Jason Zweig Says Active Managers Also Underperform in Down Markets

Although the data continues to show that stock pickers have underperformed the market, writes Jason Zweig in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “active managers insist that they will make a comeback.”

The article cites data provided this month by Bank of America Merrill Lynch that shows “63% of active fund managers investing in large U.S. stocks outperformed their benchmarks in April, the best since February 2015.”

Active managers, writes Zweig, claim that the pricey market has made it difficult to pick winners, but that they will “prove their worth again when the market finally goes down.” However, he argues that history doesn’t back up this claim.

Zweig cites research data provided by Wharton Research Data Services analyst Rui Dai showing that the chances of an active manager preserving investor capital in a falling market are “slightly worse than a flip of a coin.”

According to the data, during the financial crisis (late 2007 through early 2009), the S&P 500 lost 50.2% while the average U.S. stock mutual fund fell 49.7%. In the bear market of 2000-2002 (when internet stocks tanked), the S&P 500 lost 43.4% while the average fund lost 43.2%. “But funds fell worse than the market,” writes Zweig, “in the sharp declines at the beginning of 2016 and in the summer of 2015.”

Zweig concludes that while there have always been fund managers who could beat the market, “they have always been hard to find, and their performance has typically been highly perishable.”