Analysis of Alpha Architect ETPs
analysis, exchange-traded product, factor investing

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal profiles the CEO of Alpha Architect LLC, an upstart active investment manager. The firm currently advises five exchange-traded products (ETPs). Four of these ETPs have a sufficiently long history to be analyzed using Alpholio™’s patented methodology.

All of the following analyses employ the simplest variant of the methodology. For each analyzed ETP, the variant constructs a reference portfolio of up to six ETFs that most closely tracks periodic returns of the ETP. Both the membership and weights of ETFs in the reference portfolio are fixed over the entire analysis period.

Let’s start with the ValueShares U.S. Quantitative Value ETF (QVAL). Here is a chart of the cumulative RealAlpha™ for this ETP (to learn more about this and other performance measures, please visit our FAQ):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for ValueShares U.S. Quantitative Value ETF (QVAL)

The ETP produced a significantly lower cumulative return than that of its reference ETF portfolio. It also had a higher volatility due to a relatively small number of deep-value holdings. This was also reflected in a considerably elevated RealBeta™, assessed against a broad-based domestic equity ETF.

The following chart with statistics shows the fixed composition of the reference ETF portfolio for QVAL:

Reference Weights for ValueShares U.S. Quantitative Value ETF (QVAL)

The ETP had equivalent positions in the First Trust Large Cap Value AlphaDEX® Fund (FTA), SPDR® S&P® Retail ETF (XRT), PowerShares S&P SmallCap Information Technology Portfolio (PSCT), iShares North American Tech-Multimedia Networking ETF (IGN), First Trust Industrials/Producer Durables AlphaDEX® Fund (FXR), and iShares U.S. Oil Equipment & Services ETF (IEZ). These ETFs correspond to average exposures QVAL generated over the evaluation period.

Let’s move on to the ValueShares International Quantitative Value ETF (IVAL). Here is a chart of cumulative RealAlpha™ with statistics for this ETP:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for ValueShares International Quantitative Value ETF (IVAL)

The ETP added significantly more value than its reference ETF portfolio, but only beginning in the second half of last year. This is why the article singles out a recent outperformance of just this product:

…value-focused fund of overseas stocks is beating all its rivals over the past year.

The ETP produced this excess return at the expense of a substantially higher volatility than that of its reference ETF portfolio.

The following chart with associated statistics illustrates the static composition of the reference ETF portfolio for IVAL:

Reference Weights for ValueShares International Quantitative Value ETF (IVAL)

The ETP had equivalent positions in the WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (DXJ), Guggenheim CurrencyShares® Australian Dollar Trust (FXA), iShares MSCI South Korea Capped ETF (EWY), iShares MSCI Spain Capped ETF (EWP), WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend Fund (DFJ), and iShares MSCI Germany ETF (EWG).

Next, let’s take a look at the MomentumShares U.S. Quantitative Momentum ETF (QMOM). Here is a chart of the cumulative RealAlpha™ with statistics for this ETP:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for MomentumShares U.S. Quantitative Momentum ETF (QMOM)

The ETP failed to outperform its reference ETF portfolio of somewhat lower volatility.

The following chart with related statistics depicts the constant composition of the reference ETF portfolio for QMOM:

Reference Weights for MomentumShares U.S. Quantitative Momentum ETF (QMOM)

The ETP had equivalent positions in the PowerShares DWA Industrials Momentum Portfolio (PRN), Global X Social Media ETF (SOCL), aforementioned DFJ, PowerShares NASDAQ Internet Portfolio (PNQI), PowerShares Dynamic Leisure and Entertainment Portfolio (PEJ), and PowerShares DWA SmallCap Momentum Portfolio (DWAS).

Finally, let’s evaluate the MomentumShares International Quantitative Momentum ETF (IMOM). Here is the cumulative RealAlpha™ chart with statistics for this ETP:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for MomentumShares International Quantitative Momentum ETF (IMOM)

The ETP significantly underperformed its reference ETF portfolio in terms of both the cumulative return and volatility. However, its RealBeta™ was well below that of the market.

