Analysis of Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund
analysis, mutual fund

A recent piece in Barron’s profiles the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund (FBGRX). This $21 billion no-load fund sports a 0.89% net expense ratio and 51% turnover. According to the article

Year to date [the fund] has returned 6.5%, beating the 1.2% for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, and the 5.7% for its benchmark, the Russell 1000 Growth Index. The fund has beaten 93% of its large-cap growth peers in the past five- and 10-year periods.

The current manager took over the fund at the beginning of July 2009, so that date will serve as a starting point for our further analyses. The prospectus benchmark for the fund is the Russell 1000® Growth Index. One of the low-cost implementations of this index is the iShares Russell 1000 Growth ETF (IWF). Alpholio™’s calculations show that the fund returned more than the ETF in approximately 88% of all rolling 36-month periods, 65% of 24-month periods and 71% of 12-month periods. The median amount of rolling 36-month outperformance was about 5%.

Comparing only returns does not account for risk. To get a better insight into the fund’s performance, let’s employ a variant of Alpholio™’s patented methodology that constructs a reference portfolio of ETFs with fixed membership but variable weights. This portfolio dynamically tracks the fund’s composition and core exposures over time. Here is the resulting chart of cumulative RealAlpha™ for Fidelity Blue Chip Growth:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Fidelity Blue Chip Growth (FBGRX)

The fund produced about 0.7% of the regular and 1.3% of the lag annualized discounted RealAlpha™ (to learn more about this and other performance measures, please visit the FAQ). Most of the positive RealAlpha™ was generated over just one year beginning in the second quarter of 2013. At 15.4%, the fund’s standard deviation was a bit higher than that of its reference ETF portfolio. The fund’s RealBeta™ was around 1.13.

The following chart illustrates changes to ETF weights in the reference portfolio:

Reference Weights for Fidelity Blue Chip Growth (FBGRX)

The fund had major equivalent positions in the iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF (JKE; average weight of 30.7%), PowerShares QQQ (QQQ; 19.5%), iShares S&P Mid-Cap 400 Growth ETF (IJK; 12.4%), Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (VCR; 11.0%), iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Growth ETF (JKH; 7.1%), and iShares Russell 2000 Growth ETF (IWO; 5.3%). The Other component in the chart collectively represents additional five stock ETFs with smaller average weights.

Under current management, the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund added a decent amount of value on a truly risk-adjusted basis; however, its outperformance was concentrated in a relatively short period of time. This actively-managed fund’s reasonable expense ratio adds to its appeal. Although consisting mostly of long-term capital gains, the fund’s recent substantial distributions (over 5% of NAV in each of 2013 and 2014) made it less suitable for taxable accounts.

To learn more about the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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Analysis of Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio
analysis, mutual fund

A recent fund profile in Barron’s features the Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio (FRESX). This $4.2 billion fund sports a relatively low 0.8% expense ratio and a 28% turnover. According to the article, the fund’s manager

For 18 years, […] has successfully navigated through real estate booms and doldrums, beating two-thirds of his peers over 15 years, and 85% over five.

The primary prospectus benchmark for the fund is the S&P 500 Index. The secondary, and a more relevant, benchmark is the Dow Jones U.S. Select Real Estate Securities Index. While there is currently no ETF available that tracks this index, one of close long-lived approximations is the iShares U.S. Real Estate ETF (IYR). Alpholio™’s calculations show that since July 2000, the fund returned more than the ETF in about 89% of all rolling 36-month periods.

An alternative reference for the fund is the SPDR® Dow Jones® REIT ETF (RWR). Since September 2001, the fund returned more than this ETF in about 52% of all rolling 36-month periods.

Yet another reference for the fund is the Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ). Since October 2004, the fund outperformed that ETF in less then 26% of all rolling 36-month periods. However, in all three comparisons only total returns but not risk of the fund and ETFs were taken into account.

