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Luck versus Skill in the Cross-Section of Mutual Fund Returns


  • Fama is at the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, and French is at the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College. We are grateful for the comments of Juhani Linnainmaa, Sunil Wahal, Jerry Zimmerman, and seminar participants at the University of Chicago, the California Institute of Technology, UCLA, and the Meckling Symposium at the University of Rochester. Special thanks to John Cochrane and the journal Editor, Associate Editor, and referees.


The aggregate portfolio of actively managed 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. If we add back the costs in fund expense ratios, there is evidence of inferior and superior performance (nonzero true α) in the extreme tails of the cross-section of mutual fund α estimates.