27th September 2022 - Tracey Payne

Absolute Return Funds, Absolutely Not!

The fear of losing money is a very real emotion and the marketing promises of absolute return funds – no losses and high returns – may be appealing to some.  As a minimum, most absolute return funds aim for a positive return over a specified time horizon, with a return target of cash plus something, often in the range of +2% to +4%.  To put this in perspective, cash plus 4% is similar to the long-run return on equities, which can and has fallen as much as 50% at times of market crisis.  No short-term losses and an equity-like return are easy promises to make but a hard one to keep. Alarm bells should be ringing.

In order to avoid absolute losses over a short-term timeframe, there are three avenues that can be pursued. 

The Investment Association – the UK investment industry’s trade body – has established a fund sector known as ‘Targeted Absolute Return’ (TAR). This incorporates funds which seek to deliver positive returns over a stated time horizon, usually 12 months or 36 months.  Let us see how well they have delivered their promises[1]. The figure below reveals the worst 36-month outcomes for all 56 funds with a clearly stated target of positive returns over this horizon.

Figure 1: Worst cumulative 36-month peak-to-what rough falls of all 56 falls

Source: IA (see footnote). Period to 31 July 2022

Oh, dear! In addition, the 30 funds in this IA sector that have a stated 12-month positive return target all exhibited losses over a 12-month period. 

Perhaps the first conclusion that can be drawn is that absolute return funds push the boundaries of any sensible definition of what they purport to represent.  The second conclusion is that they have a better marketing spin than their real-world outcomes.  Risk and return are related and this trade-off is rarely overridden by active management skills.  The final and most important conclusion is that there is unlikely to be a place for them in a diversified, well-constructed portfolio for investors with longer-term horizons.  

Absolute return? Absolutely not!

[1]    IA website: https://www.theia.org/industry-data/fund-sectors/tar-tool. It is a very diverse sector of funds utilising a wide range of strategies and which take on a wide variety of risks and risk levels.

Do you want to know more?

To discuss this article with a Financial Planner, please visit our contact page.

Risk warnings

The value of investments can go down as well as up and you may get back less than the amount invested.

This article is distributed for educational purposes. It should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any security for sale. It does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product.  Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed. 

Past performance is not indicative of future results and no representation is made that the stated results will be replicated.

Errors and omissions excepted.

Share this article: