It is very tempting to invest in an actively-managed mutual fund that advertises above-average historical returns. Why would you bother investing in the ones with below-average returns? However, there’s something behind the whole “past performance does not guarantee future results” fine print. While there will always be funds that outperform looking backwards, that fact just doesn’t reveal very much about the future.
Index provider Standard & Poor’s publishes something called the S&P Persistence Scorecard twice a year, which examines the persistence of mutual fund performance over consecutive and overlapping time periods. By using quartiles, relative performance is compared, not absolute performance. Do the funds that had top returns in the past continue to have top returns?
The most recent December 2013 study [pdf] reaffirms the general conclusions of many other similar studies on persistence of actively-managed mutual fund performance, namely that it is often nowhere to be found when compared with random chance.
Very few funds can consistently stay at the top. Our studies show that as time horizons widen,the performance persistence of top quartile managers declines. Of the 692 funds that were in the top quartile as of September 2011, only 7.23% managed to stay in the top quartile at the end of September 2013. Similarly, 5.28% of the large-cap funds, 10.31% of the mid-cap funds and 8.15% of the small-cap funds remain in the top quartile.
For the three years ended September 2013, 19.25% of large-cap funds, 20.1% of mid-cap funds and 26.8% of small-cap funds maintained a top-half ranking over three consecutive 12-month periods. It should be noted that random expectations would suggest a rate of 25% and small-cap funds was the only category to exceed the repeat rate.
A good analogy I’ve read is that you don’t drive by only looking at your rearview mirror.