singaporeen
The quant equity crisis of 2018-2020: Cornered by ‘big growth’

The quant equity crisis of 2018-2020: Cornered by ‘big growth’

16-02-2021 | Research
The 2018-2020 quant equity crisis posed an exceptional challenge to quantitative managers due to a rare combination of circumstances. There was basically only one way to outperform during this period, investing in the largest and most expensive growth stocks. Meanwhile, established factors were only effective to the extent that they provided implicit exposure to the same large growth equities. Thus, there were numerous ways to fail during the 2018-2020 period, but essentially only one way to succeed.
  • David Blitz
    David
    Blitz
    Chief Researcher

Speed read

  • The quant equity crisis of 2018-2020 is generally ascribed to the underperformance of Value
  • Investing in large growth stocks was basically the only way to beat the market over this period
  • Other factors performed only when they were large-cap growth (and anti-value) in disguise

The recent quant equity crisis is commonly attributed to the underperformance of the value factor, which is a key pillar in many quantitative stock selection models. However, value is just one of the factors used by quantitative investors. Therefore, one can wonder why other factors apparently failed to offset, or provide more protection against the losses of the value factor.

In order to address this question, we conduct a detailed analysis of factor performance during the quant equity crisis, which we define as the period from June 2018 to August 2020. Figure 1 illustrates that value experienced a severe drawdown, while the size and investments factors also charted in negative territory. The latter result is not surprising, given that the investment and value effects are known to be closely related.1 On the other hand, the profitability and momentum factors fared relatively well during the period.

Stay informed on Quant investing with monthly mail updates
Stay informed on Quant investing with monthly mail updates
Subscribe

Figure 1 | Backtested cumulative factor performance, June 2018 to August 2020, global developed markets

Source: Data library of Professor Kenneth French. Next to the capitalization-weighted market portfolio we consider the standard academic factors, size (SMB), value (HML), investment (CMA), profitability (RMW), and momentum (WML), as described in Fama and French (1993, 2015). The HML, CMA, RMW, and WML factors are based on 2x3 portfolios sorted independently on size and the target factor. All portfolios are capitalization weighted, and all returns are compounded total returns in US dollars. These returns reflect hypothetical, backtested portfolios which ignore costs, fees and taxes. Past returns are no guarantee for the future.

To better understand the drivers behind this factor performance, we look at the market-relative returns of portfolios sorted according to the various factors within different market-cap groups. As exhibited in Table 1, we observe that almost all the outperformance stemmed from investing in the largest stocks with particular factor characteristics.

Our research also challenges the notion that there was more than one way to outperform in the mega-cap space. We find that mega-cap profitability and momentum were essentially mega-cap growth in disguise. In fact, mega-cap top momentum and mega-cap top profitability portfolios behaved very similarly to the mega-cap growth portfolio, with the correlations between the monthly market-relative returns amounting to 75% and 89%, respectively.

Table 1 | Backtested cumulative market-relative performance 5x5 sorted portfolios, June 2018 to August 2020, global developed markets

Source: Data library of Professor Kenneth French, Robeco. Next to the capitalization-weighted market portfolio we consider the standard academic factors, size (SMB), value (HML), investment (CMA), profitability (RMW), and momentum (WML), as described in Fama and French (1993, 2015). The factors are based on 5x5 independently sorted portfolios. All portfolios are capitalization weighted, and all returns are compounded total returns in US dollars. These returns reflect hypothetical, backtested portfolios which ignore costs, fees and taxes. Past returns are no guarantee for the future. Please note double-digit returns are highlighted in bold.

We conclude that there was basically only one way to outperform during this period, namely by investing in the largest and most expensive growth stocks. Indeed, our analysis shows that the mega-cap growth portfolio clearly had the strongest return as seen in Figure 2. This was the dominant phenomenon during the quant equity crisis, in which there were many ways to fail, but essentially only one way to succeed. This concentration of outperformance in one corner of the market and underperformance elsewhere is illustrated in Figure 2.

There were many ways to fail, but essentially only one way to succeed

Figure 2 | Visual illustration of backtested market-relative performance 5x5 size/value sorted portfolios, June 2018 to August 2020, global developed markets

Source: Data library of Professor Kenneth French. Next to the capitalization-weighted market portfolio we consider the standard academic factors, size (SMB), value (HML), investment (CMA), profitability (RMW), and momentum (WML), as described in Fama and French (1993, 2015). The factors are based on 5x5 independently sorted portfolios. All portfolios are capitalization weighted, and all returns are compounded total returns in US dollars. These returns reflect hypothetical, backtested portfolios which ignore costs, fees and taxes. Past returns are no guarantee for the future.

We also compare the 2018-2020 episode with past major drawdowns of the value factor and find some notable differences. Most importantly, previous value drawdowns are better characterized as momentum rallies, because the outperformance of the momentum factor overshadowed the underperformance of the value factor. As a result, past value drawdowns did not necessarily cause quant equity crises.

Another important difference was the sharp underperformance of small stocks compared to their large peers. During previous value drawdowns, there were still opportunities for outperformance in smaller size segments. However, during 2018-2020, even the best-performing pockets in the small- and mid-cap space could not keep up with large growth stocks.

