In This List

Profitability Screening in Australian Small Caps

Approaches to Benchmarking Listed Infrastructure

Examining Share Repurchasing and the S&P Buyback Indices

The Active Manager's Conundrum

The Half-Discovered Continent: U.S. Equities beyond the S&P 500®

Profitability Screening in Australian Small Caps

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Priscilla Luk

Managing Director, Global Research & Design, APAC

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Akash Jain

Associate Director, Global Research & Design

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This paper examines the effectiveness of a profitability screen on improving return and reducing volatility and drawdown for Australian small-cap stocks. 

We also demonstrate the benefit of applying a profitability screen to the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries, the benchmark for small-cap stocks in Australia.

  • On average, 28% of companies in the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries were unprofitable over the period studied, in contrast to 9% in the S&P/ASX 50. Small-cap companies with positive earnings per share (EPS) historically outperformed the unprofitable companies on both absolute and risk-adjusted bases.
  • The S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Select is designed to track profitable small-cap companies in Australia. The index’s addition of a profitability screen helped it to outperform its benchmark by 1.2% per year from Sept. 20, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2019.
  • Sector allocation and stock selection effects both contributed to the excess return of the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Select, with the sector allocation effect explaining a larger part of it.
  • The S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Select had higher dividend yield and active profitability factor exposures compared with the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries.

SMALL-CAP BEHAVIOR IN AUSTRALIA

In 1992, the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) evolved into the Fama & French three-factor model to include size and value as risk factors in addition to market risk, with the aim to help better explain a portfolio’s risk/return characteristics. Inclusion of small-cap companies offers diversification and potential for higher returns.

Exhibit 2 shows the return correlation of various common Australian investment classes.  Australian small caps had return correlations of 0.83 and 0.91 with large and mid caps, respectively.  Among the three size categories in Australian equities, small caps had the lowest correlation with Australian bonds, Australian REITs, and international equities.

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Approaches to Benchmarking Listed Infrastructure

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Tianyin Cheng

Senior Director, Strategy Indices

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Izzy Wang

Analyst, Strategy Indices

Investing in infrastructure has become popular among institutional and private investors in recent years. Investors could be attracted to the potentially long-term, low-risk, and inflation-linked profile that can come with infrastructure assets, and they may find that it is an alternative asset class that could provide new sources of return and diversification of risk.

WHY CONSIDER INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE?

Infrastructure assets provide essential services that are necessary for populations and economies to function, prosper, and grow. They include a variety of assets divided into five general sectors: transportation (e.g., toll roads, airports, seaports, and rail); energy (e.g., gas and electricity transmission, distribution, and generation); water (e.g., pipelines and treatment plants); communications (e.g., broadcast, satellite, and cable); and social (e.g., hospitals, schools, and prisons). Infrastructure assets operate in an environment of limited competition as a result of natural monopolies, government regulations, or concessions. The stylized economic characteristics of this asset class include the following.

Relatively steady cash flows with a strong yield component:

Infrastructure assets are generally long lived. Most companies have long-term regulatory contracts or concessions to operate the assets, which can provide a predictable return over time. As a result, infrastructure assets have the potential to generate consistent, stable cash flow streams, usually with lower volatility than other traditional asset classes.

High barriers to entry:

Due to significant economies of scale, infrastructure assets are often regulated in such a way that discourages competition. The high barriers to entry often result in a monopoly for existing owners and operators.

Inflation protection:

Revenues from infrastructure assets are typically linked to inflation and are often supported by regulation. In certain instances, revenue increases linked to inflation are embedded in concession agreements, licenses, and regulatory frameworks. In other cases, owners of infrastructure assets are able to pass inflation on to consumers via price increases, due to the essential nature of the assets and their inelastic demand.

Consequently, the infrastructure asset class may provide investors with a degree of protection from the business and economic cycles, as well as attractive income yields and an inflation hedge. It could be expected to offer long-term, low-risk, non-correlated, inflation-protected, and acyclical returns.

It is also generally believed that infrastructure is, as an asset class, poised for strong growth. As the global population continues to expand and standards of living around the world become higher, there is a vast demand for improved infrastructure. This demand includes the refurbishment and replacement of existing infrastructure worldwide and new infrastructure development in emerging markets.

Financing public infrastructure has traditionally been the responsibility of the state. However, fiscally constrained governments are increasingly turning to the private sector to provide funding for new projects. As a result, the investment opportunities in this sector continue to grow.

