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A measurement of the market's alpha—the risk-adjusted return above one's benchmark—hit the lowest level in at least three decades last year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, giving a quantifiable excuse to money managers for their dismal performance in the fifth year of this bull market.
The Federal Reserve's whitewashing of stock market values through unprecedented quantitative easing is to blame, lifting good and bad boats alike and damping volatility, investors and analysts said.
"Low volatility during 1Q-3Q 2014 suppressed performance spreads to record-low levels last year, creating a difficult environment for stock-pickers," Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Savita Subramanian wrote in a note to clients last week. "Even with the benefit of hindsight, if one owned the best performers, the outperformance spread touched the lowest level we have seen in 2014."