Let’s take a closer look at the performance of Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio on a risk-adjusted basis. Applying Alpholio™’s patented methodology, a reference portfolio of ETFs is constructed to mimic the fund. In the simplest variant of the methodology, the reference portfolio has both fixed membership and weights. This type of analysis shows that since late 2004, the fund produced around minus 0.15% of annualized discounted cumulative RealAlpha™ (to learn more about RealAlpha™, please visit our FAQ). The fund had just four equivalent positions in the iShares Cohen & Steers REIT ETF (ICF; constant weight of 51.2%), SPDR® Dow Jones® REIT ETF (RWR; 24.8%), Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ; 21.3%), and iShares Transportation Average ETF (IYT; 2.8%).

In a more elaborate variant of the Alpholio™ methodology, the membership of the reference ETF portfolio is fixed but weights can fluctuate over time. Here is the resulting chart of cumulative RealAlpha™ for the fund:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio (FRESX)

Since late 2004, the fund’s cumulative RealAlpha™ has been largely flat to negative. The annualized discounted cumulative RealAlpha™ was around minus 0.1%. At about 26%, the fund’s standard deviation was 0.5% higher than that of the reference ETF portfolio. The fund’s RealBeta™ was about 1.13.

The following chart illustrated changes of ETF weights in the reference portfolio over the same analysis period:

Reference Weights for Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio (FRESX)

The fund had only four equivalent positions in the SPDR® Dow Jones® REIT ETF (RWR; average weight of 40.9%), iShares Cohen & Steers REIT ETF (ICF; 35.4%), Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ; 20.9%), and iShares Transportation Average ETF (IYT; 2.8%).

Over the past ten years, the truly risk-adjusted performance of the Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio was unexceptional. Although the fund’s expense ratio is low compared to an average of its category, active management did not add any value. The fund could have easily been substituted by a combination of just a few major real-estate ETFs. It is also symptomatic of a defunct methodology that the article emphasizes comparisons of the fund’s performance to that of its peers (who collectively underperform benchmarks) rather than to ETF alternatives.

To learn more about the Fidelity Real Estate Investment Portfolio and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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Analysis of Fidelity Magellan Fund
analysis, mutual fund

A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal focuses on the performance of the Fidelity® Magellan® Fund (FMAGX) under a new manager who started three years ago. This $16.7 billion no-load fund sports a relatively low 0.53% expense ratio but has a somewhat elevated turnover of 77%. According to the article

Magellan has posted average annual returns of 20.3% from Sept. 16, 2011, when Mr. Feingold took over, through the end of August, trailing its benchmark, the S&P 500, at 21.2%, while matching the Russell 1000 Growth Index, according to data from Morningstar. But its returns in that period are above the 18.7% annual average for its peer group, large-cap funds.

The fund’s longer-term record remains inferior. Magellan’s average annual return over the 15 years through August was 3%, lagging behind the 4.5% average for its peers, according to Morningstar.

Indeed, long-term returns of the fund have been dismal: in the bottom 5% of its category for the 10 years ended in August 2014. Alpholio™’s analysis shows this very clearly — here is a long-run cumulative RealAlpha™ chart for the fund:

Long-Run Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FMAGX

In that period, the annualized discounted cumulative RealAlpha™ for the fund was a negative 4.25%, while the lag one was a negative 3.25%. The fund’s was also quite volatile; its standard deviation was about 18.5% and RealBeta™ over 1.15.

The primary prospectus benchmark for Fidelity Magellan is the S&P 500® index. One of the practical implementations of this index is the SPDR® S&P 500® ETF (SPY). Alpholio™’s calculations show that the fund returned more than the ETF in less than 42% of all rolling 12-month periods in the past 10 years. The median underperformance was about 2% and the mean one about 1.2%.

However, in the much shorter time span under current management, the fund’s performance has been quite different. For one, the fund’s returns beat those of the ETF in about two-thirds of all rolling 12-month periods. The median outperformance was about 1.8% and the mean one about 1.4%.