Apart from 2018-2020, there is actually only one other true quant equity crisis in our sample, which occurred during the strong market rebound seen in the first half of 2009. What the two crises have in common is that the main cause can be traced to one particular factor. In 2009, however, it was not the value factor but the momentum factor that crashed, due to a sharp recovery of the stocks that had suffered the largest losses during the 2008 debt crisis. Another notable difference with 2018-2020 is that the 2009 quant equity crisis was relatively short-lived. Factors resumed their upward trend within six months.

Some wonder whether the 2018-2020 quant equity crisis means factor-based investing is permanently impaired. In our view, the large losses on one factor, which were not offset by gains on other factors, do not imply a structural break, nor that factor premiums which have existed for many decades have disappeared all of a sudden. Therefore, we would summarize this period as an unusual combination of circumstances that culminated in a perfect storm for multi-factor investors, but also as an episode from which quantitative investment strategies can be expected to recover again in due course.

1 See: Fama, E. F., and French, K. R., 2015. “A five-factor asset pricing model.” Journal of Financial Economics, 116(1), 1-22.

Read the full research paper

Disclaimer

I agree to the Robeco Disclaimer and the collection and use of my personal data by Robeco, for the purposes for which such data is collected and used as set out in the Privacy Policy,  including for the purpose of direct marketing of Robeco products or services. Your data will be treated with utmost care and will not be passed on to third parties.

Important information

This information is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation.
The contents of this document have not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”). Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services license for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such license.
An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.

Logo

Important Information

Warning/Important note: This website contains information which is only available to qualified investors as defined below. If you are not a qualified investor, please click “I Disagree” to leave the website.

By clicking on "I agree", I declare that: 

  • I am a qualified investor as defined under 1
  • I have read and understood the Terms and Conditions and Disclaimers as described under 2

1 - This website may only be accessed directly or indirectly by the following persons in Singapore:

1) “institutional investor” under section 304 of the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289)(“SFA”), which means:
(i) the Government; (ii) a statutory board as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (iii) an entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by a central government of a country and whose principal activity is (A) to manage its own funds; (B) to manage the funds of the central government of that country (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country); or (C) to manage the funds (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country) of another entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of that country; (iv) any entity (A) that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of a country; and (B) whose funds are managed by an entity mentioned in sub-paragraph (iii); (v) a central bank in a jurisdiction other than Singapore; (vi) a central government in a country other than Singapore; (vii) an agency (of a central government in a country other than Singapore) that is incorporated or established in a country other than Singapore; (viii) a multilateral agency, international organisation or supranational agency as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (ix) a bank that is licensed under the Banking Act (Cap.19); (x) a merchant bank that is approved as a financial institution under section 28 of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186); (xi) a finance company that is licensed under the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108); (xii) a company or co-operative society that is licensed under the Insurance Act (Cap.142) to carry on insurance business in Singapore; (xiii) a company licensed under the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336); (xiv) a holder of a capital markets services licence; (xv) an approved exchange; (xvi) a recognised market operator; (xvii) an approved clearing house; (xviii) a recognised clearing house; (xix) a licensed trade repository; (xx) a licensed foreign trade repository; (xxi) an approved holding company; (xxii) a Depository as defined in section 81SF of the SFA; (xxiii) an entity or a trust formed or incorporated in a jurisdiction other than Singapore, which is regulated for the carrying on of any financial activity in that jurisdiction by a public authority of that jurisdiction that exercises a function that corresponds to a regulatory function of the Authority under this Act, the Banking Act (Cap.19), the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108), the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186), the Insurance Act (Cap.142), the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336) or such other Act as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (xxiv) a pension fund, or collective investment scheme, whether constituted in Singapore or elsewhere; (xxv) a person (other than an individual) who carries on the business of dealing in bonds with accredited investors or expert investors; (xxvi) the trustee of such trust as the Authority may prescribe, when acting in that capacity; or; (xxvii) such other person as the Authority may prescribe.

2) “relevant person” under section 305(1) of the SFA, which means:
(i) An accredited investor; (ii) a corporation the sole business of which is to hold investments and the entire share capital of which is owned by one or more individuals, each of whom is an accredited investor; (iii) a trustee of a trust the sole purpose of which is to hold investments and each beneficiary of which is an individual who is an accredited investor; (iv) an officer or equivalent person of the person making the offer (such person being an entity) or a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of that officer or equivalent person; or (v) a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of the person making the offer (such person being an individual).

3) any person who acquires the units [in a collective investment scheme] as principal if the offer is on terms that the units may only be required at a consideration of not less than $200,000 (or its equivalent in a foreign currency) for each transaction, whether such amount is to be paid for in cash or by exchange of units in a collective investment scheme, securities, securities-based derivatives contracts or other assets, and if the following condition is satisfied: (i) the offer is not accompanied by an advertisement making an offer or calling attention to the offer or intended offer; (ii) no selling or promotional expenses are paid or incurred in connection with the offer other than those incurred for administrative or professional services, or by way of commission or fee for services rendered by any of the persons specified in section 302B(1)(d)(i) to (vi) of the SFA; and (iii) no prospectus in respect of the offer has been registered by the Authority or, where a prospectus has been registered (A) the prospectus has eAccxpired pursuant to section 299 of the SFA; or (B) the person making the offer has before making the offer 1. informed the Authority by notice in writing of its intent to make the offer in reliance on the exemption under this subsection; and 2. taken reasonable steps to inform in writing the person to whom the offer is made that the offer is made in reliance on the exemption under this subsection.