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Examining Share Repurchasing and the S&P Buyback Indices

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Priscilla Luk

Managing Director, Global Research & Design, APAC

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Liyu Zeng

Director, Global Research & Design

Since 1997, share repurchases have surpassed cash dividends and become the dominant form of corporate payout in the U.S.  This paper gives an overview of share repurchases in U.S., including trends in corporate payouts, major types of and motives behind share repurchases, and the price impact.  In the following sections, the performance and attributes of the S&P 500® Buyback Index is discussed, and the study is extended to the mid- and small-cap spaces in the U.S.

EXECUTIVE FINDINGS

  • Over a long-term investment horizon, buyback portfolios generated positive excess returns over their benchmark indices in the large-, mid-, and small-cap segments of the U.S. market.
  • All buyback portfolios generated higher average monthly excess returns over their benchmark indices in down markets than in up markets, regardless of weighting methods.
  • Compared with dividend portfolios, buyback portfolios tended to have lower dividend yields and most of their outperformance was driven by capital gains rather than dividend income. Buyback portfolios achieved more balanced win ratios and excess returns in both up and down markets, which is a good complement to defensive portfolios that focus on strategies such as dividends and low volatility.
  • The equal-weighting method employed in the construction of our buyback indices enhances win ratios and excess returns in up markets, making the outperformance of buyback indices more balanced in both up and down markets. The impact of equal weighting is more significant in the large-cap space than in the mid- and small-cap spaces.
  • Both equal-weighted and market-cap-weighted buyback portfolios were tilted toward high earning yield in the past 20 years that ended Dec. 31, 2019.  The overlay of equal weighting gives the portfolios an extra small-cap bias, especially in the large-cap space.

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The Active Manager's Conundrum

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Fei Mei Chan

Director, Index Investment Strategy

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Anu R. Ganti

Senior Director, Index Investment Strategy

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Tim Edwards

Managing Director, Index Investment Strategy

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director, Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Below-average market volatility is typically associated with above-average returns. Given a choice, therefore, most investors would prefer low volatility to high.
  • For active managers, however, the choice is less obvious: lower market volatility is associated with lower correlation and lower dispersion, both of which make active management harder to justify.
  • Active portfolios are typically more volatile than their benchmarks; how much more volatile depends in part on correlations. Active managers pay an implicit cost of concentration, which rises when correlations decline.
  • Low dispersion makes it harder for active managers to add value, and reduces the incremental return of those who do.
  • These perspectives highlight the conflict between the goals of absolute and relative return generation.

A SIMPLE QUESTION

Should an active manager prefer to operate in a low volatility environment or a high volatility environment? What factors should influence this decision?

At first glance, the choice seems fairly easy. Exhibit 1 reminds us that volatility and returns are inversely related. Rising volatility typically penalizes results and vice versa.

We can see this more directly in Exhibit 2. Here, we separated the months in our database by intra-month volatility and examined return data in each set of months.

These exhibits make the manager’s choice look obvious: if volatility is high, returns tend to be negative; if volatility is low, average returns are substantially positive. Positive returns mean that the manager’s clients are making money, which they usually appreciate, and that the manager’s fees (if asset-based) are also rising. Attracting new assets is easier in a rising market, whereas “investors do not reward outperformance in down markets with higher subsequent flows.”

Lower volatility means that managers and clients alike enjoy a smoother return path with fewer surprises. The manager should obviously wish for low volatility, both for its own sake and because of its connection to higher returns. What could go wrong?

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The Half-Discovered Continent: U.S. Equities beyond the S&P 500®

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Chris Bennett

Director, Index Investment Strategy

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Tim Edwards

Managing Director, Index Investment Strategy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

• Mid- and small-cap U.S. equities represent a significant piece of the global market, but they are overlooked by many international investors, particularly in Europe.

• Historically, the S&P MidCap 400® and S&P SmallCap 600® have outperformed many global equity markets.  However, the performance of many active funds investing in mid- and small-cap U.S. equities has been disappointing.

• With index-linked vehicles such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) arising in recent years to offer low-cost, passive exposures to mid and small caps, global investors may find it timely to consider a passive allocation.

• We examine the benefits of exploring the U.S. equities market beyond large caps from a European investor’s perspective and with a focus on S&P Dow Jones Indices’ S&P MidCap 400 and S&P SmallCap 600.

 

INTRODUCTION

Investors the world over have made allocations to U.S. stocks, which include some of the world’s largest companies.  Ex-U.S. investors appear to have explored little beyond the so-called “blue chips,” however. 

As shown later, European fund investors, in particular, have minimal exposure to small or mid-sized U.S. equities.  This lack of interest is puzzling, not least as they represent significant market segments in absolute terms; the S&P MidCap 400 alone has a market capitalization similar to the entire French stock market, while, in combination, the S&P MidCap 400 and S&P SmallCap 600 are roughly the same size as the UK’s stock market.

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