Taking a Deeper Look at iShares Edge MSCI World Momentum Factor ETF (IWMO)'s Recent Rebalancing | Investment Moats Skip to Content

Taking a Deeper Look at iShares Edge MSCI World Momentum Factor ETF (IWMO)’s Recent Rebalancing

In my introductory post on factor investing, one of the more popular factors is the momentum factor.

The momentum factor, is rather controversial.

On the surface, the economic drivers behind the momentum style are not clear. It makes little sense to buy a basket of stocks whose price is higher than a few months ago.

Eugene Fama wrote about it and thinks it is that kind of anomaly where the results show it works but fundamentally it is hard to agree with. Professor Robert Novy-Marx believes that what drives momentum is driven by strong earnings performances.

In general, some believed the momentum premium exist because behavorially many believed what goes up, cannot go up further. In a way, betting on momentum is betting on longer, intermediate term continuation.

The momentum style, along with the value style are two of the strongest factor styles out there. The factors show up over different time periods, across different regions, across different asset classes and investment vehicles.

And in a way, quant ETFs try to pair them together because they are so less correlated with each other, but if you invest over a longer term, you get a smoother ride.

Positioning for Exposure to the Momentum Style with the iShares Edge MSCI World Momentum Factor UCITS ETF (IWMO)

The IWMO selects a sub-basket of stocks from the MSCI World universe that exhibit stronger past-intermediate term momentum.

The fund ranks each stock based on their price performance from

  1. 12 months – 1 month ago (50% weightage)
  2. 6 months – 1 month ago (50% weightage)
  3. #1 and #2 is adjusted by the 3-year weekly volatility of the stock so as to normalize the natural volatility of the stock

1 month was deducted because study shows that if you select the stocks with the strongest 1-month momentum, their performance tend to revert in the next month. Thus, the most recent month performance was eliminated (this is very research and quantitative. It is that woo woo.)

If you had always favored investing in stocks that exhibit strong momentum, but wanted someone to screen, rank and invest systematically for you, then the IWMO allows you to do that in a systematic manner.

The ETF holds 300 stocks, has a total expense ratio of 0.30%, and a total fund size of US$2.6 billion.

This is a UCITS fund domiciled in Ireland, listed on the London Stock Exchange, so there are better withholding and estate tax efficiency.

The fund rebalances twice a year during end of May and end of November.

Large Sectoral Changes During Latest Rebalancing

A few months ago, I was pondering about how the momentum index would look like during the next rebalancing.

This is because during the last few months, we have seen a sector rotation in performance. The information technology and consumer discretionary companies have corrected and in their place, the finance, energy, materials company are doing better.

So I wonder how would the mix be like come May.

3Fourteen Research, a team that came out from Ned Davis Research, were some of the early people that prompt us about the shift:

They forecast that this rebalancing would be one of the rebalancing with the highest turnover. In the past, the rebalance is likely to be between the information technology, and consumer discretionary companies, which have the strongest momentum.

The chart above shows the historical turnover of the top 100 S&P 500 momentum stocks.

These quant moves can ripple through broader benchmarks. Momentum is popular within the roughly $2 trillion systematic community which groups stocks together by their characteristics, an approach is known as factor investing. Exchange-traded funds tied to momentum command $20 billion in the U.S. alone.

Bloomberg

The fear or opportunity is that this ETF and funds will systematically sell out of popular stocks into stocks that were historically neglected. If you are aware of this phenomenon, you could position well to take advantage of it.

Most of the momentum funds rebalance in March, and that has come and go. Now, we know the IT sector have not been performing well and the financial stocks have been performing well. Personally, I am not sure how much of these performances is due to these fund flows.

I think things might be a bit messy. While there are a lot of momentum funds out there, there might be more value funds than momentum funds. The fund flows from those value funds might be more meaningful than the momentum funds.

However, losing the support of fund inflows from these ETFs for the IT and consumer discretionary sector may contribute to the recent lacklustre performance.

