Gallery:Step 2|Step 2: Nobel Laureates

A Summary of the Academic Research on Stock Picking

Gallery:Step 2|Step 2: Nobel Laureates

Many studies show that individual and professional investors consistently underperform market averages. A visit to our article database of research studies will demonstrate the vast amount of research in this area. Several relevant studies are summarized below, some of which are shown elsewhere in the website.

1. False Discoveries in Mutual Fund Performance: Measuring Luck in Estimated Alphas, Barras, Laurent, Scaillet , O. and Wermers, Russ R., "False Discoveries in Mutual Fund Performance: Measuring Luck in Estimated Alphas" (April 20, 2009). Journal of Finance, Forthcoming; Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper No. 08-18. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: This paper develops a simple technique that controls for “false discoveries,” or mutual funds that exhibit significant alphas by luck alone. Our approach precisely separates funds into (1) unskilled, (2) zero-alpha, and (3) skilled funds, even with dependencies in cross-fund estimated alphas. We find that 75% of funds exhibit a zero alpha (net of expenses), consistent with the Berk and Green (2004) equilibrium. Further, we find a significant proportion of skilled (positive alpha) funds prior to 1996, but almost none [no alpha] by 2006. In a July 2008 New York Times article titled, “The Prescient Are Few”, journalist Mark Hulbert digs into the results of the landmark study and its implications as described by Prof. Russ Wermers who headed up the study: “The number of funds that have beaten the market over their entire histories is so small that the False Discovery Rate test can’t eliminate the possibility that the few that did were merely false positives,” says Prof. Wermers -- or as Hulbert puts it “just lucky.

2. Luck Versus Skill in the Cross Section of Mutual Fund Returns, Fama, Eugene F. and French, Kenneth R., "Luck Versus Skill in the Cross Section of Mutual Fund Returns" (December 14, 2009). Tuck School of Business Working Paper No. 2009-56 ; Chicago Booth School of Business Research Paper; Journal of Finance, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: The aggregate portfolio of U.S. equity mutual funds is close to the market portfolio, but the high costs of active management show up intact as lower returns to investors. Bootstrap simulations suggest that few funds produce benchmark adjusted expected returns sufficient to cover their costs.

3. The Arithmetic of Active Management, by Nobel Laureate William Sharpe.
The case against active management is clearly and logically spelled out. Summary: Because active and passive returns are equal before cost, and because active managers bear greater costs, it follows that the after-cost return from active management must be lower than that from passive management. Properly measured, the average actively managed dollar must underperform the average passively managed dollar, net of costs. Empirical analyses that appear to refute this principle are guilty of improper measurement.

4. Trading Is Hazardous to Wealth: The Common Investment Performance of Individual Investors, Barber, Brad M. and Odean, Terrance, "Trading is Hazardous to Your Wealth: The Common Stock Investment Performance of Individual Investors." Available at SSRN: or doi:10.2139/ssrn.219228

Abstract: This is an exhaustive study of 66,465 individual trading accounts, by Terrance Odean and Brad Barber. It should cure the investor of any desires to trade their own account. From 1991 to 1996, those investors that traded the most, earned an annual return of 11.4%. In the same time period, the market returned 17.9%. The simple conclusion: Active investment strategies will underperform passive [indexed] investment strategies. Overconfident investors will overestimate the value of their private information, causing them to trade too actively and to earn below-average returns. The average household underperformed a risk adjusted benchmark by 3.7% annually, before the additional cost of federal and state taxes. The top twenty percent of active investors underperformed by 5.5%.

The results of individuals are remarkably similar to mutual funds, which also underperform a simple market index (Jensen 1969). Mutual funds trade often and trading hurts their performance (Carhart 1997). Carhart's conclusion: The results do not support the existence of skilled or informed mutual fund portfolio managers

5. Returns from Investing in Equity Mutual Funds 1971-1991, Malkiel, Burton G. G., "Returns from Investing in Equity Mutual Funds" 1971-1991. JOURNAL OF FINANCE, Vol 50 No 2, June 1995. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: This study utilizes a unique data set including returns from all equity mutual funds existing each year. These data enable us more precisely to examine performance and the extent of survivorship bias. In the aggregate, funds have under performed benchmark portfolios both after management expenses and even gross of expenses. Survivorship bias appears to be more important than other studies have estimated. Moreover, while considerable performance persistence existed during the 1970s, there was no consistency in fund returns during the 1980s.

6. The Performance of Mutual Funds in the Period 1945-1964, Jensen, Michael C., "The Performance of Mutual Funds in the Period 1945-1964." Journal of Finance, Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 389-416, 1967. Available at SSRN: or doi:10.2139/ssrn.244153

Abstract: In this paper I derive a risk-adjusted measure of portfolio performance (now known as Jensen's Alpha) that estimates how much a manager's forecasting ability contributes to the fund's returns. The measure is based on the theory of the pricing of capital assets by Sharpe (1964), Lintner (1965a) and Treynor (Undated). I apply the measure to estimate the predictive ability of 115 mutual fund managers in the period 1945-1964 - that is their ability to earn returns which are higher than those we would expect given the level of risk of each of the portfolios.