The new manager undoubtedly made significant changes to the fund’s portfolio. Here is a cumulative RealAlpha™ chart for the fund, based on data since October 2011, the first full month after the management change:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FMAGX

In that period, the fund’s generated about 0.6% of regular and about 2.2% of lag annualized discounted RealAlpha™ (to learn more about the regular and lag RealAlpha™, please visit our FAQ). The fund also dialed down on risk: its standard deviation fell to 10.7% (about 0.4% above that of the reference ETF portfolio) and its RealBeta™ decreased to 1.02.

The final chart shows the changes of ETF weights in the fund’s reference portfolio over the same analysis period:

Reference Weights for FMAGX

The fund had top equivalent positions in the iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF (JKE; average weight of 28.1%), iShares Core S&P Total U.S. Stock Market ETF (ITOT; 16.4%); Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (VCR; 12.1%), iShares S&P Mid-Cap 400 Growth ETF (IJK; 11.5%), Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT; 8.9%), and Vanguard Energy ETF (VDE; 5.7%). The Other component in the above chart collectively represents five additional ETFs with smaller average weights.

Over the past three years under new management, the Fidelity Magellan Fund has significantly improved its performance and lowered its risk. Unlike in the past, the fund has recently generated a modest amount of positive RealAlpha™. However, the fund’s substantial asset base coupled with a large number (currently 160) of holdings may make future outperformance difficult. It should also be noted that in the past year the fund generated a considerable amount of long- and short-term capital gains, totaling about 12.5% of the net asset value (NAV). Such a lack of tax efficiency makes the fund less suitable for taxable accounts.

To learn more about the Fidelity Magellan and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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Analysis of Fidelity OTC Portfolio
analysis, mutual fund

A recent mutual fund story in Barron’s covers the Fidelity OTC Portfolio (FOCPX). This $11 billion fund sports a relatively low 0.76% expense ratio but has a high 102% turnover. According to the fund’s profile, its strategy is based on

Normally investing at least 80% of assets in securities principally traded on NASDAQ or an over-the-counter [OTC] market, which has more small and medium-sized companies than other markets. Investing more than 25% of total assets in the technology sector.

Although the article quotes a five-year annualized return of the fund, it is worth noting that that current manager has headed the fund only since July 1, 2009 (just under five years ago, as of this writing). Therefore, all further analyses will use that shorter timeframe. (It could also be argued that an even shorter observation period should be applied because the new manager likely did not change the inherited portfolio of the fund overnight.)

The fund’s prospectus benchmark is the NASDAQ Composite® index, whose practical implementation is the Fidelity NASDAQ Composite ETF (ONEQ). Alpholio™ calculated that since the current manager took over, on average the fund returned 1.94% more than the ETF in each of the rolling 12-month periods. However, the median difference was 3.35%, which indicates that the majority of differences were much smaller (i.e. a left skew of the distribution). The fund’s rolling returns beat those of the ETF about two-thirds of the time.

Alpholio™’s calculations also indicate that the fund’s returns were quite volatile. Since the new manager took the helm in mid-2009, the fund’s annualized standard deviation of 18.3% was higher than 16.1% for the ETF. As a result, at 1.12 the fund’s Sharpe ratio (a simplest measure of risk-adjusted returns) was smaller than 1.20 for the ETF in the same period.

Let’s take a further look at Fidelity OTC Portfolio from Alpholio™’s perspective. Here is the cumulative RealAlpha™ chart for the fund during the current manager’s tenure:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FOCPX

The fund’s cumulative RealAlpha™ was unremarkable except for a brief and rapid rise in mid-2013. Overall, the annualized discounted RealAlpha™ of the fund was about 2% on a regular and about 1% on a lag basis (to learn about the difference between these two measures, please visit the FAQ). The lag RealAlpha™ curve was below its regular counterpart, which means that not all new investment ideas worked out as well as expected. The volatility of the reference ETF portfolio was lower than that of the fund by about 1.5%.

