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Index trackers underperform over the long-term, research finds

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Most tracker funds underperform when compared with the actively managed funds in their investment sector, according to research from advisory firm Chase de Vere.

This undermines the widely-held view that active managers generally underperform tracker funds. Chase de Vere said the research shows that despite having much lower charges than actively managed funds, trackers don’t necessarily provide good value for investors.

The only region where a passive approach clearly produced above average performance was in North America. The US market is large and efficient and it has historically been difficult for active managers to outperform. Research from index provider S&P Dow Jones last year found only 3% of actively managed US equity funds beat the S&P 500 index over the 10 years to the end of June 2016.

The group looked at the five and 10 year performance of the mainstream tracker funds; these were then compared with the performance of the other funds in their relevant investment sector. (Performance as at 7 August 2017. Source: FE Trustnet).

Patrick Connolly, certified financial planner, Chase de Vere, said: “The popularity of tracker funds is due to their low charges and the general perception that this should result in them performing well over the longer-term. However, our research shows that this could be an incorrect assumption.

“With the exception of North American and UK Mid Cap investments, no tracker fund has generated first or second quartile performance over the past 10 years. This means these funds have produced below average long-term performance.

“In part this is probably because active funds are likely to have a higher weighting in mid and small cap stocks and these should, over the longer-term, out-perform larger companies, which will usually be more heavily represented in trackers.”

In general, trackers have done well over the past 12 months because larger stocks – which are heavily represented in indices such as the FTSE 100 or S&P 500 – have done well. The performance of active and tracker funds will tend to be cyclical. If one has outperformed for a period of time, leadership will swap to the other. However, most surveys suggest that funds must be truly ‘active’ to add value. This may be shown by a large ‘active share’ (which is quoted by most fund managers).

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