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Indeed, in all but three of the 19 years the sector only outperforms the FTSE 100 when the FTSE 250 does.

Last year was one of the three years when this relationship failed – 1996 and 2005 were the others – with the sector returning 0.6 per cent, while the FTSE 100 and the FTSE 250 delivered 0.7 per cent and 3.7 per cent respectively.

Of the 257 managers listed in the sector, 43 per cent outperformed the FTSE 100 index, down from 89 per cent in 2013 and 79 per cent in 2012.

Since 1996 an average of 68 per cent of managers beat the FTSE 100 when the FTSE 250 outperformed, but this fell to 20 per cent when the FTSE 250 underperformed.

This observation is a complete surprise to many when they are first presented with it. That active managers do well when mid caps outperform large caps isn’t in itself so startling, but the consistency with which they do so perhaps is.

Based on these numbers it’s fair to say that 2014 was a challenging year for equity managers, with many obstacles to navigate.

The list of macro events was long and diverse, ranging from reduced stimulus (US) to increased stimulus (Japan), war (Ukraine) and terrorism (Isis) to global health (Ebola).

The list of micro- or stock-specific events was equally diverse, with index heavyweights such as Tesco and BG Group hurting the FTSE 100 index, while exposure to any number of resources-related companies in the FTSE 250 index could have proved damaging.

The outlook for this year doesn’t appear any easier, with commodity and currency moves continuing to be major factors impacting the FTSE 100, which is heavily skewed to overseas earners and resource companies.

Domestic issues are likely to be prominent in an election year, making the path for the more home-oriented mid caps less than clear.

So at this time of year when meetings, reviews and discussions will be in full swing, the holy grail of alpha will remain the main focus, and process and positioning will be highlighted and scrutinised.

At the time of writing we are 22 days into year 20 of the Investment Association sector, with the sector growing 2.3 per cent year to date, compared with the FTSE 100 index rising 3.6 per cent and the FTSE 250 up 1.9 per cent.

Despite the blip last year the performance of the FTSE 250 against the FTSE 100 remains the best indicator of whether or not the environment is conducive for active managers to outperform.

The two indices have been in lockstep – rising together and falling together – every year except for 2007. But overall the FTSE 250 has steadily outperformed.

Does the fact that the performance of active managers is so heavily influenced by the mid-cap effect have any bearing on these reviews?

Perhaps even more importantly, is there something we can do with this information?

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