This Solution presumes an understanding of absolute discounts and premiums. For a refresher on that, please click here. Here, we will consider relative discounts and relative premiums.
In truth, all discounts and premiums are relative to another number. Absolute discounts/premiums are relative to the net asset value (NAV). Relative discounts/premiums are relative to the average discount of the particular CEF being considered.
Because absolute discounts and absolute premiums tend to persist, relative discounts and relative premiums matter.
Academic studies have shown that current discounts/premiums converge to their average discounts/premiums much more regularly than they converge to their NAVs.
Measuring Relative Discounts/Premiums
In our opinion, a z-score of less than -2 signals that a fund is relatively inexpensive, and a z-score greater than +2 signals that a fund is relatively expensive.
With a z-score of 3.5, this fund would be considered relatively expensive. But this doesn't necessarily mean that the CEF is overvalued.
With a z-score of –2.5, this fund would be considered relatively inexpensive. But this doesn't necessarily mean that the CEF is undervalued.
Why Are Relative Discounts Helpful?
For one, they can help you avoid value traps.
Let's look at the mythical CEF trading at a 15% discount. According to the oft-cited "CEF wisdom," this would be a good trade because the market is offering investors $1.00 of assets at the bargain price of $0.85. (Forget the fact that the $1.00 worth of assets may fall in value to $0.85!)
A z-score of +5 indicates that, far from being relatively inexpensive--as CEF wisdom would have it--this CEF is relatively expensive. It could represent a classic value trap.
Z-score can also help investors uncover potentially truly undervalued and overvalued CEFs. If the z-score is greater than +2 or less than -2, more research would be warranted.
Using relative discounts/premiums is a bit of an art. The time period analyzed is a large factor in the z-score.
The same CEF may look relatively expensive on a 6-week basis and relatively cheap on a 3-year basis.
Even though the CEF may look relatively expensive or relatively cheap, it may not be truly overvalued or undervalued.
Consider a CEF that is going to liquidate in one month. Liquidation is a method of making a CEF's share price converge with its NAV. All assets are sold and the remaining capital is distributed to shareholders. At the point of liquidation, the discount will be 0.
There could be a fundamental reason behind a high or low z-score. Do not buy or sell a CEF simply because of its z-score. Further analysis as to why the current discount has deviated so far from its historic average is warranted.