Value Investing

Dylan Grice: Value investing is an intellectual fraud

hallenging conventional wisdom is a mainstay of financial conference speakers. I have seen few do so as effectively as Dylan Grice, who dismissed three mainstays of accepted beliefs, most notably that the value premium will deliver risk-adjusted outperformance.

Grice is a portfolio manager at Switzerland-based Aeris Capital AG. He previously served as an investment strategist at Societe Generale, and he spoke at that firm’s annual investment conference in London on July 9.

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Grice referred to his claims as “heresy from the mountains.” Here’s what he said.

1. Value investing is an intellectual fraud

“What is investing if not for value?” Grice asked, rhetorically. He defined traditional value investing as betting with the odds in your favor or buying dollars for $.75.

The “value” adjective is not necessary, Grice said. “It is like fast sprinting or wet swimming.”

Grice then drew a distinction between fundamental, Graham and Dodd-style value investing, and factor, or quantitatively-based, strategies. He acknowledged that the 1992 Fama-French research showed that you could exploit statistical patterns of cheapness.

He then presented data comparing the small-cap Russell 2000 index relative to its value counterpart, going back 15 years. The annual value premium has been -44 basis points, Grice said. It is not just the Russell indices where value has failed. He said that using the MSCI world index data, the value premium has been -38 basis points over the same period; with emerging markets it was -12 basis points.

It is widely known that growth stocks have outperformed value in the U.S. over most of the last decade, and that value has been the winning strategy over longer time frames. Grice’s analysis was important because he compared value to a broader index and over multiple markets, using only the last 15 years.

But what he said next should be carefully considered by devotees of quantitative investing.

The value premium is not like the liquidity premium, Grice said, which inherently justifies a higher return for its risk. The same is true of the premia associated with credit risk or duration.

“Why should I get persistent risk premium for a cheap multiple?” Grice asked.

“Value investing is far too easy,” he said. “Anyone with a Bloomberg for Factset terminal can do this. It was a historical anomaly because it was cheap.”

“It’s now gone,” Grice said. “The value anomaly has been arbed [arbitraged] out. Value does not equal cheap.”

Quantitatively-based value investing is not the same as fundamental research, he said. Fundamentally-based investing is “hard,” he said, “and it’s got to be harder than quantitative analysis.”

The challenge for advisors is that there is no way to conclusively prove Grice’s claim. We know that quantitatively-based value strategies, unlike the broad capitalization-weighted index, cannot be pursued by all investors. Eventually capital flows to value strategies must erode returns, but we have no way to know for sure when this will happen – or if it already has.

Grice’s assertion should not be dismissed. One cannot be certain that value will “revert to the mean” and resume its long-term outperformance relative to growth the broader market. We’ll have to await further research to see the extent to which asset flows to value strategies, which have been substantial over the 15-year period he studied, have eroded returns.

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