A recent story in Barron’s features the Wasatch Micro Cap Fund (WMICX). This $323 million no-load micro-cap growth fund has a 1.67% net expense ratio (currently subject to a contractual limit) and 31% turnover. According to the article
The fund’s 31% return over the past year beat 92% of small-cap growth rivals, according to Morningstar. And over the past three years, the average annual 14% return beat 85% of rivals— and the Russell Microcap Index, by about three percentage points.
The fund’s prospectus benchmark is the Russell Microcap® Index. One of the investable implementations of this index is the iShares Micro-Cap ETF (IWC). Alpholio™ calculations indicate that over the 10 years through September, the fund returned more than the ETF in about 45% of all rolling 36-month periods, 47% of 24-month periods and 53% of 12-month periods. The median cumulative (not annualized) underperformance of the fund over a rolling 36-month period was 0.57%.
A rolling returns comparison provides insights into relative returns of the fund over typical holding periods. However, it does not take the fund’s volatility or exposures into consideration. To account for these aspects, let’s employ Alpholio™’s patented methodology. In the simplest variant, it constructs a fixed-membership and weight ETF portfolio that most closely tracks periodic returns of the analyzed fund.
Here is the resulting chart with statistics of cumulative RealAlpha™ for Wasatch Micro Cap Fund over the past 10 years (to learn more about this and other performance measures, please visit our FAQ):
The fund significantly underperformed its reference ETF portfolio of comparable volatility. The fund’s RealBeta™, measured against a broad-based market ETF, was elevated.
The following chart with related statistics shows the constant composition of the fund’s reference ETF portfolio:
The fund had equivalent positions in the iShares Russell 2000 Growth ETF (IWO), aforementioned IWC, First Trust Dow Jones Internet Index Fund (FDN), and iShares U.S. Medical Devices ETF (IHI). These ETFs represent average exposures of the fund over the analysis period.
The following chart with associated statistics depicts the fund’s performance relative to IWO, the dominant ETF in its reference portfolio, using the conventional capital asset pricing model (CAPM):
Although the fund’s beta coefficient was lower than one, it produced a negative alpha intercept. However, with the absolute value of t-statistic less than two, the intercept was not statistically significant.
The final chart with accompanying statistics compares the fund’s traditional performance measures to those of its benchmark ETF:
Except for a lower volatility, the fund’s characteristics were very similar to those of the ETF.
In sum, over the past 10 years the Wasatch Micro Cap Fund failed to outperform its reference ETF portfolio or add meaningful value over a market-cap ETF. In addition, over the past three years, the fund had long-term capital gain distributions ranging from 4.5% to 16.4% of its net asset value (NAV), which made it largely unsuitable for taxable accounts.
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