The evidence on mutual fund performance indicates not only that these 115 mutual funds were on average not able to predict security prices well enough to outperform a buy-the-market-and-hold policy, but also that there is very little evidence that any individual fund was able to do significantly better than that which we expected from mere random chance. It is also important to note that these conclusions hold even when we measure the fund returns gross of management expenses (that is assume their bookkeeping, research, and other expenses except brokerage commissions were obtained free). Thus on average the funds apparently were not quite successful enough in their trading activities to recoup even their brokerage expenses.

7. The Persistence of Risk-Adjusted Mutual Fund Performance, Elton, Edwin J., Gruber, Martin J. and Blake, Christopher R., "The Persistence of Risk-Adjusted Mutual Fund Performance" (May 1995). NYU Working Paper No. FIN-95-018. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: There is overwhelming evidence that, post expenses, mutual fund managers on average underperform a combination of passive portfolios of similar risk. The recent increase in the number and types of index funds that are available to individual investors makes this a matter of practical as well as theoretical significance. Numerous index funds, which track the S&P 500 index or various small-stock, bond, value, growth, or international indexes, are now widely available to individual investors. These same choices have been available to institutional investors for some time. Given that there are sufficient index funds to span most investors risk choices, that the index funds are available at low cost, and that the low cost of index funds means that a combination of index funds is likely to outperform an active fund of similar risk, the question is, why select an actively managed fund?

In another study mentioned in Asset Management: Active versus Passive Management, by Rex Sinquefield (listen to the actual debate here), Elton, Gruber, Hlavka and Das studied all 143 Equity Mutual Funds that survived from 1965-1984. These funds were compared to a set of index funds comprised of large cap, small cap, and fixed income, that most closely matched the actual investment choices of the funds. The result: on average these funds underperform the index funds by a whopping 1.6% per year, before federal and state taxes. Not a single fund generated a positive performance that was statistically significant.

8. On Persistence in Mutual Fund Performance, Carhart, Mark M., "On Persistence in Mutual Fund Performance." JOURNAL OF FINANCE, Vol. 52 No. 1, March 1997. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: Using a sample free of survivor bias, I demonstrate that common factors in stock returns and investment expenses almost completely explain persistence in equity mutual funds' mean and risk-adjusted returns. Hendricks, Patel and Zeckhauser's (1993) "hot hands" result is mostly driven by the one-year momentum effect of Jegadeesh and Titman (1993), but individual funds do not earn higher returns from following the momentum strategy in stocks. The only significant persistence not explained is concentrated in strong underperformance by the worst-return mutual funds. The results do not support the existence of skilled or informed mutual fund portfolio managers. The comprehensive study looked at 1,892 funds that existed in any period between 1961 and 1993. The result: Carhart found that when adjusted for the common factors in returns, an equal-weighted portfolio of the funds underperformed the proper benchmark by 1.8% per year, before federal and state taxes.

9. Fundamental Economic Variables, Expected Returns, and Bond Fund Performance, Elton, Edwin J., Gruber, Martin J. and Blake, Christopher R., "Fundamental Economic Variables, Expected Returns, and Bond Fund Performance." JOURNAL OF FINANCE, Vol. 50 No. 4, September 1995. Available at SSRN:

The first major study of bonds funds, Blake, Elton, and Gruber examined 361 bonds funds for the period starting in 1977. They compared the actively managed bond funds to a simple index alternative. The result: the actively managed bond funds underperformed the proper benchmark by 0.85% per year, before federal and state taxes. Abstract: In this paper, we develop relative-pricing (APT) models that are successful in explaining expected returns in the bond market. We utilize indexes as well as unanticipated changes in economic variables as factors driving security returns. An innovation in this paper is the measurement of the economic factors as changes in forecasts. The return indexes are the most important variables in explaining the time series of returns. However, the addition of the economic variables leads to a large improvement in explaining the cross-section of expected returns. We utilize our relative-pricing models to examine the performance of bond funds.

10. Prophets and Losses: Reassessing the Returns to Analysts' Stock Recommendations, Barber, Brad M., Lehavy, Reuven, McNichols, Maureen F. and Trueman, Brett, "Prophets and Losses: Reassessing the Returns to Analysts' Stock Recommendations" (May 2001). Available at SSRN: or doi:10.2139/ssrn.269119

Abstract: After a string of years in which security analysts' top stock picks significantly outperformed their pans, the year 2000 was a disaster. During that year the stocks least favorably recommended by analysts earned an annualized market-adjusted return of 48.66 percent while the stocks most highly recommended fell 31.20 percent, a return difference of almost 80 percentage points. This pattern prevailed during most months of 2000, regardless of whether the market was rising or falling, and was observed for both tech and non-tech stocks. While we cannot conclude that the 2000 results are necessarily driven by an increased emphasis on investment banking by analysts, our findings should add to the debate over the usefulness of analysts' stock recommendations to investors. Security Analysts may be the ultimate stock pickers.

