Fund managers should stop blaming poor performance on bad luck

James Coney

James Coney

The warning light on the dashboard has been flashing for a while now.

We have inflation, the end of cheap money printing, ongoing supply chain issues, the threat of war in the Ukraine, trade restrictions and sky-high valuations.

It is time for a stock rotation, it may even be the moment for an almighty correction.

You may sigh, you may mutter about diversification, but you still may end up having to pick up the phone to some panicky clients.

Fashion is a funny thing, particularly when it comes to investing.

One of the good things that may come from a sizeable fall in stocks would be to dent some of the confidence from new investors who seem to me to be too exposed to volatile equities, too overconfident with their risk and too poorly prepared to be in the market for the long-term.

And a correction may also make some think twice about the supposed unstoppable trajectory of low-cost tracker investing. In the past 15 years this has seemed like a one-way bet in markets bloated with cheap central bank funds. It may not in the future.

That should all mean an opportunity for fund managers to suddenly prove they can earn their place – particularly after so many years of being trounced by Vanguard Lifestrategy funds.

But I bet they will blow it. And they will blow it because of the way they communicate with investors, the lack of accountability they show and because they are mostly still stuck in a world where stubbornness is held up as a virtue.

What seems likely with the changes in the market is a rotation from growth to value. Valuations, particularly across the pond, have been frothy for a while. More than a third of the shares on Nasdaq, the American technology index, are priced at or above 10 times their annual sales.

Earnings seems to have lost almost all relevance in the conversation about investing. Value is back (probably). 

So what becomes of the growth managers?

The funny thing about style is how casually market analysts can talk down bad performance as being driven by a type of fund manager based on their long-term bias towards a certain strategy.

Does no one in the industry realise how utterly baffling that kind of casual disregard for underperformance really sounds to the average investor? It is about the only world where we routinely tolerate underachievement by dismissing it as bad luck.

And there is an irony that it is the type of thing no fund manager would ever tolerate from a company they invested in. You wouldn’t just blindly stick with the shares of Next if you believed that the whole business had fallen out of fashion and management were doing nothing to change it.