Small-cap value stocks outperform in the long run. They are riskier, turning off some investors. They are too small for many large institutional investors. The entire U.S. stock market is valued at around $44 trillion, and the value of all the companies in DFSV’s portfolio come to less than $4 trillion. Not only is it hard to invest but it is even harder to get out. Therefore, this space is avoided by most institutions and large investors or only gets a proportionate value of their assets, less than 10 percent of an equity allocation.
In addition to being passed over by large investors, small-cap value stocks are also avoided by financial analysts since there isn’t a great deal of interest. This means investors have to do their own research, which the vast majority do not. These stocks are also more volatile, which turns off conservative investors. Paradoxically, all these negatives probably explain small-cap value’s outperformance. Most of the time, this asset class is trading at a discount.
Dimensional Fund Advisors is a fund provider based on the academic research of Eugene Fama and Kenneth French. Many of the funds using factor-based methods base their models directly on the work of Fama and French or derived models that use their research as a starting point. Dimensional goes straight to the source — Fama sits on Dimensional’s board of directors.
In a nutshell, they created a new asset pricing model after finding that small-cap stocks with low price-to-book ratios outperformed the market. This shouldn’t be the case if variations in stock returns were mostly random, something that earlier academic research showed. This was sometimes described as the “random walk” theory. Investors who believe in this theory would do best buying a passive fund covering the entire market, such as the S&P 500 Index. In contrast, Fama and French’s work suggested asset allocation among market segments, such as market capitalization and traditional growth and value, or international and so on, had an impact on returns. Later, they discovered that other factors such as momentum could explain returns and thus be used as the basis for investment selection.
The market segment that showed the best performance was small-cap value, as shown in the earlier work of Fama and French. In 2022, Dimensional Advisors launched an ETF based on their work: Dimensional U.S. Small Cap Value (DFSV). Since the launch of DFSV in February, it has consistently outperformed iShares Russell 2000 (IWM) as well as small-cap value competitors such as Vanguard Small-Cap Value (VBR) and SPDR S&P Small-Cap Value (SLYV).
DFSV starts its universe with the cheapest 10 percent of the U.S. stock market as measured by market capitalization. It then narrows this universe by hunting for stocks with lower price-to-book ratios, cutting off at the bottom third. It looks for companies with higher profitability that haven’t been aggressively expanding. Short-term signals such as price momentum can also be a criterion for investment. Liquidity screens and the need to keep turnover low also impact which stocks make it into the portfolio. Holdings are weighted by market capitalization as a way of keeping turnover down.
Costs are kept low, but at 0.31 percent, it’s relatively pricey compared with passive alternatives such as VBR and its 0.07 percent cost.
DFSV has already earned a Morningstar Silver rating.
DFSV currently holds 957 stocks. The weighted average market capitalization is $3.4 billion. The portfolio of stocks has an aggregate price-to-book ratio of 1.27, which compares with 1.99 for the Russell 2000 Index and 1.33 for the Russell 2000 Value Index.
Financials dominate the portfolio with a 27 percent allocation, but this isn’t far above the benchmark’s 24 percent. Industrials are also slightly overweight at 20 percent of assets. Consumer cyclicals are in line with the benchmark at 14 percent of assets. Energy at 9 percent is overweight by three percentage points. Technology rounds out the top five at 8 percent of assets, underweight by 1 percent. Utilities, healthcare and real estate are the sectors with the largest underweighting.
The top 10 holdings have a small percentage of assets, as expected in a diversified fund with nearly 1,000 holdings. Allocations in the top holdings range from 0.76 percent of assets down to 0.54 percent. At the top is Transocean (RIG), followed by Commercial Metals (CMC), TechnipFMC (FTI), IPG Photonics (IPGP), Bank OZL (OZK), Foot Locker (FL), New York Community Bank (NYCB), FNB Corp. (FNB), Jackson Financial (JXN) and Genworth Financial (GNW).
DFSV doesn’t have enough history for beta and standard deviation, but a sister mutual fund trades under the symbol DSFVX. It has a beta of 1.18 and a standard deviation of 29.26, making it more volatile than the Small-Cap Value category on both scores, albeit only slightly.
DFSV has gained 12.80 percent in 2023, beating both the category and the benchmark index. It has similarly beaten both since its inception a little less than one year ago.
Its sister fund DFSVX has a long history of performance. Over the past 20 years, it has gained 800 percent, well ahead of iShares Russell 2000 Value’s (IWN) 547 percent. Over the past 15 years, it gained 278 percent to IWN’s 209 percent. DFSVX ranks in at least the top 27 percent of small-cap value funds over the past 5-, 10- and 15-year periods.
Notably, DFSVX performed much better in the past year. It gained 6.50 percent, while the category and index rose less than 2 percent. This landed it in the top 13 percent of funds. Both DFSVX and DFSV made new all-time highs in February of this year. This shows the fund can also outperform in down markets.
Caution is warranted though. In 2008, DFSVX lost 67 percent from high to low. While there are some signs the current market resembles the early 2000s (DFSV’s performance this past year reinforces this comparison) and DFSVX did end up gaining over the entirety of that bear market, it would be unwise for investors to assume a repeat should markets turn lower.
DFSV is one of the top options for investors seeking small-cap value exposure. Although DFSV is a little more expensive than the competition, if it can do as well as its mutual fund counterpart DFSVX, it can more than make up for the higher expense ratio. For example, DFSV is outperforming VBR by several percentage points in 2023, with about six weeks of trading done. That dwarfs the difference in their expense ratios.
DFSV can serve as a core holding for younger and more aggressive investors with longer time horizons. More conservative investors should stick to smaller satellite positions, although investors can be more aggressive in bear markets and major corrections when adding the fund offers a much stronger risk/reward proposition.
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