Some Thoughts on Recent Factor Trends (Value/Momentum/LowVol)

For what it worth, I have seen my concentrated portfolio (< 15 names) performed relatively closely to the broad market for years. However since last week, I started to see more deviation between these two. This observation coincides with the most significant value factor rebound seen in years. This WSJ article covered this interesting rebound of value factor [link], the author James Mackintosh however doesn’t think the rebound can last because he personally believes in the disrupters’ long term secular advantages.


There are two leading explanations for value’s poor performance for the past decade. The first is that unending cheap money fueled spending sprees by disruptive tech stocks, allowing them to run at a loss and so steal business from traditional companies that try to make profits. Leading examples are Tesla, Uber and WeWork, and higher bond yields offer some hope that this might reverse.

I prefer a second, linked, explanation, that there’s a wave of technological change under way and the market has divided between the disrupters, who can afford to take advantage of it, and the disrupted, who can’t.

It is also important to think through why such reversal happens now. This Barron’s article [link] sourced many street strats who think it is caused by fixed income market, specifically a recent 10 year treasury yield spike.


What was behind the sudden shift? Before last week, investors appeared to be betting that bond yields would fall. And for a while, that trade worked. Both momentum and low-volatility baskets are loaded with defensive stocks that tend to rise as yields fall—a signal that bond investors are losing faith in the economy.

No longer. The 10-year Treasury yield rose from 1.461% on Sept. 3 to 1.733% on Sept. 10, while the yield curve, which had been inverted, steepened. “The extreme factor moves we are seeing in the equity market are driven by activity in the fixed-income market,” Nomura Instinet strategist Joseph Mezrich wrote on Tuesday.

There’s a good reason for that. As investors turned more defensive this year, low-volatility stocks have attracted significant assets across both retail and institutional platforms. And that has made them expensive. Christopher Harvey at Wells Fargo now recommends that investors reduce their exposure to low-volatility stocks, a stark contrast to his position at the beginning of the year.

“About a year ago, we talked about low-vol strategies being one of the most unloved and underappreciated strategies in the marketplace,” wrote Harvey on Tuesday. “However, the style is no longer the technically oversold and underowned strategy it was in years past.”

As we’ve noted, the momentum basket, has recently shifted from being a group of fast-growing companies to include many of the market’s least-volatile stocks. Those are also the ones most dependent on yields going down, explains Bernstein analyst Sarah McCarthy.

So I decided to do a bit work to test these theories.

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China Internet Report 2019

I want to share a great overview study of China tech industry landscape of 2019 by South China Morning Post & Abacus. I think the advanced AI usage by Chinese tech companies are highly under-appreciated by the outside world.

This study has many live evidences of what Kai-Fu Lee wrote/predicted in his latest book “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order” which I recently just finished. Highly recommended and will try to do a review later.

Another interesting trend particularly interests me is the integration of live streaming and shopping. I think this model (temporarily dubbed it as “QVC on steroid” for the sake of western world readers’ familiarity) has huge potential and I plan to study it more.

Quick review of Chinese Tech Stock selloff – what does Mr. Market know that you don’t

Chinese tech names are hit hard in the past few months. As holders of a handful of them, I’m curious to know what Mr. Market knows about them that I don’t.

Starting with Tencent, game monetization approval is indefinitely halted, corporate structure is shaking up. Maybe that’s why it lost 38% of its value in past 180 days. How about JD? Founder CEO Richard Liu got into this sexual assault scandal. That must be why it lost 48%% of its market value. YY? Oh, that must be because the new type of short video, e.g. Douyin/Tik Tok gaining traction leading to it’s 43%% market valuation evaporation. BABA? Jack Ma retiring must lead to 34% market value drop.

Well, if they are plausible, what about BIDU, WB, NTES, MOMO, SINA, CTRP & GDS who all happened to lose 30-50% from their recent high? Are there plausible fundamental reasons to explain each of them incurring so similar negative returns? I’m sure financial journalist could help find them if they want to. However, it looks to me such synchronized movements could hardly be explained well by idiosyncratic risks. I just want to see how much these movements are synchronized (correlated), thus can be attributed to market as a whole, rather than for each specific name.

