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Investment & Finance

Factor Investing: An Introduction

By
Richard Sun
Updated
December 4, 2023
5 minute read
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Table of Contents

Factor investing has become increasingly popular in recent years as investors look for ways to maximize returns while minimizing risk. But what exactly is factor investing? In short, it's an investment strategy that involves selecting stocks that exhibit certain characteristics, or "factors." By doing so, investors hope to achieve superior returns relative to the overall market.


There are many different factors that can be used when constructing a factor-based portfolio. However, the most common factors include volatility, yield, quality, momentum, mean reversion, value, and size. Let's take a closer look at each of these factors and how they can be used to generate higher returns.


Volatility

Volatility is a measure of how much a stock's price fluctuates over time. Stocks with high volatility are considered riskier than those with low volatility, but they also tend to offer higher returns. When selecting stocks using the volatility factor, investors typically seek out those with low volatility (i.e., those that are less likely to experience large swings in price).


Yield

Yield is a measure of how much income an investment generates. For stocks, it is typically expressed as the dividend yield, which is the ratio of dividends paid per share to the stock's price. When selecting stocks using the yield factor, investors typically seek out those with high dividend yields (i.e., those that generate a lot of income).


Quality

Quality is a measure of a company's financial health. It takes into account factors like profitability, earnings growth, and balance sheet strength. Companies with strong financials are considered to be of higher quality than those with weak financials. When selecting stocks using the quality factor, investors typically seek out those with high scores on measures of quality (i.e., those that are financially healthy).

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Momentum

Momentum is a measure of how much a stock's price has increased or decreased over a certain period of time. Stocks that have been rising in price are said to have positive momentum, while those that have been falling are said to have negative momentum. When selecting stocks using the momentum factor, investors typically seek out those with positive momentum (i.e., those whose prices have been rising).


Mean Reversion

Mean reversion is the idea that stock prices eventually move back toward their long-term average price levels. This means that if a stock's price has been rising for an extended period of time, it may be due for a pullback (and vice versa). When selecting stocks using the mean reversion factor, investors typically seek out those that are trading significantly below or above their long-term average price levels (i.e., those that may be due for a rally or pullback, respectively).


Value

Value is a measure of how cheap or expensive a stock is relative to its underlying fundamentals. Stocks that appear undervalued based on measures like price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios or price-to-book (P/B) ratios are considered to be good value plays. When selecting stocks using the value factor, investors typically seek out those that appear undervalued based on one or more valuation metrics.


Size

Size is a measure of market capitalization—or the total value of all outstanding shares—of a company. Companies with large market caps tend to be more stable in price while those with smaller market caps have a higher risk as well as a potential to outperform. When selecting stocks using the size factor, investors typically filter by market cap depending on their investment objectives.


How to Implement Factor Investing

There are a number of ways to implement factor investing. The most common approach is to use index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that track specific factors or combinations of factors. For example, there are ETFs that track the performance of high-yield stocks or small-cap value stocks. Another approach is to select individual stocks that score well on multiple factors. This approach requires a lot more time and knowledge but can yield better results if an investor has the right expertise.

       

Pros and Cons of Factor Investing

There are both pros and cons to factor investing. One pro is that this approach can help diversify your portfolio and reduce risk because you're not relying on any one stock or sector to perform well. Another pro is that some factors have been shown to outperform the market over long periods of time.  However, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider before implementing this strategy. One drawback is that factor ETFs can be expensive to own due to their high expense ratios. Another potential issue is that some factors may be correlated with each other, which could negate the diversification benefits offered by this approach. Ultimately, whether or not factor investing makes sense for you will depend on your investment goals and objectives as well as your risk tolerance level.


How alphaAI Approaches Factor Investing

Although factor investing has grown in popularity, we believe that a holistic approach will lead to the best chance of success. At alphaAI, we analyze all factors, in addition to a multitude of other data points, when making investment decisions. Our models have been trained on multiple decades of data for over 10,000 global stocks. On average, each model is trained on more than 10 billion data points. Read more about our investment philosophy here, and learn more about how we use factors in our investment strategies here.

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