A multi-factor approach to US equities meeting both alpha and sustainability objectives

Post with image

Given the significant allocation to US equities in global indices, investors are likely to be interested in strategies offering core exposures to this market with the potential to deliver excess returns and respect sustainable investing criteria. Our experience leads us to believe that such combinations are not easily found.

  • Combining performance and sustainability is feasible in US equities
  • A multi-factor US equity strategy can offer excess returns over the S&P 500, control investment risks and integrate sustainability objectives

We have run a multi-factor equity strategy since June 2015. It has delivered about 2% of excess return versus the S&P 500 index on an annualised basis [1] while integrating both environmental, social and governance (ESG) selection criteria and climate change objectives.

Sustainable alpha over the long term, with rigorous risk management

Among the various regional developed country equity markets, the US market is by far the largest, the most efficient and most liquid. As a result, it constitutes a challenging environment for generating alpha over the long term. For this reason, investors have increasingly chosen for passive, rather than actively-managed, allocations to this market over the past decade.

Within the quantitative equity team at BNP Paribas Asset Management, we have developed a sustainable multi-factor strategy that offers investors a well-diversified and liquid exposure to US large caps. It is fully systematic with minimal discretionary intervention. It combines four factors: low volatility, value, quality and momentum. These factors have proven to be key drivers of equity returns over the long term.

  • Low volatility – overweighting stocks with the lowest volatility
  • Value – overweighting the cheapest stocks
  • Quality – overweighting the stocks of the most profitable companies
  • Momentum – overweighting stocks with the strongest upward price trend.

The strategy’s investment objectives are threefold:

  • Generation of sustainable alpha over the long term
  • Rigorous control of the investment risk
  • Integration of ESG and climate change objectives

Since inception, the strategy returned 11.3% versus 9.2% for the S&P 500 index, i.e. an excess return of 2.1%. Exhibit 1 shows the cumulative excess returns since inception [1].

Over the period, the tracking error was limited to 3.5% and the equity beta was equal to 1. The strategy invests only in stocks included in the index; there are no off-benchmark holdings. The strategy delivers a pure alpha, exclusively derived from the factors listed above.

Exhibit 1: Sustainable outperformance over the S&P 500 index, with a limited tracking error of 3.5%

A multi-factor approach to US equities can satisfy both outperformance and sustainability objectives

Source: BNP Paribas Asset Management, as of May 2019. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. The performance shown is that of BNP Paribas L1 USA (BNP Paribas US Multi-Factor Equity) from 30/06/2015 to 31/05/2019 in USD, gross of fees. For illustrative purposes only.

Table 1: Performance of the multi-factor equity US strategy since inception (June 2015)

A multi-factor approach to US equities meeting both alpha and sustainability objectives

Source: BNP Paribas Asset Management, as of May 2019. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. The performance shown is that of BNP Paribas L1 USA (BNP Paribas US Multi-Factor Equity) from 30/06/2015 to 31/05/2019 in USD, gross of fees. For illustrative purposes only.

ESG integration at each stage of the investment process

Sustainable investment objectives – and in particular ESG standards – are fully integrated into each stage of the investment process: they are inherent to our investment philosophy, portfolio construction and reporting.

Sustainable investing is now a core strategic component. Integrating sustainability objectives has become crucial in meeting investors’ expectations and needs. That is why BNP Paribas Asset Management’s quantitative equity investment team manages two ESG integration objectives in addition to the exclusions already in place:

  • An increase by 20% of the portfolio’s ESG score versus the benchmark’s ESG score
  • A reduction by 50% of the portfolio’s carbon footprint versus the benchmark’s carbon footprint.

In light of this, our strategy recently received the French Finance Ministry’s socially responsible investment (SRI) label. This certification was put in place to improve SRI visibility for investors in France and Europe. It allows professional and non-professional investors to easily identify investment products that incorporate ESG criteria into their investment policy.

