A trading tactic that profits from the stock market’s biggest winners has been on fire lately.

But after quantitative strategists at Nomura peeked beneath its surface, they concluded that investor fears about risks — not their bullishness — explains the outperformance.

The strategy in question is none other than momentum factor investing, which involves buying stocks that have recently outperformed and selling the stragglers. The sector-neutral momentum factor with Russell 1000 stocks has returned nearly 23% since May 1 versus 4.5% for the index, according to Joseph Mezrich, the head of quant strategy at Nomura.

What is unusual about this is that investors’ anxieties about the future have not historically driven high-momentum stocks. For a sense of how significant this trend is, Mezrich pointed out

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