I’ve written a little bit in the past about including small-value stocks to your investment portfolio. “Small” means companies with a relatively smaller market cap (total market value) – definitions vary from being the bottom 10% by capitalization or being worth less than $1 billion. “Value” stocks are those that tend to trade at a lower price relative to others when measured against markers like earnings, dividend yield, sales, or book value.
This NYTimes article on the portfolio of investment advisor and author Larry Swedroe included some concise examples of how significant this small-value premium has been in the past. For one, small-value stocks outperformed the S&P 500 by about 4% annually from 1927-2010.
Put another way, by making a portfolio using small-value stocks and US Treasury bonds, you could have gotten similar performance to the S&P 500 with much lower risk. Specifically, you could have held 1/3rd small-value and 2/3rd Treasury bonds and had close to the same return as the S&P 500 over a 40-year period from 1970-2010. This chart summarizes:
Source: Buckingham Asset Management, New York Times
Will this “small-value premium” continue to persist? There are a few theories out there. One is behavioral, where small-value companies tend to be the more ignored and unpopular companies and thus are consistently underpriced. Another is based on the fact that small-value companies are simply riskier, and thus investors demand a higher return for holding them.
I happen to believe that there is something enduring about small-value stocks, but the size of my bet on that belief is relatively small – only about 5% of my target stock allocation. But I also know that you need to hold a very strong belief in whatever internal explanation you have for the outperformance. Otherwise, when small-value is the dumps for a while relative to the Current Hot Thing – and it will be, one day – you’ll sell and lose any potential edge.