As 2010 winds down, it’s time for a refresher on performance perspective for the global equity markets. The general theme: year-to-date returns are strong. Equity indices around the world have posted respectable if not stellar returns in 2010 through November 19, depending on the benchmark. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a bull market among active equity managers claiming unusual degrees of skill in the dark art of stock picking. Some of the congratulatory chatter is legitimate, but the primary explanation is the bullish tailwind that’s been blowing this year.

Year-to-date equity returns are solidly in positive territory for 2010 as of Friday, as the chart below shows. Dividing equities into their broad subcategories shows that emerging market stocks overall are firmly in the lead, rising by nearly 16%. U.S. stocks trailed at a considerable distance, but the 11.3% rise for American equities is above average when compared with the long-term track record. The weakest link: foreign developed markets, which means mostly western Europe and Japan. Still, the 8%-plus gain for the year so far is a decent rise for non-U.S. developed markets, given the macroeconomic headwinds of late.

The second chart below offers a more granular review of equity returns on a regional basis. The big winner is the Mideast/Africa category, which gained nearly 20%. In close pursuit: Asia’s emerging markets. Meanwhile, in the cleanup position: the developed countries of Europe, which managed a modest 5% rise.

Yes, it’s been a good year for equity investments for the most part, but claims of genius in money management still rely to a fair degree on the kindness of the broad trend.