Passive Beats Active, Again

Study after study confirms the same thing – passive investing beats active management. The latest data comes from financial advisor Harold Evensky, president of the financial planning firm Evensky & Katz, in the latest issue of the Journal of Investing. Along with Shaun Pfeiffer, a professor at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, Evensky, who is also a professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, examined 20 years of mutual fund performance data, tracking expansions and recessions separately and collectively.

Specifically, the two researchers were interested in testing the widely held notion that actively managed funds outperform in bear markets. After all, an active manager could make defensive moves to protect portfolios and preserve investor capital in a significant downturn. However, a passive index fund would simply continue to own the stocks in the index and would fall victim to falling prices.

In fact, the researchers found that active fund managers do indeed generate enough outperformance to cover their fees in recessions. However, in bull markets, active managers’ returns do not beat passive index funds. And, in addition to underperforming passive strategies in periods of economic expansion, active managers also fall short of passive managers over longer investment horizons that encompass both expansions and recessions.

The study’s findings further weaken the case for active management by reporting on the wide variance among actively managed portfolios and their inconsistency across business cycles. Generally speaking, the top decile of actively managed funds generated alpha, but the bottom-decile funds performed poorly.

The bottom line is that the alpha generated by active managers in recessions isn’t enough to justify their under performance across full market cycles.

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