Active Investing Showing Signs of Life

Active managers have been struggling and stock hedge funds have seen a nearly eight-year performance slump, but a shift could be in the offing according to an article in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal.

The article offers data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch showing that 58% of active stock managers beat their benchmarks in the third quarter and explains, “stock pickers say it is only a matter of time before they again ride high. When the market hits an extended rough patch, overpriced stocks will drop and investors will value the ability of managers to distinguish between companies with strong and weak prospects—something many passive funds can’t do.

Regarding the source of recent underperformance, Byron Wien, vice chairman of the Blackstone Group, suggests that low global growth has resulted in “very few earnings breakouts” and therefore fewer compelling opportunities for active managers to embrace. Lazlo Birinyi, founder of stock research firm Birinyi Associates, argues, “everything is going up a little, so it’s hard to find” stocks that stand out.

Notwithstanding the recent uptick in performance, however, the article says that slow global growth will continue to limit market gains and make it “harder for active funds to overcome the fees they charge.” It also argues that, while more sophisticated data is available for managers to digest, “among the only active managers with an advantage are quantitative funds that can quickly digest this information.”