Any small cap investor can tell you that the end of the year is not usually a good time. Small caps historically suffer in November and December compared to the rest of the year. However, 2019 looks to be shaping up differently according to the Wall Street Journal. The reason small caps are usually weak at the end of the year is that managers sell off their holdings and mirror the market at the year-end as a way of insulating their annual bonus (which is based on outperformance). However, in years where overall stock performance has been strong, this pattern is less obvious. So, given 2019’s strong gains, it seems like small caps probably won’t suffer so much.
FINSUM: This is by no means a guarantee, but it certainly seems like a more positive structural consideration.
Vanguard is a pretty tough firm to beat in the mutual fund space. Their sterling reputation is hard to top, and no one seems to outdo them in the asset class. However, there may be a viable competitor: boutique manager Dodge & Cox. In fact, the fund manager just got ranked first out of 150 mutual fund companies by Morningstar. The rankings are based “on a variety of factors, including analyst fund ratings, expense ratios, and corporate stewardship”. Perhaps most importantly for investors, almost all Dodge & Cox mutual funds beat their category averages over the last decade.
FINSUM: Dodge & Cox has outperformed Vanguard in many ways, though obviously Vanguard can offer lower costs than anyone else. In many cases, though, performance has been good enough to more than account for the difference in fees.
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.
Fidelity made history this week by introducing the first zero fee funds, which will track very broad self-indexed markets. Fidelity’s move is somewhat of a ploy, and definitely a demonstration of scale, as the company has many ways to profit from a customer once it has them in the door. But don’t be fooled, as fees aren’t everything. In fact, there are significant differences in performance even between index trackers of the same benchmark, like the S&P 500, and the differences between them can add up to a whole lot more than the difference in fees. For instance, Schwab and Vanguard already have broad index trackers at 3 and 6 basis points of fees, so hardly a big difference to zero, especially if their performance is better.
FINSUM: “Zero” definitely changes things, but once you are in the sub-15 bp fee category, performance is going to make a bigger difference than fees.