The following chart depicts ETF weights in Fidelity OTC Portfolio’s reference portfolio in the same analysis period:

Reference Weights for FOCPX

As expected based on the fund’s declared strategy, the PowerShares QQQ™ ETF (QQQ) was the largest equivalent position with an average weight of 44.2%, followed by the Vanguard Small-Cap Growth ETF (VBK; 22.1%), iShares Russell 2000 Growth ETF (IWO; 7.6%), SPDR® Morgan Stanley Technology ETF (MTK; 7.6%), iShares Nasdaq Biotechnology ETF (IBB; 5.8%), and iShares North American Tech-Multimedia Networking ETF (IGN; 5.5%). The Other component in the chart represents two more ETFs will smaller average weights.

The final chart shows a hypothetical buy-sell signal for the fund derived from the smoothed cumulative RealAlpha™ presented above:

Buy-Sell Signal for FOCPX

An investor following this signal would have avoided a period of fund’s relative underperformance from late 2011 through early 2013, while capturing the aforementioned strong rebound in mid-2013.

This analysis demonstrated the importance of focusing on a shorter tenure of the current manager instead of assessing a full historical performance of a fund. On a truly risk-adjusted basis, Fidelity OTC Portfolio generated a modest amount of RealAlpha™ most of which accrued during six months in mid-2013. Since then, the fund’s cumulative RealAlpha™ has been largely flat. Therefore, there is currently no indication that the fund will significantly outperform its reference ETF portfolio in the near future.

To learn more about the Fidelity OTC Portfolio and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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Problems with Categorizing Mutual Funds
analysis, foreign equity, mutual fund

A recent article from Morningstar illustrates the problems with categorizing mutual funds. To better compare the performance of mutual funds, Morningstar introduced categories back in 1996.

While the investment objective stated in a fund’s prospectus may or may not reflect how the fund actually invests, the Morningstar category is assigned based on the underlying securities in each portfolio.

Morningstar categories help investors and investment professionals make meaningful comparisons between funds. The categories make it easier to build well-diversified portfolios, assess potential risk, and identify top-performing funds. We place funds in a given category based on their portfolio statistics and compositions over the past three years.

Established funds are categorized twice a year, while the newer ones every quarter. Categories continually evolve to support a more granular and accurate classification of funds. The firm currently uses 106 different fund categories.

Categories are the foundation of a system that rates and ranks each fund against its “peers.” While this methodology simplifies comparisons by narrowing the scope, it has multiple drawbacks:

  • Even with restraint, it tends to proliferate categories (see above)
  • It lowers the bar by using an average fund performance in a given category (see a broader explanation in our FAQ)
  • If the category assignment is subsequently changed as a result of a review, prior ratings have to be largely discarded because of a different set of peer funds
  • Some funds may not lend themselves to an easy categorization because of an eclectic or frequently fluctuating investment strategy (not to be confused with a stated objective).

The article demonstrates the last of the above flaws by describing problems with an accurate classification of the Osterweis (OSTFX) and other funds. The Osterweis Fund is currently assigned to the domestic Mid-Cap Blend category, even though its holdings span a broad range of market capitalization and include foreign stocks.

This is where Alpholio™’s approach comes to the rescue. Our methodology addresses all of the above problems by comparing each fund against a custom reference portfolio of ETFs. The reference portfolio is constructed without any preconception of a fund’s category (although we use a small set of “categories” to narrow down the fund search). Moreover, unlike a static category assignment, the reference portfolio is dynamic in terms of both the membership and weights of its members. This adapts the reference to any changes in the fund’s investment profile and makes the performance assessment (i.e. RealAlpha™) portable across categories.

In addition, our analysis does not rely on a periodic disclosure of fund holdings, which itself suffers from numerous problems. It also avoids issues related to the changing classification of individual holdings in a fund, which is inherent in a “bottom-up” analysis (for example, consider the stock of Apple Inc., which could be classified as growth or value depending on one’s point of view).

