In the latest example of how mutual fund companies couldn’t care less about their long suffering shareholders, consider Fidelity’s recent announcement that it will be recommending its Blue Chip Growth Fund (FBGRX) change its benchmark from the S&P 500 index to the Russell 1000 Growth index.
As soon as I read about the proposal I knew a little research would yield some interesting findings. Sure enough, the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth fund has trailed the S&P 500 for six straight years.
In the real world such pitiful performance would result in the manager of the fund getting fired. But who are we kidding? The mutual fund world is nothing like the real world. Fund managers hardly ever get canned, even though 80 percent of them fail to beat their benchmark. So what does Fidelity decide is the proper course of action? Well of course, change the benchmark!
You guessed it, the Russell 1000 Growth index has lagged the S&P 500 over the last five years, so the switch will make it look like Fidelity Blue Chip Growth has done better than it actually has. Interestingly, the fund has also lagged the Russell 1000 Growth index over the last five years, just not by as wide a margin as it has the S&P 500.
Alright, so maybe you’re thinking I’m being a little too cynical here. Maybe the Russell 1000 Growth index really is a better benchmark for this particular fund, based on the companies it invests in, and therefore such a change can be adequately defended. I admitted that was a possibility, so I did a little more digging. If Fidelity Blue Chip Growth is really quite different from the S&P 500 index, I’ll be happy to get off their backs.
The top five largest holdings of the Fidelity fund are Microsoft, GE, Johnson & Johnson, AIG, and Intel. Sounds like the S&P 500 to me. What did I find when I peaked at the Vanguard Index 500 fund (VFINX), the largest S&P 500 index fund in the country? GE is the fund’s 2nd largest holding, followed by Microsoft at #3, Johnson & Johnson at #5, AIG at #8, and Intel at #10.
Let me throw one more statistic out there that I find too amazing to ignore. In case it was just the largest holdings of Fidelity Blue Chip Growth that overlapped almost exactly with the S&P 500, I decided to look at the market cap of the fund’s average holding versus the average market cap of the S&P 500 index fund. Guess what? They’re exactly the same… $46.9 billion versus $47.1 billion!
And yet Fidelity is trying to get away with saying they think the S&P 500 isn’t a good benchmark for the fund? Investors should not tolerate this. Unfortunately though, most of them probably have no idea it’s even going on. Fortunately, that’s one of the purposes of this blog.