The following chart with accompanying statistics shows the invariant composition of the reference ETF portfolio for IMOM:

Reference Weights for MomentumShares International Quantitative Momentum ETF (IMOM)

The ETP had equivalent positions in the iShares Mortgage Real Estate Capped ETF (REM), VanEck Vectors Vietnam ETF (VNM), iShares U.S. Medical Devices ETF (IHI), aforementioned FXA, Guggenheim CurrencyShares® Japanese Yen Trust (FXY), and aforementioned SOCL.

It should be noted that all of the above ETPs except for QVAL have traded at a considerable premium to their net asset value (NAV). For example, as of this writing, IMOM’s one-year price return was 8.50% compared to a 3.10% NAV return. Such pricing discrepancies could partially explain the presence of REM (a domestic real-estate fund) and IHI (a domestic medical device fund), in the reference ETF portfolio for IMOM.

In sum, the majority of Alpha Architect ETPs have so far delivered unimpressive results after a comprehensive adjustment for volatility and exposures. Since the oldest product has less than three years of history, only time will tell whether the performance of these ETPs vs. their reference ETF portfolios will eventually improve. The challenge of any factor investing, including value and momentum, is not only the cyclical variation of performance but also the selection of individual securities to implement the factor.

To learn more about the Alpha Architect and other ETPs, please register on our website.


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Introducing ETP Analysis Service
active management, analysis, exchange-traded fund, exchange-traded product, portfolio

Alpholio™ has recently added the ETP Analysis Service to its platform. The exchange-traded product (ETP) is an exchange-traded fund (ETF), exchange-traded note (ETN), NextShares ETMF®, or other exchange-traded financial instrument.

The main motivation behind the new service is the availability of ETPs that do not track market-cap weighted indices. In particular, this includes “smart beta” (a.k.a. “strategic beta“) strategies that blend active and passive management. Due to the former aspect, smart-beta ETPs resemble traditional actively-managed mutual funds. Consequently, they can be analyzed with Alpholio™’s patented methodology, which constructs a custom reference portfolio of ETFs for each analyzed fund.

This leads to an apparent paradox: an analyzed ETP (which may be an ETF) is to be replicated by a portfolio of ETFs. Why do this at all? Just as with a traditional mutual fund, for several main reasons:

  • To determine whether active management aspect of the ETP adds value on a truly risk-adjusted basis
  • To understand the exposure of the analyzed ETP to various factors. This helps eliminate excessive exposures in the overall investment portfolio.
  • To replicate the ETP’s performance with other ETFs that may have preferable characteristics, such as lower fees, smaller trading premia or spreads, accessibility, etc. Conversely, to simplify a portfolio by substituting multiple ETFs with a single ETP.
  • To discern periods of underperformance and outperformance of the ETP after adjustment for its exposures.

Let’s demonstrate the new ETP Analysis Service in action. First, we will analyze the PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 Portfolio (PRF). This ETP tracks the FTSE RAFI US 1000 Index, which

…is designed to track the performance of the largest US equities, selected based on the following four fundamental measures of firm size: book value, cash flow, sales and dividends. The 1,000 equities with the highest fundamental strength are weighted by their fundamental scores.

To conduct the analysis, we will use the simplest variant of Alpholio™’s methodology, which builds a reference ETF portfolio with both fixed membership and weights. The following chart and related statistics show the cumulative RealAlpha™ for the ETP (to learn more about this and other performance measures, please visit our FAQ):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 Portfolio (PRF)

Over the five years through July 2016, the ETP added a small amount of value vs. its reference ETF portfolio of comparable volatility. The RealBeta™ of the ETF was the same as that of a broad-based equity market ETF.

