Can we settle the debate?
It’s one of the first questions that comes up when the conversation moves to investing: “which do you think is better over the long-term: active portfolio management or passive portfolio management?” And it’s a question that I can answer with absolute conviction: it depends. Let’s examine the two.
Investors can select from two main investment strategies: active and passive portfolio management. Active portfolio management is exactly how it sounds: the portfolio manager (or team) focuses on outperforming an index by “actively” making buy/sell decisions, adjusting asset allocation ranges and employing other portfolio management techniques. Passive portfolio management on the other hand simply aims to replicate an index – not outperform and not underperform – replicate.
The other difference between the two is fees. Because active managers believe that they can outperform their benchmark, they generally charge more – I said generally but I probably could have said “almost always.”
Turns out that there is an organization trying to settle this active vs passive debate once and for all: SPIVA – which stands for Standard & Poors Indices Versus Active.
Let me just repeat some bullets from their latest research report (you can see so much more at SPIVA):
During the one-year period ending December 31, 2016:
During the five-year period ending December 31, 2016:
During the 15-year period ending December 2016:
You would think that with statistics like these, everyone would conclude that passive portfolio management trumps active portfolio management, right? Well not exactly.
Many suggest that experienced – defined as portfolio managers with at least 10-years of tenure – active managers have historically done better during volatile markets. And they reference a study by AMG that plots long-tenured, actively managed large-cap fund three-year rolling returns over the 20-year period ending March 31, 2016 against the S&P 500 Index.
This study shows that in periods when the market suffered declines greater than 10%, the median long-tenured active large-cap manager posted the greatest outperformance. In periods of less severe losses, and in low-to-moderate growth periods, active managers also generally outperformed.
This study also shows that in less efficient asset classes, like small caps, long-tenured active portfolio managers outperform their benchmarks 64% of the time. And it’s more dramatic with international markets – the median long-tenured active international manager outperformed its index 77% of the time.
As an experienced financial advisor, I try not to get too caught up in the debate, although I admit the champions of passive investing have a very strong case. For me, my experience has led me to conclude that both active and passive portfolio management can play a role in your portfolio. There will be times when one out-performs the other and if you try to time the market you’re just setting yourself for failure.
So just like I counsel my clients to not be 100% invested in equities or 100% in bonds or 100% in anything, the same is true for active vs. passive. They should not be mutually exclusive.
Give me a call and we can discuss further.