ETFs and Funds Investing Wealth

88% of Canadian Equity Funds Underperform

It’s a stock picker’s market, right? Investment manager earn their keep during down markets, right? Actively managed mutual funds can take advantage of market dispersion and volatility to pick outperforming stocks, right?


Yet again – through up markets, down markets, calm markets and volatile markets – Standard and Poors (S&P) proves that the myth of active investment management is pure bullshit.

S&P periodically releases the SPIVA Scorecard, which compares the performance of active mutual funds against their benchmarks. Whether looking at Canada, US or UK, this report has repeatedly shown that active managers underperform.

The SPIVA report is probably the most accurate of all mutual fund evaluations because of what it doesn’t leave out. The SPIVA Scorecard accounts for mutual fund survivorship bias. This adjustment is critical to understanding the true extent of manager underperformance over time.

Here’s how S&P explains this important adjustment:

Many funds might be liquidated or merged during a period of
study. However, for a market participant making a decision at the beginning of the period, these funds are part of the opportunity set. Unlike other commonly available comparison reports, SPIVA Canada Scorecards remove this survivorship bias.

Standard & Poors SPIVA Canada Scorecard

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Facts (from the SPIVA Canada Scorecard- ending June 30, 2020):

  • 88% of Canadian equity funds underperformed their benchmarks over the past year, in line with the 90% that did so over the past decade
  • On an asset-weighted basis, Canadian Equity funds returned a dismal 7.9% below the S&P/TSX Composite over the past year.
  • U.S. Equity funds posted the highest returns over the past year, with a 6.7% gain on an equal-weighted basis and 10.8% on an asset-weighted basis. Both of these metrics fell short of the 12.1% gain of the S&P 500 (CAD), with 84% of funds failing to clear this hurdle over the past year.
  • U.S. equities offered the best returns over the past decade, with the S&P 500 (CAD) gaining 16.9% per year, but active funds were unable to keep up: 95% fell short, by an average of 4.1% per year on an equal-weighted basis.
  • 53% of all funds in the eligible universe 10 years ago have since been liquidated or merged.

The performance tables below compare mutual fund categories (e.g. ‘Canadian Equity’) against their benchmarks (e.g. ‘S&P/TSX Composite’). The first table shows equal weighted returns (average fund return) and the second shows asset weighted returns (average fund returns weighted by size of assets in a fund). As you can see, there is significant underperformance across all time periods and categories.

This is not just an issue with the Canadian mutual funds industry. Here are some facts about the performance of mutual funds sold in the US:

Facts (from the SPIVA US Scorecard- ending June 30, 2020):

  • In 11 out of the 18 categories of domestic equity funds, the majority of funds continued to underperform their benchmarks.
  • 67% of domestic equity funds lagged the S&P Composite 1500® during the one-year period ending June 30, 2020.
  • In 13 out of the 14 fixed income categories, the majority of funds failed to keep up with their benchmarks.
  • Fund liquidation numbers across segments regularly reached into the 60% range over a 15-year horizon.

The equal and asset-weighted performance comparisons for US mutual funds are equally bad and just as significant as fund underperformance in Canada.

Why do most mutual funds underperform?

It’s simple.

1) Mutual funds charge a fee that can be as high as 3% in some cases (most are probably closer to 2%). Just to perform in line with the benchmark a fund manager has to outperform by the fee charged. They are starting from behind.

2) Mutual fund managers are trying to outperform against millions of other professional investors, all with the same public information. By the very nature of the market, there will be people who are wrong and people who are right. It is very difficult to be repeatedly right about something impacted by an infinite number of variables. Hence, the chance about being right about a particular portfolio (relative to a benchmark) at any point in time is about 50/50. Those odds are reduced over longer periods of time (the odds of flipping heads once is 50%, the odds of flipping heads twice in a row is 25%).

