Performance may move in cycles — not only does the outperformance of active or passive management often vary by asset class, but it can also vary based on the market environment. For example, when the market has momentum and is showing strong returns, it might be more difficult for actively managed funds to keep up with the index. This is because these funds hold different securities from the index, as well as small amounts of cash. However, in weak or declining markets, active managers’ funds might have the potential to hold up better, perhaps by becoming more conservatively positioned when markets become choppy. Exchange-traded funds have made it easier than ever to buy and sell passively managed indexes, and a growing number of investors are starting to question the performance of actively managed funds.

Performance information may have changed since the time of publication. In active investing, it’s very easy to hop on the bandwagon and follow trends, whether they’re meme stocksor pandemic-related exercise fads. Consider the investor who decided to get in on the at-home workout trend and buy Peloton at $145 on Jan. 4, 2021. As of July 2022, that stock is now trading for less than $10 now that the pandemic is all but over. What becomes very difficult with trend-based investing is determining if you’re at the tip of the trend or if there’s still room to grow. Perhaps the easiest way to start investing passively is through a robo-advisor, which automates the process based on your investing goals, time horizon and other personal factors.

For example, domestic small-cap stocks, non-government fixed income, and international equities – especially in emerging markets – offer significantly broad opportunities and a wide range of potential outcomes. As noted earlier, active managers have delivered superior relative returns during prolonged periods. While passive funds have posted higher returns over the last several years, active and passive strategies have exchanged the lead in performance over a longer timeline. In evaluating whether active or passive management outperforms, it’s important to realize that the asset class can often influence the results. For example, some asset classes, such as large-cap equities or investment-grade fixed income, are larger and more established, which might make it harder for an active fund manager to outperform the index. Remember, this doesn’t mean active management doesn’t work in certain asset classes — many active managers outperform regardless of their asset class.

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Like the ocean tides, active and passive management’s performance ebbs and flows. And as FIGURE 2 demonstrates, their performance cycles are clearly defined. The chart compares the rolling monthly 3-year performance percentile rankings for active managers with that of passive managers ranked within the Morningstar Large Blend category. Active investing is different from passive investing which is a “buy and hold” investment strategy. Passive investing is less risky, less costly, and yields moderate returns. There are pros and cons to active and passive investing, and the right approach for you depends on many different factors, including your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.

Is active investing better than passive

Many advisors keep your investments balanced and minimize taxable gains in various ways. In 2016, investors pulled $285 billion out of active funds, while pushing nearly $429 billion into passive ones — and this year is seeing a similar shift, according to Morningstar. Deutsche Bank estimates passive funds will have as much total money as active ones within a few years.

Passive Investing: A Closer Look

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Is active investing better than passive

If you invest in index funds, you don’t have to do the research, pick the individual stocks or do any of the other legwork. With low-fee mutual funds and exchange-traded funds now a reality, it’s easier than ever to be a passive investor, and it’s the approach recommended by legendary investor Warren Buffett. Because it’s a set-it-and-forget-it approach that only aims to match market performance, passive investing doesn’t require daily attention. Especially where funds are concerned, this leads to fewer transactions and drastically lower fees.

What Does Active Investing Involve?

Over a recent 10-year period, active mutual fund managers’ returns trailed passive funds consistently, says Kent Smetters, professor of business economics at Wharton. Given that over the long term, passive investing generally offers higher returns with lower costs, you might wonder if active investing ever warrants any place in the average investor’s portfolio. Active fund managers assess a wide range of data about every investment in their portfolios, from quantitative and qualitative data about securities to broader market and economic trends.

Similarly, investors can also reallocate to hold more equities in growing markets. By responding to real-time market conditions, they may be able to beat the performance of market benchmarks, like the S&P 500, at least in the short term. However, reports have suggested that during market upheavals, such as the end of 2019, for example, actively managed Exchange-Traded Funds have performed relatively well. Active management gives investors the opportunity to hold portfolios that reflect their preferences. Owning all the securities and all the segments of an index based on an index weighting may not be an attractive prospect for many investors. The value of portfolio flexibility can be especially evident during market corrections, where active managers have the capacity to make adjustments to mitigate losses.

