In How to Beat The Little Book That Beats The Market: Redux I showed how in Quantitative Value we tested Joel Greenblatt’s Magic Formula outlined in The Little Book That (Still) Beats the Market). We found that Greenblatt’s Magic Formula has consistently outperformed the market, and with lower relative risk than the market, but wondered if we could improve on it.
We created a generic, academic alternative to the Magic Formula that we call “Quality and Price.” Quality and Price is the academic alternative to the Magic Formula because it draws its inspiration from academic research papers. We found the idea for the quality metric in an academic paper by Robert Novy-Marx called The Other Side of Value: Good Growth and the Gross Profitability Premium. The price ratio is drawn from the early research into value investment by Eugene Fama and Ken French. The Quality and Price strategy, like the Magic Formula, seeks to differentiate between stocks on the basis of … wait for it … quality and price. The difference, however, is that Quality and Price uses academically based measures for price and quality that seek to improve on the Magic Formula’s factors, which might provide better performance.
The Magic Formula uses Greenblatt’s version of return on invested capital (ROIC) as a proxy for a stock’s quality. The higher the ROIC, the higher the stock’s quality and the higher the ranking received by the stock. Quality and Price substitutes for ROIC a quality measure we’ll call gross profitability to total assets (GPA). GPA is defined as follows:
GPA = (Revenue ? Cost of Goods Sold) / Total Assets
In Quality and Price, the higher a stock’s GPA, the higher the quality of the stock. The rationale for using gross profitability, rather than any other measure of profitability like earnings or EBIT, is simple. Gross profitability is the “cleanest” measure of true economic profitability. According to Novy-Marx:
The farther down the income statement one goes, the more polluted profi tability measures become, and the less related they are to true economic profi tability. For example, a firm that has both lower production costs and higher sales than its competitors is unambiguously more profitable. Even so, it can easily have lower earnings than its competitors. If the firm is quickly increasing its sales though aggressive advertising, or commissions to its sales force, these actions can, even if optimal, reduce its bottom line income below that of its less profitable competitors. Similarly, if the firm spends on research and development to further increase its production advantage, or invests in organizational capital that will help it maintain its competitive advantage, these actions result in lower current earnings. Moreover, capital expenditures that directly increase the scale of the firm’s operations further reduce its free cash flows relative to its competitors. These facts suggest constructing the empirical proxy for productivity using gross profits.
The Magic Formula uses EBIT/TEV as its price measure to rank stocks. For Quality and Price, we substitute the classic measure in finance literature – book value-to-market capitalization (BM):
BM = Book Value / Market Price
We use BM rather than the more familiar price-to-book value or (P/B) notation because the academic convention is to describe it as BM, and it makes it more directly comparable with the Magic Formula’s EBIT/TEV. The rationale for BM capitalization is straightforward. Eugene Fama and Ken French consider BM capitalization a superior metric because it varies less from period to period than other measures based on income:
We always emphasize that different price ratios are just different ways to scale a stock’s price with a fundamental, to extract the information in the cross-section of stock prices about expected returns. One fundamental (book value, earnings, or cashflow) is pretty much as good as another for this job, and the average return spreads produced by different ratios are similar to and, in statistical terms, indistinguishable from one another. We like [book-to-market capitalization] because the book value in the numerator is more stable over time than earnings or cashflow, which is important for keeping turnover down in a value portfolio.
Next I’ll compare show the results of our examination of Quality and Price strategy to the Magic Formula. If you can’t wait, you can always pick up a copy of Quantitative Value.