One of the things that has preoccupied my mind lately are the underlying differences in approach between active investing and passive investing.
Imagine the two following hypothetical money managers: One of them is an active investor. He performs bottom-up fundamental research of companies, trying to determine their “intrinsic value”.
The other investor is passive. He uses quantitative analysis in order to find factors would have lead to out performance compared to a specific benchmark (these strategies are called “smart-beta” as they are passive in nature, but still aim to outperform the benchmark).
Analytical vs Statistical Approaches
For lack of better terminology, lets say that the active investor has an analytical approach, while the passive investor has a statistical approach.
The active investor is focused on the future cash flows of the company. He is tries to understand the business model of the company he is analyzing how the company creates value. He might try to study historical transaction multiples or how similar public compare in terms of valuation ratios. But primarily, the fundamental investor is trying to analyse future events.
The quantitative investor, however, is looking at a universe of stocks. He mines datasets to find a relationship between factors and performance. He designs different strategies and uses backtesting to see how these strategies would have performed.
The Limits of History
But what is data? Data is history.
Consider the following: Suppose you ask the investors about the largest single day drop in the S&P 500. The quant tells you that the largest single daily drop of the S&P 500 occurred on October 19, 1987, when the index fell by 20.47%.
The fundamental investor, however, tells you that the largest single day drop hasn’t happened yet.