March 18, 2020 / 3:43 PM / in 2 months

Coronavirus selloff leaves just one U.S. active equity mutual fund positive for the year

NEW YORK, March 18 (Reuters) - A tiny mutual fund that invests in companies that produce products and services for parents is the only fund among the $4.3 trillion actively managed U.S. equity fund industry to post a positive return for the year to date through Monday, according to Morningstar data.

The economic shock from the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has pushed the benchmark S&P 500 down more than 21% since the start of the year, the deepest decline for the index since the 2008 financial crisis. Despite those broad market losses, the $139,000 Second Nature Thematic Growth Fund was up 2.6% for the year through March 16, a performance more than 4 percentage points greater than its closet competitor.

Among its largest holdings are consumer defensive companies such as paper product maker Kimberly-Clark Corp, which is up approximately 4% for the year to date.

The broad declines among actively managed mutual funds during the virus-induced selloff could continue to push investors toward lower-cost passive funds, said Todd Rosenbluth, director of mutual fund research at New York-based CFRA.

"If active management can hold up better than their benchmarks during this bear market, investors will be willing to pay a premium," he said. "But we expect investors to focus more on lower-cost alternatives, not willing to see the value, and ETFs will garner even more market share in the next year."

Actively managed mutual funds that either focused on small companies or had an outsized position in energy stocks are among the worst-performing funds of the year to date. The $4.6 million WP Smaller Companies fund had the worst overall performance with a 56% decline for the year through Monday, followed by a 55.5% decline in the $14.4 million Schneider Small Cap Value fund.

The Russell 2000 benchmark of small companies is down nearly 34% for the year to date.

Reporting by David Randall in New York Editing by Megan Davies and Matthew Lewis

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