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Only a third of UK-based active equity funds outperform passives


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Only a third of active equity funds in the UK outperformed a passive alternative this year, according to research by investment platform AJ Bell.

The UK platform’s Manager versus Machine report analysed the performance of about 800 open-ended retail funds across seven Investment Association equity sectors.

AJ Bell found that only 34 per cent of active equity funds had beaten the median performance of passive funds in their respective sector this year.

The rate of active outperformance over passive rivals is particularly low for global and North American equity funds, standing at 25 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

This article was previously published by Ignites Europe, a title owned by the FT Group.

Laith Khalaf, head of investment analysis at AJ Bell, said: “2021 has been a pretty grim year for active managers, with passive funds ruling the roost and delivering better returns for investors on average.

“Outperforming active funds were particularly sparse in the global and North America sectors, which are hugely important for investors because they are two of the most popular areas for investment, accounting for £270bn (€318bn) of investors’ money.”

He added that, in the North America sector, “the picture is not much improved when looking over a 10-year period”.

Over the past decade, 22 per cent of active North America funds beat the median performance of passive peers. That figure rises to 32 per cent for the past five years, according to AJ Bell’s report.

“Longer-term underperformance from active funds in these sectors suggest there is a structural reason why relatively few funds outperform a passive alternative,” Khalaf said.

“This is no doubt partly down to the fact the US stock market is pored over by so many analytical eyes and so active managers naturally find it more difficult to find an edge. But the continued market domination by a small number of large tech stocks may also be feeding into the equation.”

“This issue has increasingly affected the global sector too, seeing as the US stock market has grown to such an extent that it now makes up around two-thirds of the world index,” he added.

Some 40 per cent of active global funds have outstripped their passive rivals over five years, while only 30 per cent have done so over 10 years.

“If the raging US bull market comes a cropper . . . this performance differential could get turned on its head, seeing as the average global active fund is around 8 per cent underweight the US compared to passive peers,” Khalaf wrote.

He added that since 56 per cent of active funds had beaten a passive alternative over 10 years, it suggested “investors need to be picky when it comes to buying active funds and perhaps the regions in which they choose to allocate to active managers”.

In 2021, 41 per cent of active UK equity funds beat the median performance of passive funds in the same sector. However, the rate of outperformance over passives rises to 85 per cent over 10 years.

Europe Ex-UK and global emerging markets active equity funds outperformed passive rivals over 10 years at a rate of 64 per cent and 72 per cent respectively, according to AJ Bell.

*Ignites Europe is a news service published by FT Specialist for professionals working in the asset management industry. It covers everything from new product launches to regulations and industry trends. Trials and subscriptions are available at

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