Value is for life, not just a few quarters

Why does value investing work? Because, ultimately, it is a common-sense philosophy rooted in human behaviour – in effect, looking to buy pound coins when they are temporarily on sale for 50p

10/09/2021

Liam Nunn

Liam Nunn

Fund Manager, Equity Value

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Last time out, here on The Value Perspective, we offered you The tactical case for buying into value today. With its focus on the short term, however, it is an argument with which we do not feel totally at ease so we are happily moving to firmer ground with this look at the long-term case for owning value as a permanent strategic part of any equity allocation.

While the current level of valuation dispersion in global equity markets is a perfectly valid reason to think now might be a good time to consider building value exposure, we believe it is more important to focus on value as a long-term strategy for stockmarket success. Indeed, here on The Value Perspective, we see value as an area to which investors should always be exposed so they can reap the long-term compounding benefits.

To illustrate why, in effect, value should be for life and not just for a few quarters, let’s take a look at some very long-term data. Imagine that, back in the middle of the ‘Roaring 20s’, your great-grandparents came into some money and decided to invest $10,000 in stocks. If they had invested that in a Fama-French ‘growth factor’ portfolio of US equities in 1926, it would be worth over $80m today.

Staggering difference

Kudos, then, to dear old ‘Grandma and Grandpa Growth’ for their portfolio management skills? To an extent, perhaps. Still, not to be ungrateful, if they had invested the same $10,000 in the counterpart Fama-French ‘value factor’ strategy, as the following chart illustrates, it would have grown to be worth a staggering $780m-odd. The difference is so stark, we have to use a logarithmic scale to plot the two lines on the same graph.

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When people talk about the perennial stockmarket war between value and growth then, it has not really – at least from a long-term perspective – been a contest. Undeniably, the last 10 years have been more difficult on a relative basis for value – yet, just as undeniably, the long-term track record of value’s compounding outperformance is incredibly strong.

That said, we appreciate showing very long-term charts of value outperformance is not a wholly convincing argument. For one thing, the last decade or so has hardly resembled that long-term history. And for another, while that chart does a good job of illustrating what value has done historically, it conveys little about why it has done so – or indeed about why you should believe in value investing as a strategy for the future.

Crucial question

For us, here on The Value Perspective, that is the crucial question. And to understand why value works, you have to go right back to basics – to Benjamin Graham. When Graham was writing about investing in the 1930s, there was no such thing as a value factor. His faith in the approach was not based on a historical back-test. He did not have the luxury of computers to crunch the data and generate reassuring charts.

No – Graham’s belief in value was based on common sense, intuition and, above all, astute observation of human behaviour. If you want to make money in the stockmarket consistently, Graham stressed, you must not fall into the trap of playing the same game as everyone else and speculating on future growth. Instead, seek out the companies the market has knocked down to an irrationally low price.

Ultimately, this boils down to swimming against short-term sentiment to identify the best deals and avoid the rip-offs. It is the same common-sense approach we all take when we are out shopping for groceries or clothes or anything else. Value investing is just contrarian bargain-hunting applied to the stockmarket – in effect, looking to buy pound coins when they are temporarily on sale for 50p.

Enduring appeal

Why is this contrarian approach so enduring? Because it exploits the one thing that never really changes in stockmarkets – human beings. When the outlook is dark and cloudy, people grow fearful and despondent and some companies just grow too cheap. Whereas, when all we can see on the horizon is sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, people grow euphoric and greedy and then lots of companies grow too expensive.

Value investing is designed to exploit those persistent patterns of human behaviour. Time and time again, the frailties of human psychology, combined with the irrationality of crowd behaviour, create these pricing inefficiencies that patient investors are able to exploit – and, here on The Value Perspective, we do not think that dynamic will ever really change.

Graham actually put it very neatly himself when, towards the end of his career, he was asked in an interview to sum up what he had learned from his decades of investing in the stockmarket. Given the current environment, his response strikes us as very prescient – he simply replied: “The more it changes, the more it is the same thing.”

Truer than ever

That feels truer than ever today, when we are constantly being told we are living in an age of unprecedented disruption when technology, society, the climate, everything is changing. There are plenty of people out there, too, who will say the stockmarket has fundamentally changed since Graham’s day –  whether that be as a result of of ultra-low interest rates, technological disruption or whatever.

Here on The Value Perspective, though, we continue to believe Graham’s words will hold true and that, in the end, the one constant in stockmarkets is the human behaviour that drives it. The more people say ‘This time it’s different’, the more their behaviour starts to resemble every other market bubble in history – in other words, the more people think it changes, the more it is the same thing.

As investors, we can wheel out statistical back-tests of the value factor all we like but what really gives us confidence to stick with the strategy for the long run, through thick and thin, is our belief in this ‘why’ factor. Why does value work? Because, ultimately, it is a common-sense philosophy rooted in human behaviour. That does not stop it falling out of favour at times – as we have seen in recent years – but it should mean value continues to be a powerful long-term strategy for those with the patience and fortitude to stick with it.

Author

Liam Nunn

Liam Nunn

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I commenced my investment career in 2011 at Schroders as a European equity analyst. I then moved to Merian Global Investors in 2015 to work as an equity analyst & fund manager before returning to Schroders to join the Global Value team in January 2019. I manage Global Income, Global Recovery and Global Sustainable Value.

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The views and opinions displayed are those of Nick Kirrage, Andrew Lyddon, Kevin Murphy, Andrew Williams, Andrew Evans, Simon Adler, Juan Torres Rodriguez, Liam Nunn, Vera German and Roberta Barr, members of the Schroder Global Value Equity Team (the Value Perspective Team), and other independent commentators where stated.

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