IN THIS LIST

Returns, Values, and Outcomes: A Counterfactual History

Limiting Risk Exposure with S&P Risk Control Indices

A Dynamic Multi-Asset Approach to Inflation Hedging

Profiling Minimum Volatility

A Case for Dividend Growth Strategies

Returns, Values, and Outcomes: A Counterfactual History

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director, Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

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Fei Mei Chan

Director, Index Investment Strategy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Any analysis of investment policy or strategy must be based on historical data. Even if an analyst wants to extrapolate into the future (which we do not), extrapolations must start with the past.
  • But the historical data that we observe were not inevitable; history might have turned out differently than it actually did.
  • In this paper, we construct a counterfactual history of the last 40 years of U.S. equity returns, and explore what those histories could imply for investment policy.
  • Although the range of possible outcomes is quite wide, one consistent conclusion is that long-term investors in large-capitalization U.S. equities would have been advantaged by choosing passive rather than active management.

INTRODUCTION

We often write about equity markets and the potential implications of various investment strategy choices.  What are the implications of the choice between active and passive management? How have factor or “smart beta” strategies performed in various economic environments? What do market dynamics tell us about the investment opportunity set?

All of these questions, and others like them, are important, but all are questions about returns.  Investors, however, live not with a series of returns, but rather with portfolio values.  In this paper, we model the connection between returns and portfolio values over a long-term historical horizon.

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Limiting Risk Exposure with S&P Risk Control Indices

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Tianyin Cheng

Senior Director, Strategy Indices

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Claire Yi

Analyst, Strategy Indices

INTRODUCTION

The volatility seen during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 broke the calm that was present in financial markets from 2004 to early 2007.  Most asset classes experienced significant pullbacks, markets became volatile, and the correlation between asset classes increased significantly.  Portfolio construction based on the backward-looking correlation model failed, as the expected diversification benefit was eliminated precisely when it was needed the most.

In the aftermath of the GFC, institutional market participants with long-term investment horizons have responded with aversion to this volatility by considering a number of risk control strategies.  The risk control strategies adjust market exposure in inverse relation to risk to target a stable level of volatility in all market environments.  For institutional market participants with long-standing liabilities, which can range from defined benefit plans to variable annuities offered at insurance companies, a risk control strategy may provide a smoother path of asset returns (see Exhibit 1) and could more closely align the performance of the institution’s assets to the characteristics of its liabilities.

S&P Dow Jones Indices has developed a risk control framework through a series of risk control indices, which seek to measure various underlying equity- or futures-based indices at set risk levels.  S&P Dow Jones Indices’ risk control indices feature:

  • Globally accepted, independent underlying indices like the S&P 500, S&P 500 Low Volatility, and S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats®;
  • Transparent methodology based on the underlying index’s historical volatility;
  • Measurements of risk, based on volatility, to help market participants control risk at a predefined level; and
  • Utilization of the same constituents as the underlying index.

S&P Dow Jones Indices has created a suite of risk control indices based on a large number of equity and thematic indices, along with the S&P GSCI® and the other commodity indices in its series (see the Appendix for a complete list).

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A Dynamic Multi-Asset Approach to Inflation Hedging

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Gaurav Sinha

Managing Director, Head of Americas Global Research & Design

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Lalit Ponnala

Director, Global Research & Design

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Jason Ye

Associate Director, Strategy Indices

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Fiona Boal

Head of Commodities and Real Assets

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Inflation is one of the most significant risks to investment returns over the long term. Core equities and conventional bonds tend to deliver below-average returns in rising inflation environments, which can encourage investors to seek out inflation-sensitive assets, such as commodities, inflation-linked bonds, REITs, natural resource stocks, and gold, to protect their portfolios from inflation shocks.

In this paper, we construct a multi-asset index for inflation protection.  First, we look into forecasting inflation.  Next, we analyze the inflation sensitivity of various asset classes.  Then, we identify strategies for different inflation regimes.  Finally, we present portfolios that adjust their allocation dynamically to changes in the inflation regime.

INTRODUCTION

As record levels of monetary and fiscal stimulus are pumped into the recovering global economy, inflation has returned to the discussion.  The low-inflation environment of the past few decades has penalized inflation-sensitive assets.  Given that inflation can be notoriously difficult to forecast, and market participants may experience unexpected inflation shocks, it is worthwhile to revisit the concept of inflation protection.

