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What is a Multi-Factor Model?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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A multi-factor model is a modeling tool that is used to identify the underlying reasons for shifts in pricing and other market events. A capital asset pricing model of this type can be applied to an individual security or utilized in relation to an entire portfolio. This is accomplished by analyzing the relationships between applicable variables that result in the performance of that security or group of securities, and will always involve no less than two specific factors. Understanding the relationship between these variables is understood to provide valuable clues that can aid investors in making sound decisions regarding the future disposition of those securities.

One of the chief benefits of a multi-factor model is the ability to help an investor select securities that are ideally suited for the type of portfolio that he or she wishes to develop. For example, if the investor wants to target investment opportunities that provide a particular range of monetary return while carrying a risk that is no more than a specified level, this model can make it easier to identify those securities. Investors that wish to vary investments in terms of risk level applying this approach can aid in creating the desired balance within the portfolio.

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While there are multiple classifications or types for a multi-factor model, many investment professionals identify three basic kinds or classes. A macroeconomic model often considers factors such as current rates of interest, the rate of inflation or recession, and the current level of unemployment. A fundamental multi-factor model looks closely at the amount of return generated by a given security and the value of its underlying assets. With a statistical model, the focus is typically on the returns of each security that is being considered, comparing and contrasting the performance of each.

While a multi-factor model strategy can be constructed using two factors, it is often desirable to utilize a larger number. One popular model is known as the Fama and French model. This is actually a three-factor model that considers the book-to-market values of the securities involved, the size of the firms that issue the securities, and the excess amount of return that is found on the market. With most applications, the idea is that by correctly interpreting the historical data and allowing for the impact of various factors, it is possible to accurately predict how the securities will perform in the future. The investor can then determine if a given security is worth acquiring or holding, or if the asset should be sold and replaced with a different security.

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