A note on the returns from minimum variance investing
Disappointed with the performance of market weighted benchmark portfolios yet skeptical about the merits of active portfolio management, investors in recent years turned to alternative index definitions. Minimum variance investing is one of these popular concepts. I show in this paper that the portfolio construction process behind minimum variance investing implicitly picks up risk-based pricing anomalies. In other words the minimum variance tends to hold low beta and low residual risk stocks. Long/short portfolios based on these characteristics have been associated in the empirical literature with risk adjusted outperformance. This paper shows that 83% of the variation of the minimum variance portfolio excess returns (relative to a capitalization weighted alternative) can be attributed to the FAMA/FRENCH factors as well as to the returns on two characteristic anomaly portfolios. All regression coefficients (factor exposures) are highly significant, stable over the estimation period and correspond remarkably well with our economic intuition. The paper also shows that a direct combination of market weighted benchmark portfolio and risk based characteristic portfolios will provide a statistically significant improvement over the indirect pickup via the minimum variance portfolio.
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