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Active Managers Having Their Worst Year Ever

Despite the stock market’s relatively robust performance in 2010, this has been a bad year for active managers—in fact, as bad as it’s ever been.

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Just one in four beat their benchmarks for the year, according to data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which said this is the “toughest year on record” for active management.

At the same time, the growth guys have mopped up the value guys, no matter what the world’s most famous value investor, Warren Buffett, says.

About 1 in 3 growth managers took out their benchmarks, while just 18 percent of value managers have done the same. Core managers were the back of the pack, with 12 percent outperforming, BofAML says.

Growth managers look for companies with high P/E ratios and good earnings; value is about finding cheap stocks; active managers more frequently buy and sell stocks, while passive managers rely on portfolio balances to adjust risk ratios.

So what’s happened this year?

BofAML breaks the trend into three reasons:

High correlations in the market, or movements in which stocks go up or down together.

Low spreads on returns.

Illiquid stocks have been bringing in higher returns compared to how much weight they comprise in the various indices.

To be sure, November showed a change in trend somewhat. Overall, 44 percent of active managers beat in the month, compared to 32 percent of core managers.

That carries on a trend that started in September, when stocks defied seasonal expectations and rose in what is usually a down time for the markets.

And correlations for sure have been dropping, with the CBOE Correlation Index tumbling 43 percent from its late-August high.

So there could be hope for the active guys after all.

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