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Some Active Funds Outperform ‘Misleading’ Industry Averages: Fidelity

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New research from Fidelity Investments suggests that investors looking for actively managed equity funds may want to think carefully before accepting industry-average results as representative.

Fidelity found that by applying two filters — mutual funds with lower fees from the five biggest fund families by assets — the average selected actively managed fund outperformed its benchmark.

Even last year, when the average active fund took a beating, the average filtered fund outperformed its benchmark, after fees, by 70 basis points. It also performed better than benchmarks by 18 basis points from 1992 through 2015 (the new report updates an earlier study).

The average subset of passive index fund lagged its benchmark over that period by 0.04%.

“Industrywide averages can be misleading, and may be doing investors a disservice by giving them the perception that all active funds cannot outperform passive funds, which is simply not true,” Fidelity’s chief investment officer, Timothy Cohen, said in a statement.

“We believe the results of applying certain straightforward and objective filters can be a helpful starting point for investors seeking to identify above-average actively managed equity funds that beat their benchmarks.”

By way of illustrations, Fidelity posited a hypothetical retirement investor saving $5,000 a year in two different accounts.

One account had an annual excess return of 0.18%, the other -0.04% — assuming net-of-fees returns and a constant benchmark return of 7%.

After 40 years, the account with 0.18% of excess return would have a balance more than $64,000 higher than the one with -0.04% excess return, or an additional 6% of cumulative return.

“We believe that market outperformance — through the compounding of returns — can help shareholders increase their ability to achieve their most important financial goals,” Cohen said. “Excess returns can be an important driver of wealth creation, and actively managed funds offer you the opportunity to outperform the market.”

For its research, Fidelity used Morningstar’s fund expense ratio data to represent fees. The fee filter selected funds in the lowest 25% of reported expense ratios for both active and passive fund types. The average filter cutoff in 2015 was 79 basis points for actively managed funds and 11 basis points for passive ones.

The size filter focused on assets under management, considered a proxy for scale. For active funds, the filter selected funds from the mutual fund families with the most assets in active U.S. large-cap equity funds.

For passive index funds, the filter selected the top 10% of funds by size, in order to confer a similar selectivity and potential advantage.

— Check out Big Investors Shun Passive Strategies Amid Volatility: Cerulli on ThinkAdvisor.