IWMO rebalances at the end of May, which is a few days ago.

I regreted not downloading the 300 stocks that made up the ETF before the rebalancing (yes, if you go to each ETF home page, you can see the whole slew of stocks the ETF invests in)

But nevertheless, here is the sector composition of IWMO before and after the rebalancing:

BeforeCompositionAfterComposition
Information Technology34%Financials28%
Consumer Discretionary18%Information Technology22%
Communication15%Industrials13%
Industrials11%Consumer Discretionary12%
Health Care10%Communication11%
Materials4%Materials5.9%
Financials3%Energy3.5%
Consumer Staples1.7%Health Care3.2%
Utilities1.6%Consumer Staples1.1%
Real Estate0.7%Cash and Derivates0.5%
Cash and Derivates0.2%
Energy0.1%

There was indeed a big swing with financials now holding the largest composition. Materials and energy were also more meaningful but information technology still hold a significant chunk.

Here is how the top 10 holding change:

BeforeCompositionAfterComposition
Tesla5.6%Apple4.8%
Microsoft5.1%Tesla3.5%
Amazon4.8%JP Morgan3.0%
Apple4.8%Alphabet C2.6%
Facebook3.8%ASML2.5%
Nvidia3.4%Alphabet A2.4%
Alphabet C3.0%Berkshire2.3%
Alphabet A2.9%Disney2.1%
Paypal2.3%Bank of America2.1%
Adobe1.6%LVMH1.8%

The index lost Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Paypal and Adobe which have largely gone sideways and gain JP Morgan, ASML, Berkshire, Disney, LVMH and Bank of America.

This rebalance severely reduces the Price Earnings of the index so much as lower than the MSCI World.

Here is the price charts for the top 10 stocks currently. I have inserted vertical lines to represent roughly the price that is 12-1 month and 6-1 month away.

Apple

Even though its performance stalled if we compared the 6-1 month performance, remarkably Apple is still the one with the largest allocation.

Tesla

Despite the steep correction, Tesla still scores pretty well.

JP Morgan

A finance company that made the list.

Google

Google continues to do well even after the six month evaluation.

ASML

ASML was classified as an information technology stock.

Berkshire Hathaway

Berkshire is classified as a finance company that made the list.

Disney

Walt Disney is classified as a communications company.

Bank of America

Another strong financial company.

LVMH

The only international company and consumer discretionary company that made it to the top 10.

Investing in a Momentum Style ETF Requires Particular Understanding of Factor Investing and Investing for the Long Term

You might wonder if this good performance in energy and financials would proved short-lived again.

I have my own mis-givings since I also have an active individual stock investor brain.

Investing in such a factor style ETF requires you to have enough conviction based on the research, that it will continue to work in the future.

There will be periods where the premium does not appear. The momentum factor did well in the past decade but if you take a look at it in the 1990s, it looked as bad as the value factor during the past decade.

And these factors will appear out of nowhere and to capture the premium, you got to remain invested.

While in general, most managers say you cannot time the factors, certain style work better in certain economic regimes (expansion, slowdown, contraction, recovery)

Momentum tends to work best when the markets are in expansion and before the recession. They suck when coming out of recession (Covid was a special period where the momentum stocks were the benefactor!)

I do have a few other data-driven Index ETF articles. These are suitable if you are interested in constructing a low-cost, well-diversified, passive portfolio for yourself.

You can check them out here:

  1. IWDA vs VWRA – Are There Significant Performance Differences Between the Two Low-Cost ETFs?
  2. The Beauty of High Yield Bond Funds – What the Data Tells Us
  3. Searching for Higher Yield in Emerging Market Bonds
  4. Should We Add MSCI World Small-Cap ETF (WSML) to Our Passive Portfolio?

Here are some supplements to sharpen your edge on low-cost, passive ETF investing:

  1. Can You Better Time Your Annual Investment Base on Market Seasonality?

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