Active managers suffer worst year in 30; indexing triumphs

Joshua Brown;

As this article at Reformed Broker explained on Friday, Lipper data shows that active security selection is on track for its worst performance in 30 years, with 85% of stock-picking fund managers failing to beat their respective indexes. Brown sums up the gap between promise and the reality of fund managers pithily:

“They cannot do what they profess to do on a consistent enough basis to justify the extra trading costs, management fees or tax ramifications.”

Coupled with all the press over the failings of actively managed mutual funds and the cost and tax-advantages of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and lately ETF-based “robo-adviser” services, it appears the message is finally getting through to ordinary investors. Consider these sales numbers published by Reuters:

“Through Oct. 31, index stock funds and exchange traded funds have pulled in $206.2 billion in net deposits. Actively managed funds, a much larger universe, took in a much smaller $35.6 billion, sharply down from the $162 billion taken in during 2013, their first year of net inflows since 2007…”

Brown suggests active managers need to cut their fees in half (and he’s talking about the U.S., where fees are already lower than their Canadian equivalents).

WSJ’s Jason Zweig

But let’s give the final word to the Wall Street Journal’s eminent personal finance columnist, Jason Zweig. The headline says it all: Stock indexing racks up another triumphant year.

Picking up on the Thanksgiving theme, Zweig begins by nothing “It’s been another turkey of a year for active stock-pickers.” He notes that the decline is even worse than three months earlier, when he wrote this:

” … active fund management is outmoded, and a lot of stock pickers are going to have to find something else to do for a living.”

However, taking a balanced approach to the issue, Zweig notes that these things go in cycles and there will be times when active managers have their time in the sun and indexing lags.  He concludes:

” … most stock pickers are still likely to underperform a comparable index fund over time. But they aren’t going to look quite this bad all the time.”


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