In Table 2 and Exhibit 2, we illustrate the significant improvement in the portfolio’s ESG score. Indeed, the proprietary ESG decile, created by BNP Paribas Asset Management’s Sustainability Centre, is 3.78 versus 5.08 as of 31 May 2019. The ESG decile is on a scale from 1 to 10: 1 being the best, 10 being the worst. In this case, the improvement in terms of ESG is 24.5% versus the ESG score of the S&P 500 index.

Table 2: Comparison of the ESG decile of multi-factor US equity strategy versus the S&P 500

A multi-factor approach to US equities meeting both alpha and sustainability objectives

Source: BNP Paribas Asset Management, as of May 2019. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. The data shown concern BNP Paribas L1 USA (BNP Paribas US Multi-Factor Equity) in USD. For illustrative purposes only.

In addition to the ESG score improvement, the strategy also excludes the biggest polluter, ranked in ESG decile 10. In Exhibit 2, we illustrate the breakdown of the portfolio relative to its index. The portfolio clearly overweights stocks in the best ESG deciles (1 to 4) and underweights those in the worst ESG deciles (8 to 10).

Exhibit 2: Equity weighting by ESG decile of multi-factor US equity strategy versus S&P 500

A multi-factor approach to US equities meeting both alpha and sustainability objectives

Source: BNP Paribas Asset Management, as of May 2019. The data shown concern BNP Paribas L1 USA (BNP Paribas US Multi-Factor Equity). For illustrative purposes only.

Combining performance and sustainability is feasible in the US equity market

Our multi-factor US equity strategy is an active approach fulfilling several investment objectives: excess returns over the S&P 500 index, control of the investment risks (tracking error, beta, etc.), while integrating sustainability objectives.


For more articles on factor investing, click here >

To discover our funds and select the ones that meet your requirements, click here >


[1] The performance shown is that of BNP Paribas L1 USA (BNP Paribas US Multi-Factor Equity) from 30/06/2015 to 31/05/2019 in USD, gross of fees. For illustrative purposes only.


BNP PARIBAS ASSET MANAGEMENT FRANCE, “the investment management company,” is a simplified joint stock company with its registered office at 1 boulevard Haussmann 75009 Paris, France, RCS Paris 319 378 832, registered with the “Autorité des marchés financiers” under number GP 96002, and a member of BNP PARIBAS ASSET MANAGEMENT*.

This material is issued and has been prepared by the investment management company.

This material is produced for information purposes only and does not constitute:

  1. an offer to buy nor a solicitation to sell, nor shall it form the basis of or be relied upon in connection with any contract  or commitment whatsoever or
  2. investment advice.

Opinions included in this material constitute the judgement of the investment management company at the time specified and may be subject to change without notice. The investment management company is not obliged to update or alter the information or opinions contained within this material. Investors should consult their own legal and tax advisors in respect of legal, accounting, domicile and tax advice prior to investing in the financial instrument(s) in order to make an independent determination of the suitability and consequences of an investment therein, if permitted. Please note that different types of investments, if contained within this material, involve varying degrees of risk and there can be no assurance that any specific investment may either be suitable, appropriate or profitable for an investor’s investment portfolio.

Given the economic and market risks, there can be no assurance that the financial instrument(s) will achieve its/their investment objectives. Returns may be affected by, amongst other things, investment strategies or objectives of the financial instrument(s) and material market and economic conditions, including interest rates, market terms and general market conditions. The different strategies applied to financial instruments may have a significant effect on the results presented in this material. Past performance is not a guide to future performance and the value of the investments in financial instrument(s) may go down as well as up. Investors may not get back the amount they originally invested.

The performance data, as applicable, reflected in this material, do not take into account the commissions, costs incurred on the issue and redemption and taxes.

*BNP PARIBAS ASSET MANAGEMENT is the global brand name of the BNP Paribas group’s asset management services. The individual asset management entities within BNP PARIBAS ASSET MANAGEMENT if specified herein, are specified for information only and do not necessarily carry on business in your jurisdiction. For further information, please contact your local BNP Paribas asset manager.

 

Gregory Taïeb

Quantitative Investment Specialist

Leave a reply

Your email adress will not be published. Required fields are marked*