Value as an investment strategy has long been popular in both academia and among practitioners and is supported by valuation theory, which provides a framework for identifying the drivers of expected returns: the prices investors pay and the expected future cash flows investors will receive. Unfortunately, theory does not tell us the best way to extract information about expected returns from current market values and proxies for expected cash flows. A simple approach is to look at current market values scaled by proxies for expected future cash flows. Common proxies include P/B, P/E, P/CF, etc. My colleague Sheldon McFarland reviewed new research on the value factor.

In their April 2023 research paper, “Assessing Alternative Value Metrics,” authors Byung Hyun Ahn and Namiko Saito analyzed the performance of 10 different value metrics proposed in academia and the financial industry. Their objective was to see if a superior choice exists for a practical investment strategy. (a similar paper was published in the JPM and is available here)

To assess the performance of different value metrics, Ahn and Saito utilized U.S. stock data from July 1963 to December 2022. They compared the historical performance of a hypothetical value portfolio formed on P/B with the performance of nine other hypothetical value portfolios formed on prominent alternative value metrics. Each hypothetical value portfolio targeted the lowest 30% of the U.S. market based on its value metric’s definition.

Ahn and Saito analyzed three sample periods to compare the value metrics: the entire sample period (July 1963-December 2022), the pre-1993 period (July 1963-December 1992), and the post-1993 period (January 1993-December 2022). They compared the average monthly returns, calendar-year returns, and average monthly characteristics of each hypothetical value portfolio to see if a clear value metric winner existed.

Demonstrating the robustness of the value premium, they found that over the entire sample period, all hypothetical value portfolios outperformed the U.S. market’s 0.92% average monthly return. They also found that while some of the alternative value metrics outperformed P/B while others underperformed P/B, none of the differences in performance was statistically significant (other published research comes to different conclusions). Results were similar in the subsample periods except for the pre-1993 period when P/B reliably outperformed P/(B-RE), and the post-1993 period when P/(B+INTAN) reliably outperformed P/B.

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained.  Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index.

Looking at the calendar-year returns, the authors found that neither of the value metrics was a consistent winner over time.

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained.  Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index.

Examining the average monthly characteristics of the different hypothetical value portfolios, the researchers found that the value metrics provided different levels of profitability exposure, usually at the expense of value exposure, based on the average monthly P/B ratio and average monthly profitability ratio. This phenomenon explained why the hypothetical value portfolios based on the alternative value metrics outperformed the hypothetical value portfolio based on P/B in the post-1993 period when the profitability premium was stronger than the value premium.

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained.  Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index.

The researchers showed that these alternative value metrics indirectly exposed the profitability premium and a sector allocation closer to the U.S. market. For example, the hypothetical P/B portfolio had an allocation to the financial sector of 27%, more than twice as much as the U.S. market. On the other hand, the hypothetical portfolio formed on P/CF had a weighting to financials of 16% compared with the market’s 13% weighting.

Ahn and Saito argued that these weightings can be applied more directly by integrating the profitability premium in the weighting scheme and/or security selection and managing sector diversification. They believed a robust real-world value strategy should integrate multiple premiums and provide broad diversification at the security and sector levels.

To support their argument, Ahn and Saito considered a hypothetical value portfolio (P/B strategy) that incorporated the size, value, profitability, and investment premiums while managing sector- and security-level diversification. The strategy focused on the stocks in the market with the lowest P/B ratio. This value universe emphasized stocks with lower P/B, lower market capitalization, and higher profitability and excluded high-investment firms within small caps. The strategy managed sector diversification by limiting the weight of any given sector to at most 10% over its weight in the market, and managed stock diversification by imposing a 5% security cap.

Ahn and Saito showed that such a hypothetical strategy could meaningfully increase the exposure to the profitability premium while maintaining a sharp focus on the value premium. They showed that such a strategy outperformed most of the alternative hypothetical value metric portfolios, and the performance of the P/B strategy improved noticeably in the post-1993 period. (As a side note, it would be interesting to see an analysis of all the valuation metrics with similar adjustments for profitability, weightings, and sector constraints, to get a clean apples-to-apples comparison).

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained.  Indexes are unmanaged and do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index.

In the real world, it is important to consider turnover when evaluating different investment strategies because higher turnover can lead to greater implementation costs. Ahn and Saito did that in the paper and found that alternative value metrics generally resulted in higher turnover. This makes sense because metrics based on earnings and cash flows tend to be more volatile than book equity.

Investor takeaways

Valuation and expected returns are complex topics, as many factors can influence them. Understanding valuation theory and recognizing value as a driver of expected return are valuable tools for investors when constructing portfolios.

Although the most efficient way to implement a value strategy may need to be clarified, it is clear that value has withstood the test of time and that some implementations are superior to others. The evidence suggests that P/B is not an efficient metric standalone criterion. Instead, value strategies that use P/B should include at least a measure of profitability while managing sector – and security-level diversification.

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About the Author: Larry Swedroe

Larry Swedroe
As Chief Research Officer for Buckingham Strategic Wealth and Buckingham Strategic Partners, Larry Swedroe spends his time, talent and energy educating investors on the benefits of evidence-based investing with enthusiasm few can match. Larry was among the first authors to publish a book that explained the science of investing in layman’s terms, “The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need.” He has since authored seven more books: “What Wall Street Doesn’t Want You to Know” (2001), “Rational Investing in Irrational Times” (2002), “The Successful Investor Today” (2003), “Wise Investing Made Simple” (2007), “Wise Investing Made Simpler” (2010), “The Quest for Alpha” (2011) and “Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett” (2012). He has also co-authored eight books about investing. His latest work, “Your Complete Guide to a Successful and Secure Retirement was co-authored with Kevin Grogan and published in January 2019. In his role as chief research officer and as a member of Buckingham’s Investment Policy Committee, Larry, who joined the firm in 1996, regularly reviews the findings published in dozens of peer-reviewed financial journals, evaluates the outcomes and uses the result to inform the organization’s formal investment strategy recommendations. He has had his own articles published in the Journal of Accountancy, Journal of Investing, AAII Journal, Personal Financial Planning Monthly, Journal of Indexing, and The Journal of Portfolio Management. Larry’s dedication to helping others has made him a sought-after national speaker. He has made appearances on national television shows airing on NBC, CNBC, CNN, and Bloomberg Personal Finance. Larry is a prolific writer and contributes regularly to multiple outlets, including Advisor Perspective, Evidence Based Investing, and Alpha Architect. Before joining Buckingham Wealth Partners, Larry was vice chairman of Prudential Home Mortgage. He has held positions at Citicorp as senior vice president and regional treasurer, responsible for treasury, foreign exchange and investment banking activities, including risk management strategies. Larry holds an MBA in finance and investment from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Baruch College in New York.