Exploiting the Relative Outperformance of Small-Cap Stocks
by John Davenport and Fred Meissner
Since Rolf W. Banz first posited the size effect of equity returns in a 1981 study published in the Journal of Financial Economics, the relative outperformance of small-capitalization (small-cap) stocks compared to large-capitalization (large-cap) stocks has remained a steady point of debate within the investment management literature.
Even a cursory review of the annualized returns since the inception of the S&P SmallCap 600 index shows that the small-cap index has produced a higher cumulative return than the large-cap S&P 500 index (209.02% versus 188.13%).
The nature of this outperformance has been one of the central points of discussion within the literature. Of primary concern is the variability over time of this outperformance, as discussed in a 1983 Journal of Financial Economics study by Philip Brown, Allan W. Kleidon, and Terry A. Marsh. Sherman Hanna and Peng Chen found that small-cap equities were riskier equity investments relative to large-cap equities for holding periods of less than 15 years, while they were less risky for holding periods of longer than 15 years in their July 1999 AAII Journal article, “Small Stocks vs. Large: It’s How Long You Hold That Counts.”
A review of Eugene Fama’s and Kenneth French’s small-versus-big index series shows that in monthly returns between July 1926 and February 2012, small-cap stocks outperformed roughly 51% of the time. During that time, small-cap stocks also delivered a cumulative excess return of 253% relative to large-company stocks.
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Fred Meissner is president of the Fred Report, which provides financial market research based on technical analysis.