In this article,1 we discuss the benchmarking of low volatility investment strategies, which are designed to benefit from the empirical result that low-risk stocks tend to earn high risk-adjusted returns. Although the minimum-variance portfolio of Markowitz is the ultimate low volatility portfolio, the authors argue that it is not a suitable benchmark, as it can only be determined with hindsight.
This problem can be overcome with investable minimum variance strategies, but because various approaches are equally effective at minimizing volatility, it is ambiguous to elevate the status of any one particular approach to benchmark. For example, the authors discuss the recently introduced MSCI Minimum Volatility indices and conclude that these essentially resemble active low volatility investment strategies themselves, rather than a natural benchmark for such strategies.
In order to avoid these issues, they recommend to simply benchmark low volatility managers against the capitalization-weighted market portfolio, using risk-adjusted performance metrics such as the Sharpe ratio or Jensen’s alpha.
1 Blitz, D.C. and Van Vliet, P., 2011, ‘Benchmarking Low-Volatility strategies’, The Journal of Index Investing.
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