Want to Beat the Stock Market? Let’s Get Those Momentum Funds at Work!

If you ask me, one of the biggest secrets to investors is the way that ETFs can be used to their benefit to really increase their gains. And not only the normal ETFs that come to mind like SPY and VOO, but some others like MTUM that track the MSCI USA Momentum Index. So what do you say, let’s dive in and get those momentum funds at work!

Momentum Investing is a unique strategy that might not be known to all, but essentially what you’re doing is investing in companies that have seen a nice uptick lately in their share price and have positive momentum. Seems pretty simple, right?

Gary Antonacci went through and tested this strategy by comparing companies that were in the top ⅓ for momentum and compared them to the bottom ⅓. Turns out that the top ⅓ outperformed the bottom ⅓ by .4% from 2012 back to 1801.

That might not sound like a massive outperformance, but .4% can greatly add up over the course of time! And guess what, I actually have some data that can show you that .4% is even less than we have seen in recent history!

Truthfully, if we were going to try to become a momentum investor, I would challenge the word “investor” and say that truthfully we’re more so being “traders”. Buying in and out of stocks solely based on what has happened to the share price in the recent days is nothing more than speculation, even if it’s backed by data.

But what if there was a way to long-term invest in momentum? A way that has pretty consistently beaten the stock market? Well guess what…

You’re in luck!

The way that you can do this is by investing in an ETF called MTUM.

That’s it. Go dump all your money into that ETF right now and call it a wrap! Obviously (hopefully), I am kidding. Let’s dive in a bit and study the ETF a bit more.

MTUM is an ETF created by iShares that is meant to track an index composed of large and mid-cap stocks with high momentum. Sounds somewhat similar to an S&P 500 ETF, right?

Below shows the Top 10 Holdings for MTUM and SPY from ETF.com:

Seems pretty similar, right? The top 4 for MTUM are all in the Top 10 for SPY. Now there are some obvious differences, but all companies that are well-known and highly respected, including Costco, one of Charlie Munger’s top stocks as he’s on record saying “Amazon may have more to fear from Costco in terms of retailing than the reverse,” and “Costco will eventually be a huge internet player. People trust it and they have enormous purchasing power.”

Pretty obvious that Munger is EXTREMELY bullish on Costco. But how has MTUM actually performed vs. the S&P 500?

Good. Check that – great!

Using one of my favorite websites for simple stock performance comparisons, the Dividend Channel, I can see that MTUM has outperformed SPY since its inception in 2013 by an average of nearly 1% each year:

While 1% doesn’t sound like a ton, you can see that a $10K investment would’ve turned into an outperformance of $2,548.52. And if we were to extend that same annual performance over a 30-year time period, the variance between the two ETFs would just be exacerbated:

In total, you’d have just over $1 million, a mere $214,701 more than investing in the S&P 500.

Now, I know what the doubters are going to say. The stock market has been on an absolute tear since 2013, so taking the highest performing stocks and putting more into those names makes sense, and it’s likely not a shock that it’s outperformed the S&P 500.

Completely fair point. So let’s go back even further and see what sort of data there is. Backtest by Curvo had the oldest data that I could find that tracks the MSCI USA Momentum Index (April 1994) so I exported that data and compared it to the S&P 500 historical data. Unfortunately, that data only goes through April 2021 but I will make sure to update it as more data is added into their backtest.

When I compare the two indexes, the outcome is pretty eye-opening. Over the 322 total months of data, the MSCI Momentum index outperformed the S&P 500 165 months while the S&P 500 outperformed 157 times. In essence, that’s a complete wash!

However, the monthly performances were a little bit more drastic – take a look!

As you can see, the average monthly return was 1.20% for the Momentum Index while .76% for the S&P 500. Both of those seem like great monthly averages, but that is a massive disparity from one month to another. Another thing that really stood out to me is that the best month for the MSCI USA Momentum index was higher than the best month for theS&P 500, and the worst month was less of a drawdown than the worst month.

In other words, there were higher highs and higher lows – a dream scenario for an investor. But let’s be real – we’re not traders. We are investors. We are in this for the long run. So while looking at the monthly returns is cool and all, let’s zoom out a bit and look at the annual performance.

That’s a lot of data, I know, so let me walk you through a few of the key takeaways that I have from it:

  • The average outperformance of these indexes is a massive 4.72%. This outperformance is solely in the performance of the index and doesn’t account for dividends.
  • Similar to the month comparison, the best year for the MSCI USA Momentum index is higher than the best year for the S&P 500, and the worst month is also higher. Again, this means that you’re getting more upside with less downside. Win win!
  • 17 years out of 28, or 61% of the time, the MSCI USA Momentum Index outperformed the S&P 500.
  • On average, when the MSCI USA Momentum Index did have a better year, the year was an average outperformance of 12.43%. The S&P would outperform the MSCI USA Momentum Index by an average of 7.19% in the years that it performed stronger.

