A recent piece in Barron’s profiles the Metropolitan West Total Return Bond Fund (MWTRX; M Class shares). This $78.6 billion no-load fixed-income fund has a 0.66% expense ratio and 303% turnover. According to the article

In the past 15 years, the fund has delivered a 5.7% annualized return.

The fund’s prospectus benchmark is the Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index. One of the long-lived and accessible implementations of this index is the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG). Given the change of the famous lead manager in December 2009, it would not make sense to evaluate the fund’s relative performance before that time. Alpholio™ calculations indicate that from January 2010 through February 2017 the fund returned more than the ETF in approximately 78% of all rolling 36-month periods, 71% of 24-month periods and 52% of 12-month periods. The median cumulative (not annualized) outperformance over a rolling 36-month period was 7.1%.

A rolling returns comparison does not take into account the fund’s volatility or exposures. This is where Alpholio™’s patented methodology comes in. In its simplest variant, it constructs a reference ETF portfolio with fixed membership and weights that most closely tracks periodic returns of the analyzed fund. To make substitution practical, in the following analyses the number of ETFs in the reference portfolio was limited to no more than four. Here is the resulting chart with statistics of the cumulative RealAlpha™ for the Metropolitan West Total Return over the five years through February 2017 (to learn more about this and other performance measures, please consult the FAQ):

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Metropolitan West Total Return Bond Fund (MWTRX) over 5 Years

The fund added a significant amount of RealAlpha™ through 2014. However, subsequently the cumulative RealAlpha™ curve flattened out. The fund’s volatility, measured as the standard deviation of monthly returns, was higher than than of the reference ETF portfolio. Due to a slightly negative correlation between bond and stock returns, the fund’s RealBeta™ was just below zero.

The following chart with statistics shows the constant reference ETF portfolio for the fund over the same evaluation period:

Reference Weights for Metropolitan West Total Return Bond Fund (MWTRX) over 5 Years

The fund had equivalent positions in the Schwab U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF™ (SCHZ), iShares 1-3 Year Credit Bond ETF (CSJ), and FlexShares iBoxx® 5-Year Target Duration TIPS Index Fund (TDTF).

Let’s take a closer look at the more recent performance of the fund. Here is the cumulative RealAlpha™ chart with statistics for the past three years:

Cumulative RealAlpha™ for Metropolitan West Total Return Bond Fund (MWTRX) over 3 Years

The fund failed to add value relative to its reference ETF portfolio, which had a slightly higher volatility. One of the reasons may have been the sudden inflow of over $31 billion following the departure of a prominent lead manager of a competing fund.

The following chart with statistics shows the composition of the reference ETF portfolio over the three-year period:

Reference Weights for Metropolitan West Total Return Bond Fund (MWTRX) over 3 Years

The fund had equivalent positions in the Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND), Vanguard Mortgage-Backed Securities ETF (VBMS), and iShares MBS ETF (MBB).

Due to its large size, the Metropolitan West Total Return Bond Fund may find it difficult to outperform on a truly risk-adjusted basis. As the last analysis demonstrated, investors may be better off by replacing the fund with a simple portfolio of bond ETFs.

To learn more about the Metropolitan West Total Return Bond and other mutual funds, please register on our website.


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