You can choose between two funds, A or B. If Fund A has an 85% chance of beating Fund B over five years, would those be good enough odds for you to want to pick Fund B?
More and more investors are realizing that using active equity managers is a bad bet. This is Manager Risk, which is the risk that your portfolio fails to achieve your target returns because of the active managers you selected. When there is a significant probability that a manager lags an index fund and only a small chance that a manager beats that index, taking that risk is going to be a losing proposition for the majority of investors.
Here are three ways Manager Risk can bite you:
1. Performance chasing doesn’t work. Top funds often have a good story about their “disciplined process”, or “fundamental research” approach, but there are so many reasons why today’s leader is often tomorrow’s laggard:
- Massive in-flows of cash into popular funds make it more difficult for managers to be nimble and to find enough good investment ideas to execute.
- It’s possible that the fund’s specific approach (style, size, sector, country, etc.) was in-favor recently and then goes out of favor.
- With thousands of funds, some are going to be randomly lucky and have a period of strong performance that is not repeatable or attributable to skill.
2. The data is clear: over a long-period, the vast majority of funds do not keep up with their index. According to the Standard and Poors Index Versus Active (SPIVA) report: 84.23% of large cap funds failed to keep pace with the S&P 500 Index over the five-years through December 29, 2017.
If 17 out of 20 large cap funds do worse than the S&P 500, why do people bother trying to pick a winning fund, instead of just investing in an Index Fund? I think some of it is that over shorter periods, it can be pretty easy to fund funds that are out-performing and people mistakenly think that recent leaders are going to continue their winning streak.
Consider, amazingly, that nearly 85% of Small Cap Growth funds did better than their benchmark in 2017 according to SPIVA. What a great environment for active managers, right? They must have a lot of skill! But let’s look back further: over the past 15 years, 98.73% of those Small Cap Growth funds lagged their index. That is the worst performance of any investment category in the SPIVA report.
If your odds of outperforming the index over 15 years is only 1 in 100, you’d be crazy to bet on an active manager. It’s a risk that isn’t worth taking.
3. In some categories, there are 10-20% of managers who do outperform the benchmark over five or more years, which means that there might be dozens of funds which have done a nice job for their shareholders. Why not just pick one of those funds?
Standard and Poors also produces The Persistence Scorecard, which evaluates how funds perform in subsequent periods. Let’s look at two five year periods, in other words, the past 10 years. Imagine that five years ago, you looked at the top quartile (the top 25%) of all US Equity funds. How did those top funds do over the next five years (through December 2017)?
25.34% remained in the top quartile
21.56% fell to the 2nd quartile
18.87% fell to the 3rd quartile
23.45% sank to the bottom quartile (the worst 25% of all funds)
10.24% were liquidated or merged, which is the way fund companies make their lousy funds’ track records disappear.
So, if you picked a top quartile fund, you had about only a one-in-four chance (25.34%) that your fund stayed in the top quartile (which is no guarantee that you outperformed the index, by the way). But, you had a one-in-three chance (33.69%) that your fund fell to the bottom quartile or was liquidated and didn’t even exist five years later. Again, those are not odds that are in your favor.
This is why fund companies are required to state, Past performance is no guarantee of future results. We can look backwards at fund history, but that information has no predictive value for how the fund will perform going forward.
It’s an unnecessary risk for investors to use actively managed funds. And that’s why I have moved away from trying to pick 5-star actively managed funds, and have embraced using Index funds.
From time to time, you may hear, “this is a stock picker’s market”, because of volatility, or concentrated returns, or whatever. Don’t believe it. Even when active managers are able to have a good month, quarter, or year, the vast majority remain unable to string together enough good years in a row to beat their benchmark.
There’s enough risk in investing as it is. Let’s reject Manager Risk and instead recognize that an Index Fund is the most likely way to beat 80, 90% or more active funds over the long-term.