Julie Jason's Your Money: How many funds topped the S&P 500 Index for past 3 years?

By JULIE JASON December 22. 2017 7:37PM

I'm in research mode, and I'm wondering: Since the stock market returned about 36 percent cumulative over the past three years through November 2017 (10.8 percent annualized), did any fund managers or ETFs (exchange-traded funds) do better?

Using the Steele Mutual Fund Expert's database, I found quite a few. After eliminating duplicate share classes, I found 977 funds that beat the Standard & Poor's 500 index (I used an SPDR S&P 500 ETF - ticker: SPY - to represent an investment in the market).

To my surprise, only 74 were leveraged.

Leveraged funds use higher-risk strategies, seeking to maximize movements of the market to amplify returns. The leveraged funds included growth, aggressive growth, growth and income, small company, financial, health, natural resources (inverse), technology, real estate and utility funds. The 74 leveraged funds' three-year returns ranged from a high of 65.1 percent (155.2 percent cumulative) to a low of 11 percent (30.3 percent cumulative).

That left 903 funds that were not leveraged, including the highest performer, which achieved a 193 percent annualized return for the three-year period (2,421 percent cumulative).

By the way, if you can guess the fund, I'll send you a copy of my book "Managing Retirement Wealth." Email me at readers@juliejason.com. I'll announce it in an upcoming column.

Most of the outperformers were growth funds (41 percent), followed by small-company funds (21 percent).

Five percent (51 funds) were growth and income funds, which are generally lower in risk (measured by beta) than S&P 500 index funds. However, this group's average beta was higher at 1.09. Returns ranged from a high of 16.2 percent (56.8 percent cumulative) to a low of 10.9 percent (36.5 percent cumulative), with yields ranging from a high of 4.7 percent to a low of zero.

Let me give you a few examples, but only for intellectual curiosity and not for investment selection: That would involve quite a bit more research.

The grouping included SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (ticker: SDY), with a dividend yield of 2.3 percent and a three-year average return of 11.1 percent (37.4 percent cumulative) and a beta of 0.84.

It also included PowerShares High Yield Equity Dividend Achiever ETF (ticker: PEY), with a 3.2 percent yield, average annual returns of 14.3 percent (49.5 percent cumulative) and a beta of 0.74, as well as PIMCO StocksPLUS Long Duration Institutional (ticker: PSLDX), with a yield of 4 percent, an average annual return of 15.1 percent (52.4 percent cumulative) for the three-year period and a beta of 1.02. Then there was WisdomTree U.S. Quality Dividend Growth ETF (ticker: DGRW), with a 12-month yield of 1.7 percent, three-year annual returns of 11.8 percent (39.7 percent cumulative) and a beta of 1.04.

Returning to the broad list (all 977 funds, including leveraged funds), 12 had returns higher than 30 percent annualized for the three years. Forty-nine had returns between 20 and 30 percent. One hundred fifty-three had returns between 15 and 20 percent.

And the remainder, the majority (763 of 977), were between 15 percent and 10.9 percent, beating the S&P 500 index return of 10.8 percent.

You also have to wonder how these outperformers achieved higher returns. Did they take on greater risk than the S&P 500? The majority did, but a large percentage (411 of the 977 funds) did not. These funds outperformed the S&P 500 ETF on an absolute return basis as well as a risk-adjusted basis.

There are a lot of ways to make money in the stock market - and a lot of research tools available to provide insights. Researching returns is not a way to select investments. After all, return history is someone else's experience. If you would like to talk about the methodology of choosing mutual funds, let me know.

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager at Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn., welcomes questions and comments at readers@juliejason.com.


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