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Investing Using Price-to-Book Value Ratio or Book Equity-to-Market Equity Multiple (Backtests 1926 to 2013)

By greenbackd

The price-to-book value ratio (PB) is the granddaddy of the value metrics. Book value is preferred by many value investors to cashflow and earnings metrics because it is stable year-to-year where cashflow and earnings are variable. This is an important property for the following reason: Where a business at a cyclical trough with diminished cashflow and earnings might look expensive on the basis of price-to-cashflow or price-to-earnings, that same business may appear cheap on the basis of price-to-book value because book value won’t fall much or at all in a downturn, and vice versa. Thus, goes the argument, price-to-book value gives a more reliable picture of a company’s usual business performance, which in turn leads to better investment performance.

Set out below are the results of two Fama and French backtests of the book value-to-market equity (the inverse of the PB ratio) data from 1926 to 2013. As at December 2013, there were 3,175 firms in the sample. The value decile contained the 459 stocks with the highest earnings yield, and the glamour decile contained the 404 stocks with the lowest earnings yield. The average size of the glamour stocks is $7.48 billion and the value stocks $2.54 billion. (Note that the average is heavily skewed up by the biggest companies. For context, the 3,175th company has a market capitalization today of $404 million, which is smaller than the average, but still investable for most investors). Portfolios are formed on June 30 and rebalanced annually.

Annual and Compound Returns (Portfolio Constituents Weighted by Market Capitalization)

In this backtest, the two portfolios are weighted by market capitalization, which means that bigger firms contribute more to the performance of the portfolio, and smaller firms contribute less. Here we can see that the value decile has comprehensively outperformed the glamour decile, returning 12.6 percent compound (17.7 percent in the average year) over the full period versus 8.6 percent for the glamour decile (10.9 percent in the average year).

Price-to-Book Value Ratio

These returns are considerably lower than the returns found for the price-to-earnings and cashflow ratios over the last few weeks (see Investing Using the Price-to-Earnings Ratio and Earnings Yield (Backtests 1951 to 2013) and Investing Using Price-to-Cashflow Ratio and Cashflow Yield (Backtests 1951 to 2013)). The reason is that the earnings and cashflow backtests ran back to only 1951, and the book value return data begins in 1926. The difference is due to the 1929 crash, which had an oversized impact on returns. The impact of the crash is visible on the chart, and striking–it took twenty years for the value decile to fully recover. Something similar has happened to the glamour decile since 2000–it hasn’t grown in 13 years.

To make a comparison possible of book value’s performance to the performance of earnings and cashflow over the same period, I also measured the returns beginning in 1951. Since 1951 the low PB value decile has generated a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.0 percent and an average annual return (AAR) of 17.9 percent. Over the same period the glamour decile returned a CAGR of 9.6 percent and an AAR of 12.6 percent. These returns are approximately the same as the returns generated by PCF and PE over the same period.

BE/ME (Market Capitalization Weight)

The reason for value’s outperformance is simply due to the fact that the value portfolios bought more book value per dollar invested: 4.3x versus 0.25x for the glamour portfolio. (I used a rolling average. The “average” I’ve quoted is for the full period. The rolling average has been higher, but it’s rarely been lower.) This chart shows the extraordinary bargains available for twenty years following the 1929 crash:

Book Value to Market VW 1926 to 2013

Recent Performance (Market Capitalization Weight)

As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, value’s outperformance over glamour is not a historical artifact. If we examine just the period since 1999, we find that the return is higher than the long term average to 1926, and value has continued to be the better bet.

VW PB Returns 1999 to 2013

Though it started out almost 30 percent behind in 1999, value outperformed glamour over the period since 1999, beating it by 5.2 percent compound, and 6.4 percent in the average year.

As I noted last week, market capitalization-weighted returns are useful for demonstrating that the outperformance of value over glamour is not due to the value portfolios containing smaller stocks. Unless you’re running an index (or hugging an index), they’re not really meaningful. The easiest portfolio weighting scheme is to simply equally weight each position. (If we’re prepared to put up with a little extra volatility for a little extra return, we can also Kelly weight our best ideas). Here are the equal weight return statistics for book value.

Annual and Compound Returns (Portfolio Constituents Equally Weighted)

Book Value EW 1926 to 2013

In the equal weight backtest value generated 20.2 percent compound (27.3 percent on average), beating out glamour’s 6.3 percent compound return (10.4 percent on average).

Since 1951 the equally weighted PB value decile has generated a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.0 percent and an average annual return (AAR) of 25.4 percent. Over the same period the glamour decile returned a CAGR of 6.4 percent and an AAR of 10.8 percent. These returns are approximately the same as the returns generated by PCF and PE over the same period.

Book Value-to-Market Equity (Equal Weight)

Book Value to Market EW 1926 to 2013

Again, the value portfolios outperformed because they bought more book value per dollar invested than the glamour portfolios: 4.57x on average versus 0.25x  in the glamour portfolios.

Recent Performance (Equal Weight)

EW PB Returns 1999 to 2013

In the equal weight portfolios, value has really outperformed glamour since 1999, beating it by an extraordinary 15.9 percent compound, and 16.1 percent in the average year.

As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, over the long run, and with some regularity, cheap stocks tend to outperform more expensive stocks. Like the PE and PCF ratios, the PB ratio is a very useful metric for sorting cheap stocks from expensive stocks.

My firm, Eyquem, offers low cost, fee-only managed accounts that implement a systematic deep value investment strategy. Please contact me by email at or call me by telephone on  to learn more.

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