Should the Morningstar style box go 3-D? Quality counts, says Atlanta Capital
Investment professionals and financial advisors are familiar with the Morningstar style box, which categorizes stock funds by market capitalization and style. A recent CFA Magazine article made me wonder if Morningstar should turn the style box into a style cube by adding a third dimension: quality.
Stock quality may overwhelm size and style
Quality counts for just as much as size and style.
That’s according to Brian Smith, director of institutional services and principal at Atlanta Capital Management, in “3-D Investing” in the Sept.-Oct. issue of CFA Magazine. The CFA Magazine article is based on a longer white paper, “The Third Dimension: An Investor’s Guide to Understanding the Impact of ‘Quality’ on Portfolio Performance.” To access the original white paper, click on “Publications” across the top of the Atlanta Capital website.
“…our research indicates that ignoring quality and investing solely by capitalization and style dimensions is unwise. In fact, the performance of high- and low-quality stocks can have a significant influence on an investor’s risk and return characteristics, in many cases overwhelming the influence of either size or style,” writes Smith in his CFA Magazine article.
I wondered if there might be something other than quality at work. Could one style be more associated with quality than another?
Smith notes in the white paper that certain value and growth styles are sometimes associated with high- or low-quality stocks. “Conservative growth” and “relative value” tend toward high-quality vs. low-quality for “absolute value” and “aggressive growth,” he says. Smith refers to this as a “hidden quality bias.”
Smith compared returns by quality, size, and style using Russell indexes and custom benchmarks based on the Standard and Poor’s Earnings and Dividend rankings. Looking at 2009 returns, he found that “Clearly, each size, style, and quality index responded differently to the same economic stimuli….”
In other words, the correlations among the quality, size, and style indexes were weak.
The “quality cycle” in the stock market
Smith suggests that a “quality cycle” exists because fluctuations in the performance of high- and low-quality stocks are associated with the economic and stock market cycle. Low-quality stocks briefly outperform high-quality stocks at both ends of a market cycle. This is probably because they’re more sensitive to the economy, the availability of credit, and investor speculation. High-quality stocks win the rest of the time.
Smith concludes,”If history is a guide, high-quality stock should post stronger relative returns in 2010 and 2011….”
Do you agree? You’ll probably want to read more of the CFA Magazine article or Atlanta Capital white paper before you decide.
Thought provoking post Susan. This might be a nice addition assuming an objective measure of quality as you cited in the post were used. Certainly the post March 9, 2010 rally was largely a low quality rally. The flip side of adding this, however, would be to ask are we overdoing it? Does this 3D version make the style boxes too confusing to some of Morningstar’s users? Many clients “get it” when I discuss the style boxes with them (often in the context of speaking to a group of 401(k) participants). Like it or not the style boxes have a broad range of users from professionals to do it yourselfers.
Thank you for your comment! I agree that it’s possible to go overboard in slicing and dicing stocks.