Larry Swedroe reviews results from the new mid-year 2017 SPIVA scorecard.

Since 2002, S&P Dow Jones Indices has published its S&P Indices Versus Active (SPIVA) scorecards, which compare the performance of actively managed equity mutual funds to their appropriate index benchmarks. The 2017 midyear scorecard includes 15 years of data.


Following are some of the highlights from the report:

  • Over the five-year period, 82% of large-cap managers, 87% of midcap managers and 94% of small-cap managers lagged their respective benchmarks. Note that the performance of active managers was the worst in the very asset class they claim is the most inefficient.
  • Over the 15-year investment horizon, 93% of large-cap managers, 94% of midcap managers, 94% of small-cap managers and 82% of REIT managers failed to outperform on a relative basis. Again, note the poor performance in small-caps, as just 6% of active funds outperformed their benchmark index.
  • Over the 15-year horizon, on an equal-weighted (asset-weighted) basis, active large-cap managers underperformed by 1.5 percentage points (0.9 percentage points), active midcap managers underperformed by 1.9 percentage points (1.3 percentage points), active small-cap managers underperformed by 2.3 percentage points (1.6 percentage points) and active REIT managers underperformed by 0.8 percentage points (0.5 percentage points). Note that multicap managers, who have the supposed advantage of being able to move across asset classes, underperformed by 1.3 percentage points (0.4 percentage points). Again, the worst performance was in the supposedly inefficient small-cap space.
  • Over the 3-, 5-, 10- and 15-year investment horizons, managers across all international equity categories underperformed their respective benchmarks. Over the 15-year horizon, 85% of active global funds underperformed, 92% of international funds underperformed, 83% of international small-cap funds underperformed and, in the supposedly inefficient emerging markets, 95% of active funds underperformed.
  • Over the 15-year horizon, on an equal-weighted (asset-weighted) basis, active global funds underperformed by 0.8 percentage points (0 percentage points), active international funds underperformed by 2.0 percentage points (0.6 percentage points) and active international small funds underperformed by 1.1 percentage points (0.3 percentage points). Emerging market funds produced the worst performance, underperforming by 2.5 percentage points (1.4 percentage points).
  • Highlighting the importance of taking into account survivorship bias, over the 15-year period, more than 58% of domestic equity funds, 55% of international equity funds and approximately 47% of all fixed-income funds were merged or liquidated.

While I believe the preceding data is compelling evidence of the active management industry’s failure to generate alpha, it’s important to note that all the report’s figures are based on pretax returns.

Given that actively managed funds’ higher turnover generally makes them less tax efficient, on an after-tax basis, the failure rates would likely be much higher (taxes are often the highest expense for actively managed funds).

Fixed Income

The performance of actively managed funds in fixed-income markets was just as poor. The following results are for the 15-year period:

  • The worst performance was in long-term government bond funds, long-term investment-grade bond funds and high-yield funds. In each case, just 2% of active funds beat their respective benchmarks. On an equal-weighted (asset-weighted) basis, long-term government bond funds underperformed by a shocking 3.5 percentage points (3.0 percentage points), long-term investment-grade bond funds underperformed by 2.6 percentage points (2.2 percentage points) and high-yield funds underperformed by 2.3 percentage points (1.7 percentage points).
  • For domestic bond funds, the least poor performance was in intermediate- and short-term investment-grade funds, where 76% and 71% of active funds underperformed, respectively. On an equal-weighted basis, their underperformance was 0.5 percentage points and 0.7 percentage points, respectively. However, in both cases, on an asset-weighted basis, they outperformed by 0.3 percentage points. This result possibly could be explained by the funds having held longer maturities (taking more risk) than their benchmarks.
  • Active municipal bond funds also fared poorly, with between 84% and 92% of them underperforming. On an equal-weighted (asset-weighted) basis, the underperformance was between 0.6 percentage points and 0.7 percentage points (0.2 percentage points and 0.4 percentage points).
  •  Emerging market bond funds also fared poorly, as 67% of them underperformed. On an equal-weighted basis, the underperformance was 1.4 percentage points. On an asset-weighted basis, the underperformance was 0.4 percentage points.


The SPIVA scorecards continue to provide powerful evidence on the persistent failure of active management’s ability to generate alpha (risk-adjusted outperformance). In particular, they serve to highlight the canard that active management is successful in supposedly inefficient markets like small-cap stocks and emerging markets.

The scorecards also provide compelling support for Charles Ellis’ observation that, while it’s possible to win the game of active management, the odds of doing so are so poor that it’s not prudent to try—which is why he called it “the loser’s game.” And it’s why we continue to see a persistent flow of assets away from actively managed funds.

This commentary originally appeared September 27 on

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