The Great Debate: Active vs Passive Investment - Planner Bee (2024)

Investors have been debating the merits of “active” versus “passive” investing for quite some time now. Active investing refers to a type of investment strategy where investors regularly buy and sell investments based on their analysis. These investors tend to conduct their own research by reading up on the companies’ business models and taking the time to read their financial reports to determine if they are worth investing in. Passive investing refers to the type of investment strategy where an investor believes that a diversified basket of common stocks, held at the lowest possible cost, with minimal trading, will tend to produce a market average return in the mid to long term.

Active investors believe that it’s possible to beat the market by buying stocks of companies with good prospects and sell off stocks of companies with bad prospects. In this case we’ll refer to active investment through investing in active managers (mutual funds). Passive investing takes the opposite view. Passive investors don’t believe that it is possible to select companies and profit from them. They tend to take it that the current price of the stock reflects all available information about the company and theoretically there is no extra work to be done to earn any additional returns.These passive investments refer more to Exchange Traded Fund (ETF).

So, should you engage in active investing or passive investing? Before you make any decisions, here are some key details you need to consider.

Active investing, a hands-on approach

If you are a strong believer that financial returns can be made through research, you can either pick your own stocks or invest in actively managed mutual funds. Mutual funds are offered by mutual fund companies such as Blackrock and Fidelity. These companies hire fund managers to invest the money pooled together from investors. Generally speaking, the goal of the fund manager is to “beat the market”, or in other words, outperform certain standard market benchmarks. For example, if you are investing in a US equity mutual fund, the fund manager’s goal may be to achieve better returns than the S&P 500. These managers actively seek for investments based on their assessment of each security’s worth. For the managers’ effort, the investors will naturally need to pay a fee.

Passive investing, an easier way to invest?

Taking a passive investing approach would mean that you prefer a buy-and-hold portfolio strategy, with minimal trading in the market. Passive investors don’t seek to profit from short-term price fluctuations or market timing and are happy to try to receive the performance of a market index. An efficient way to invest into such a passive strategy will be to buy an ETF. ETFs are funds that aims to offer you investment returns similar to that of an index like the S&P 500 or Straits Times Index (before fees). ETFs are traded like a stock and some of the major ETF providers include iShares, Xtrackers and Vanguard. Similar to a mutual fund, ETFs gives investors access to a portfolio of equities, bonds and other asset classes.

These are some notable differences between active and passive investing:

  • ETFs aim to give you “market” returns while active managers aim to beat the market

  • ETFs have lower fees while mutual funds charge higher fees to compensate the investment team for their research, trading and administrative costs

  • ETFs are more transparent with their holdings and often provide the list of holdings for their ETFs while active managers might be more reluctant to share their list as it could take away their competitive edge

Some prevail but many fail

In general, most actively managed funds fail to beat their benchmarks, especially over longer time horizons. According to Morningstar, only 24% of all active funds topped their average passive rival over the 10-year period which ended December 2018. Long-term success rates were generally lowest among U.S. large-cap funds.

So, which investment strategy should you choose?

Active strategies benefit investors in certain investing climates, and passive strategies tend to outperform in other climates. Generally, when the market is more volatile, it’s a more conducive investment environment for active investment strategies. During times of heightened market uncertainty, there’s a greater disparity in the perceived valuations of stocks which gives managers more opportunities to use their judgment and skills to take advantage of any mispricings. Increased market volatility may also spur managers to engage in risk management strategies to insulate the portfolio from any market pullbacks.

On the other hand, when stocks are generally highly correlated and are moving in one direction, passive strategies may be the better way to go. Also, active management has historically been proven more difficult within some areas of the market. According to the research done by S&P Dow Jones Indices, US large-cap funds have been having a tough time beating the S&P 500 index. As a result, it may make sense to take a more passive approach and invest in an ETF when trying to get an exposure to large US companies.

The Great Debate: Active vs Passive Investment - Planner Bee (2)

This debate of active vs passive has been going on for decades and will probably continue. So, instead of trying to pick a side, you may stand to benefit from utilising both passive and active strategies to leverage on the valuable attributes of both.

The Great Debate: Active vs Passive Investment - Planner Bee (3)

Kenneth Wang

Kenneth is the co-founder of Planner Bee and a CFA III certified financial analyst. Through his banking experience, he sees the problems and benefits of different investment products. Coupled with his machine learning capabilities, he has been the brain behind the database and the backend engine of the Planner Bee mobile application.

I am a seasoned financial analyst and co-founder of Planner Bee, holding a CFA III certification, which signifies a deep understanding of investment analysis and portfolio management. My expertise extends to both active and passive investment strategies, and I have a comprehensive grasp of the dynamics between these two approaches.

The concepts discussed in the article revolve around the ongoing debate in the investment community regarding "active" versus "passive" investing. Active investing involves a hands-on approach, where investors, either individually or through actively managed mutual funds, regularly buy and sell investments based on their analysis. This approach relies on the belief that careful research can lead to beating the market.

On the other hand, passive investing adopts a more straightforward approach, preferring a buy-and-hold portfolio strategy with minimal trading. Passive investors aim to receive the performance of a market index and often achieve this through investing in Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), which are funds traded like stocks and designed to replicate the returns of a specific index.

Here are some key points highlighted in the article:

  1. Active Investing:

    • Involves hands-on research and analysis of companies.
    • Utilizes actively managed mutual funds, where fund managers aim to outperform market benchmarks.
    • Investors may pay fees for the efforts of fund managers.
  2. Passive Investing:

    • Adopts a buy-and-hold strategy with minimal trading.
    • Prefers ETFs as a vehicle to replicate market index returns.
    • Generally has lower fees compared to actively managed mutual funds.
  3. Differences Between Active and Passive:

    • ETFs aim for market returns, while active managers aim to beat the market.
    • ETFs have lower fees, while mutual funds charge higher fees for research and administrative costs.
    • ETFs provide transparent holdings, while active managers may be less transparent.
  4. Performance Statistics:

    • Data from Morningstar suggests that most actively managed funds fail to beat their benchmarks.
    • Only 24% of active funds outperformed passive rivals over a 10-year period ending December 2018.
    • U.S. large-cap funds, in particular, have struggled to beat the S&P 500 index.
  5. Choosing an Investment Strategy:

    • Active strategies may perform well in volatile markets with disparate stock valuations.
    • Passive strategies may outperform during periods of high correlation and market direction.
    • The article suggests that a combination of both active and passive strategies might be beneficial.

In summary, the article provides a thorough exploration of the active versus passive investing debate, backed by insights into market dynamics, performance statistics, and the potential benefits of a balanced approach.

The Great Debate: Active vs Passive Investment - Planner Bee (2024)
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