When it comes to investment returns, there has been little to celebrate over the past year. Volatile stock and bond markets have unnerved investors, and we should expect more of the same.
Actively managed investment funds face continued pressure to convince investors that they are a valid alternative to increasingly popular passive index-tracking strategies.
Most actively managed funds will struggle to beat a raging bull market, but well-run funds should come into their own in volatile markets.
So it's with some satisfaction that a performance analysis of all 42 of Money Observer's 2015 award-winning funds one year later (measured from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016) shows that, in the main, they are doing what we hoped for.
In other words, our methodology for identifying award-winners not only recognises superior past performance but is also a reasonably reliable predictor of superior relative returns in the future.
A glance through the average performance of the 35 Investment Association fund sectors shows that only those focused on smaller companies in the UK, Europe and Japan, property and UK gilts registered positive returns over the year.
But passive strategies did not do too well either: for a UK investor in equity markets, the only bright spot was the US.
A glance at our benchmark indices table in the fund statistics section of the magazine shows that global government bonds did best, gaining nearly 10 per cent. But not many private investors track bond markets.
Bar a few notable exceptions at the top of the 2015 fund award winners table, such as Fundsmith Equity and ConBrio Sanford Deland UK Buffettology (see table above, click to enlarge), meaningful positive returns were hard to come by over the year.
But that reflects the poor investing environment and the fact that a year is a short period in which to buck a trend.
Nevertheless, only 12 of the 42 winners failed to beat their respective fund sector's average performance over a year. Over three years, 35 funds of the 42 continued to rank among the top 25 per cent in their sectors, and only one failed to beat its sector average.
In July's issue Money Observer reveals its 2016 award winners. The overwhelming majority of the 2015 winners made it through our stringent filtering system and several will be winning awards for the second or third year running.
No fund-picking system is infallible, but we do believe our methodology does a good job of looking beyond a snapshot of past performance to find funds that should cope well with a variety of investment conditions, and deliver superior returns.
Andrew Pitts was editor of Money Observer from 1998 until September 2015.