The following chart with accompanying statistics presents the fixed composition of the reference ETF portfolio for the analyzed ETP:

Reference Weights for PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000 Portfolio (PRF)

The ETP had major equivalent positions in the iShares Russell 1000 Value ETF (IWD), Vanguard Value ETF (VTV), iShares Core S&P Total U.S. Stock Market ETF (ITOT), SPDR® S&P® 500 Value ETF (SPYV), PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Portfolio (PKW), and Guggenheim S&P 500® Pure Value ETF (RPV). Clearly, this ETP had a very strong exposure to the large-cap value factors represented by reference ETFs. (The Other component in the chart collectively depicts additional six ETFs with smaller weights, some of which were effectively zero.)

In the second example, let’s analyze the Guggenheim S&P 500® Equal Weight ETF (RSP). This ETP

Seeks to replicate as closely as possible the performance of the S&P 500 Equal Weight Index, before fees and expenses, on a daily basis.

Here is the chart with related statistics of the cumulative RealAlpha™ for this ETP:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Guggenheim S&P 500® Equal Weight ETF (RSP)

Over the five years through July 2016, this ETP also added little value vs. its reference ETF portfolio. Its RealBeta™ was above that of a broad-based stock market ETF.

The final chart and statistics show the static composition of the reference ETF portfolio for the ETP:

Reference Weights for Guggenheim S&P 500® Equal Weight ETF (RSP)

The ETP had major equivalent positions in the First Trust Large Cap Core AlphaDEX® Fund (FEX), iShares Russell Mid-Cap Value ETF (IWS), PowerShares S&P 500 Quality Portfolio (SPHQ), PowerShares S&P 500® High Beta Portfolio (SPHB), iShares Russell Mid-Cap Growth ETF (IWP), and Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR® Fund (XLY). The Other component in the chart collectively represents additional six ETFs with smaller constant weights, one of which was effectively zero.

As could be expected, due to equal-weighting of its positions this large-cap ETP had a significant tilt toward mid-cap stocks, especially of value characteristics. In addition, the ETP had considerable exposure to economic sectors such as consumer discretionary, financials, technology, and industrials.

If you would like to take advantage of the new ETP Analysis Service, please register on our website.


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Exchange-Traded Product Statistics
exchange-traded fund, exchange-traded product

A paper from PwC provides interesting statistics on exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and products (ETPs). [Alpholio™ uses the latter term to encompass ETFs, exchange-traded notes (ETNs), and other similar investment vehicles.]

As of 3Q2013, about $2.2T was invested in almost 5,000 ETPs globally:

PwC Global ETF and ETP Totals

Thanks to a large single market, an average ETP had much more AUM in the US than elsewhere (however, this does not take into account the typical right skew of the AUM distribution, whereby a small number of funds hold the majority of assets):

PwC Global ETF and ETP per Region

Unlike elsewhere, in the US the majority of ETP AUM belong to retail investors:

PwC ETF Use by Region

The percentage of AUM in active ETFs, whose launch began only in 2008, is still small but growing:

PwC Assets in Active vs. Index ETFs

PwC Active ETF Launches

ETFs enable the shift from individual security selection to asset allocation, especially in liquid markets:

PwC ETFs Displacing Mutual Funds in US Equity Category

ETFs now cover a broad spectrum of asset classes:

PwC ETF Asset Class Coverage

All these findings strongly support the Alpholio™ thesis: the growing number, breadth and variety of ETPs enable more and more accurate assessment and substitution of actively-managed mutual funds and arbitrary investment portfolios for the benefit of investors.

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ETP Tracking Errors on the Rise
exchange-traded product

A recent article from InvestmentNews indicates that the tracking errors of exchanged-traded products (ETPs) are on the rise. (Tracking error is a measure of how well an ETP matches its underlying index.) An Alpholio user might therefore be concerned with the effects of this trend on the results of our analyses of mutual funds and investment portfolios. There is actually no impact: In all its analyses, Alpholio always uses real (market) returns of both the analyzed and reference instruments instead of artificial (and hence practically unrealizable) indices. Therefore, in this context the tracking error is immaterial, as is the actual index the ETP decides to track.

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