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Bayesian Nonparametric Learning of How Skill Is Distributed across the Mutual Fund Industry


  • Mark Fisher
  • Mark J. Jensen
  • Paula A. Tkac


In this paper, we use Bayesian nonparametric learning to estimate the skill of actively managed mutual funds and also to estimate the population distribution for this skill. A nonparametric hierarchical prior, where the hyperprior distribution is unknown and modeled with a Dirichlet process prior, is used for the skill parameter, with its posterior predictive distribution being an estimate of the population distribution. Our nonparametric approach is equivalent to an infinitely ordered mixture of normals where we resolve the uncertainty in the mixture order by partitioning the funds into groups according to the group's average ability and variability. Applying our Bayesian nonparametric learning approach to a panel of actively managed, domestic equity funds, we find the population distribution of skill to be fat-tailed, skewed towards higher levels of performance. We also find that it has three distinct modes: a primary mode where the average ability covers the average fees charged by funds, a secondary mode at a performance level where a fund loses money for its investors, and lastly, a minor mode at an exceptionally high skill level.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark Fisher & Mark J. Jensen & Paula A. Tkac, 2019. "Bayesian Nonparametric Learning of How Skill Is Distributed across the Mutual Fund Industry," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2019-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedawp:2019-03
    DOI: 10.29338/wp2019-03

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Singh, S K & Maddala, G S, 1976. "A Function for Size Distribution of Incomes," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 44(5), pages 963-970, September.
    2. Jones, Christopher S. & Shanken, Jay, 2005. "Mutual fund performance with learning across funds," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(3), pages 507-552, December.
    3. Deborah Burr & Hani Doss, 2005. "A Bayesian Semiparametric Model for Random-Effects Meta-Analysis," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 100, pages 242-251, March.
    4. Chib, Siddhartha & Hamilton, Barton H., 2002. "Semiparametric Bayes analysis of longitudinal data treatment models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 110(1), pages 67-89, September.
    5. Eugene F. Fama & Kenneth R. French, 2010. "Luck versus Skill in the Cross‐Section of Mutual Fund Returns," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 65(5), pages 1915-1947, October.
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    More about this item


    Bayesian nonparametrics; mutual funds; unsupervised learning;

    JEL classification:

    • C11 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Bayesian Analysis: General
    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions

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