How Systematic Investing Offers A New Approach to Direct Indexing

Unlike many other systematic investing asset managers, our rules-based investing process is applied to both ETFs and individual stocks within our portfolios.

By trend following individual securities, we offer a new approach to direct indexing that can:

Produce better risk-adjusted returns over the long run

Continually rotate away from poorer-performing equity sectors without completely reducing exposure to the asset class

Provide a less volatile experience for financial advisors and their clients

Use precision in ongoing tax-loss harvesting

Demonstrate our cultural value of transparency by shining an even brighter light on the “black box” that surrounds many other systematic investing strategies

Capitalizing On Distribution of Equity Index Returns

The market’s movements in 2020, 2022, and 2023 serve as good examples of the conceptual efficacy of an approach centered on individual securities. Such a strategy can cut poor performers while holding tightly to leaders. This can have tremendous consequence in years when there’s heavy skew in the distribution of returns, as demonstrated in the graph below, which shows the distribution of returns for each component of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY).

SPY Constituents – Distribution of Return

SPY Constituents Distribution of Returns
Source: Morningstar, 1/1/2020 to 1/31/2020, 1/1/2022 to 12/31/2022, and 1/1/2023 to 12/31/2023

Applying our systematic investing process at the individual stock level accounts for distribution of returns in a way that an index or ETF cannot.

2020 Case Study

While 2020 presented a wider than usual dispersion in annual returns, the historical distribution maintains a similar shape in that the index mostly consists of stocks that deliver close to the average return, but with significant outliers on both tails. For example, 2020 resulted in 54 stocks in the index delivering greater than 50% gains, while 42 stocks fell by 25% or more. The opportunity in 2020 rested in the fact that some sectors, like technology, performed excellently and were barely interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversely, energy suffered coming into the crisis, and the negative performance was only exacerbated by the pandemic.

2022 Case Study

In a year like 2022, when the S&P 500 Index was down approximately 18%, you might expect the meat of the distribution to fall in negative territory. That assumption held true. However, it might be surprising to see that the highest frequency of stock returns fell in the < -35% bucket, as well as potentially shocking to learn more than 30 companies produced a return > 35%. Clearly this demonstrates an opportunity to be exploited by systematically moving away from outliers on the right side of the graph above and toward those on the left side.

2023 Case Study

The year 2023 is visually different and more normal in its distribution than 2022, but the opportunities are just as apparent. When companies like Lumen Technologies (LUMN) and Signature Bank (SBNY) become virtually or actually worthless, other stocks like NVIDIA (NVDA), Meta Platforms (META), and Tesla (TSLA) enjoyed an AI/tech-fueled rally. The result was that almost the same number of stocks produced a > 35% return (42) as those in the -10% to -15% or 10% to 15% buckets. One doesn’t even have to make aggressive allocations to improve their odds if they can consistently overweight the outperformers while underweighting the underperformers.

Longer-Range Perspective

The following table also illustrates the point, but over a longer time period.

You see that it is common for last year’s star sector is often the following year’s dog, and vice versa. For example, the energy sector has been either the bottom or top performer for four consecutive years.

While the same effect could be accomplished by trading sector-based ETFs rather than individual stocks, it doesn’t account for potential distribution of returns within each sector. Said another way, trading sector ETFs would be like taking a hatchet to a problem, whereas unwrapping the index allows scalpel-like precision.

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If you’d like to learn more about how individual securities are used in Blueprint Investment Partners portfolios