Uh-oh. Mutual fund managers have gotten considerably more pessimistic about the market. We shouldn't let that alarm us, though, because it's not very useful information. Many fund managers are not the geniuses you might think they are. And even if they're right, it's still not the worst news.
Fund managers' growing bearishness was reflected in a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey. It found that a net 12% of managers surveyed expected the world's economy to get worse over the coming year, which is markedly more pessimistic than last month, when the score was a positive 24% in favor of the economy strengthening.
Here's why you shouldn't fret about it too much, though: Just as the average American isn't the best assessor of our economic condition, neither are fund managers. They're not all geniuses. Check out how uninspiring some funds are. The two examples below are from a Forbes list of the worst-performing funds of the past decade.
- The First American MidCap Select A (FATAX) fund has underperformed its mid-cap benchmark over the past three, five, and 10 years. Its managers say they look for companies with strong or improving business fundamentals and attractive valuations. Yet some of the stocks those managers have selected don't seem to fit that bill. There's Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF ) , which has been lavishly compensating its CEO while revenue has shrunk, and which seems, at best, just fairly valued these days. It also has held arguably overvalued shares of Office Depot (NYSE: ODP ) , which has been a value-loser over the past decade, having trouble competing against Staples. The fund dumped those two stocks between April 30 and June 30, but it's not clear whether managers sold in time to avoid some big losses in recent months.
- The Turner Concentrated Growth Investor (TTOPX) fund has also been a long-term underperformer. In choosing stocks, management looks at fundamental factors such as earnings growth and valuation, technical analysis, and performance in relation to earnings estimates. It seems to be ignoring many fundamental concerns, though, when it owns shares of salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) , a customer-information, cloud-computing specialist that has performed so well that its price-to-earnings ratio tops 140. Moreover, it's questionable whether Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) , which is saddled with lots of debt as well as properties in Vegas, where times have been tough lately, can sustain its stock's red-hot performance going forward.
Of course, it's natural that for just about any stock, there will be those who believe in it and those who hold their nose. But given that there are so many promising companies on the market, it can be hard to maintain confidence in managers who choose companies you'd avoid. Underperforming managers are not the exception, either: The vast majority of stock funds fail to outperform the overall market over most time frames.
So next time you hear statistics from mutual fund managers, take them with a few grains of salt. Remember, too, that even if this newly bearish sentiment turns out to be correct, there's a silver lining: A depressed market gives us more chances to snap up bargains.
Here are some stocks to examine if you expect the market to swoon -- they can deliver even in tough times.