Approach All Claims Of Market-Beating Formula With Extreme Skepticism

Approach All Claims Of Market-Beating Formula With Extreme Skepticism
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One of our favorite finance writers at The Acquirer’s Multiple is Jason Zweig. Zweig is a personal finance columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He’s also the editor of the revised edition of Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor (HarperCollins, 2003), the classic text that Warren Buffett has described as “by far the best book about investing ever written.”

He recently wrote a great article on the number of studies that claim to have found patterns that can predict outperformance in the stock market saying, “The incentives to find a pattern are huge, and the costs are minimal. Supply a smart young analyst with a decent computer and plenty of pizza, and in a matter of days or weeks you will have a set of data full of patterns – many of them probably spurious — that you can market to investors.” He adds, “You should approach all claims of market-beating patterns with extreme skepticism.”

Here’s an excerpt from that article:

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Black DiamondCarlson Capital's Double Black Diamond Fund returned 85 basis points net in August, bringing its year-to-date net return to 4.51%. According to a copy of the fund's September update, which ValueWalk has been able to review, its equity relative value and event-driven strategies outperformed during the month, contributing 131 basis points to overall P&L. Double Read More

The same problem persists in medicine, where researcher John Ioannidis’ paper “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” has been viewed more than 2 million times but has barely stemmed the tide of studies on small groups of subjects with weak results.

The problem of “p-hacking,” or dredging through an ocean of data until you find a pattern you can present as statistically significant, is endemic to research in finance. You should approach all claims of market-beating patterns with extreme skepticism.

In January, Campbell Harvey, a finance professor at Duke University, gave the presidential address at the American Finance Association on that topic. He estimates that at least half of all “discoveries” in investment research (and, thus, the expectations of investors in funds based on them) are false. The video of Prof. Harvey’s talk is well worth watching, or you can read his text here.

As Prof. Harvey has shown, so much data is available in finance that someone searching for a pattern “predicting” outperformance is all but certain to find one — even by statistical fluke alone.

Source:, MoneyBeat blog,

This article was originally posted by Johnny Hopkins at The Acquirer’s Multiple.

The Acquirer’s Multiple® is the valuation ratio used to find attractive takeover candidates. It examines several financial statement items that other multiples like the price-to-earnings ratio do not, including debt, preferred stock, and minority interests; and interest, tax, depreciation, amortization. The Acquirer’s Multiple® is calculated as follows: Enterprise Value / Operating Earnings* It is based on the investment strategy described in the book Deep Value: Why Activist Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations, written by Tobias Carlisle, founder of The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from The Magic Formula® Earnings Yield because The Acquirer’s Multiple® uses operating earnings in place of EBIT. Operating earnings is constructed from the top of the income statement down, where EBIT is constructed from the bottom up. Calculating operating earnings from the top down standardizes the metric, making a comparison across companies, industries and sectors possible, and, by excluding special items–earnings that a company does not expect to recur in future years–ensures that these earnings are related only to operations. Similarly, The Acquirer’s Multiple® differs from the ordinary enterprise multiple because it uses operating earnings in place of EBITDA, which is also constructed from the bottom up. Tobias Carlisle is also the Chief Investment Officer of Carbon Beach Asset Management LLC. He's best known as the author of the well regarded Deep Value website Greenbackd, the book Deep Value: Why Activists Investors and Other Contrarians Battle for Control of Losing Corporations (2014, Wiley Finance), and Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors (2012, Wiley Finance). He has extensive experience in investment management, business valuation, public company corporate governance, and corporate law. Articles written for Seeking Alpha are provided by the team of analysts at, home of The Acquirer's Multiple Deep Value Stock Screener. All metrics use trailing twelve month or most recent quarter data. * The screener uses the CRSP/Compustat merged database “OIADP” line item defined as “Operating Income After Depreciation.”
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