Investors likely already know that low cost index funds tend to greatly outperform high fee actively managed funds (to the tune of 1.5% or more annually). That comes as no surprise. However, what was surprising to us is that in fixed income, the tables are greatly turned. While passive funds do have a slight edge over active ones on average (0.18% per year), in many cases high fee actively managed fixed income funds outperform passive ones. This holds true over long time periods, including ten-year horizons.
FINSUM: This is an interesting finding and one that makes intuitive sense. The bond market is vast, hard to access, and full of intricacies. That kind of environment lends itself to specialism in a way that large cap equities does not, and the performance metrics show it.
So across the wealth management industry there has been a gnawing and anxious debate that may be keeping advisors up at night—does the fiduciary rule mean that advisors need to always offer the lowest cost funds to clients? Well, one lawyer’s opinion is a resounding “no”. Citing the rule itself, the DOL says “Adviser and Financial Institution do not have to recommend the transaction that is the lowest cost or that generates the lowest fees without regard to other relevant factors”. That other relevant factor could be a myriad of things, such as the other holdings in a portfolio or whether one fund has higher performance than another or a different fee structure and so on.
FINSUM: We have personally seen a lot of debate on this issue, and while many do realize that they do not have to offer the lowest cost investments, fear of regulatory trouble pushes them to do so.
Anyone on the lookout for signs of a correction might want to pay attention to this. New data shows that US investors are avoiding US stock funds. Of the $4.1 bn poured into mutual funds and ETFs in the week ending December 27th, around 70% of the money flowed overseas. The trend is nothing new though, as US stock funds saw their third straight year of net outflows despite the market rising strongly. Taxable bond funds and international stock funds have seen 56 straight weeks of inflows.
FINSUM: We don’t think this is a warning sign of anything other than good times to come. US investors tend to put more money overseas when they are bullish, so this is not a negative sign.