NEW YORK: Outsized bets on large U.S. technology companies and emerging cryptocurrencies fueled the year's top-performing U.S. mutual fund and exchange-traded funds as the coronavirus pandemic upended global markets, while funds that bet on oil and gas companies fell nearly 100per cent, according to data from fund-tracker Morningstar.
The year was a challenge like few others for the US$21.3 trillion mutual fund and US$4.4 trillion ETF industry. U.S. stocks plunged in March before staging a more than 60per cent comeback, while bond yields hung near record lows for much of the year after unprecedented moves by the Federal Reserve to backstop the financial markets and keep interest rates low.
Overall, those who played risk assets were rewarded. The year's best fund, Grayscale Ethereum Trust, which holds ethereum, the world's second-largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin, soared 333.7per cent for the year through Dec. 9, according to Morningstar.
The fund's gains came during a retail-investor led rally in cryptocurrencies that pushed total assets invested in crypto funds to a record US$15 billion, up from US$2.57 billion at the end of 2019, according to digital asset manager CoinShares.
Tech was another clear winner from the pandemic as people moved from offices to work-from-home and conducted business by video call while ordering goods online. The Bank of Montreal MicroSectors FANG+ 3X Leveraged ETN and the Bank of Montreal MicroSectors FANG+ 2X Leveraged ETN - both of which use leverage to invest in so-called FANG technology stocks such as Facebook Inc and Netflix Inc - posted returns of 301.9per cent and 201.9per cent respectively, making them the second- and third-best performing funds for the year through Dec. 9.
Among actively managed funds that do not use leverage, the ARK Innovation ETF posted the best overall returns with a gain of 143.8per cent, followed by a 141.4per cent gain in the American Beacon ARK Transformational Innovation fund and a 139.7per cent gain in the Morgan Stanley Institutional Discovery fund.
Nearly all of the top 10 performing U.S. stock funds run concentrated portfolios that hold less than 50 stocks and in some cases have more than 10per cent of their assets in the shares of a single company, according to Morningstar.
Those big bets helped pay off during a broad market rally that has pushed several asset classes near all-time highs and brought the S&P 500 up more than 65per cent since the lows it hit in mid-March when much of the U.S. economy shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"When fund management swings for the fences with big bets on a handful of growth names they will hit home runs, but they might also strike out," said Todd Rosenbluth, head of ETF and mutual fund research at CFRA.
The worst-performing funds, meanwhile, were those that took a long bet on oil and gas stocks which plummeted this year from a collapse in demand which briefly turned oil futures negative in April for the first time in history.
The Direxion Daily S&P Oil&Gas E&P 2X ETF fell 97.3per cent for the year, followed by the Direxion Daily Junior Gold Miners Bear 2X ETF, which tumbled 95.5per cent for the year.
Among actively managed equity funds, the Highland Small Cap Equity fund posted the year's worst return with a 51.1per cent decline.
The year's top-performing intermediate core bond fund, meanwhile, was the American Funds Strategic Bond fund with a 17.7per cent gain. The fund has roughly 43per cent of its portfolio in Treasuries, double the weight if its benchmark index, according to Morningstar. Its performance was roughly 18 percentage points ahead of the year's worst performer in the category, the Putnam Mortgage Securities A fund, which has roughly half of its portfolio in cash and less than 1per cent of its assets in Treasuries.
(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Megan Davies and Andrea Ricci)