11. Too Many Cooks Spoil the Profits: Investment Club Performance, Barber, Brad M. and Odean, Terrance, "Too Many Cooks Spoil the Profits: Investment Club Performance." Available at SSRN: or doi:10.2139/ssrn.219188

Abstract: The financial press makes frequent and bold claims regarding the performance of investment clubs. One oft quoted figure from a National Association of Investment Club survey states that 60 percent of investment clubs beat the market. Are these claims myth or reality? We analyze the common stock investment performance of 166 investment clubs using account data from a large discount broker from February 1991 to January 1997. We document that the average club earned an annualized geometric mean return of 14.1 percent, while a market index returned 17.9 percent. In addition, 60 percent of the clubs we analyze underperform the index. Not only did the average club fail to beat the market, it failed to match the performance of the average individual investor, who earned 16.4 percent during our sample period.

There are two reasons for the poor performance of investment clubs relative to individuals during our sample period -- trading costs and investment style. Despite having roughly similar account sizes, clubs execute smaller trades and hold more stocks than do individuals. Thus their proportionate cost of trading is higher. These higher proportionate trading costs account for approximately one-third of the clubs performance shortfall relative to individuals. The remaining two-thirds of the shortfall are accounted for by investment style. Relative to individuals, clubs tilt more toward large stocks and growth stocks. Investment clubs serve many useful functions: They encourage savings. They educate their members about financial matters. They foster friendships and social ties. They entertain. Unfortunately, their investments do not beat the market.

12. A 2002 study by Dimensional Fund Advisors looked at 44 institutional pension plans with $425 billion in total assets. They found that when the returns were properly risk adjusted using the Fama French Three-Factor model, 96% of the returns were explained by the three risk factors, and the value added by active management was statistically insignificant.

13. Asset Allocation: Management Style and Performance Measurement, An Asset class factor model can help make order out of chaos. Journal of Portfolio Management, Winter 1992, pp. 7-19

In a study by Nobel Laureate William F. Sharpe, an asset class factor model can help make order out of chaos, the following conclusions were stated. The graph and description are taken directly from the online version of the article.

"Figure 18 below shows the distribution of the average tracking errors obtained from the style analyses of 636 stock, bond and balanced funds. Each value is the average error term value obtained from a style analysis using returns for one fund covering the period from January 1985 through December 1989. Note that the distribution is roughly normal, with a mean of -0.074 (-7.4 basis points per month). This is roughly consistent with the hypothesis that the average mutual fund cannot "beat the market" before costs, because such funds constitute a large (and presumably representative) part of the market. Annualized, the mean underperformance is approximately 0.89% per year -- an amount that, if anything, may be slightly less than the non-transaction costs incurred by a typical mutual fund."

14. Hedge Funds: Risk and Return, Malkiel, Burton G. G. and Saha, Atanu, "Hedge Funds: Risk and Return." Financial Analysts Journal, Vol. 61, No. 6, pp. 80-88, November/December 2005. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: Constructing a data base that is relatively free of bias, this paper provides adjusted measures of the returns and risk of hedge funds. We also examine the substantial attrition of hedge funds and analyze the determinants of hedge fund survival as well as perform tests of return persistence. Finally, we examine the claims of the managers of “funds of funds” that they can form portfolios of “the best” hedge funds and that such funds provide useful instruments for individual investors. We conclude that hedge funds are far riskier and provide much lower returns than is commonly supposed.

15. Reflections on the Efficient Market Hypothesis: 30 Years Later, Malkiel, Burton G. G., "Reflections on the Efficient Market Hypothesis: 30 Years Later." Financial Review, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2005. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: The evidence is overwhelming that active equity management is, in the words of Ellis (1998), a "loser's game." Switching from security to security accomplishes nothing but to increase transactions costs and harm performance. Thus, even if markets are less than fully efficient, indexing is likely to produce higher rates of return than active portfolio management. The most successful modern-day investor, Warren Buffett, sums up the advice in this paper with characteristic wisdom: "Most investors, both institutional and individual, will find that the best way to own common stocks ... is through an index fund that charges minimal fees. Those following this path are sure to beat the net results (after fees and expenses) of the great majority of investment professionals."

16. Do you still want to try to pick stocks? If so, then you need to download these papers and read them. Still not satisfied? Then go to the "Academic Papers" section and review the additional papers there. If you still want to pick stocks, then you need to visit a Gamblers Anonymous Recovery Program.