To demonstrate, let’s take a closer look at the Osterweis Fund. Here are the weights of ETFs in its reference portfolio since early 2005:

Reference Weights for OSTFX

After an equivalent position in the iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY; average weight of 24.6%) representing short-term investments, the fund’s equivalent position with the second highest average weight was in the iShares Core S&P Mid-Cap ETF (IJH; 13.6%). The latter explains why Morningstar classified the fund into the Mid-Cap Blend category.

However, the fund also had significant equivalent positions in the Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT; 12.3%), iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF (JKE; 8.8%), PowerShares Dynamic Market Portfolio (PWC; 8.8%), and iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Growth ETF (JKH; 8.3%). (The equivalent positions in foreign stock ETFs are in the Other component of the chart.)

The above chart also shows that at times the equivalent position in IJH was nonexistent, which brings into question a stationary classification of the fund into the Mid-Cap Blend category in the past ten years.

It is a similar story with the Fidelity Low-Priced Stock Fund (FLPSX), which the article also uses to illustrate problems with fund categorization:

Reference Weights for FLPSX

The fund’s dominant equivalent position was in the Vanguard Mid-Cap ETF (VO; average weight of 18.5%), which again explains its Morningstar Mid-Cap Blend category. However, the fund also had substantial equivalent positions in the iShares Morningstar Small-Cap ETF (JKJ; 17%), Vanguard Consumer Discretionary ETF (VCR; 13.4%), iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD; 12.4%), Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT; 8.5%), and iShares MSCI EMU ETF (EZU; 7.1%). (Other equivalent positions in foreign equities are in the Other component of the chart.)

As in the case of OSTFX, the ETF weights for FLPSX significantly fluctuated over the nine-year analysis period. For example, the equivalent position in VO was as high as 57.2% and as low as 0%, while JKJ oscillated between 44.8% and 2.2%. Therefore, a fixed classification of this fund into the Mid-Blend category since 2005 is dubious.

In conclusion, Alpholio™’s innovative approach alleviates the disadvantages of a simplified categorizing of mutual funds. The traditional classification methodology will continue to suffer from its inherent tradeoff among the number, accuracy and persistence of categories assigned to mutual funds.

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Analysis of Fidelity Contrafund – Revisited
analysis, mutual fund

A recent article in InvestmentNews caused Alpholio™ to revisit its analysis of Fidelity Contrafund originally published in early 2013. The article says

Over the past few years, stock fund managers have struggled mightily to beat their indexes consistently, but you’d never know it by looking at the track record of Fidelity’s William Danoff.

The 23-year veteran and manager of the flagship $111 billion Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX) is beating the S&P 500 over the trailing one-, three-, five-, 10- and 15-year trailing time periods as of Jan. 17, according to Morningstar Inc.

First, it has to be noted that for the past eleven years Morningstar classified FCNTX in the Large Growth category, while the S&P 500® index is traditionally considered a benchmark for Large Blend funds. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to compare the performance of FCNTX to that of an large-cap growth index fund, such as the Vanguard Growth Index Admiral (VIGAX). It turns out that in terms of returns, FCNTX beat VIGAX in each year from 2003 to 2008 but in no year afterward until 2013. This caused the annualized three- and five-year returns of FCNTX to be lower than VIGAX’s. However, FCNTX outperformed VIGAX in terms of the Sharpe Ratio over the three-, five-, ten- and fifteen-year periods.

The recent return shortfall can be attributed to a large size of the fund — over $111 billion in assets, trailing only one other actively-managed fund. The article quotes the FCNTX manager admitting that:

“Larger funds have a higher degree of difficulty,” Mr. Danoff said in a rare interview last summer. “For me, it’s the ability to make big bets — it’s harder. My denominator is so big that it’s not that easy to find really great stories at scale.”

