Investment ETFs


This is one of a series of articles discussing smart beta ETFs. Other smart beta articles you can read:



An investment ETF is one type of smart beta ETF that tracks an index that selects stocks based on how much the company is investing in its future growth, either by making capital expenditures for new buildings and equipment, or by acquiring other businesses. The irony is that academic factor research has generally found that the less that a company invests, the better the stock performs.

Fama French, for example, included investments as a factor in their famous "five-factor" model. Fama French measured investments by looking at the growth in a company's total assets from year to year. Similarly, Hou Xue and Zhang included investments as one of their four factors in their "q factor model". Hou Xue and Zhang also measured investments by looking at the growth in a company's total assets. In both cases, the research found that fewer investments, or more specifically, less growth in total assets, contributed to better stock market performance.

In addition to the academic research, there are some stock market indexes that support the argument that fewer investments lead to better stock performance. For example, the S&P 500 Capex Efficiency Total Return Index (SPXCAPUP) selects the 100 constituents of the S&P 500 which have exhibited the strongest capital discipline, in the form of efficient capital expenditures, over the near term. In order to qualify for inclusion, a company’s most recent year of capital expenditures scaled by sales must be lower than its historical three-year average. SPXCAPUP equal weights its holdings. SPXCAPUP has outperformed the S&P 500 Equal Weight Index (SP500EW):


Why are fewer investments better for the stock? Most people would instinctively think that companies that are making higher investments in the future would perform better in the long run, not the other way around. There is not really a definitive answer, but there are lots of theories. Perhaps this is due to companies making acquisitions that don't really pan out, or don't generate a very high return on investment. Or perhaps this is a sign that capital intensive businesses don't generate a high return on investment. Or perhaps this is a sign that good management teams carefully monitor their balance sheet and maximize return on investment by conserving cash.

There are not very many ETFs in our database that are selecting stocks using the investment factor:

CategoryCount
Global Equity1
US Equity 6
Total7

Investment factor ETFs by year of inception:

Year of InceptionCount
20042
20061
20071
20131
20141
20171
Total7

Note that there were actually even more ETFs launched then this table shows, as we are only displaying the launch dates of ETFs still active in our database. There were more ETFs that were launched during these years that have since been closed down by their sponsor.

Of the few ETFs that are selecting stocks using the investment factor, most are multi-factor ETFs that combine the investment factor with other factors:

Number of Factors UsedCount
34
42
71
Total7

Here are the investment factor ETFs if you want to read some examples of the approaches taken by these ETFs:

SymbolDescriptionInception DateCategoryActions
VBKVanguard Small-Cap Growth ETF01/26/2004US Equity Analyze
VUGVanguard Growth ETF01/26/2004US Equity Analyze
VOTVanguard Mid-Cap Growth ETF08/17/2006US EquityAnalyze
MGKVanguard Mega Cap 300 Growth ETF12/17/2007US Equity Analyze
DGRWWisdomTree U.S. Quality Dividend Growth ETF05/17/2013US Equity Analyze
IHDGWisdomTree International Hedged Dividend Growth ETF05/07/2014Global EquityAnalyze
VSMVVictoryShares US Multi-Factor Minimum Volatility ETF06/21/2017US Equity Analyze


All data is a live query from our database. The wording was last updated: 07/27/2017.

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