Outflows from actively managed equity mutual funds are slowing while relative performance is declining, and inflows into passive equity funds are on pace to end 2018 at their lowest levels in three years.
Those are just some of the unusual findings of Goldman Sachs’ latest Mutual Fundamentals report, based on analysis of 551 domestic equity mutual funds with $2.3 trillion in assets, including large-cap core, large-cap growth, large-cap value and small-cap core funds.
“Elevated risk and uncertainty have likely reduced outflows from active funds this year given that fund managers have the ability to reduce risk when the equity market falls,” write Goldman analysts. “We expect active fund outflows will be smaller in 2019.”
Their forecast is based on expectations for continued elevated market risks and a 30% “non-trivial probability” of a 10%-plus decline in equity prices if the market begins to price in a recession.
Short of recession, however, the Goldman analysts expect the overall trend of outflows from actively managed funds, though slowing, and inflows into passive funds will continue.
The performance of actively managed funds year to date compared to their benchmarks does not necessarily justify the slowing outflows.
Only 33% of large-cap core, growth and value mutual funds have outpaced their benchmarks this year compared with 45% in 2017 and an average of 37% during the past 10 years, according to the Goldman analysts. In April, 63% of large-cap actively managed funds had outperformed their benchmarks.
In terms of gains and losses, only the average large-cap growth fund made money year to date while the average large-cap value and small-cap core funds lost money, and all three categories have underperformed their benchmark indexes.
Goldman analysts attribute the underperformance to “rising equity prices [that] generally weaken fund returns … given the structural drag from holding cash [and to] overweight allocations to cyclical sectors and underweight exposure to info tech.”
Cyclical sectors such as financials, industrials, energy and materials have lost value year to date, ranging from 2.2% (for financials) to 8.6% (for materials), based on S&P sector indexes.
Defensive or non-cyclical sectors, in contrast, have gained between 7.3% (for technology even after the recent rout) to 17.3% (for health care). These same patterns persisted during the last three months: Cyclicals fell and non-cyclicals rose with the exception of technology, which plummeted a whopping 9.8%.
Actively managed mutual funds have adjusted their allocations to technology in part because of the new communications sector, introduced in late September, which now includes former tech sector companies like Facebook and Alphabet (parent of Google).
During the third quarter, large-cap growth funds slashed their allocations to tech and increased exposure to communication services, but they remain underweight in both though only slightly in communication services.
Large-cap value funds cut allocations to both tech and communication services but remain overweight both, and small-cap core funds increased their overweight to tech and shifted their overweight in communication services to underweight.