The benefits of active fund management

By July 20, 2023Investments
benefits of active fund management - active and passive on blackboard

One factor to consider when choosing an investment approach, is to decide whether you are looking to follow an active or passive investment style. Active management involves the research and analysis of a target market by a team of analysts, and the decisions of management teams who build a portfolio of best ideas. The alternative approach is to invest passively, which aims to simply track the performance of an index.

Our view is that both investment management styles have features that make them attractive to investors. At face value, a passive investment approach is the most cost effective method, and also potentially offers greater diversification. There is, however, a cost to using only passive investments, which is the potential underperformance compared to an actively managed fund which outperforms the representative market and its’ peers. Given that active managers can often outperform the benchmark by several percentage points of performance each year, and potentially often achieve downside control through asset allocation, this makes quality active funds an attractive proposition.


A tale of two halves

The first half of 2023 sprang a surprise on many analysts, as passive investment strategies broadly performed well compared to active managed funds. Many were expecting 2023 to be a year when active managers could carve out additional returns by allocating their portfolios in the most appropriate positions; however, index investing, in particular in the US and Global markets, has seen positive returns so far this year.

The performance of a handful of global technology giants, including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Nvidia have largely been responsible for much of the Equities gains this year. The S&P500 index is a weighted index, where a greater proportion of the index is allocated to the largest companies, measured by their market capitalisation. Apple currently holds a 7.5% weight in the index, closely followed by Microsoft, at 6.8%. The next three largest, Amazon, Nvidia and Alphabet, represent a combined allocation of almost 10%, and as a result, close on a quarter of the index is made up of these five companies.

Given these facts, it is easy to see the reason for the strong performance in passive strategies. By simply holding a US index fund, you are allocating a quarter of your investment to the largest five stocks, which have all performed well so far this year. Indeed, the S&P “Equal Weighted” index, which assigns an equal proportion to each component of the index, has underperformed the headline weighted index by 10% over the year to date.

The strong performance of the tech giants has also influenced the performance of Global passive funds, as the US dominates the MSCI World Index (the broadest index of the largest global companies), representing 69% of the global index by weight.

The second half of 2023 could see a resurgence from active managers. There is much uncertainty about the trajectory of the US economy over coming months, with many economists expecting a mild recession. Much will depend on the actions of the Federal Reserve, who have performed admirably in the fight against inflation (indeed, with much more success than the Bank of England). US inflation has now fallen back to a 3% annualised rate, and economic data has been surprisingly resilient. Corporate earnings have also largely continued to beat expectations. This strength could, in turn, mean that the long awaited “pivot” from the Federal Reserve, that is to say, the point at which interest rates are cut, may be pushed back.

In these conditions, active managers, who have freedom to allocate their portfolio, can take a high conviction position in areas that are undervalued, potentially reaping rewards from this investment approach. If indices fail to make headway, there is no reason why a skilled manager or management team cannot generate additional returns by selecting the most appropriate portfolio of assets.


Our approach

Our investment approach has always been to blend passive and active management when building our portfolios. Passive funds provide good diversification across the widest range of positions, and given the lack of fund manager at the controls, tend to be cheaper. Active managers, on the other hand, can outperform through the selection of their portfolio of assets. Our Investment Committee regularly undertakes comprehensive due diligence on the performance of actively managed funds, and meets with leading fund managers across the industry. Through these focused sessions, we can gain a clear understanding of a manager’s strategy, style and approach, and how they have aligned their portfolio for the expected conditions.

Through our active fund management selections, we also look to select different investment approaches that complement each other. For example, some managers have a clear value bias, seeking out positions in mature companies that pay attractive levels of dividend income. Other managers are biased towards growth stocks, where managers often take a high conviction approach and construct a focused portfolio of relatively few positions. By combining these different styles, we add a further element of diversification and risk management.


Time to take stock

The first half of 2023 has seen passive strategies outperform; however, the remainder of the year could see active management styles back in favour. We suggest this is an ideal opportunity to take stock of an existing investment portfolio, or pension investment strategy, to see whether any changes are needed.

Speak to one of our experienced financial planners here to start a conversation.