Thanks to new research, factor-based investing is more intelligent than ever, but some “smart beta” products are still dumb.
That was the conclusion of panelists at FPA’s BE Baltimore conference last week, who said that multifactor investing is still in its infancy as academic research advances and asset managers launch hundreds of new funds to keep up.
“We’re seeing a growth in factor investing not only because data and tech have given us tools to bring scaled exposures, but also because the DOL is creating a demand for fee compression within the industry,” said Holly Framsted, a strategist with New York-based BlackRock’s iShares smart beta team, at the conference’s Factor Investing 2.0 discussion. “That’s why there are a lot of products hitting the markets.”
BlackRock has been involved with factor-based investing since the 1970s, when it launched an early computer model-based strategy that re-ranked the S&P 500 based on dividend yield.
At the time, BlackRock’s yield-based index was considered active management, said Framsted. More recently, the firm has provided access to smart beta factors through its suite of iShares ETFs.
Now, smart beta products are a $250 billion market in the U.S.—but Framsted says they have room to grow.
“The fastest-growing asset class has been minimum volatility, but there’s certainly been a lot of growth in factor-based investment across the board,” Framsted said. “If you look at flows, flows into minimum-volatility strategies make up four basis points of the underlying market capitalization of the securities they’re holding. We’re still a long way from seeing saturation in any of these factors. At this point, it’s still a tiny fraction of the investable universe.”
Yet scores of new “factor-based,” “strategic beta” and “smart beta” products have been released in 2016 as other major asset managers play catch-up to peers like BlackRock and specialized smart beta shops like Dimensional Fund Advisors. Most recently, Fidelity’s launch of its suite of six smart beta ETFs happened to coincide with the conference.
The responsibility for navigating the crowded smart beta waters falls squarely on an advisor’s shoulders, explained Jay Jacobs, director of research for New York-based Global X Funds.
“It doesn’t help to have so many names and hundreds of different products in the ETF space,” Jacobs said. “Many of them represent an oversimplification of factor-based investing, but they all sound the same. If you take into consideration how they’re accessing factors, you start to see huge differences within these portfolios. It puts the onus of doing the homework on the advisor or investment professional.”