Generally speaking, the goal of active managers is to “beat the market,” or outperform certain standard benchmarks. For example, if you’re an active US equity investor, your goal may be to achieve better returns than the S&P 500 or Russell 3000. Instead, investors may choose to purchase actively managed funds. Fund managers have experience with frequent trading and time to devote to research.

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Actively managed investments charge larger fees to pay for the extensive research and analysis required to beat index returns. But although many managers succeed in this goal each year, few are able to beat the markets consistently, Wharton faculty members say. Information provided on Forbes Advisor is for educational purposes only. Your financial situation is unique and the products and services we review may not be right for your circumstances. We do not offer financial advice, advisory or brokerage services, nor do we recommend or advise individuals or to buy or sell particular stocks or securities.

This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly. Active and passive strategies each have advantages and shortcomings to consider when making portfolio decisions.

Difference between active and passive

As an investor, a passive or active style may be best suited to your needs. Importantly, neither type of investing is outright better than the other. However, each strategy will serve the needs of a particular type of investor better. Here’s a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of these investment styles.

In contrast, passive investing is all about taking a long-term buy-and-hold approach, typically by buying an index fund. Passive investing using an index fund avoids the analysis of individual stocks and trading in and out of the market. The goal of these passive investors is to get the index’s return, rather than trying to outpace the index. It’s a complex subject, especially for high net worth investors with access to hedge funds, private equity funds, and other alternative investments, most of which are actively managed. Participants in the Investment Strategies and Portfolio Management program get a deep exposure to active and passive strategies, and how to combine them for the best results.


Once again the recent outperformance of passive is evident, and is preceded by 11 years of dominance by active management, and so on. To represent active management, we removed all index funds and enhanced index funds. To represent passive management, we used the Morningstar S&P 500 Tracking category. This type of investing is flexible and gives good opportunities to chase high returns in the stock market. Active investing requires constant monitoring of market conditions before making the buy and sell decisions. This implies that the investment manager or the investor needs to watch the movement of security prices throughout the day.

  • The data was collected from October 1, 2002, to September 30, 2022.
  • This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decisions that you may make.
  • But actively managed funds may be breaking through this long-held stigma based on clear results.
  • This and other important information is contained in the mutual fund, orETFsummary prospectus and/or prospectus, which can be obtained from a financial professional and should be read carefully before investing.
  • One example of an active investment is a hedge fund, while an exchange-traded fund that tracks an index like the S&P 500 is a passive investment.
  • The average number of home runs during this time period was 217.

As the name suggests, active investment involves a hands-on approach. On the other hand, active investors carefully watch the stock market and make appropriate trades. There seems to be no end to this debate, but there are factors that investors can consider — especially the difference in cost. Because active investing typically requires a team of analysts and investment managers, these funds are more expensive and come with higher expense ratios. Passive funds, which require little or no involvement from live professionals because they track an index, cost less. Investors who are looking for a true active manager should examine the fund’s active share, or measure of the percentage of equity holdings in a manager’s portfolio that differ from the benchmark index.

As a result, passive strategies based on market-cap weighted indices force investors to buy stocks with expensive valuations and sell cheap ones – that is, to buy high and sell low. Passive investors believe that the market is efficient, which means that a current security price reflects all available information. When building your portfolio, you may want to consider active approaches in the asset classes that provide more favorable conditions for active management.

Should You Ever Pick an Active Fund or Investing Style?

Junk bonds are bond issues that have low credit ratings and therefore high risk. To compensate for the risk, such bonds offer high rates of interest or high yields. At the individual sector valuation level, the S&P 500 Index has a 20-year average price/earnings ratio (the ratio of a stock’s price to its earnings per share) of 16.2. FIGURE 5 illustrates that 9 out of 11 sectors in the S&P 500 Index are trading at a premium relative to their 20-year historical average.

The same cyclicality is present in other investment categories such as mid-caps, small-caps, and global/international equities. Active management has typically outperformed passive management during market corrections, because active managers have captured more upside as the market recovers. Investors and advisors alike have long debated the merits of active versus passive investing. As the markets have taken a downward turn over the last year in response to rising interest rates, this age-old question has emerged again.

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