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Don’t Expect to Win With Actively Managed Funds

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Trying to pick individual stocks is a losing game, and this doesn’t just apply to individual investors. It’s also true for professionally run, actively managed mutual funds.

Actively managed funds are tasked with picking a collection of stocks and bonds that will outperform market indices, or benchmarks, such as the S&P 500 or the Dow. They’re armed with Ph.D. analysts, hundreds of interns, and tools and research to which very few of us have access — but they can’t consistently beat their benchmarks by enough to justify their costs.

Long-term underperformance

Eighty-six percent of actively managed funds failed to beat their benchmarks in 2014, according to the S&P Dow Jones Indices scorecard. “So what?” you may say, “That’s only one year.” But 89% of funds failed to beat their benchmarks during the past five years; 82% failed to do so during the last decade.

The following data help illustrate how unlikely it is for active managers to beat the market over longer periods. During a one-year period, a high percentage of active managers in some categories may outperform their benchmarks. But over five- and 10-year periods, fewer active managers outperform.

Percentage of Actively Managed Funds That Outperform Benchmarks

1 YEAR 5 YEARS 10 YEARS
Source: 2015 Morningstar data
Large-cap value 36.5 19.6 33.7
Large-cap core 28.7 16.7 16.6
Large-cap growth 49.3 11.9 12.2
Mid-cap value 53.5 22.7 42.3
Mid-cap core 42.1 27.7 11.0
Mid-cap growth 41.6 26.0 32.4
Small-cap value 66.7 38.0 38.3
Small-cap core 44.7 32.8 23.1
Small-cap growth 22.2 20.5 23.1

Some managers do outperform the market, but picking a winning manager is as tricky as picking winning stocks. If you still think you can find “a good manager” who is the exception, consider this widely accepted Wall Street rule of thumb: Past performance doesn’t guarantee future performance. A manager who outperformed last year may not do it again this year.

Reasons for underperformance

There are a few main reasons actively managed funds underperform, aside from picking the wrong investments:

FEES

Many actively managed funds charge 1% to 2% per year in management fees, while a passively managed exchange-traded fund could charge as little as 0.1% to 0.2% per year. And many actively managed mutual funds are loaded funds, which means you’ll pay a sales charge, typically between 4% to 8% of your investment, when you buy or sell the fund — though the fee may decrease the longer you stay invested. Compounded over time, these higher fees can eat up a lot of gain, reducing overall returns.

TAXES

Because actively managed funds try to time the market and pick winners, they buy and sell positions frequently. These transaction costs reduce the fund’s returns, and all the buying and selling can also create taxable gain. Fund managers have no incentive to avoid this because they simply pass those taxable gains on to you, the shareholder.

Market Efficiency 

Some argue that markets are becoming more efficient, making it difficult to identify overvalued or undervalued stocks. The efficient market hypothesis states that stocks are constantly adjusting to news and information, and thus their share prices reflect their “fair value.” In simpler language, other than in the very short term, there are no undervalued stocks to buy or inflated stocks to sell. This makes it virtually impossible to outperform the market through individual stock selection and market timing.

An unsustainable approach

Whether active management can outperform is a controversial topic. Many experts dismiss the science and say that they can indeed beat the market. Some of them may even do so for a year or two, or even five, but what about over the long run? It’s simply not sustainable, and to think otherwise is dangerous.

If the data shows that the vast majority of the brightest and most well-equipped professional investors can’t beat their benchmarks, why should you believe anyone who says they can?

This article was originally published on NerdWallet.com

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The views expressed in this blog post are as of the date of the posting, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This blog contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected.
Please note that nothing in this blog post should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax or legal advice. If you would like investment, accounting, tax or legal advice, you should consult with your own financial advisors, accountants, or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Sherman Wealth unless a client service agreement is in place.
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Brad Sherman

About Brad Sherman

Brad Sherman has over a decade of experience in the financial services industry. He founded Sherman Wealth Management because he believes that every client deserves the highest level of individualized attention, regardless of their age or the size of their financial profile. He prides himself on being an advocate for his clients, providing a Fiduciary, fee-only service, designed to make clients feel comfortable with their investment choices and strategies. Brad lives in Rockville, Maryland, and enjoys football – both fantasy and real, baseball – especially his beloved Nats, and Nerf Ball with his young son.

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