look at value vs growth - more growth companies must appear over time vs values ones for them to maintain their 50-50 split. Hmm... maybe this is true... ?
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Old 10-27-2009, 06:59 PM   #15
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Let me try to simplify... Person A buys 10k worth of small value index fund (e.g. VISVX) and holds it forever (let's imagine immortality is a solved problem). Person B buys 10k worth of total US market index (e.g. VTSMX) fund and also holds it forever. Let's say they have same expense ratio.

If you believe that over long period of time person A's fund will grow at the rate of 9% and person B's fund will grow at the rate of 8%, then eventually (240 years from now) person A's holding will be 90% of combined person A and person B's holding.

So, the question is do you believe this or not? Do you see any issues with this?
The results in investment results of 8 percent versus 9 percent over 240 years for an original $10,000 investment results in 1 trillion for the total market investor and 10 trillion for the small value investor. An easy way to solve the national debt with one small investment.

The error in the studies is the representation that index investing especially in the small and value arena, will continue to outperform in the future wheras the time comparison being made to "prove" the superiority of index investing did not have index investing available. Since in most of the years leading up to the 1980's most of the investing in stocks held were individual stocks, the need for more sure results made investing in smaller stocks riskier, whiel at the same time the US government minimized regulations allowing large businesses to fail if they underperformed paving the way for smaller businesses. The means of reducing the risk by indexing fundamentally changes the nature of an investment vehicle but comparision's are still made to investing in 1926, which seems absurd to me.

Since originally most of the indexing began in the S&P500 the studies pronouncing small stocks superior will lead more money to the arena leading to better gains in the intermediate term, much as the studies released in the 1990's led to the overperformance of the S&P500.
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Old 10-27-2009, 08:19 PM   #16
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3. The market is a zero sum system.
Only if you are a day trader!

Some stocks do produce dividends. I hold them and never sell, and I make money. That ain't zero-sum.

Some stocks increase their dividends over time. I like dem stocks, me.

Early this year was a great time to buy at major discounts.

As far as stocks fell recently, my dividends and distributions were very good. Vanguard has a new page that shows my distributions.

If I remember correctly (IIRC?), dividends as a number (not as a percentage) vary less than valuations.
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Old 10-28-2009, 07:26 AM   #17
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Even stocks that do not produce dividends are not necessarily zero sum investments. They may produce earnings and retained earnings and net positive cash flows. These cash flows can be used in various ways that either directly give cash to the stockholders as in stock buy-backs, or increase the future cash flows of the firm by making wise investments.

I believe that for most retired people dividend payers are the best but not the only appropriate long term equity investment.

Ha
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Old 10-28-2009, 10:31 AM   #18
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Am I missing anything?
You are confusing a portfolio investing in a tiny percentage of the market with the market as a whole.

You are also forgetting that if eventually your tiny portfolio grows to the point that it is a high percentage of the market as a whole, then your portfolio's investments will have market impacts, just as currently huge mutual funds find it difficult to rapidly establish or liquidate a stock holding without their own actions changing the price of the stock. Long before your portfolio grows to own 99% of the "small" stocks in existence, you can expect the "small premium" to disappear.

You are also forgetting that countries and markets may last a long time compared to a single human life, but have never lasted forever. The historical record suggests that eventually your portfolio is going to be be destroyed by war, taxed or seized out of existence by government, stolen by thieves, or you are going to see that really bad year where every company in your portfolio goes bankrupt.

For example, once word gets out that this huge portfolio is blindly buying every "small" stock in existence, expect a large increase in the number of IPOs who's real business model is simply to transfer some of your portfolio's money to the IPO founders!
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Old 10-28-2009, 01:03 PM   #19
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@bamsphd: My original post was talking about all small / large stocks combined as a group - not an individual portfolio buying up all such stocks but rather MarketCap of all small stocks vs large ones, even if such MarketCap consists of 1000s of small portfolios. So I don't think your arguments related to single portfolio being too large apply... Now, aside from changes in stock market system / wars / theives / other calamities, would you see any issues with these arguments?

Also, take a look at my message #14. I restate the problem there. In this case it's indeed in terms of a single portfolio (of size 10k originally). What would be your answer in that case?

Thanks
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Old 10-28-2009, 01:26 PM   #20
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Not quite. Because they tend to trade in and out at non-optimum times (and do even worse than chance would dictate) it is common for the majority of investors to underperform the average returns of the mutual funds in which they are invested. On average, the more they trade, the worse they do.
I think the original assumptions are valid for those that hold market assets. In other words, if you hold the market, you get market returns. If you hold a subset you get the returns of that subset. Trading in/out of the market or a subset adds another layer of uncertainty (and as you point out can yield negative results.)

Quote:
You overstate what I or the data say.
yes, sorry about that. I guess I should have said the market gets it wrong often enough that a lot of smart people are coming up with theories as to why that might be. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of data to work with.

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A short piece by Larry Swedrow on the value premium.
People interested in the value premium should definitely take a look at that article. He describes the value premium as remarkably persistent, but there is a good chance that this effect could be happening by chance. (note: he says there are 80 years of data, 51 times the value stocks paid off, 29 times they did not. That means the value stocks paid off 11 extra times beyond the expected number 40, which could happen about 20% of the time, just by chance.)

Quote:
Here's a synopsis from an academic paper concerning possible reasons for the value premium:
To me, explanation 2 seems to best explain what actually happens, but explanation 1 is not inconsistent with explanation 2.
I had not seen those explanations before, but I'll go with #3 for now. Thanks for posting those interesting references.

To others about the zero sum system: The market is a place to trade securities for cash where the market value of securities sold equals the number of $ used to purchase. So, the difference is zero. Also, the market appropriately reflects the payment of every dividend to shareholders in the price of the security.
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