Stockpicker’s Delight
active management, active share, analysis, correlation, mutual fund

A recent piece in Barron’s proposes an investment into seven actively-managed mutual funds. This recommendation is motivated by the following observation:

A long, humiliating period for professional stockpickers might be giving way to something different. Stocks that have moved in near unison in recent years are beginning to chart more distinct paths. Data points that haven’t mattered in a decade, like the relationship between prices and fundamental measures of value, are starting to have more sway on returns. The divide between cheap stocks and expensive ones remains exceptionally wide, which could mean last year’s shift in favor of value investing is just the beginning.

Supposedly, were on the verge of entering the “stockpicker’s market,” as shown in this chart:

Average Pair-Wise Correlation of All S&P Stock Combinations

The myth that low correlations between stock returns lead to active manager’s outperformance has long been debunked. Similarly, a high active share is cited as one of the reasons actively-managed funds will outperform their passive peers. Please refer to our earlier post for a discussion of this topic.

So, this post will instead focus on the long-term performance of the funds featured in the article:

Time for Proactive Investing

The following charts with related statistics show the cumulative RealAlpha™ for each fund that has at least ten years of history through 2016 (to learn more about this and other patent-based performance measures Alpholio™ uses, please consult our FAQ). In all analyses, the number of ETFs in the reference portfolio was limited to no more than seven. The ETF membership and weights in each reference portfolio were constant throughout the entire evaluation period.

Here is a chart with statistics for the AllianzGI NFJ Dividend Value Fund (PNEAX; Class A shares):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for AllianzGI NFJ Dividend Value Fund (PNEAX) over 10 Years

The fund cumulatively returned over 20.5% less than its reference ETF portfolio of lower volatility.

Here is a chart with statistics for the DFA US Large Cap Value Portfolio (DFLVX; Class I shares):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for DFA US Large Cap Value Portfolio (DFLVX) over 10 Years

The fund cumulatively returned about 8.5% more than its reference ETF portfolio of lower volatility.

Here is a chart for the Dodge & Cox Stock Fund (DODGX):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Dodge & Cox Stock Fund (DODGX) over 10 Years

While the fund produced a 14% higher cumulative return than its reference ETF portfolio, by early 2016 it also lost virtually all of its cumulative RealAlpha™ generated since 2007.

The following chart is for the Sound Shore Fund (SSHFX):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Sound Shore Fund (SSHFX) over 10 Years

On a cumulative return basis, the fund underperformed its reference ETF portfolio by over 7.7%; most of that loss occurred over the past two years.

This chart is for the T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund (PRFDX):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for T. Rowe Price Equity Income Fund (PRFDX) over 10 Years

The fund’s cumulative return was over 23.3% lower than that of its reference ETF portfolio of a slightly higher volatility.

The final chart is for the Vanguard U.S. Value Fund (VUVLX; Investor Class shares):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Vanguard U.S. Value Fund (VUVLX) over 10 Years

The fund cumulatively returned about 9.1% more than its reference ETF portfolio of a slightly lower volatility. However, as recently as at the end of October 2016, the cumulative RealAlpha™ was only 4.4%.

In conclusion, only three out of the six funds analyzed above added some value when compared to their respective reference ETF portfolios. The rest of the funds underperformed, and in some cases quite significantly. It remains to be seen whether a combination of the expected low stock correlations in the market and a high active share of these funds leads to their significant outperformance in 2017.

To learn more about these and other mutual funds, incl. the composition of their reference ETF portfolios, please register on our website.

To learn more about the these and other mutual funds, including the composition of their reference ETF portfolios, please register on our website.


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Finding Star Fund Managers
active management, active share, correlation, performance persistence

With the new Fund Manager of the Year awards from Morningstar, a question of future performance of star fund managers inevitably arises. Apparently, the awards carry little short-term predictive value:

While our Fund Manager of the Year awards are recognition of past contributions rather than predictions of future results, we’re confident in each one’s long-term prospects because of their deep research resources and willingness to stick with their discipline in good times and bad. We wouldn’t expect repeat performances in 2014, as our winners and their rivals will wrestle with lofty equity valuations, policy-related volatility, a still-recovering economy, and the specter of rising rates.

Indeed, statistics on award winners presented by an article in The Wall Street Journal are not too encouraging:

Subsequent Period Beating the Benchmark
1 year 58%
3 years 45%
5 years 56%
10 years 65%

Generally, the best long-term predictors of fund outperformance remain a low expense ratio (fees), minimal portfolio turnover (a proxy for trading costs), and divergence from benchmark index weightings. The latter measure, known as active share should be high:

Prof. Cremers says the best funds tend to have active-shares percentages that are at least 60%. Large-stock managers should ideally have an active share above 70%. Midcap managers should have active share above 85% and small-cap managers should exceed 90%, he says.

