Fund Managers: The Latest Might Not be the Greatest

The investing mantra that touts patience as the best strategy for successful investing extends to choosing, and evaluating, fund managers. Research conducted by Robert W. Baird & Co. provides evidence that even the top-performing money managers endure prolonged periods where they underperform their benchmarks and/or their peers. Further, the findings show that “shortsighted” investors who switch to new managers based on recent successes (over a period of 1 to 3 years) might “leave wealth on the table.”

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In fact, the report says, “virtually all of the best investment managers, based on 10-year performance, experienced three-year stretches where they underperformed their benchmarks and peers.” The evidence shows that a manager’s likelihood of success increases over longer holding periods, and that “it may pay for an investor to stay with a top-performing manager through times of poor relative performance”:

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When investors rush into funds after a period of strong performance, the report argues, they can effectively end up buying high (as funds come off a successful period) and selling low (from funds coming off a weak period), an ill-fated pattern of behavior in the investment world.

That’s not to say that a fund manager change isn’t sometimes warranted, however. If, for example, an investor doesn’t agree with a manager’s fundamental investment philosophy or if a fund’s performance is consistently lackluster relative to its peers, the paper supports re-evaluating the relationship. The overriding theme, however, is that accurately evaluating fund managers requires taking a long view.