Swedroe: Value Premium Lives!

May 16, 2018

There has been much debate about the “death” of the value premium. Those making the case it has disappeared believe the publication of research on the premium has led to cash flows, which in turn have eliminated it.

They point to the last 10 calendar years of data, during which the value premium was slightly negative, at -0.8%. The value premium (HML, or high minus low) is the annual average return on high book-to-market ratio (value) stocks minus the annual average return on low book-to-market ratio (growth) stocks.

Before taking a deeper dive into the data, it’s important to note that all factor premiums, including market beta, have experienced long periods of negative returns. The following table, covering the period 1927 through 2017, shows the odds (expressed as a percentage) of a negative premium over a given time frame. Data in the table is from the Fama/French Data Library.

 

  1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year 20-Year
Market Beta 34 24 18 9 3
Size 41 34 30 23 15
Value 37 28 22 14 6
Momentum 28 16 10 3 0

 

No matter the horizon, the value premium has been almost as persistent as the market beta premium. Even the market beta premium has been negative in 9% of 10-year periods and in 3% of 20-year periods.

Changing Regimes

Investors who know their financial history understand that what we might call “regime change,” with value underperforming for a fairly long time, is to be expected. In fact, even though the value premium has been quite large and persistent over the long term, it has been highly volatile. According to Ken French’s data, the annual standard deviation of the premium, at 12.9%, is 2.6 times the size of the 4.8% annual premium itself (for the period 1927 through 2017).

While 10 years may seem like an eternity to most investors (even institutional investors fire managers after a few years of underperformance), it can be nothing more than noise. Having to remain disciplined over such long periods is perhaps why Warren Buffett famously said that investing is simple, but not easy.

As Andrew Berkin and I point out in our book, “Your Complete Guide to Factor-Based Investing,” investors should have confidence in the value premium because it has been persistent across long periods of time and various economic regimes and has been pervasive around the globe and across asset classes. In addition to stocks, a value premium has existed in bonds, commodities and currencies (in other words, buying what is cheap has outperformed buying what is expensive).

Furthermore, the value premium has been robust to various definitions, not just the price-to-book (P/B) measure, or HML, popularized by Fama and French. Indeed, the premium is also found when using other value metrics, such as price-to-earnings (P/E), price-to-cash flow (P/CF), price-to sales (P/S), price-to-earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (P/EBITDA), price-to-dividend (P/D) and price to almost anything—however it’s measured, cheap has outperformed expensive.

With that in mind, we can look at the size of the value premium for the 10-year period ending 2017 against some of those other metrics (all data is from Ken French’s website). While the value premium was negative by P/CF (-1.2%) and slightly negative by P/B, it was actually positive using P/E (1.2%) and P/D (0.6%)—so, on average, about zero.

 

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