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More Bad News About Active Funds' Performance

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The hoped-for rebound in actively managed funds has once again failed to materialize. According to Morningstar’s latest Active/Passive Barometer, just 36% of active U.S. equity funds survived and outperformed their average passive peers over the 12 months through June 2018. That’s less than the 43% that did so over the same period last year.

Value equity funds fared the worst. While more than half of small-, mid- and large-cap value funds beat their passive counterparts over the 12 months through June 2017, less than 35% of large-cap value funds and less than 30% of small- and mid-cap value funds did so this year.

This “success rate,” as Morningstar calls it, fell the most for mid- and small-cap value stock funds — 27 percentage points — and 23 percentage points for large-cap value funds.

(Related: Don’t Expect Active Funds to Outperform in a Bear Market)

Actively managed growth stock funds also performed worse this year compared to last with the exception of large-cap growth funds. Forty-four percent beat their passive peers over the 12 months ended mid-year compared to just over 42% last year.

Actively managed intermediate bond funds also were an exception, but compared to stock funds, not to their own past performance. Almost 71% of actively managed intermediate bonds funds outperformed their passive counterparts over the 12 months ended June 30, but a year ago 85% of them did.

(Related: Identify the Best Active Equity Funds)

Altogether 15 of the 19 categories tracked by Morningstar showed lower success rates for actively managed funds versus their passive counterparts.

The Morningstar report is based on an analysis of more than 4,500 active and passive U.S. mutual funds and ETFs  across 19 Morningstar categories. They account for roughly $16.1 trillion in assets or about 79% of the U.S. fund market. Unlike other studies comparing active and passive funds, the Morningstar report relates the performance of active funds to their passive counterparts, not passive indexes.

(Related: Passive Investments Drive Record Fund Flows in 2017: Morningstar)

For the first time in the report, which began in June 2015, Morningstar included analysis of foreign stock and bond funds as well as real estate and corporate bond funds. Like most other categories in the report, less than half these funds outperformed their passive peers over the 12 months ended mid-year.

(Related: Why Low-Cost Index Investing Is Not Necessarily Low Risk)

Looking longer term, over the trailing 10-year period, Morningstar included fee quartiles when comparing the success rate of funds.  In most cases,  the cheapest funds — those in the 25th percentile for fees — tended to have a higher success rate than funds with higher fees. In the category of Intermediate bond funds, for example, those in the bottom 25th percentile had a 62.5% success rate compared to roughly 41% in the top 75th and 100th percentiles.

“Investors would greatly improve their odds of success by favoring low-cost funds, which succeeded far more often than high-cost funds over the long term,” the report notes.


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