Some Funds Doubled Returns Last Year, But Is That Good News?

Some Funds Doubled Returns Last Year, But Is That Good News?

More than two dozen actively managed funds doubled their returns in 2020, a remarkable accomplishment but not necessarily a sign that active management is back. This according to a recent article in Barron’s.

“You see these incredible numbers at the end of 2020 because of what happened in that one-year period,” says Adviser Investments chairman Daniel Wiener, “but you shouldn’t let that drive your investment decisions, because these are one-offs.”

The article reports that the top performers for 2020 mostly consist of concentrated growth funds “from a handful of firms.” But the article argues that “while doubling your money is a win for current investors, these outsize gains pose problems for potential investors trying to evaluate these funds.”

The article notes that while savvy investors know better than to pay attention to one year’s worth of returns, these large gains could potentially skew firms’ return figures for years to come. It cites the example of Morgan Stanley’s Inception Portfolio fund, which has returned an average of 46% over the past five years: “Remove 2020’s run-up and the fund’s rolling five-year annualized return since its inception three decades ago drops to 10%—roughly in line with the Russell 3000 index.”

The article notes “another wrinkle in evaluating a fund’s history: Returns are measured at specific points to enable uniformity and make comparisons easier. These snapshots in time, however, do not reflect how people actually invest.” According to Wiener, “most investors don’t put their money in at the beginning of a quarter and then take it out at the end of a quarter.”