Swedroe: Evaluating Hartford’s Performance

Can a major player in the active space beat passive funds?

Reviewed by: Larry Swedroe
Edited by: Larry Swedroe

How do some of the market's most recognizable active mutual fund families stack up to a comparable passive counterpart? To explore that question, I'll continue my evaluation of active fund performance with an in-depth look the Hartford family of funds to determine whether the firm adds value for investors.

Why Hartford? Aside from its prominent position in the mutual fund marketplace, financial advisors have said they are often asked by investors about funds that Hartford offers.

By way of background, Hartford in February was ranked 28th (out of 48 firms) on Barron's annual list of best-performing mutual fund families for the latest 10-year period. For the latest five-year period, Hartford was ranked 19th (out of 56 fund families). And in the one-year rankings, based on 2014 performance, the firm placed 30th (out of 65 fund families), although one-year performance really should be treated as anecdotal in nature.

Yet despite these mediocre rankings, Morningstar reports that, as of July 2015, the Hartford family of mutual funds had $100 billion in assets under management. The question is: Has Hartford added value for its investors?

Hartford Vs. Vanguard And DFA

To find the answer, I'll compare the performance of Hartford's actively managed equity funds to the similar offerings from two prominent providers of passively managed funds, Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) and Vanguard. (Full disclosure: My firm, Buckingham, recommends DFA funds in constructing client portfolios.)

To keep the list to a manageable number of funds, and to ensure I examine long-term results through full economic cycles, I will analyze the 15-year period ending June 30, 2015. I'll use the lowest-cost shares available for the full period when more than one class of fund is available. And in cases where Hartford has more than one fund in an asset class, I'll use the average return of those funds in my comparison.

The table below shows the performance of 10 funds offered by Hartford in five domestic equity asset classes and one international equity asset class:

Fund (July 2000-June 2015)SymbolExpense
Ratio (%)
Return (%)
U.S. Large-Cap Growth
Hartford Capital Appreciation HLS FundHIACX0.667.6
Hartford Core Equity FundHGIYX0.494.9
Hartford Disciplined Equity HLS FundHIAGX0.754.9
Hartford Growth Opportunities HLS FundHAGOX0.645.9
Hartford Average0.645.8
Vanguard Growth Index FundVIGIX0.083.3
U.S. Large-Cap Blend 
Hartford Stock HLS FundHSTAX0.503.5
DFA U.S. Large Company PortfolioDFUSX0.084.3
Vanguard 500 Index FundVFINX0.174.2
U.S. Large Value
Hartford Dividend and Growth HLS FundHIADX0.677.6
DFA U.S. Large Cap Value III PortfolioDFUVX0.139.3
Vanguard Value Index FundVIVIX0.086.0
U.S. Small Blend
Hartford Small/Mid Cap Equity HLS FundHMCSX0.857.1
DFA U.S. Small Cap PortfolioDFSTX0.379.3
Vanguard Small Cap Index FundVSCIX0.088.5
U.S. Small-Cap Growth
Hartford Small Company HLS FundHIASX0.716.0
Hartford Small Cap Growth HLS FundHISCX0.654.7
Hartford Average0.745.5
Vanguard Small Cap Growth Index FundVSGIX0.088.6
International Large Growth
Hartford International Opportunities HLS FundHIAOX0.734.4
Vanguard International Growth FundVWIGX0.474.2

Following is a synopsis of the most important takeaways from this data:

  • In the six asset classes for which there are comparable funds from Vanguard, the Hartford funds outperformed in three and underperformed in three.
  • In each of the three asset classes for which there are comparable DFA funds, the Hartford funds underperformed.
  • A portfolio of Hartford funds, equal-weighted in the six asset classes for which there are comparable Vanguard funds, returned 5.7% a year. The average expense ratio was 0.68%. An equal-weighted portfolio of Vanguard funds in the same six asset classes returned 5.8% a year, outperforming the comparable Hartford portfolio by 0.1 percentage point a year. The average expense ratio for Vanguard's funds was 0.16%. The slight underperformance of the Hartford portfolio (0.1% percentage point) was well exceeded by the difference (0.52 percentage points) in the portfolios' average expense ratios.
  • In the three asset classes for which comparable DFA funds are available, an equal-weighted portfolio of Hartford funds returned 6.1% a year. The average expense ratio was 0.67%. An equal-weighted portfolio of DFA funds in the same three asset classes returned 7.6% a year, and outperformed the comparable Hartford portfolio by 1.5 percentage points a year. The DFA portfolio's average expense ratio was 0.19%. Here, underperformance of the Hartford portfolio (1.5 percentage points) was more than three times as great as the difference (0.48 percentage points) in the portfolios' average expense ratios.

Factor Analysis

I will now take another look at the performance of the nine domestic funds from Hartford that I evaluated above using the analytical tools and data available at Portfolio Visualizer. Factor analysis provides important additional insights because Morningstar asset class categories are very broad, and actively managed funds often style-drift.

