Average active share for European large-cap funds was 69.6% in the three-year period through March 2015, with a median of 72.4% when measured against the funds' appropriate style indexes. That is the finding of a new study from Morningstar.
“Our results show that between 2005 and 2015 "closet indexing" has become rarer among European large-cap funds, and those funds with higher active shares have received the lion’s share of new assets. We find that funds with higher active share have delivered better investment results than the least active funds in most of our research period, but not unambiguously. Because dispersions in returns and risk characteristics become much wider as a portfolio’s active share rises towards 100%, investors should not rely solely on active share when selecting funds”.
Among other findings of the report, the percentage of funds with a three-year average active share below 60% (so-called closet indexers) was 20.2%. The portion of funds that can be characterized as closet indexers has been falling in the researched categories in recent years. The majority of new assets in European equities have landed in the most active funds.
Although funds in the most active quartile charge 33 basis points more on average than those in the least active quartile for their retail share classes, we find that when price is measured per unit of active share, European investors are overpaying for low active share funds. Investors should compare fees carefully as dispersion in fees among funds with similar active shares is high.
Morningstar finds a strong inverse correlation between active share and market risk. Active share numbers dropped considerably during the financial crisis of 2008-09 but have been rising at a steady pace since then.
Funds across the board lowered the share of mid- and small-cap stocks in their portfolios in 2008-09, but this was especially the case for the most active funds.
The funds with the highest active shares have done better, on average, than those in the least active quartile in all of the five-year periods tested between 1 July 2006 and June-end 2015. However, the difference in excess returns between the most and the least active quartile has decreased recently, which implies that the strength of active share as a selection tool is time-period dependent. Invariably, however, the funds with the lowest active shares have been the worst performers.
The study finds that funds in the highest active share quartile have displayed much stronger style biases than the average fund. This may not always be desirable from a fund investor's point of view, and complicates the use of active share in fund selection. The style effects have been especially strong in the small group of funds with an above 90% active share. After controlling for style effects in a four- factor regression model, we find their alpha to be lower than for any other group in the most recent five-year period researched.
Investors who use active share as a fund selection tool should exercise caution. As active share increases, dispersion in returns and risk levels rises sharply; the best and worst performing funds are to be found among the more active ones. Therefore, we advise using active share only in combination with other quantitative and qualitative tools.
Combining active share with tracking error adds a useful dimension to the analysis, and we find this to be an adequate analytical framework in the European large-cap space. Confirming results in US markets, we find that funds that exhibit a large tracking error but a low or moderate active share (so- called factor bet funds) have underperformed.
“We find that funds with Positive Morningstar Analyst Ratings tend to have above-average active shares and tracking errors”, says the study.
“In less than a decade, "active share" has become a widely used concept in fund analysis. However, much of the available active share research references only US-domiciled funds. In this paper we study a subset of European funds investing in European equities to see how their active share has developed over time, and evaluate how the active share measure might be used as a tool to aid fund selection within the European fund universe. The study encompasses the period 1 January 2005 through June-end 2015. By including only large-cap funds, we reduce the difficulties arising from benchmark selection and the impact of the small-cap effect”.
To see the report, use this link.