Honestly, to me the takeaway is pretty obvious – since 1994, the MSCI USA Momentum index is clearly a massive winner on the price performance alone vs the S&P 500.

Unfortunately for us (or maybe fortunately), we cannot invest directly into this momentum index just like we cannot invest in SPX, the ticker for the S&P 500. Instead, we have to invest in an ETF that mimics the index that we’re trying to invest in.

For all intents and purposes, I like to use MTUM as the ETF for the MSCI USA Momentum Index and SPY for the S&P 500 ETF. If you have your own preferred option over SPY such as VOO or VTSAX, you can easily do that as well, but they’re typically all very similar as they have the same goals – tracking the S&P 500.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the Top 10 holdings of these ETFs and the past returns, there are a few other things that I like to look at. Personally, my top five ETF investing criteria, in no particular order, are as follows:

  • Goal of the ETF – we’ve already looked at this. MTUM seeks to track the MSCI USA Momentum Index and SPY seeks to track the S&P 500
  • Past Returns – Already completed
  • Current Holdings – Partially completed
  • Dividend History
  • Fees

You see that I noted the “Current Holdings” as partially completed because we’ve only looked at the Top 10 holdings. Personally, I just like to see “what is under the hood” as Dave has noted in his own ETF investing checklist.

To do this, we go back to ETF.com and look at those two ETFs. ETF.com is an extremely simple website to navigate and is by far my biggest go-to when looking at any ETF prior to investing. All that you do is type in the ETF ticker and scroll through all of the relevant info.

About halfway down the page you see the Top 10 holdings and if you click on the “View All” button then you can see all holdings currently in the ETF:

Once you click on that button, a new window pops up and you can scroll through all the other holdings:

The reason that I like to do this is just to see if I am familiar with all of the companies. If there’s a large holding in a company that I’m unfamiliar with then I might take 5-10 minutes to just try to understand that company a bit more and potentially even be a company I invest in individually because, well, I am also an individual stock picker, you know! 

Both ETFs are going to pay you quarterly dividends but truthfully, I was shocked to see the results between the two ETFs. The yield on SPY is significantly higher than the yield on MTUM. Below shows every dividend that’s been paid out since MTUM inception in 2013:

Just by eyeballing it you can see that the yield is about 4x more for SPY every time a dividend is paid. Insane seeing that so many of the companies are similar! Take a look at the performance on an annual basis:

More of the same – SPY is a significantly better dividend play. So, is this concerning? Truthfully, no, I don’t think so. If you’re a dividend investor looking for yield, then you’re likely not going to be investing in a momentum ETF anyways. A Momentum ETF by nature is taking advantage of those companies that are high-growth companies that have had major runups and are unlikely to pay a dividend because they’re still in growth mode.

So, does a lesser dividend hurt your performance? 100%. But that doesn’t mean it’s a “bad” thing as long as the total return for the ETF is still greater.

The last piece of the pie that we need to look at is the fees. Want to guess where we find this? You’re right – ETF.com!

This information is listed near the top of the page on ETF.com. While many people call them “fees”, it also could be called “expense ratio” but it’s all the same – you’re being charged to have someone manage the ETF. Below shows the expense ratio for MTUM:

.15% is pretty dang good, especially for an ETF that’s a bit more of a “one-off” than a typical S&P 500 ETF. So, let’s take a look at SPY:

.09%! That’s really low. To me, both of these ETFs pass with flying colors when it comes to the expense ratio/fee comparison.

So, our analysis now is complete – what ETF do we want to invest in? To get an idea of the true return we want to take the index return + dividend yield – fees, as shown below:

So, the total return of SPY is 3.25% less than MTUM. Don’t get me wrong, 10.84% is still a very, very nice return for anyone to get in any year, but MTUM has shown that you’re more likely to get higher highs and higher lows over the last 27 years. To me, that’s an extremely sizeable sample size and one that’s “hole proof” for all you hole pokers out there.

“Andy, who cares? We’re talking about 3.25%. That’s not that big of a deal.”

Oh, is it not? If you were to max out your Roth IRA with $6000/year, you’d have literally double by investing in MTUM than if you’d invested in SPY:

Now, again – I really want to emphasize that these are solely historical returns and that anything can happen in the future. For all we know, MTUM could be the worst investment of all time, but in my eyes, there is 27 years of data with the MSCI USA Momentum index that tells us otherwise.

Skeptical? No worries – take a look at one of the other 7 ETFs that Andrew has reviewed or just skip this altogether and pick stocks with the Sather Research eLetter!

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