The table below shows the results of the three-factor (beta, size and value), four-factor (adding momentum) and six-factor (adding quality and low beta) analysis for the firm's U.S. funds. The data covers the period July 2000 through June 2015. Each t-statistic is in parentheses.

Fund (July 2000-June 2015)Symbol4-Factor Annual
Alpha (%)
4-Factor Avg.
Alpha (%)
6-Factor Annual
Alpha (%)
Hartford Capital Appreciation HLS FundHIACX-3.9-3.7-3.2
Hartford Core Equity FundHGIYX0.60.6-0.1
Hartford Disciplined Equity HLS FundHIAGX-0.1-0.1-1.4
Hartford Growth Opportunities HLS FundHAGOX-3.0-3.9-1.7
Hartford Stock HLS FundHSTAX-3.0-2.6-3.9
Hartford Dividend and Growth HLS FundHIADX1.71.70.4
Hartford Small/Mid Cap Equity HLS FundHMCSX-6.0-6.8-9.0
Hartford Small Company HLS FundHIASX-4.5-5.8-5.2
Hartford Small Cap Growth HLS FundHISCX-6.3-7.4-6.3
Average Alpha-2.7-2.4-3.4

When we examine the results from the three-factor analysis, we find that just two of the nine Hartford funds generated positive alphas, with the average annual alpha being -2.7%. Two of the nine funds showed a statistically significant alpha (at the 5% level), and they were both negative.

When we look at results from the four-factor analysis, we again find that just two of the nine Hartford funds generated positive alphas. The average alpha was -2.4%. Three of the nine funds showed statistically significant alpha (at the 5% level), and again, each was negative.

When we include all six factors in our analysis, only one of the nine funds showed a positive alpha (and it was just 0.4%). Eight of the nine funds had negative alphas, three of which were statistically significant at the 5% level. The average annual alpha was -3.4%.

Reviewing Results

The table below shows the performance of portfolios from the other leading mutual fund families I have evaluated relative to the performance of our comparable portfolios from Vanguard and DFA, as well as the results of their factor analyses.

Note that with TIAA-CREF, I did not originally perform the factor analysis. Thus, the data wasn't in the original article. However, I've now added that data so that we have the same analysis for each of the fund families.

Fund FamilyPortfolio Return
Vs. Vanguard
Portfolio Return
Vs. DFA (%)
3-Factor Avg.
Alpha (%)
4-Factor Avg.
Alpha (%)
6-Factor Avg.
Alpha (%)
Goldman Sachs-0.5-
JPMorgan Chase-0.1-
American Funds1.
Gabelli Funds0.1-
Waddell & Reed -0.1-
John Hancock-0.2-
Morgan Stanley-1.2-0.90.1-0.4-0.4
Wells Fargo0.4-

Following are the highlights from the table:

  • Of the 12 actively managed fund family portfolios, just three outperformed the comparable Vanguard portfolios, and in one case, the outperformance was just one-tenth of a percentage point. The average for all 12 was an underperformance of 0.3 percentage points.
  • Compared to the DFA portfolios, just one of the portfolios from active fund families managed to outperform, and that was by the slimmest of margins, just 0.1 percentage point. The average underperformance was 0.9 percentage points.
  • The three-factor regressions produced an average alpha for the 12 active fund families of -0.2%. The four-factor regressions produced an alpha of -0.4%. And the six-factor regressions produced an alpha of -1.0%.
  • The only actively managed fund family in the group that added value compared with both Vanguard and DFA (though by the smallest of margins in the second case) was American Funds. American also showed positive alphas relative to each of the factor regressions. While the Waddell & Reed funds also showed positive alphas relative to each of the factor regressions, their funds underperformed comparable portfolios from both Vanguard (by the slimmest of margins) and DFA.

Overall, the evidence is pretty compelling that even a great many leading mutual fund families have had an extremely difficult time outperforming low-cost, passively managed alternatives.

In addition, they have had a difficult time generating risk-adjusted alphas. This is pretty strong evidence that, while the market may not be perfectly efficient, investors in actively managed funds are highly unlikely to benefit from efforts to exploit any inefficiencies that do exist.

Disclosure: The included data and analysis is a summary of 11 other pieces related to an ongoing series evaluating actively managed mutual fund families. A complete list of the other articles in this series can be found by searching author Larry Swedroe at Advisor Perspectives. The corresponding portfolios are provided for informational purposes only, were constructed specifically for this review and are not portfolios that Buckingham recommends. The returns data included is from Morningstar, and the factor analysis tool was provided by Portfolio Visualizer. Performance is historical and does not guarantee future results. Information is from sources deemed reliable but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. It should not be assumed that any of the securities listed were or will prove to be profitable.

Larry Swedroe is the director of research for The BAM Alliance, a community of more than 140 independent registered investment advisors throughout the country.

Larry Swedroe is a principal and the director of research for Buckingham Strategic Wealth, an independent member of the BAM Alliance. Previously, he was vice chairman of Prudential Home Mortgage.