Dominic Thomas
May 2023  •  12 min read

Beating the market

Hopefully as a client, you understand my views about investing over the long term. One of the many constant challenges to investing is the fear of missing out. This is particularly apparent when you see a chart or data revealing the outperformance of a particular Fund Manager (these are known as active fund managers). There is a tendency to imply that the Fund Manager is particularly skilled and should be looking after your life savings.

The problem is that invariably you learn this after the fact. After the outperformance has been achieved, investing at the beginning was no ‘sure thing’, but it all appears all so obvious in hindsight. The Fund Manager now sits towards the top of the tables and you probably ask yourself “why haven’t I got any of that?”.

Well, because it’s difficult to pick winning fund managers. It’s even harder to pick one that provides continued success, they invariably tend to revert to average. I get emails every day from Fund Management groups attempting to change my mind and use their funds, which have of course performed rather well lately, picking up awards along the way, (otherwise they would have nothing to say). I might argue that this is like awarding someone that has simply tossed a coin a few times – a bit unfair, but not miles off the truth. What I find amusing is their commentary about how they are positioning their fund for the new current conditions. In other words, all the choices that resulted in that great performance is changing, underpinned by a belief that they have unique insight into the future. So do they?

Standard and Poors (S&P) are one of the agencies that rate funds and assess performance data. So in the interest of proving my point of view (I am aware of bias). S&P assessed European Funds (including the UK). I quote:

  • Very few actively managed equity and fixed income funds managed to maintain consistent outperformance relative to their peers over the three or five-year periods ending in December 2022
  • Of the actively managed Europe Equity and U.S. Equity funds whose 12-month performance placed them in in the top quartile of their respective category as of December 2020, not a single fund maintained its top-quartile performance over the next two 12-month intervals
  • Over a five-year horizon, it was statistically nearly impossible to find consistent outperformance. Among the 1,102 actively managed funds whose performance over the 12-month period ending December 2018 placed them in the top quartile in one of our reported categories, just two funds remained in the top quartile in each of the five subsequent one-year periods ending December 2022
  • Over discrete five-year periods, a greater-than-expected proportion of funds in three of six equity categories and two of four fixed income categories maintained relative outperformance. If performance were purely random in terms of comparing funds to their peers, one would expect 50% of top-half funds to remain in the top half over a subsequent five-year period. Our scorecard reports that an unweighted average of 54% of top-half Emerging Markets Equity and High Yield Bond (EUR) funds remained in the top half for two consecutive five-year periods
  • Over the long term, poor performance has proven to be a reliable indicator of future fund closures. Across the 10 categories reported by our scorecard, an unweighted average of 37% of actively managed funds whose performance placed them in the bottom quartile in the five-year period ending December 2017, were subsequently merged or liquidated over the next five years, while the comparable figure for funds whose performance placed them in the top quartile of performance for their category over the five years ending December 2017 was just 20%

Source: SPIVA European Persistence Scorecard: Year-End 2022 (May 2023)

If you wish to see the S&P report, do click here!

In short, there is about as much skill as there is luck when it comes to picking the ‘right’ companies to invest in. Active funds cost a lot more than passive funds (a terrible way to describe patience).  One of the few things that we can control is the cost of investing, we can minimise it. At Solomon’s, the portfolios we use are weighted to global market sizes and are very low cost. In fact, the cost of the mix of funds is lower than 99% of all others. The portfolios are not available to anyone, cannot be accessed as a DIY solution and represent extremely good value.

The returns will reflect market realities and how much of your portfolio is held in global shares or bonds and cash. This ‘asset allocation’ is where the bulk of investor returns reside over the long term.

The most important ‘normal’ investment experience is that of underperformance. Over the long term the vast majority of funds underperformed. Active management takes more risk with your money by being selective and charges more; the results are poor; the winners are rarely investors and I might suggest a cursory glance at the remuneration of fund managers may provide some insight into who is.