The month of October was a rough one for the major averages, but it proved to be a good month for stock pickers, according to Bank of America. Despite the overall market struggle, 68% of large-cap active managers managed to beat the benchmark for the month. This is well above the typical beat rate and brings the year-to-date beat rate to 41%, surpassing the 38% average. Although the average large-cap active fund suffered a loss of 1.9%, it was still better than the 2.5% loss for the benchmark. However, despite the success of these active managers, there has been a decline in allocations to active funds, currently accounting for only 47% of total assets under management. Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at Bank of America, suggests that managers are becoming more cautious and “benchmark hugging” as their conviction in the market direction weakens.
The success of active managers was not limited to large-cap funds. Both value and core managers also had strong months, with beat rates of 84% and 80% respectively. This demonstrates the ability of skilled managers to identify undervalued stocks and navigate the market turbulence effectively. However, despite their performance, it is essential to recognize the challenges they face in an increasingly passive investment landscape. With the rise of index funds and ETFs, the competition for active managers has become more intense. This has led to a decrease in allocations to active strategies and a shift towards passive investing.
In the mortgage market, there has been a significant decline in interest rates, leading to increased mortgage application volume. Last week, the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances experienced its largest one-week decline in over a year, dropping from 7.86% to 7.61%. As a result, mortgage application volume rose by 2.5% compared to the same period last year. This is a positive sign for the housing market, as lower interest rates make buying a home more affordable for potential buyers. However, it is crucial to monitor interest rate trends to determine if this decline is a temporary occurrence or a sustained trend.
The energy complex has faced significant downward pressure, with both gasoline and crude oil prices hitting multi-month lows. The benchmark December RBOB gasoline futures dropped to $2.1220 per gallon, the lowest level since December 2022. Similarly, December West Texas Intermediate contracts touched a low of $74.91 per barrel, while January Brent contracts reached $79.20 per barrel, the weakest prices since July 20. As a result, the S&P 500 Energy Index has been one of the worst-performing sectors in late-day trading, declining by 0.9% and recording nearly a 9% loss in the fourth quarter. These developments highlight the challenges faced by energy companies and investors, as global supply and demand dynamics continue to influence the sector.
Stock pickers have shown resilience and skill, outperforming the benchmark despite a challenging market environment. However, the decrease in allocations to active strategies and the rise of passive investing present significant challenges. The mortgage market’s decline in interest rates provides opportunities for homebuyers, but trends need to be monitored closely. And the turmoil in the energy complex highlights the ongoing volatility in the sector. As investors, it is crucial to stay informed and adapt to the changing market conditions to make informed investment decisions.