For many investors, the unprecedented and coordinated fiscal stimulus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has justified concerns over inflation.  Neville et al. summarized four factors that suggest heightened inflation risk: (1) unprecedented increase in money creation, (2) historically high fiscal deficit level, (3) recent increase in long-term yields, and (4) the inflation derivatives market pricing in a 31% probability that the average inflation rate will exceed 3% over the next five years.

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Profiling Minimum Volatility

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director, Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

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Fei Mei Chan

Director, Index Investment Strategy

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • Minimum volatility is part of a broader group of defensive strategies that have been in existence for decades. They are based on the low volatility anomaly, the phenomenon that lower-risk stocks outperform over time, contradicting the conventional wisdom that risk and reward go hand in hand.
  • Low volatility strategy indices attempt to exploit this anomaly systematically. The typical behavior patterns of low volatility strategies are that they go up less when the market is up and go down less when the market is down. They offer protection in down markets and participation in up markets.
  • More than with most factor strategies, the potential value added of low volatility strategies is largely dependent on market dynamics. Dispersion of returns tends to be higher in times of crisis; this disparity gives defensive strategies such as low volatility a leg up.

INTRODUCTION

Following a few years of significant market gains, enthusiasm for low volatility strategies has waned, particularly compared with the period after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. This is understandable since protection is probably not top of mind when things are going well and are seemingly on an upward trajectory.

THE LOW VOLATILITY ANOMALY

Low volatility strategies explicitly aim to deliver a pattern of returns relative to the market. Their goal is to reduce risk (volatility), and that goal is constant in both good times and bad.

Low volatility is a characteristic. Low volatility accompanied by outperformance is an anomaly. The phenomenon of lower-risk assets also outperforming higher-risk assets over time was noted by academics almost half a century ago.  Flouting the conventional wisdom that risk and return
go hand in hand, this phenomenon was dubbed the low volatility anomaly. Outperformance does not occur at all times (particularly in strong market performance cycles), but the anomaly has been observed universally across different markets and asset classes.

When it comes to low volatility portfolios, there are different approaches to index construction that yield different characteristics and results. In the U.S., the S&P 500 Minimum Volatility Index is one way to pursue lower risk in a systematic way.

The methodology underlying the S&P 500 Minimum Volatility Index relies on optimization, minimizing volatility subject to stock- and sector-level exposure constraints. Compared with a rankings-based methodology such as the one used for the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index, the optimized approach has typically resulted in less performance divergence from the benchmark.

In the period from January 1991 through May 2021, the minimum volatility index delivered nearly the same return as the benchmark S&P 500, but at substantially lower risk—a 16% reduction. On a 10-year rolling basis, the S&P 500 Minimum Volatility Index’s volatility was consistently lower than the S&P 500 throughout the entire period (see Exhibit 3).

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A Case for Dividend Growth Strategies

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Tianyin Cheng

Senior Director, Strategy Indices

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Izzy Wang

Analyst, Strategy Indices

Dividend strategies have gained a foothold with market participants seeking potential outperformance and attractive yields, especially in the low-rate environment since the 2008 financial crisis and the even lower-rate environment we’ve seen since early 2020 as the world deals with the economic fallout from COVID-19.

With the volatile economic situation that emerged in 2020, and market uncertainties putting pressure on corporate earnings, high-yielding companies without strong financial strength and discipline may not be able to sustain future payout and could be prone to dividend cuts and suspensions.

Stocks with a history of dividend growth, on the other hand, could present a compelling investment opportunity in an uncertain environment.  An allocation to companies that have sustainable and growing dividends may provide exposure to high-quality stocks and greater income over time, therefore buffering against market volatility and addressing the risk of rising rates to some extent.

This argument goes beyond the traditional realm of domestic large-cap stocks.  It also works for small- and mid-cap stocks and can be applied to international markets as well.

The S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats® is designed to track a basket of stocks from the S&P Composite 1500® that have consistently increased their dividends every year for at least 20 years.  This paper investigates the benefits of a dividend growth strategy by analyzing the characteristics of the S&P High Yield Dividend Aristocrats and comparing it to the S&P 500® High Dividend Index—a high-dividend strategy built on the S&P 500 (see the Appendix for an overview of the index’s methodology).  In addition, this paper illustrates a few indices that focus on the strongest dividend growers in global and international markets, including Canada, the eurozone, the U.K., Pan Asia, and Japan.

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