One of my friends is from Thailand. She earned a King’s Scholarship to study finance at a prestigious U.S. college. She currently lives in Bangkok where she works for McKinsey & Company, a global business consulting firm.

She’s smart…really smart. A few years ago, she told me that index fund investing doesn’t work well in emerging markets like Thailand. She says it’s more of a stock picker’s market. Many people agree. They say it’s easy to beat an emerging market index with carefully selected stocks.

But the SPIVA Scorecard’s data begs to differ. The emerging market index (measured by the S&P IFCI Composite) beat 85.71 percent of actively managed emerging market funds over the ten-year period ending December 31, 2016. Over the past 15 years, the index beat 89.89 percent of them.

That said, this data comes from actively managed fund companies that are based in the United States. They’re many miles from emerging market businesses. You might say they’re playing ping pong with a tennis racket. These fund managers research stocks online. That’s a tough way to find emerging market gems. After all, many emerging market businesses don’t post financial statements on the Internet. And when they do, they don’t always publish them in English.

Fund managers on the ground, who live and work in these countries, play ping pong with the right-sized paddle. They can wander into businesses, check the playing surface and make sure the table’s net is taut. SPIVA hasn’t yet compiled ten-year performance data for these actively managed funds. But they do have five-year data.

And it looks bad for active management. For example, over the past five years, ending December 31, 2016, Brazil’s stock market index beat 72.29 percent of actively managed funds sold in Brazil. In Chile, the S&P Chile BMI Index beat 88.89 percent of active fund managers in Chile. The Mexican S&P BMI Index beat 69.77 percent of actively managed Mexican funds. The S&P South Africa DSW Index beat 76.98 percent of actively managed funds sold in South Africa.

I write a column about index fund investing for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail. Many readers post comments. They say it’s easy to beat a Canadian stock market index because Canadian stocks are heavily concentrated in just a few sectors. For example, more than 70 percent of the weighting in Vanguard Canada’s FTSE All Cap Index is made up of financial companies, oil and gas companies or basic materials stocks. By avoiding these sectors when they’re overpriced, many investors who buy individual stocks or actively managed funds say they can beat the market. It sounds like Canada might be a stock picker’s market. But it isn’t.

According to the SPIVA Scorecard, Canada’s S&P/TSX Composite Index beat 91.11 percent of actively managed Canadian stock market funds over the 10-year period ending December 31, 2016.

Many investors, however, define a stock picker’s market differently. They say it’s when the overall index is forecast to slide sideways or down. Only through clever stock picking, they say, can investors make money when the market doesn’t rise. Here’s why this is crazy. First, nobody knows when stocks won’t rise. Second, when stocks do slide, active management slides as well.

Take Vanguard’s European Stock Market Index (VEURX). A chart, showing its peformance over the 10-year period ending December 31, 2016, looks like a drowning duck.

Vanguard’s European Stock Market Index
Ten-Year Period Ending December 31, 2016

Vanguard’s European Stock Market Index - Ten-Year Period Ending December 31, 2016

European stocks gained an average compound annual return of just 0.50 percent. Actively managed funds did even worse. According to the SPIVA Europe Scorecard, the S&P Eurozone BMI Index beat 90.41 percent of actively managed European stock market funds sold in Europe. It’s safe to say that over this ten-year period, most of them lost money.

So… is there such a thing as a stock picker’s market?

The evidence says no.

Percentage Of Actively Managed Funds That Failed To Beat The Market
Ending December 31, 2016


U.S. Sold Actively Managed Funds

Index 1 Year 3 Years 5 Years 10 Years 15 Years
U.S. Stock Market Funds S&P 1500 60.49% 92.91% 85.82% 82.87% 82.23%
Emerging Market Funds S&P IFIC Composite 63.90% 83.56% 74.73% 85.71% 89.89%


Internationally-Sold Actively Managed Funds

Index 1 Year 3 Years 5 Years 10 Years
Brazil S&P Brazil BMI Index 81.95% 70.02% 72.29% N/A
Chile S&P Chile BMI Index 85.71% 86.05% 88.89% N/A
Mexico S&P Mexico BMI Index 75.51% 85.11% 69.77% N/A
Japan
South Africa S&P South Africa DSW Index 72.47% 80.14% 76.98% N/A
India S&P BSE 200 Index 66.29% 30.52% 54.60% 54.95%
Japan S&P Japan 500 58.20% 62.80% 69.33% 69.06%
Canada S&P/TSX Composite Index 82.69% 81.65% 70.00% 91.11%
Australia S&P/ASX 200 Index 76.38% 67.76% 69.88% 74.27%
Eurozone Equity S&P Eurozone BMI Index 79.96% 84.46% 87.84% 90.41%
UK S&P United Kingdom BMI Index 87.22% 61.64% 50.00% 74.19%
France S&P France BMI Index 66.97% 66.67% 77.87% 84.12%
Netherlands S&P Netherlands BMI Index 62.50% 81.82% 93.75% 97.06%
Germany S&P Germany BMI Index 87.91% 78.02% 79.55% 82.30%
Italy S&P Italy BMI Index 60.78% 64.00% 57.89% 76.09%
Spain S&P Spain BMI Index 65.52% 67.11% 70.33% 81.97%
Nordic Equity S&P Nordic BMI Index 39.13% 46.51% 52.78% 75.76%
Denmark S&P Denmark BMI Index 2.94% 21.88% 21.21% 80.00%
Poland S&P Poland BMI Index 68.89% 52.08% 54.17% 78.26%
Switzerland S&P Switzerland
BMI Index
22.29% 47.98% 62.43% 73.83%