In that it provides no value added, investment fund management is therefore a commodity. An allocation to diversified portfolio of stocks has value, but the overlay of ‘active investment management’ provides no additional value (actually, it subtracts value as shown above). Investors should not pay for something that isn’t delivered. Therefore, investors should not pay active management fees, which are significantly higher than passive fees. This difference in fees could mean the difference between retiring well or retiring broke.

ETFs and Funds Income Investing Investing

Review: BMO Equal Weight Banks Index ETF (ZEB)

With Q3 earnings for the Canadian banks behind us, you might be considering investing in the banks using BMO Equal Weight Banks Index ETF (ZEB). This ETF exclusively holds an equal weight of each of the big 6 Canadian banks. While the convenience of this one-ticket solution is enticing, I believe using this ETF is a bad financial decision for long-term buy-and-hold investors.

I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to invest in the Canadian banks. I believe the banks have provisioned adequately for significant loan losses and are well prepared for the current economic disaster. Furthermore, Royal Bank, TD, CIBC, Scotia and Bank of Montreal respectively pay a 4.2%, 4.8%, 5.6%, 6.3% and 5.1% dividend yield (as at August 28, 2020). Many investors view these companies as interesting long-term holdings.

While ZEB can simplify the investment into Canadian banks into a single transaction, investing in a highly concentrated ETF like ZEB can be a bad idea. Anyone interested in buying-and-holding the Canadian banks for a long time might be better off simply buying the individual stocks.

Forget BMO Equal Weight Banks Index ETF (ZEB)…Buy the Stocks Instead

For example, let’s say you have $20,000 you want to invest. With an MER of 0.61%, ZEB ETF will cost you $122 per year to own plus any trading commissions. That cost (excluding the trading commission) is repeated each year in perpetuity and will rise as your holdings appreciate in value.

In contrast, you can buy 5 of the banks for a total one-time trading commission of between $0 and $50 (depending on your online broker). Let’s be generous and say you could pay $100 in commissions for the round trip. If you plan to hold your investment for a decade ZEB would cost you at least $1220 while owning the individual stocks would cost a maximum of $100.

While it’s true that ZEB rebalances between its holdings, one could easily replicate this at minimal cost annually using the dividend income spit off from these stocks.

Overall, the value proposition for ZEB is fairly weak for long-term investors. Of course, the story is different for people using ZEB for short term trading or hedging purposes. But I would guess that a significant number of people who hold ZEB don’t realize this.

If you’re a buy-and-hold investor I just saved you $1120. Don’t spend it all in one place.

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Fees Eat 57% of Your Investment Gains

Fact: Did you know that over your lifetime you might be handing your advisor over half the gains made on your investment portfolio? That means he gains more from looking after your money than you do.

Did he tell you his ultimate cost was more than half your gains?

Did she convince you your cost is some innocuously low percentage?

I ran the numbers and they don’t look good.

Did he tell you his ultimate cost was more than half your gains?

The chart below illustrates the gains made on a $10,000 investment that earns 8% annually over the course of 30 years. The blue line illustrates the gains if no fees are charged. The red line incorporates a 1% fee. The yellow line a 2.53% fee.

Why 2.53%? Because that’s the average MER for a Canadian mutual fund.

Given recent fee pressures a 2.53% MER for the average Canadian mutual fund might seem high, but for all the recent talk about fees a huge amount of legacy assets still sits in old-school expensive mutual funds.

The gains earned on the 3 portfolios after 30 years range from a high of $90,627 to a comparatively measly $39,416. That’s a 57% difference! That difference is all owing to fees that go to the consortium of well-suited people investing your money.

Even if you only went from no MER to a 1% MER, you’d still be giving up 27% of your gains.

But doesn’t your advisor earn that money? Not in today’s world. Through any number of online brokers, you can buy a ‘set it and forget it’ portfolio for 0.25%. If you want to get a little more involved, you can build your own portfolio for roughly 0.10%. Not quite ‘no fee’, but close.

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