“Over the past 100 years the returns from smaller companies have exceeded those of larger companies. It is also true that stocks with low valuations (i.e. lower prices relative to earnings and book values) have generated better returns than those with high valuations. What is less certain is whether these tendencies will continue in the future…”
–Burton G. Malkiel, criticizing investors like Buffett who have captured factor premia for decades
To be fair, Malkiel goes on to list other reasons to be skeptical of smart beta, but number one is that it might not work in the future. Malkiel’s comment is almost akin to a health policy expert telling us, “Sure, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine has worked for 62 years, but let’s give it a little more time before we declare victory.” I guess we will never know whether the polio vaccine will become ineffective, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exploit its use today. But, Malkiel would condemn investors into accepting market risk in order to receive reduced fee invoices. What if you didn’t want market risk? Or, what if you wanted more risk than the market provided (as PAR did in 1Q09 when it used some leverage to become fully invested)?
Factor premia have existed for more than 100 years. The premia exist either because of sub-optimal investor behavior (mostly my view) or because factor investors are being compensated for risk (mostly the view of EMH proponents). Either way, factor premia are not likely to disappear for the long-term investor, so we might as well exploit factor premia for the long-term portion of our portfolios.