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In addition to @KeSchn excellent answer i will provide the original intent by Fama/French as they proposed the "Profitability" factor in their 2015 paper "A five-factor asset pricing model". The sources in his answer build up and extend the following economic explanation. Whereas the initial Fama/French (1992/1993) size- and value-factor ...


As @skoestlmeier and @noob2 commented there's much research going on about the profitability anomaly. Firstly, there are different ways of measuring profitability. Novy-Marx (2013, JFE) uses gross profitability, Fama and French (2015, JFE) total profitability and Hou et al. (2015, RFS) return on equity. The $q$-theory model from Hou et al. claims to explain ...


After some research, I've stumbled upon a 1996 paper "Multi-factor explanations of asset pricing anomalies" by FF themselves, which states that this is a question that did not have an academic consensus at the time of publishing. I'll mark this as the answer if there is no more recent suggestions.

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