Morningstar’s Fund Manager of the Year: A Slippery Slope

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There are really only three simple rules to sinvesting successfully..own equities….globally diversify….rebalance. Looking at past performance to determine the best performers and looking for them to repeat is a futile exercise.

Past Performance is no… (You know the rest)Will Danoff, who managed the Fidelity Contrafund, was Domestic Equity Manager of the Year in 2007. In that year, he beat his benchmark by almost eight percent. In 2009, he underperformed his benchmark by almost the same percentage.

Mason Hawkins, who managed Longleaf Partners, won the award in 2006, when he beat his benchmark by 6.17 percent. He underperformed his benchmark by 6.22 percent in 2007 and by 13 percent in 2008.

Every one of the fund managers of the year had subsequent years of some underperformance. Perhaps the worst example is Jim Callinan, the manager of the RS Small Cap Growth fund, who was the 1999 Domestic Equity Manager of the Year. No wonder. His fund beat its benchmark by an unbelievable 140 percent! Then Jim fell off the wagon. In six of the seven ensuing years, he underperformed his benchmark. In the only year he beat it (2004), it was by a measly 0.85 percent.

The Lack of Evidence of Skill

Of the sixteen funds studied, only one fund manager evidenced skill based on a statistical test (the t-test) which determines if the fund’s outperformance was really attributable to skill (with a 95 percent or higher probability) or if it could be explained by luck. Even if you can find a fund manager who passes the test for a finite period of time, it is not a slam dunk that his skill will persist in the future.

Helpful Data from Morningstar

While Morningstar’s “Fund Manager of the Year” awards are likely to mislead investors, other data it provides is worthy of serious consideration. It reported 2011 inflows of passively managed long-term funds of $76.4 billion in 2011. In sharp contrast, actively managed funds had net outflows of $9.4 billion. Clearly, investors are getting the message. Still, the overall market share of actively managed funds, as reported by Morningstar, is 85.2 percent compared to 14.8 percent.

Plan participants need to understand the value of the fund managers in your plan. In a vast majority of cases these actively managed funds add no value. There is evidence that asset allocation is the main determinant of portfolio success.

Please comment or call to discuss how this affects you and your organization.

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