Target-Maturity Funds Dealt Severe Q408 Setback

January 22, 2009 ( - The fourth quarter of 2008 was a dark time for target-maturity funds as the average offering suffered a 17.3% setback, a new Ibbotson analysis found.

The Ibbotson Target Maturity report said the showing was “far worse” than the funds’ previous three quarters.

But the target-maturity funds were far from alone in their disastrous performance – Ibbotson pointed out that the rest of the markets were cratering too. The target-maturity average fourth-quarter showing actually beat out the S&P 500 Index, which Ibbotson said turned in a 21.9% fourth-quarter loss.

On a year-end basis, the average target-maturity fund lost 30.8%, outclassing the S&P 500 by 6.2%. Not surprisingly, Ibbotson said the primary differentiating factor among funds’ showing was their stock-bond split, with those with greater equity holding underperforming the class as a whole.

Other funds were hurt by the “terrible performance of a few underlying bond managers,” Ibbotson researchers said. Without mentioning it by name, the Ibbotson researchers cited the OppenheimerFunds target-date fund offerings “that allocated assets to a ‘core’ or ‘aggregate’ bond manager that blew up. ( See note below ) “

“For the vast majority of target-maturity funds, their asset class exposures are the primary determinant of their total returns,” Ibbotson said. “But, occasionally, underlying investment managers can also have a significant impact.”

“…the potential for a material impact on the fund’s overall performance is greatest when the allocation to a manager is large,” the report said. “Typically, the largest single-manager allocations occur within the U.S. bond and non-U.S. developed equity asset classes. So the implosion of a few major bond managers can have an outsized impact on target-maturity performance.”

The researchers asserted the problem is also compounded because few target-maturity families offer open architecture platforms, which means the funds are limited to in-house managers.    

Ibbotson said it now tracks 264 unique target-maturity funds with at least a one-year track record (up from 253 last quarter), representing 39 fund families.

The report is available  here .

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the name of the target-date fund family as Russell instead of Oppenheimer Funds.