Let’s again take a look at the fund’s cumulative RealAlpha™, updated through last December:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FCNTX

In 2013, there was no material change in risk-adjusted performance of the fund until the second half of the year. However, after peaking in October, the cumulative RealAlpha™ declined in the last two months. While for the year the fund managed to return 1.75% more than VIGAX, Alpholio’s longer-term assessment of FCNTX stayed the same. Even prior to 2009, the fund’s cumulative RealAlpha™ was roughly flat, and since then, the fund mostly failed to beat its reference portfolio of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Since early 2005, the fund’s annualized RealAlpha™ was negative 1.35% with respect to a reference portfolio of comparable volatility.

The fund’s reference portfolio has not changed much since the last analysis, except the average historical weight of iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) became smaller than that of the Vanguard Consumer Staples ETF (VDC):

Reference Weights for FCNTX

In 2013, the reference portfolio continued to be dominated by the iShares Morningstar Large-Cap Growth ETF (JKE; average 12-month weight of 51.3%), iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Growth ETF (JKH; 14.4%), Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT; 10.0%), and PowerShares QQQ™ ETF (QQQ; 5.4%).

In sum, from Alpholio™’s perspective there does not appear to be any indication of a permanent change in the fund’s longer-term performance. Since 2005, investors would have achieved better results with a reference portfolio of ETFs and, in the last several years, higher returns with a comparable index fund.

To get more information about Fidelity Contrafund and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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Sector ETFs from Fidelity
exchange-traded fund

Fidelity Investments is about to introduce a set of ten sector ETFs that will compete with similar products from State Street (Select Sector SPDR), BlackRock (iShares) and Vanguard (sector-specific ETFs).

NYSE - Upcoming Fidelity Sector ETFs

The new ETFs will undoubtedly complement the current offering of 65 iShares ETFs that can be traded commission-free in Fidelity accounts if held for more than 30 days. The expense ratio of these ETFs will be 0.12%, lower than the average of 0.18% for SPDRs, 0.45% for iShares and 0.14% for most of Vanguard ETFs.

However, in addition to reported expense ratios, investors should also take into account trading costs, including bid/ask spreads and premium/discount to the net asset value (NAV) of each ETFs. With the highest trading volumes, SPDR ETFs are leaders in that respect.

The following table summarizes the existing U.S. sector ETFs from major issuers:

Sector SPDR iShares Vanguard
Consumer Discretionary XLY IYC VCR
Consumer Staples XLP IYK VDC
Energy XLE IYE VDE
Financials XLF IYF VFH
Health Care XLV IYH VHT
Industrials XLI IYJ VIS
Information Technology XLK IYW VGT
Materials XLB IYM VAW
Telecommunication Services XTL* IYZ VOX
Utilities XLU IDU VPU

*The SPDR® S&P® Telecom ETF (XTL) is not part of the original Sector SPDRs; its expense ratio is 0.35%.
The new Fidelity sector ETFs will track MSCI IMI sector indices. In contrast, the nine SPDR ETFs track S&P sector indices that collectively represent all stocks in the S&P 500® index. iShares ETFs track the Dow Jones U.S. sector indices. As of February 2013, Vanguard ETFs track MSCI 25/50 indices that cap each fund’s exposure to stocks dominant in a given sector.

From Alpholio™’s perspective, these sector ETFs should benefit investors by expanding the pool of securities that can be used to build substitution portfolios for actively-managed mutual funds in a cost-effective manner (low expense ratio, commission-free trading).

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Average Investor Return
analysis, mutual fund

An article in InvestmentNews discusses how “average investors” in some of the top ten large-cap mutual funds failed to beat the market over a recent five-year period due to market timing:

Over the five-year period ended Aug. 31, which includes the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008, the S&P 500’s 42% free fall to the bear market’s bottom and its subsequent 130% rally, five of the 10 biggest large-cap-stock funds posted better annualized returns than the benchmark.

