how are your mutual funds doing?

the SPIVA scorecard:  index funds rule!

Standard and Poors did a major overhaul of its website a while ago.  I’d been delaying getting familiar with the new layout while the old site still held the information I usually look for.  But S&P shut down the old page with monthly performance on it, and I was forced to move too.  I eventually found the performance data, but while I was poking around, I also stumbled across a SPIVA (S&P Indices Versus Active Funds) Scorecard report for yearend 2012.

The scorecard tally?  …about what you’d expect.

Over the three-year period 2010-2012 (all bull market) and the five-year period 2008-2012 (includes both bear and bull periods), the typical equity fund and thee typical bond fund underperformed its benchmark index.

Three exceptions:

–the median small-cap international fund outperformed its benchmark.  This is a small category, however, and all the outperformance seems to have come from having a rip-roaring 2013.

–the median large-cap value fund also outperformed.  Unfortunately, the S&P 500 Value index lagged the S&P by an average of 180 basis points a year over the past half-decade.  Actively-managed large cap value funds performed more or less in line with growth-oriented funds and “core” funds that compete against the plain-vanilla S&P 500 rather than a style-tilted version.

–investment-grade intermediate bond fund managers outperformed as well.  But, like the value equity managers, they had the weakest benchmark.

fewer funds

Over the past five years, almost 27% of the domestic equity funds either merged with other funds or simply liquidated.  23% of international equity funds did the same, as did 18% of fixed income funds.  These were presumably the ones with the worst performance records–the fund industry burying its dead, as it were.  That’s also a huge percentage.

why hire an active manager?  why not index?

For almost everyone, in my view, indexing is the way to go.  It’s the cheapest.  Because your focus on getting exposure to the asset class (stocks) at the lowest possible cost, fewer things can go wrong.  This means less time, effort and skill needed on your part to monitor this part of your overall portfolio.

Why don’t more people index?

–It’s kind of boring.  Just look for the biggest index fund (it’s Vanguard).  It’ll have the lowest costs and the most faithful mirroring of the index.  And you’re done.

–Some people have motives other than making money for being in the stock market.  Some actually like risk for its own sake, believe it or not.  Others want to feel special or be the center of attention at parties.  They likely also want the $200 oil change at the Mercedes dealer (where you get coffee and a bagel, too), not the $30 deal at Jiffy Lube.

–Many financial advisers dislike index funds.

There are typically no trailing commissions (recurring payments from the fund management company while a client continues to hold the fund).  No information seminars or reward meetings, either.

Suppose I’m your adviser and I say, “Let’s take the $1 million you’re allocating to stocks and put it in the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund.  We’ll leave it there forever.  By the way, I’m charging you $1,000 a month ($2,000?), again for ever, for this advice.”  At some point, you’re going to baulk.

More than that, because they charge high fees, actively-managed fund complexes have big marketing budgets.  And, unless they have a huge indexing operation, they don’t have cost-competitive index products.  So almost all the ads you see are for active management.  A lot of them air on financial news shows on cable.  Fat chance the talking heads will tout indexing.

one consolation for holders of actively managed funds

At least they’re not hedge funds, which continue their decade-long record of underperformance of traditional equity managers.