Is there an Incentive for Active Retail Mutual Funds to Closet Index in Down Markets? Fund Performance and Subsequent Annual Fund Flows; Study finds there’s no big benefit to active management in down markets

Is there an Incentive for Active Retail Mutual Funds to Closet Index in Down Markets? Fund Performance and Subsequent Annual Fund Flows between 1997 and 2011

Aron A. Gottesman Pace University – Lubin School of Business – Department of Finance and Economics

Matthew R. Morey Pace University – Lubin School of Business – Department of Finance and Economics

Menahem Rosenberg Pace University

April 26, 2013

Abstract: 
Closet indexing is the practice of staying close to the benchmark index while still maintaining to be an active mutual fund manager and probably also charging fees similar to those of truly active managers. Recent work shows active mutual fund managers were much more likely to closet index during down markets. Indeed, closet indexing became so popular that it accounted for about a third of all mutual fund assets during time surrounding 2008. In this paper we set out to answer the question of whether there actually is an incentive for mutual fund managers to closet index during down markets. To do this we examine the relationship between annual fund performance and subsequent annual fund flows in both up and down markets. Using this approach we find that the relationship between fund performance and subsequent net fund flows is significantly different in up markets years as compared to down market years. Specifically, we find that fund performance does not drive subsequent flows nearly as much in down markets as it does in up markets. Indeed, in up markets, we find a strong positive relationship between fund performance and subsequent flows. Conversely, in down years, the amount of outperformance or underperformance does not significantly influence the next year’s fund flows. Hence, based on these results, there is an incentive for active managers to closet index in down markets as investors do not reward outperformance with higher flows.

Fund managers should go into the closet when markets drop

Study finds there’s no big benefit to active management in down markets

By Michael Shagrin
July 25. 2013 3:54PM

Fund managers have every incentive to mimic their benchmark when markets are down, according to researchers at Pace University and Touro College. During up years, a strong relationship exists between fund performance and net flows. However, during down years, outperforming or underperforming a benchmark does not have a significant impact on the subsequent year’s flows. This means that “there is an incentive for active managers to closet-index in down markets, as investors do not reward outperformance with higher flows,” according to the researchers, who recently conducted a study, “Is There an Incentive for Active Retail Mutual Funds to Closet Index in Down Markets? Fund Performance and Subsequent Annual Fund Flows between 1997 and 2011.” Closet indexing, or mirroring the asset composition of a benchmark index, is the opposite of active fund management — the type of vigorous oversight for which investors are willing to pay top dollar. “The basis for a fund manager’s income is usually net asset size,” said Matthew Morey, the New York Stock Exchange research scholar and professor of finance at Pace University. “In down markets, people have an aversion to taking their money out even if the fund is underperforming, but they also won’t put more money in if the fund is outperforming its benchmark index.” “If you outperform everyone, you’re still not going to get inflows,” he said. “Let’s say you’re down 10%, but everybody else is down 20%. People aren’t going to be giving you assets like they would if you were up 20% and everybody else is up 10%.” So why would active fund managers all of a sudden closet-index their asset allocation in the down market? “Well, they wouldn’t have to do as much work,” Mr. Morey said. “When fund managers aren’t benefiting from performance, they’re incentivized not to work as hard.” “Truly active management tends to do very well,” he said. “But if you charge the higher fees that go along with active management and you choose to closet-index, that fund ends up underperforming the generic index funds that charge very little in fees.” The observed down-market helplessness is in marked contrast to heightened fund activity during up years. Mr. Morey sees human behavioral tendencies, including an overwhelming distaste for losing, as the basis for these misaligned incentives. “There are widely disparate reactions to winning and losing,” he said. “Not only do losses hurt us more than gains perk us up, but we have this predisposition to want to get back to even.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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