These five funds are:

According to the article

The average investor return, which takes into account buying and selling behavior, for all but one of the funds was much lower because investors were busy selling, according to Morningstar Inc.
Only investors in the T. Rowe Price Growth Fund enjoyed the full market cycle’s outperformance. The average investor return over the past five years in the fund was 8.85%, beating the fund’s 8.63% return.

So, what’s wrong with the article’s thesis? First, a simplified proposition of looking at just the fund’s returns without taking the fund’s risk into account. Second, the use of a single performance benchmark (the S&P 500® index, a proxy for “the market”) that cannot fully adjust for that risk. Third, a notion that there exists an “average investor” whose investments into and withdrawals from the fund precisely mimicked the inflows and outflows generated by all of the fund’s investors in both time and relative scale (for one, there is no proof that these same investors who cashed out later reinvested into the fund). Fourth, a surprising indication that market timing may actually work in some cases (e.g. PRGFX). Fifth, looking at just one specific time period for a very small number of funds to derive the following speculation:

After all, five years from now, it may be funds such as the American Funds Growth Fund of America (AGTHX) or the American Funds Investment Co. of America Fund (AIVSX) that are sporting the best 10-year annualized returns, even though both have underperformed these past five years.

How would a truly risk-adjusted performance of the five funds look like over an extended period of time, which includes the interval used in the article? Here is one example, as a continuation of a previous Alpholio post on Fidelity® Contrafund®:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FCNTX

The chart clearly shows that on a cumulative RealAlpha™ basis, the fund started to underperform its reference portfolio in late 2007, i.e. well before the onset of the financial crisis. Therefore, the following five-year period was largely irrelevant to those investors who practiced “market timing” based on the above information.


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Waiting for Trauma to End
analysis, mutual fund

An article in The Wall Street Journal describes the struggle of the $2.4B Fidelity® New Millennium fund to hold on to assets under management:

From the start of 2008 through the end of last year, the fund saw net outflows totaling $518 million, according to Morningstar. This year, through late June, the fund has taken in $9 million.

These asset losses are attributed to high correlations of stock returns:

In the long shadow of the financial crisis, global economic woes led many stocks to trade in lock step, making it hard for stock-fund managers to find stocks that would differentiate their returns from the swings in the broader market.

However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel:

Now Mr. Roth is hoping that both investors and the markets more broadly are in the final stages of working through the “trauma” of 2008. It’s encouraging that there is “less concern about systemic risk” in the U.S. economy and more focus on where we are in the economic cycle, says the manager. As long as correlations between stocks decline—meaning stocks move less in unison with the broader market—the current slow-growth environment for the U.S. economy can present a host of opportunities for stock pickers.

The problem is that the bull market has been going on for almost four and a half years now. The following chart show the cumulative RealAlpha™ for the fund in that and the prior period:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for FMILX

Despite this year’s breakthrough, from early 2005 through 2012 the cumulative RealAlpha™ for the fund oscillated in a roughly +/- 5% range. As a result, the overall statistics for the fund are rather unimpressive:

FMILX Statistics

Although it is true that the S&P 500® component correlation hit a six-year low at the turn of the last year, this correlation was also low in prior periods during which the performance of the fund was not stellar:

S&P 500® Correlation

So, while a low correlation supports active management efforts, it does not guarantee that the fund will outperform. In the end

Mr. Roth acknowledges, however, that investors need to see results. “The proof is in the numbers,” he says.

Alpholio™ could not agree more. That said, there is an issue of selecting a proper benchmark for the fund, i.e. one that would dynamically match its actual holdings instead of automatically default to a large-cap market proxy:

During his tenure, the fund has beaten the [S&P 500®] index 98% of the time on a rolling three-year basis, according to Morningstar Inc.

Since the beginning of 2013, the fund exhibited substantial equivalent positions in iShares Russell 2000 Growth ETF (IWO; average weight of about 26%) and iShares Morningstar Mid-Cap Growth ETF (JKH; 23%). This indicates the fund’s recent tilt towards small- and mid-cap growth stocks to boost its performance.


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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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