September 29, 2023


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Conservatism: De-Risking the Profitability Issue

5 min read

Profitability metrics are sometimes the principle focus within the seek for high-quality shares. However Profitability isn’t a defensive issue and should expose traders to an organization’s aggressive profit-chasing, amongst different unintended dangers.

So, how can such dangers be mitigated? By incorporating a further high quality dimension that we classify as Conservatism. By combining Profitability and Conservatism, we will cut back a portfolio’s draw back threat and improve its risk-adjusted returns over the long term.

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Profitability Isn’t “Defensive”

Profitability and High quality are sometimes used interchangeably. That’s comprehensible. A number of influential educational research, together with Eugene F. Fama and Kenneth R. French’s five-factor model, function Profitability as an fairness issue. Outdoors of academia, nonetheless, High quality has a broader definition that extends past easy Profitability. Thematically, High quality is a “defensive fairness issue” that ought to present draw back safety throughout bear markets.

This raises the query: Does Profitability provide related draw back safety? To reply this, we examined the historic efficiency of varied issue methods utilizing a number of standard trade Profitability metrics. These embody Fama and French’s Revenue, Return on Fairness (ROE), Return on Invested Capital (ROIC), and Return on Property (ROA). We sorted and ranked all shares throughout the Russell 1000 universe in line with their Profitability scores after which constructed factor-mimicking portfolios by taking the primary quintile of shares with the best scores and weighting them equally. We rebalanced the issue methods on a month-to-month foundation and calculated their efficiency from January 1979 to June 2022. 

Historic Efficiency of the Profitability Issue

  Fama–French Revenue ROE ROIC ROA Russell 1000
Annualized Return 14.2% 14.2% 14.0% 13.4% 10.1%
Annualized Volatility 17.2% 17.4% 17.1% 17.3% 15.3%
Sharpe Ratio 0.58 0.58 0.57 0.53 0.39
Most Drawdown –53.6% –55.3% –53.0% –61.6% –51.1%
Upside Seize Ratio 1.12 1.14 1.12 1.08
Draw back Seize Ratio 1.03 1.05 1.03 1.02
Supply: Northern Belief Quant Analysis, FactSet, Russell 1000, January 1979 to June 2022

Our evaluation reveals all 4 Profitability methods generated optimistic extra returns relative to the Russell 1000. However all of them skilled increased most drawdowns than the benchmark and had a draw back seize ratio over 1. As such, the Profitability methods failed to offer draw back safety. 

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The Case for Conservatism

These outcomes show that the profit-centric view of High quality can result in increased draw back threat. Why? As a result of the overemphasis on Profitability encourages corporations to tackle extreme leverage and conduct empire-building actions, amongst different profit-chasing pursuits. A worthwhile however extremely levered agency might have larger default or chapter threat when monetary stress will increase amid financial crises. 

Minimizing such dangers requires a multi-dimensional strategy that includes Conservatism into the High quality design. We search for corporations with excessive ranges of profitability that additionally exhibit larger monetary conservatism. Which means decrease leverage, stronger stability sheets, extra conservative asset development, and many others. 

To show the method, we examined the efficiency of varied Profitability and Conservatism metrics throughout the World Monetary Disaster in 2008 and the COVID-19 disaster in 2020. The next chart reveals the annualized return spreads between equally weighted high and backside quintile factor-mimicking portfolios throughout the market crashes. We discovered that Profitability metrics generated unfavorable return spreads. For example, ROE, ROIC, and ROA had return spreads of –25% to –37% throughout the latest COVID disaster. In contrast, all Conservatism metrics had optimistic return spreads throughout each stress occasions.

Profitability vs. Conservatism throughout Crises

Notice: Prudent Capex Development prefers low CAPEX development over excessive CAPEX development.
Supply: Northern Belief Quant Analysis, FactSet, Russell 1000

Subsequent, we demonstrated the defensive attribute of Conservatism with scatter plots and fitted polynomial curves for each Profitability and Profitability Plus Conservatism. The fitted curves illustrate that the convexity of Profitability improved from –0.11 to +0.04 when it was mixed with Conservatism. The optimistic convexity, or smile impact, is the defensive function that drives the issue’s outperformance in each up and down markets.

Convexity of Issue Returns

Notice: Profitability is predicated on composite metrics of ROA, ROE, ROIC, and Revenue. Conservatism is predicated on composite metrics of CAPEX development, Leverage, and Money Holdings.
Supply: Northern Belief Quant Analysis, FactSet, Russell 1000

Lastly, we up to date the primary chart by including our Profitability Plus Conservatism portfolio. We discovered that the composite issue supplied a lot better draw back safety and risk-adjusted returns than the extra simplistic Profitability metrics. The Profitability Plus Conservatism portfolio had a decrease most drawdown and better risk-adjusted returns.

The Profitability Plus Conservatism Issue

means +
14.2% 14.2% 14.0% 13.4% 14.1% 15.0% 10.1%
17.2% 17.4% 17.1% 17.3% 16.9% 16.6% 15.3%
0.58 0.58 0.57 0.53 0.58 0.65 0.39
–53.6% –55.3% –53.0% –61.6% –51.8% –49.0% –51.1%
1.12 1.14 1.12 1.08 1.10 1.13
Draw back
1.03 1.05 1.03 1.02 1.01 0.99
1. Composite profitability consists of equally weighted Fama–French Revenue, ROE, ROIC, and ROA;
2. Profitability with Conservatism consists of equally weighted profitability metrics and conservatism metrics.
Supply: Northern Belief Quant Analysis, FactSet 


Educational literature might deal with Profitability and High quality as synonyms, however our analysis reveals they’re removed from analogous. Excessive-Profitability shares can undergo from extreme leverage, aggressive enterprise fashions, and so forth. When crises come, they could not present a lot of a security web.

However Conservatism can add that additional dimension to High quality, one that may probably ship increased risk-adjusted returns.

Additional Studying

Fama, Eugene F., and Kenneth R. French. “The Cross-Section of Expected Stock Returns. The Journal of Finance.

Novy-Marx, Robert. “The Other Side of Value: The Gross Profitability Premium.” Journal of Monetary Economics.

Hsu, Jason, Vitali Kalesnik, and Engin Kose. “What Is Quality? Monetary Analysts Journal.

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All posts are the opinion of the writer. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially mirror the views of CFA Institute or the writer’s employer.

Picture credit score: ©Getty Pictures/ photonaj

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Daniel Fang, CFA

Daniel Fang, CFA, is a vp at The Northern Belief Firm, Chicago and senior quantitative analysis analyst accountable for quantitative fairness, mounted earnings and multi-asset technique analysis, design, and growth. Fang brings greater than 13 years experiences in quantitative finance in areas of quantitative analysis, portfolio administration. and threat modelling. Previous to becoming a member of Northern Belief, Fang was a analysis analyst at Nuveen Investments the place he co-managed two earnings funds and labored on asset valuation and asset allocation analysis. Previous to Nuveen, he spent 4 years at Allstate Investments as a quantitative researcher targeted on asset allocation, by-product modelling, and threat administration. Fang began his profession in finance at Group One Buying and selling, a CBOE designated possibility buying and selling agency in Chicago, in 2009. He has a grasp’s diploma in monetary arithmetic from the College of Chicago and a BA diploma in hydraulic engineering from Tsinghua College, China. Fang additionally studied in a doctoral program in civil engineering on the Georgia Institute of Know-how.

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