A recent study suggests that sector investing does as well or even better than factor investing in a long-only context. We challenge this conclusion and show that an explicit allocation to well established factors yields better results than allocation to sectors.
Factor investing uses a rules-based approach to isolate assets with certain characteristics that are expected to deliver superior risk-adjusted returns. Examples are stocks that are inexpensive relative to their fundamentals, stocks with strong recent performance, low-risk stocks, or high-quality stocks. Strategic allocation to such factors has been shown to provide diversification benefits and improve risk-adjusted returns over the more traditional portfolio management approaches that explicitly allocate to countries and/or sectors.
Interestingly, a recent working paper by Brierè and Szafarz (Factor-Based v. Industry-Based Allocation: The Contes, 2016) provides results of a contest between factor-based and sector-based investing. The authors conclude there is no clear winner between the two approaches in the long-only context. We challenge their conclusion and argue that results of the mentioned study are crucially dependent on the choice of factors that they consider. In fact, we show that an explicit allocation to the well-established factor premiums dominates allocation to sectors regardless of the optimization objective that is used.
Brierè and Szafarz (BS2016) consider the Size, Value, Momentum, and Quality factors and ten sectors, as classified by Kenneth French. While the authors show that factor investing is superior to sector investing within the long-short context, sector investing does as well, or even better than factor investing in the long-only context; i.e. when short-selling is not allowed. More specifically, the authors show that factor investing is the superior approach when evaluated using certain performance metrics, such as attaining the highest return, while sector investing beats factor investing when other performance metrics are used as the relevant evaluation criteria. For example, the paper claims that sector investing has the potential to offer greater downside protection than factor investing as strategies based on certain sector allocations are exposed to lower absolute risk levels than the best possible factor allocation.
We oppose the idea that sector investing can add as much, or even more value than factor investing, even in the long-only context. First, there is no theoretical foundation for sector investing. While certain sectors have historically outperformed other sectors, there is no reason to expect this pattern will continue. Factor investing, on the other hand, is based on a vast amount of academic evidence that shows the existence of several factor premiums, provides reasons to expect these factors to continue to earn a premium in the future, and shows that factor-based strategies have added value in portfolios in practice.
Second, regardless of differences in the theoretical foundations, we argue that the empirical findings of BS2016 crucially depend on their selection of factors, and that conclusions turn in favor of factor investing if a different choice of factors is made. For instance, at Robeco, we believe in four key factor premiums that, next to Value, Momentum, and Quality, also includes the Low-Risk factor. The reason why BS2016 find that sectors have more potential to provide downside protection could well be because they do not include the Low-Risk factor in their selection. Consequently, the sector investing approach can be tilted to defensive sectors like utilities, but in their setting the factor investing approach is restrained from allocating to the defensive segment of the market.
We have ran our own horse-race between factor investing and sector investing, but this time also including a Low-Risk factor in the contest. We find that factor investing is superior to sector investing no matter what metric is used for performance evaluation. Moreover, the factor portfolios used in this analysis are based on very generic factor definitions. Using more sophisticated factor strategies is likely to give even better results, making the case in favor of factor investing even more compelling.
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.
The Robeco Capital Growth Funds have not been registered under the United States Investment Company Act of 1940, as amended, nor or the United States Securities Act of 1933, as amended. None of the shares may be offered or sold, directly or indirectly in the United States or to any U.S. Person (within the meaning of Regulation S promulgated under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”)). Furthermore, Robeco Institutional Asset Management B.V. (Robeco) does not provide investment advisory services, or hold itself out as providing investment advisory services, in the United States or to any U.S. Person (within the meaning of Regulation S promulgated under the Securities Act).
This website is intended for use only by non-U.S. Persons outside of the United States (within the meaning of Regulation S promulgated under the Securities Act who are professional investors, or professional fiduciaries representing such non-U.S. Person investors. By clicking “I Agree” on our website disclaimer and accessing the information on this website, including any subdomain thereof, you are certifying and agreeing to the following: (i) you have read, understood and agree to this disclaimer, (ii) you have informed yourself of any applicable legal restrictions and represent that by accessing the information contained on this website, you are not in violation of, and will not be causing Robeco or any of its affiliated entities or issuers to violate, any applicable laws and, as a result, you are legally authorized to access such information on behalf of yourself and any underlying investment advisory client, (iii) you understand and acknowledge that certain information presented herein relates to securities that have not been registered under the Securities Act, and may be offered or sold only outside the United States and only to, or for the account or benefit of, non-U.S. Persons (within the meaning of Regulation S under the Securities Act), (iv) you are, or are a discretionary investment adviser representing, a non-U.S. Person (within the meaning of Regulation S under the Securities Act) located outside of the United States and (v) you are, or are a discretionary investment adviser representing, a professional non-retail investor. Access to this website has been limited so that it shall not constitute directed selling efforts (as defined in Regulation S under the Securities Act) in the United States and so that it shall not be deemed to constitute Robeco holding itself out generally to the public in the U.S. as an investment adviser. Nothing contained herein constitutes an offer to sell securities or solicitation of an offer to purchase any securities in any jurisdiction. We reserve the right to deny access to any visitor, including, but not limited to, those visitors with IP addresses residing in the United States.
This website has been carefully prepared by Robeco. The information contained in this publication is based upon sources of information believed to be reliable. Robeco is not answerable for the accuracy or completeness of the facts, opinions, expectations and results referred to therein. Whilst every care has been taken in the preparation of this website, we do not accept any responsibility for damage of any kind resulting from incorrect or incomplete information. This website is subject to change without notice. The value of the investments may fluctuate. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. If the currency in which the past performance is displayed differs from the currency of the country in which you reside, then you should be aware that due to exchange rate fluctuations the performance shown may increase or decrease if converted into your local currency. For investment professional use only. Not for use by the general public.