Novy-Marx’s The Other Side of Value paper showed that a simple quality metric, gross profits-to-assets, has roughly as much power predicting the relative performance of different stocks as tried-and-true value measures like book-to-price.
Accounting for both dimensions by trading on combined quality and price signals yields dramatic performance improvements over traditional value strategies. Accounting for quality also yields significant performance improvements for investors trading momentum as well as value.
Most intriguingly, Novy-Marx finds that “the signal in gross profits-to-assets is negatively correlated with that in valuation ratios.”
Buying profitable firms and selling unprofitable firms, where profitability is measured by the difference between a firm’s total revenues and the costs of the goods or services it sells, yields a significant gross profitability premium.
Novy-Marx argues that investors can “directly combine the quality and value signals and, in line with Graham’s basic vision, only buy high quality stocks at bargain prices. By trading on a single joint profitability and value signal, an investor can effectively capture the entirety of both premiums.“
High quality firms tend to trade at premium prices, so value strategies that trade on quality signals (i.e., quality strategies) hold very different stocks than value strategies that trade on price signals. Quality strategies tilt towards what would traditionally be considered growth stocks. This makes quality strategies particularly attractive to traditional value investors, because quality strategies, in addition to delivering significant returns, provide a hedge to value exposures.
Performance of Quality, Value and Joint Strategies (Click to enlarge).
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Drawdowns to Quality, Value, and Joint strategies (Click to enlarge).
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Importantly, the signal in gross profitability is “extremely persistent,” and works well in the large cap universe.
Novy-Marx’s basic message is that investors, in general but especially traditional value investors, leave money on the table when they ignore the quality dimension of value.
Profitability strategies thus have low turnover, and can be implemented using liquid stocks with large capacities.
Read The Quality Dimension of Value Investing (.pdf).
Tomorrow, I show in an extract from Quantitative Value how we independently tested gross-profits-on-total-assets and found it to be highly predictive.