switzerlanden
Now more than ever, it’s time to think outside the Fama-French factor box

Now more than ever, it’s time to think outside the Fama-French factor box

28-04-2020 | Research
2010-2019 was a lost decade for the Fama-French factors. But alternative equity factors fared better.
  • David Blitz
    David
    Blitz
    Chief Researcher

Speed read

  • Fama-French factors delivered negative returns over the past decade
  • It’s happened before: the 1990-1999 period saw similar returns
  • Other factors did deliver positive returns over the 2010-2019 decade
Stay informed on Quant investing with monthly mail updates
Stay informed on Quant investing with monthly mail updates
Subscribe

The factors in the widely-used Fama-French five-factor model1 experienced a lost decade. Over the 2010-2019 period, these equity factors – namely: value, size, profitability and investment – delivered a negative return on average, while the return on each individual factor was well below its long-term average. However, dismissing factor investing altogether based solely on this outcome would be short-sighted.

As it turns out, the dismal performance of the Fama-French factors between 2010 and 2019 is not unprecedented. New research2 by Robeco shows that, in fact, the returns of the past decade were remarkably similar to those seen previously for these four factors during the 1990-1999 period. That did not prevent the same factors from making a strong comeback during the following decade.

Moreover, we find that many time-tested alternative equity factors which are not considered in the Fama-French model did deliver a positive performance over the 2010-2019 decade. These factors include payout yield, accruals, intangibles, price momentum, analyst revisions, earnings momentum, seasonals, short-term reversal, and low risk.

From these findings, a clear dichotomy emerges: while the most commonly accepted factors experienced a lost decade from 2010 to 2019, many other factors, which the academic community often considers to be inferior or redundant, were actually the ones that delivered the highest returns during that same period.

Only time will tell if the Fama-French factors will again be able to make another comeback in the next decades

Altogether, the 2010-2019 decade turned out to be like a mirror image of the 2000-2009 decade, during which the Fama-French factors had an exceptionally strong performance and left most other factors in their wake. Only time will tell if the Fama-French factors will again be able to make another comeback in the next decades.

In the meantime, their weak recent performance will have implications for asset pricing research. For one, the five-factor model will generally have a hard time explaining strong CAPM alphas over the 2010-2019 period, as positive loadings on the Fama-French factors will not help to explain returns if the Fama-French factors themselves have no premium to begin with.

Our findings also challenge the ambition to reduce the entire ‘factor zoo’ of the hundreds of alleged equity factors reported in the academic literature to just a handful of truly relevant factors, such as the four Fama-French factors, that should explain the whole cross-section of stock returns.

Although the Fama-French factors still show a strong long-term performance, they have now experienced two lost decades during which various other factors were able to deliver. Therefore, it seems that more factors are needed for an accurate and comprehensive description of the cross-section of stock returns.

1 This model was proposed in 2015 by Nobel Prize winner Eugene Fama and fellow researcher Kenneth French. The two researchers argued that, on top of the market factor, investors should also consider value, size, profitability and investment. In practice, the last two factors are often combined to form the quality factor. Fama-French factors are considered a standard in academic research and their definitions are widely used in empirical studies.
2 Blitz, D.C., 2020, “Factor Performance 2010-2019: A Lost Decade?”, working paper.

Leave your details and download the report

Disclaimer

This report is not available for users from countries where the offering of foreign financial services is not permitted, such as US Persons.

Your details are not shared with third parties. This information is exclusively intended for professional investors. All requests are checked.

Subjects related to this article are:
Logo

Disclaimer Robeco Switzerland Ltd.

The information contained on these pages is for marketing purposes and solely intended for Qualified Investors in accordance with the Swiss Collective Investment Schemes Act of 23 June 2006 (“CISA”) domiciled in Switzerland, Professional Clients in accordance with Annex II of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (“MiFID II”) domiciled in the European Union und European Economic Area with a license to distribute / promote financial instruments in such capacity or herewith requesting respective information on products and services in their capacity as Professional Clients. 

The Funds are domiciled in Luxembourg and The Netherlands. ACOLIN Fund Services AG, postal address: Affolternstrasse 56, 8050 Zürich, acts as the Swiss representative of the Fund(s). UBS Switzerland AG, Bahnhofstrasse 45, 8001 Zurich, postal address: Europastrasse 2, P.O. Box, CH-8152 Opfikon, acts as the Swiss paying agent. The prospectus, the Key Investor Information Documents (KIIDs), the articles of association, the annual and semi-annual reports of the Fund(s) may be obtained, on simple request and free of charge, at the office of the Swiss representative ACOLIN Fund Services AG. The prospectuses are also available via the website www.robeco.ch. Some funds about which information is shown on these pages may fall outside the scope of the Swiss Collective Investment Schemes Act of 26 June 2006 (“CISA”) and therefore do not (need to) have a license from or registration with the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA). 

Some funds about which information is shown on this website may not be available in your domicile country. Please check the registration status in your respective domicile country. To view the RobecoSwitzerland Ltd. products that are registered/available in your country, please go to the respective Fund Selector, which can be found on this website and select your country of domicile. 

Neither information nor any opinion expressed on this website constitutes a solicitation, an offer or a recommendation to buy, sell or dispose of any investment, to engage in any other transaction or to provide any investment advice or service. An investment in a Robeco Switzerland Ltd. product should only be made after reading the related legal documents such as management regulations, prospectuses, annual and semi-annual reports. 

By clicking “I agree” you confirm that you/the company you represent falls under one of the above-mentioned categories of addressees and that you have read, understood and accept the terms of use for this website.

I Disagree