The Hotchkis & Wiley Small Cap Value Fund has returned 35 percent a year since the bull market began in 2009, the top-performing U.S. stock fund during the period.

Never heard of James Miles and David Green, the fund’s managers? That’s no surprise. They’re part of a group whose visibility is diminishing fast: famous stock pickers.

For decades the undisputed stars of the asset-management business, when investors such as Peter Lynch and Bill Miller were household names, stock pickers have remained largely anonymous to the larger public despite a six-year rally that produced some outstanding funds. They’ve been overtaken by bond legends such as Bill Gross and Jeffrey Gundlach and hedge fund managers including Carl Icahn and William Ackman who have waged high-profile battles against companies.

“When I started in this business 30 years ago, the equity managers were the well-known personalities,” said Dan Kern, president of Advisor Partners in Walnut Creek, California, who helps oversee $330 million. “Now the bond guys are the superstars.”

The shift is emblematic of the problems facing active stock mutual funds, which have been deserted by investors who lost money in these vehicles during the 2008 financial crisis. Subpar performance for the group since then hasn’t helped: Seventy percent of U.S. equity funds have lagged behind their benchmarks in the six years since the crisis, Morningstar Inc. data show.

‘Rising Tide’

“When the rising tide lifts all boats, the stock pickers have a hard time distinguishing themselves,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago, which manages $66 billion.

That’s not to say the past years haven’t seen top managers. In the small-cap arena, Henry Ellenbogen’s $16.2 billion T. Rowe Price New Horizons Fund outperformed 99 percent of rivals over five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg as of April 8. K. William Nolin’s $10.7 billion Principal MidCap Fund beat 97 percent of peers over the same period. William Smead topped 99 percent of competitors buying large stocks with the $1.1 billion Smead Value Fund. All beat the market, with average annual returns of as much as 20 percent in the five years.

None, however, have attained celebrity status of earlier generations. Lynch, now 71, became a superstar when he ran Fidelity Investments’ Magellan Fund and wrote two books that helped popularize the concept of investing in what you know. From 1977 until he stepped down in 1990, his fund gained 29 percent a year, almost double the returns generated by the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

‘No Heroes’