I’m a R person, and below I try to do some simple statistic summary. I also attached my R scripts in markdown file for whomever is familiar with R and may want to play around with it.

Download R Markdown Notes: Link

  • Here is how daily close price looks in past 180 trading days:20181017_1_StockCharts
  • Here is the performance and max drawdown in same period


  • here is the correlation matrix & its visualization


All these large blue dots indicate highly correlated daily price movement between these names, as well between single names and CQQQ (a Chinese tech ETF).

  • Let’s try to do a linear regression for YY to see how we can use CQQQ’s return to explain YY’s.

First, scatterplot the return of them, the best fit line already looks positive and close to 1.


Based on below linear model, slope of CQQQ is highly statistically significant (p value basically is 0). In other words, CQQQ’s return has high power to explain YY’s return. Note YY is less than 3% of CQQQ’s holdings.




In conclusion, my interpretation is that Mr. Market may not know more about each of these individual company than I do, rather it may be more driven by overall fear to macro events.

Book Notes – The Outsiders

I recently finished William Thorndike’s book “The Outsiders – Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success”, and think it is a great read. As usual, I jotted down the most important lessons & thoughts to me and document them below.

To get an initial understanding of the quality of this book, it is worth mentioning the origin of this book. Thorndike is a PE investor and a founding partner of Housatonic. When he was preparing a presentation to CEOs of their portfolio companies about “what makes an exceptional CEO” circa 2004, Thorndike wanted to do a case study of Henry Singleton, whom he regarded as one of the best CEOs, with the help of a HBS second year student. From there, Thorndike and subsequent then-HBS second year students continued studying 7 more CEOs who had pass his rigorous test (beat annualized returns of both peers & Jack Welch’s GE during their tenures by large margin), one CEO a year. Note that GE during Welch’s tenure has 20~% annualized return, which itself is a very high bar. Along the way, Thorndike found striking similarities between these CEOs and decide to make a book on these traits. Here is a Harvard Business Review short podcast in 2014 about the book & its origin [Link].


Below are important points & thoughts to me:

  • How to avoid Valeant: An inversed thought, but I think this is the most important lesson/thought I have from reading this book. It’s no coincidence that so many renowned value investors (Bill Ackman, Ruane Cunniff & Goldfarb, etc.) fell for Valeant – as J. Michael Pearson basically tried to model himself to these CEOs. Ackman had a pitch presentation for Valeant with the title of “The Outsider” with explicit reference of this book and nominating Pearson to be the ninth CEO fitting this book, you can see it here [Link]. William Thorndike, during a Motley Fool interview in 2014, also called out Valeant when asked about any younger generation CEOs he liked. Below is an excerpt where Throndike compared Pearson to Malone in their “roll up” strategy. [Link]

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Shoulders of Giants – Charlie Munger & Li Lu Interview 08/2018

Note: I have shared these videos via my Twitter account before, however may have missed readers who only follow the blog. Copyright of Weekly in Stocks, all contents are shared for non-commercial knowledge sharing purpose.

These are interviews conducted by a Chinese finance/business media called Weekly in Stocks. Overall, I really enjoyed it and think all questions are really well prepared. As expected, many questions are around China (both philosophy & capital markets).

I think this might be the first time Munger explicitly drew parallel between his & Buffett’s philosophy & practices and oriental philosophies. Quoting from Munger: “…why are these people in China so interested in Berkshire Hathaway and Charlie Munger… and why do the Chinese like the book (Poor Charlie’s Almanack), I think the answer is it sounds Confucian…”, “…If you are a better person, you are likely to be a better investor; If you are a wiser person, you are likely to be a better investor…”

The follow-up interview with Li Lu alone is also of great interest, where he, may be for the first time, talked in details about Munger’s life, their interactions & his lessons learned from Munger, as well as his unique views of Chinese capital market.

Interview with Charlie Munger along with Li Lu [3 parts]

Follow-up Interview with Li Lu [2 parts]