4) Or otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA.

If you are not any of the types of persons described above, you are not authorized to enter this website and you should leave this website immediately.

2 Terms and Conditions
You acknowledge that you have read these Terms and Conditions (“Terms”) prior to accessing the website located at www.robeco.com/sg (“Website”) and you agree to be bound by the Terms.  If you do not agree to all of the Terms, you are not an authorised user and you should not use the Website. The Website is owned by Robeco Singapore Private Limited (company registration number: UEN. 201541306Z), which is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) pursuant to the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289) (“SFA”) of Singapore, and is managed by Robeco Singapore Private Limited and/or its affiliates (collectively, as “Robeco”). The Website is intended for and should be accessed by institutional investors or accredited investors (as defined under Section 4A of the SFA) of Singapore.  The Website is not directed to, or intended for distribution to or use by, any person or entity who is a citizen or resident of or located in any locality, state, country or other jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, availability or use would be contrary to law or regulation or which would subject the Robeco to any registration or licensing requirement within such jurisdiction.  It is your responsibility to observe all applicable laws, rules and regulations of any relevant jurisdiction. The content contained in the Website is owned by Robeco and/or its information providers and is protected by applicable copyrights, trademarks, service marks, and/or other intellectual property rights.  You may not copy, distribute, modify, post, frame or link the Website, including any text, graphics, video, audio, software code, user interface, design or logos.  You may not distribute, modify, transmit, reuse, repost, or use the content of the Website for public or commercial use, including all text, images, audio and/or video.  Robeco may terminate your access to the Website for any reason, without prior notice. Neither Robeco, nor any of its associates, nor any director, officer or employee accepts any liability whatsoever for any loss arising directly or indirectly from the access of the Website.  You agree to indemnity and hold Robeco, its associates, directors, officers or employees harmless against any and all claims, losses, liability, costs and expenses arising from your use of the Website due to violation of the Terms. Robeco reserves the right to change, modify, add or remove any parts of the Terms at any time and for any reason.  The Terms shall deemed to be effective immediately upon posting. The Terms shall be governed by, and shall be construed in accordance with, the law of Singapore.

Disclaimers
The Website has not been reviewed by the MAS. Accordingly, the Website may not be accessed directly or indirectly to persons in Singapore other than (i) to an institutional investor under Section 304 of the SFA, (ii) to a relevant person pursuant to Section 305(1), or any person pursuant to Section 305(2), and in accordance with the conditions specified in Section 305, of the SFA, or (iii) otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA. 

Nothing in the Website constitutes tax, accounting, regulatory, legal or investment advice.  The Website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation or for the purpose of soliciting any action in relation to Robeco’s businesses, or solicitation by anyone in any jurisdiction in which such an offer or solicitation is not authorised or to any person to whom it is unlawful to make such an offer and solicitation. Any reproduction or distribution of information from the Website, in whole or in part, or the disclosure of its contents, without the prior written consent of Robeco, is prohibited.  By accessing to the Website, you agree to the foregoing.  

The funds referred to in the Website are for information only.  It is not a recommendation or investment advice, nor does it mean the funds is suitable for all investors.  The contents of the website is not reviewed by the MAS.  Any decision to participate in the funds should be made only after reviewing the sections regarding investment considerations, conflicts of interest, risk factors and the relevant Singapore selling restrictions.  You should consult your professional adviser if you are in doubt about the stringent restrictions applicable to the use of the Website, regulatory status of the funds, applicable regulatory protection, associated risks and suitability of the funds to your objectives.

Any decisions made based on the information contained in the Website are the sole responsibility of yours.  Any investments made or to be made shall be with your independent analyses based on your financial situation and objectives.  The investments and strategies contained in the Website may not be suitable for all investors and are not guaranteed by Robeco.  

Investment involves risks and may lose value.  Historical returns are provided for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily reflect Robeco’s expectations for the future.  The value of your investments may fluctuate.  Past performance is no indication of current or future performance.  The Website may contain projections or other forward looking statements regarding future events or future financial performance of countries, markets or companies and such projection or forecast is not indicative of the future.  The information contained in the Website, including any data, projections and underlying assumptions are based upon certain assumptions, management forecasts and analysis of information available on an “as is” basis and without warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, and reflects prevailing conditions and Robeco’s views as of the date published or indicated, and maybe superseded by subsequent events or for other reasons.  The information contained in the Website are accordingly subject to change at any time without notice and Robeco are under no obligation to notify you of any of these changes.  Robeco expressly disclaims all liability for errors and omissions in the information presented in the Website and for the use or interpretation by others of information contained in the Website.

Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services licence for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such licence.  An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.

I Disagree