Unfortunately, the proportion of funds with such big active shares has been falling over the years, which gave rise to “closet indexing,” as a chart from a Lazard Research study demonstrates:

Rise in Closet Indexing

The active share in the aggregate portfolio of actively-managed U.S. stock funds has been also declining:

Active Share in Aggregate Portfolio of Active U.S. Stock Funds

However, active is not always a guarantee of strong performance, as shown in an earlier Alpholio™ post.

As for fund fees, an article in The New York Times points out that

The average total expense ratio, which encompasses management fees and operating expenses but not brokerage commissions and other trading costs, is 1.33 percent of assets a year for domestic stock funds and 0.97 percent for domestic bond funds, according to Morningstar.

Over time, these fees add up. According to a paper by William Sharpe, which estimated an average expense ratio of stock funds at 1.12% compared to 0.06% (now 0.05%) for the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX, Admiral Shares):

Whether one is investing a lump-sum amount or a series of periodic amounts, the arithmetic of investment expenses is compelling… Under plausible conditions, a person saving for retirement who chooses low-cost investments could have a standard of living throughout retirement more than 20% higher than that of a comparable investor in high-cost investments.

However, as a Gerstein Fisher study found, the cheapest funds may not always provide the highest returns:

We found that the best performing quintile of funds was the second most expensive quintile (i.e., the 21-40% highest-cost ones), whether we equally weighted funds or asset-weighted them. The consistent results of the study: the cheapest quintile of funds was not the best performing, but the most expensive funds were the worst performing.

Similarly to a low correlation, a factor that is often quoted to aid stock pickers is a high degree of dispersion (measure of spreading) of stock returns. At first blush, it would seem that, just as with active share, an increased dispersion is beneficial. However, all it does is to enlarge the dispersion of active fund returns, without necessarily moving the average, as another article in The Wall Street Journal indicates:

A bigger spread between the best and worst stocks hasn’t helped active funds as a group, but it does tend to make good funds better—and bad funds worse… To put it another way: Markets that aren’t moving in lock step give active managers more rope with which to climb above the pack or to hang themselves.

While a low cost and small turnover coupled with a significant active share are generally good screening criteria, funds clearly have trouble with performance persistence. As our analyses have repeatedly demonstrated, even the star fund managers stumble, so outperformance is fleeting. This is where the Alpholio™ methodology helps by showing momentum in the smoothed cumulative RealAlpha™ for each analyzed fund, from which buy/sell signals can be derived. To learn more, please visit our FAQ.

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Active Share Is No Guarantee of Superior Performance
active share, analysis, mutual fund

Recent articles from InvestmentNews discuss the concept of active share and how it helps explain a superior performance of Fidelity® Contrafund® (FCNTX) vs. that of the S&P 500 index.

Active share is a measure of the degree by which the weights (percentages) of fund holdings differ from those of the index. In mathematical terms, it is simply half the sum of absolute values of weight differences. If the active share of a fund is close to zero, then the fund is effectively a replica of the index, hence the term “closet indexer.” Conversely, if the active share is 100%, the fund and index have no overlap. A large active share is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a fund to add value over the index.

Active share of a fund is typically calculated based on its holdings reported in periodic filings. This leads to inaccuracies because such filings only contain point-in-time snapshots of the fund’s portfolio, are published with a delay, and are subject to a potential manipulation. There is also a problem of which benchmark is chosen to calculate the active share, as frequently the one chosen by the fund’s management does not precisely reflect the actual portfolio.

FCNTX is a case in point. While its stated benchmark is the S&P 500® index, in reality its best-fit benchmark is the Morningstar US Growth index. This is illustrated by the following reference weights chart for the fund:

Reference Weights for FCNTX

Currently, the fund’s equivalent positions with the highest weights are iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF (JKE), PowerShares Dynamic Market Portfolio (PWC), and iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Growth ETF (JKH), collectively accounting for 74%. Therefore, the use of S&P 500® index as the benchmark for the fund is misleading — it is clearly a “growth” fund with a significant mid-cap component. It is not then surprising that the active share of the fund measured against the S&P 500® index is a high 72%, as the stated in the second article.

When compared against the dynamic reference portfolio of exchange-traded products (ETPs) calculated by Alpholio™, the fund’s performance has been unimpressive:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FCNTX

Despite a substantial reduction of the underperforming position in Apple (AAPL), the fund’s cumulative RealAlpha™ in the past year remained largely flat. A high active share does not guarantee a superior performance of a fund on a truly risk-adjusted basis, as clearly demonstrated by this Alpholio™ analysis.

Disclaimer: Due to a multitude of random factors, perfect prediction of performance of an investment vehicle is nearly impossible. Therefore, the above analysis should be treated as merely one of the many inputs to an investment decision, and not as a definitive recommendation to buy or sell any securities. While Alpholio™ strives to provide original and useful insights into fund and portfolio performance, the ultimate investment decision belongs to you, the investor.

For a detailed explanation of the patent-pending Alpholio™ analysis methodology, please refer to the FAQ.

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