Don’t chase Neil Woodford to his new fund – here’s why

If a star fund manager switches funds, should you move too? The answer might surprise you, says Ed Bowsher.

700-woodford

Neil Woodford: hold off switching

Fund management companies often make a big fuss about star' fund managers, like Fidelity's Anthony Bolton (before he went to China), or Neil Woodford, who is currently all over the news.

You can see why. Managers who can consistently beat the market over a long period of time are vanishingly rare. If you can spot a future star early in their career, backing one is a great way to make money.

And of course, it's also a great marketing tool for the fund management company.

Trouble is, as with any other industry, the star players often switch teams. Sometimes they get lured elsewhere by an enormous pay cheque. Or they strike out on their own Woodford has just launched Woodford Investment Management with his own Woodford Equity Income fund.

So if you're in a star manager's fund and they switch companies, logic suggests you should move with them, right? After all, it's their talent you're interested in, not the fund itself.

Yet strangely enough, that may not be the right decision

How funds perform when the star manager leaves

Pension company Aegon UK has evaluated the performance of 11 funds that were once run by stars who then moved elsewhere. Nine of these funds continued to beat their benchmark (the stock market index the fund is compared against) after the star manager had gone.

We won't look at all 11 funds. But for example, Fidelity's Special Situations fund beat its benchmark by an average 5.3% a year under Anthony Bolton from 1985 to 2008. After that, the performance did deteriorate but it still beat the index by 1.9% a year.

And with a handful of the other funds, outperformance actually improved after the original star manager had left. On the whole, Aegon's research suggests that on average, the ex-star' funds beat the market by 1.66% a year.

This matters. You see, the whole point of buying an actively-managed fund is that the manager promises to use their stock-picking skills to beat the market. Yet the majority fail to do so, despite the high fees you pay them for the privilege of trying.

So if you can find a fund that works', you should probably stick with it. Put it this way, if all the funds I've ever invested in beat the benchmark, I'd be a significantly richer man than I am now.

The question is: why do these funds keep outperforming even after the manager who made them successful has left?

Aegon suggests a lot of it is down to culture. A fund isn't all about one person. There may well be a team of analysts left behind who follow the same approach and style as their former boss. The departed star manager may even have trained up young talent who are ready to take over the reins.

Alternatively, sometimes a fund company may decide that the best way to ensure continued outperformance is simply to poach some top talent from a rival firm to take over the fund in other words, replace a star with another star.

Three main lessons to learn from the quest for a star fund manager

I'm sure many of them have already moved their money to Woodford's new fund. But if you still have money with Invesco Perpetual, I suggest you keep it there. Sure, Woodford has a great record. But Aegon's research suggests you will still do pretty well with his successor, Mark Barnett.

I feel especially confident about Barnett because he also has a strong record managing some smaller income funds for Invesco Perpetual. In fact, as I noted in MoneyWeek magazine this week, on some measures Barnett is actually doing better than Woodford in terms of recent performance.

Secondly, as a rule of thumb, you should keep any chopping and changing of your investments to a minimum. I own some actively-managed funds, and I wouldn't sell any of them just to follow the manager. I've bought these funds because of the strategy they follow or the sector they give me exposure to and that won't change just because the manager does.

Finally, this whole debate is just yet another demonstration of why you need a very good reason to opt for active' fund management over passive' funds, which simply track an index. The fact that so few fund managers can genuinely be described as stars' suggests that the odds of you getting lucky and finding one who can beat the market regularly are very slim.

Better to stick with cheap passive funds where possible at least you know you'll get the return on the market (less costs) rather than getting a nasty surprise the next time you look at your portfolio. My colleague Phil Oakley can show you how to build a complete portfolio using passive funds alone find out more about his Lifetime Wealth strategy here.

Lifetime Wealth is a regulated product issued by Fleet Street Publications Ltd. Your capital is at risk when you invest in shares, never risk more than you can afford to lose. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future results. Please seek independent financial advice if necessary. Fleet Street Publications Ltd. 0207 633 3600.

Our recommended articles for today

The Ikea indicator' says buy Indonesia

What price comparison sites don't tell you

On this day in history

22 July 1894: Paris to Rouen motor car competition

Recommended

Why the market is wrong about private equity
Investment trusts

Why the market is wrong about private equity

When it comes to listed private-equity trusts, investors are overly sceptical, with many funds trading at heavy discounts to their net asset values. B…
9 Aug 2022
Fear of missing out – what should investors do now?
Investment strategy

Fear of missing out – what should investors do now?

Markets have rallied from their mid-June lows. But if you missed out, as most investors did, what should you do now? Max King explains.
8 Aug 2022
Where to find inflation-resistant stocks
Investment strategy

Where to find inflation-resistant stocks

Terry Smith’s latest update contains some valuable pointers for investors looking to protect against inflation.
8 Aug 2022
A fond farewell to a MoneyWeek legend
Investment strategy

A fond farewell to a MoneyWeek legend

John Stepek, MoneyWeek’s executive editor, is leaving for fresh pastures. Dominic Frisby shares his thoughts.
5 Aug 2022

Most Popular

Are UK house prices finally heading for a crash?
House prices

Are UK house prices finally heading for a crash?

The latest house price figures show a fall of 0.1% in July. With interest rates rising, inflation hitting double figures and a recession on the cards,…
5 Aug 2022
Brace yourself for the return of rationing
Economy

Brace yourself for the return of rationing

Russia is turning off the cheap energy. That is already leading to belt-tightening, says Matthew Lynn. Who will suffer most, and which sectors will th…
5 Aug 2022
Fear of missing out – what should investors do now?
Investment strategy

Fear of missing out – what should investors do now?

Markets have rallied from their mid-June lows. But if you missed out, as most investors did, what should you do now? Max King explains.
8 Aug 2022