Friday, December 21, 2018

The Acquirers Multiple and Quantitative Value

After looking at momentum, I wanted to look at quant value screens/algorithms. Two interesting ones were "The Acquirer's Multiple", and "Quantitative Value".

The Acquirers Multiple

This single measurement is based on Enterprise Value (EV), which gives the cost you would pay to acquire the company. It takes into account a company's capital structure (eg: debt and cash), unlike market-cap based valuations such as PE. And it's more objective than book value.

Divide EV by earnings, usually EBIT1. The resulting number measures how cheap the company is - the lower the better. You need to take a portfolio approach and buy 20-30 of them: these stocks go to zero occasionally2 .

You end up with a bunch of shitty companies. Companies that are targets of lawsuits. Oil companies in the middle of a multi-year bear market. Retailers being killed by Amazon. Companies that no one wants to hold.

The theory behind this is mean reversion: After an industry has been is losing money for years, competition dries up, and eventually the remaining companies are profitable. They may not be very profitable, or have any growth prospects, but after their stocks have been priced for bankruptcy, any improvement in their situation means their stock prices will recover.

When trading using The Acquirer's Multiple, I should expect:
  • Long periods of underperformance. This is true of value investing in general.
  • Declines in bear markets:
(Source : Deep Value and the Acquirer's Multiple (28:20): QuantConn NYC 2016. This is not "The Acquirer's Multiple", but rather the lowest decile of value stocks - similar to TAM) 

The declines are less than momentum strategies, but still bigger than the S&P 500. I'd use the S&P 500's 200 MA to time the my entry.
  • Long term returns of 15-17%. See results from 1964-2016 here.

Quantitative Value

This book gives is a more refined version of The Acquirer's Multiple. It uses EV/EBIT as its main screen, but does some other things:
  1. First it screens out probable Frauds, Manipulations, and companies in financial distress, using statistical techniques.
  2. Then finds the 10% of cheapest stocks by EBIT/EV.
  3. Then tries to find stocks with strong Franchises (high ROA, ROC, FCF/assets, all over 8 years), and Financial Strength (profitability, stability, and operational improvements). The top half are chosen.


I was not able to do a reliable backtest on Quantopian because some fundamental data was missing. If I was trying again, I would try Portfolio123 or QuantRocket. Too bad. I would like to see the shape of the equity curve, the drawdowns, and how they would improve when we use a 200 MA to time entry. But I'm not willing to put any more time into this.

How would I trade this?

I could just buy the Quantitative Value ETF (QVAL), which selects stocks based on the book. Its holdings are equally divided among 50 stocks. Limited to the top 40% largest stocks (minimum market-cap is around 2bn). The expense ratio is 0.79%, meaning if I buy USD 100K and hold for a year, I'm paying $790.

I could also subscribe to the Acquirers Multiple screener for $500 a year, and buy stocks from their All Investable screen. I'd probably trade every week, and ease-in and out of the strategy based on the index's MA - similar to what I do for my momentum strategy.  After filling my portfolio, rebalancing would be quarterly.

Comparing the two: I'll probably go for the screener:

  • It also filters out Frauds, Manipulations and Financial Distress (same as QVAL).
  • It uses operating earnings instead of EBIT, which is slightly better.
  • And it accesses smaller cap stocks (around 150m, depending on market conditions).
  • It also eliminates stocks with high short interest (which QVAL doesn't do).
  • The only thing it doesn't do is check for Franchise and Financial Strength.  This screen is based on purely cheapness and believes we can't distinguish quality.


1 Tobias Carlisle preferred Operating Earnings (Revenue - COGS + SGA + D&A), as it excludes special items. See FAQ: "What are operating earnings?"
2 In an interview - which I can't find - Tobias Carlisle said that an average of 2% of stocks go to zero every year - market wide. For Acquirers Multiple stocks, the average is 6% a year. But that's the average - the bankruptcies tend to cluster in certain years.

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