Luck versus skill over time: time-varying performance in the cross-section of mutual fund returns

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Using returns histories spanning January 1984 to October 2014 of 5785 actively managed US closed-end equity mutual funds, we address the ‘thorny problems’ highlighted by Fama and French (The Journal of Finance, 2010, vol. 65, p. 1925) that arise due to their resampling procedure. This prevents them from capturing time variation in the parameters of equilibrium asset pricing models. These problems are addressed by combining innovative procedures which allow for testing of multiple break dates on fund-specific parameters along with cross-section bootstraps that remain valid in the presence of time-varying parameters. We find that substantial proportion – 8% – of the estimated versions of the asset pricing model have significant changes in their parameters. The effects of this time variation on the cross-section distribution of the risk-adjusted performance measure are significant and substantially increase centiles of the right tail of this distribution when compared to those produced without time-varying parameters. Our evidence regarding the lack of actively managed US equity mutual funds that generate excess returns is significantly weaker than those of Fama and French but our results do not overturn their pessimistic conclusion regarding the lack of skilled managers. We do find, unlike Fama and French, that managers generating negative returns are just unlucky but have no skill.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3686-3701
Number of pages16
JournalApplied Economics
Issue number34-35
Early online date12 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2018


  • mutual funds
  • capital asset pricing model
  • CUSUM test
  • linear regression models
  • stochastic processes
  • U-statistics
  • bootstrap


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