Are actively managed funds better than index?
Index funds seek market-average returns, while active mutual funds try to outperform the market. Active mutual funds typically have higher fees than index funds. Index fund performance is relatively predictable; active mutual fund performance tends to be less so.
Actively Managed Funds Come to Life
But active funds fared well even in the hottest corners of the market. See the full analysis in Morningstar's latest Active/Passive Barometer. Nearly 57% of active U.S. equity funds survived and beat their average index peer over the 12 months through June 2023.
It's true that over the short term, some mutual funds will outperform the market by significant margins - but over the long term, active investment tends to underperform passive indexing, especially after taking account of fees and taxes.
The long-term performance data show active management has a lot of catching up to do. Over the past 10 years, less than 7% of U.S. active equity funds have beaten the market, according to the Spiva U.S. scorecard .
Active management includes mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, as well as portfolios of stocks, bonds and other holdings managed by financial advisers. Among the benefits they see: Flexibility – because active managers, unlike passive ones, are not required to hold specific stocks or bonds.
Index funds have lower expenses and fees than actively managed funds. Index funds follow a passive investment strategy.
Although it is very difficult, the market can be beaten. Every year, some managers boast better numbers than the market indices. A small fraction even manages to do so over a longer period. Over the horizon of the last 20 years, less than 10% of U.S. actively managed funds have beaten the market.
Less than 10% of active large-cap fund managers have outperformed the S&P 500 over the last 15 years.
Rowe Price U.S. Equity Research fund (ticker: PRCOX) is in this exclusive club, having bested—along with a team of about 30 research analysts—the S&P 500 index for the past five years on an annualized basis. U.S. Equity Research is a Morningstar five-star gold-medal fund.
The challenge is that as investors recognize a manager's skill, they place more assets under his management. Those additional assets make it harder for the manager to achieve the same level of performance—among other reasons, because the bigger a fund is, the more likely it is to move prices.
How often do actively managed funds outperform passive funds?
Here's what the firm found from 20 years of research: Active vs. Passive: The active success rate for equity was 76% overall with actively managed funds surpassing passive funds 73% of the time.
The figures tell a remarkable story. Over the full period, just 2% of actively managed Large-Cap Core funds beat the S&P 500.
Disadvantages of Active Management
Actively managed funds generally have higher fees and are less tax-efficient than passively managed funds. The investor is paying for the sustained efforts of investment advisers who specialize in active investment, and for the potential for higher returns than the markets as a whole.
While indexes may be low cost and diversified, they prevent seizing opportunities elsewhere. Moreover, indexes do not provide protection from market corrections and crashes when an investor has a lot of exposure to stock index funds.
Many investment strategists believe index funds should be a core component of a retirement portfolio. Because they don't require active management, the fees and the expense ratios of index funds tend to be lower, which means they can often outperform higher-cost funds, even without beating them.
While it's true that index funds have historically provided solid returns, it's important to remember that past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Blindly putting all of your savings into index funds without considering other investment options or your personal financial goals could be a mistake.
For example, the last time the average active U.S. stock fund beat the S&P 500 stock index for a full calendar year was in 2009. And over a full 20-year period ending last December, fewer than 10 percent of active U.S. stock funds managed to beat their benchmarks.
Actively managed funds offer the opportunity to beat the market, but they typically charge a higher fee, and many fail to beat the market consistently. Passively managed funds are cheaper and perform more consistently, but your performance is—by definition—the average.
An S&P 500 index fund essentially lets investors diversify capital across many of the most influential companies in the world. Warren Buffett sees that diversity as a compelling reason to invest. He once described the S&P 500 as a "cross-section of businesses that in aggregate are bound to do well."
ETFs are more tax efficient than index funds because they are structured to have fewer taxable events. As mentioned previously, an index mutual fund must constantly rebalance to match the tracked index and therefore generates taxable capital gains for shareholders.
What the key reason index funds have tended to outperform actively managed funds?
One of the main reasons index funds outperform actively managed funds is because they have lower fees. Actively managed funds require a team of professionals to research and select individual stocks, which results in higher management fees.
But by examining historical data, we can make an educated guess. According to Standard and Poor's, the average annualized return of the S&P index, which later became the S&P 500, from 1926 to 2020 was 10%. 1 At 10%, you could double your initial investment every seven years (72 divided by 10).
Simply putting all of your money into the S&P 500 index ETF, SPY, and forgetting about it will almost always yield higher returns than paying a financial advisor for advice. The S&P 500 beats most financial advisor portfolios most of the time.
Research: 89% of fund managers fail to beat the market
According to this report, 88.99% of large-cap US funds have underperformed the S&P500 index over ten years. As a whole, 78–97% of actively managed stock funds failed to beat the indexes they were benchmarked against over ten years.
Research by Morningstar found that about 40% of nearly 3,000 active funds outperformed their average passive peer over the 12 months through June. That success rate is worse than the 47% recorded in all of 2021, when markets were far less volatile.