Fundmonitors.com Spotlight Review -
Top Performing Australian Small/Mid Cap Managed Funds
10 August 2022
This FundMonitors research article puts the Spotlight on the performance of Australian Small/Mid Cap Sector over the Financial Year to 30 June, 2022.
Following the Covid downturn in March 2020, the sector gained popularity with Australian investors as they looked for the significant opportunities the small cap sector can produce. However the last 12 months has, to use a sporting analogy, been a game of two halves, with the strong performance from July to December 2021 coming to a grinding halt in January 2022.
This has seen some small cap stocks reduced to prices below their cash value as noted by Dean Fergie of Cyan Investment Management in a recent Fund in Focus video. As a result, many active small and mid cap funds struggled to provide positive returns in FY 2022. There may be multiple reasons for this, most of which are covered in this video, for investors and managers alike it was a tough and disappointing six months.
The graph below shows the distribution of fund returns for the Small/Mid Cap Peer Group on Fundmonitors.com over the 12 months to June 2022. Of the 80 funds included in the group, just 4 managed to post a positive return, with 24 failing to outperform the index.
However, the Australian Small/Mid Cap Peer Group as a whole outperformed the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Index over the last 5 and 10 years on a cumulative basis. The graph below shows the performance of the entire peer group over 5 years to June 2022, again highlighting the strong rally from April 2020 after the initial Covid shock, and the downturn since December 2021 as increased interest rates adjusted valuations, followed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Given the wide variance in individual fund performances, clearly manager and fund selection is a crucial decision, even though the peer group average produced better performance than the underlying index over time. However, this is not as easy as choosing the best performing fund from the latest league table, as shown by the table below showing the Top 25 performing funds for the 12 months to June, 2022, and their performance in previous years:
A key point to note is the position of funds in the table each year. Of the top 25 performing funds in the 21/22 Financial year, none appeared in the Top 25 list across all 5 years. Only 4 of them, namely Glenmore Australian Equities Fund, DMX Capital Partners Limited, Nikko AM Core Equity Fund (NZ) and the Ausbil MicroCap Fund, appeared in the Top 25 in four out of five years.
Importantly, or perhaps disconcertingly, each of these funds ranked in the bottom 25 performers at least once over the 5 year period. In spite of this, and with the benefit of hindsight, an equal investment in each of these four in July 2017 would have resulted an attractive annualised return of 14.56% over 5 years, albeit with a drawdown of almost 30% in February and March 2020 as Covid hit.
While it is a useful exercise to understand which funds have performed best over each 12 month period, the table below shows the Top 25 funds over various time frames, ranked by their 5 year performance.
There are some familiar names from the previous table. It is also important to note that 6 funds in Top 25 over 5 years also ranked in the bottom 25 in the 12 months to June 2022. Consistency, particularly given a period with 2 separate downturns - Covid in 2020, and then inflation led increases in interest rates in 2022 - has been difficult to achieve.
Given the volatility of the past 3 years in particular, is it also worth considering fund performance based on both a risk and return basis. The following chart shows the top 25 Funds over the past 3 years with their maximum drawdown shown in red. The small and mid cap sector is particularly affected by sharply falling markets when liquidity is reduced, or in a worst case environment, evaporates.
Notably, a number of funds that performed well across multiple timeframes have derived their performance in different ways. The DMX Capital Partners Fund was the strongest performer over 3 years primarily as a result of having one of the lowest drawdowns in the peer group, with a Down Capture Ratio of just 51.47. Conversely, the Perpetual Pure Microcap Fund was 7th over 3 years, but with a maximum drawdown of -41.41% it had to rely on an Up Capture Ratio of 147.67 to achieve its position in the Top 10.
As much as investors, analysts and research houses enjoy the idea of lists of top performing funds, our research has consistently shown that investing in last year's Top 10 does not result in top performance in the following year! In spite of this the natural tendency of investors to chase top performing funds over a short time frame continues, often with disappointing results.
So if 12 month performance is not a reliable indicator of a fund's future performance, what is the optimum time frame, or are there other key indicators involved in fund selection? Every fund's offer document contains the disclaimer that "past performance is not a guarantee….. " but every investor looks for a manager's track record as a guide. Making it equally difficult for the investor and advisor is the strong evidence that managers and funds with a track record of under three years outperform their larger peers with a longer track record.
There is no clear cut answer - just as there is no clear cut "best" fund or manager. Undoubtedly diversification reduces risk, but potentially it also potentially dampens returns as well. Fund selection and portfolio composition will therefore depend on each investor's risk and return (R&R) profile, itself complicated by the fact that investors' R&R profile changes over time in line with the market outlook.
The most obvious (or frustrating) conclusion from the data is that selecting funds with the benefit of data and hindsight is simple, but sadly in real time it is not so easy!
All data produced in this report was sourced from the Fundmonitors.com database which provides information on over 700 actively managed funds. Funds can be selected across Peer Groups, multiple sectors and geographies, with tools that enable investors and financial advisors to search and compare funds, run custom reports and create and analyse portfolios. For more information on Fundmonitors.com please click here.
Disclaimer: All information in this FundMonitors.com Sector Spotlight is believed to be correct at the time of publication. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and investors should make their own enquires and conduct research on any fund prior to making an investment decision. Nothing in this report should be considered as a recommendation for any fund named herein.