Stocks of active managers outperform

The gains in recent weeks have come amid a broader rotation into financial stocks — and despite the recent popularity of passive strategies

Jun 21, 2017 @ 9:46 am

By Bloomberg News

They're beating the benchmark!

Or at least, they've caught up with broader market. Shares of asset managers have been staging their own little bull market over the last few weeks, with an index of 18 stocks in the S&P 1500 advancing in nine of the past 12 days. The rally has been enough to erase losses for the year and push the gauge past the S&P 500 based on 2017 returns.

Before you burn your ETF prospectuses, recall that the gains are coming amid a broader rotation into financial stocks that has coincided with a hammering in technology companies since June 9.

"It's a push-and-pull game. Asset managers, like financial stocks in general, went from investors' love to negligence, and now they are loved again," said Ilya Feygin, senior strategist at WallachBeth Capital. "There is an expectation that milder rules for the financial industry will benefit them and there is some optimism about proposed corporate tax cuts."

Sentiment toward the larger financial sector has been improving since the Treasury Department issued a report on overhauling banking regulations, including dialing back the Volcker Rule, something that asset managers like BlackRock Inc. had called for.

It's not inconceivable the rally reflects a pickup in active funds' performance. More than half of active equity products have beaten their benchmark indexes in the first quarter, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. data. But passive strategies keep gaining market share. Index funds including ETFs swelled by $104 billion in the first quarter as investors pulled $37 billion from active stock pickers. U.S. investors moved $429 billion to passive while pulling $326 billion from active funds last year.

The rally in asset managers simply reflects optimism inspired by the broader advance in the S&P 500, which on Monday reached an all-time high for the 25th time this year, according to Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management.

"You could easily argue that investors anticipating a broader market advance will want to get into asset manager shares as they should benefit from higher fees, but the series is more of a coincident indicator than a leading indicator," Mr. Jacobsen said. "The sub-index amplifies moves in the broader market, but it doesn't do a good job predicting where the market will go."

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