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Active vs. Passive Funds: It’s More Than Just Fees

Julia A. Peloso-Barnes of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
Julia A. Peloso-Barnes of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. Photo Credit: Contributed

NEW YORK -- Since the first index fund was invented in 1975, the debate has raged between active and passive investing styles.

Passive investors adhere to the principal of market efficiency, which holds that all information available about a company is reflected in its current stock price. Rather than trying to second-guess the market, passive investors buy the entire market, or a specific segment of it, via index funds.

Active investors counter that the market is not always efficient and that through research, active fund managers may be able to uncover information not already reflected in a security's price and potentially profit by it. A less-than- efficient market, they reason, favors active stock selection. Which is better? That depends on what you look at.


Over the years, numerous performance comparisons have been made between the two styles. Most have found that in the aggregate, passive outperforms active, especially after fees are taken into consideration. One of these, Standard & Poor’s SPIVA® (S&P Indices Versus Active Funds) U.S. Scorecard, found that 61% of all actively-managed domestic equity funds underperformed their benchmarks after expenses during the 10 years ended Dec. 31, 2014.

But the results may be more mixed during shorter time periods or when different segments or investing styles are examined. For instance, in 2013, although actively managed large- and small-cap funds underperformed their benchmarks, actively managed midcap funds outperformed, as did actively managed growth funds in the large-cap, midcap, and multi-cap categories.


Actively managed funds generally charge higher annual expenses than their index-based cousins. As of June 24, 2015, the average dollar-weighted expense ratios of actively managed domestic large-cap, midcap, and small-cap funds was 0.99%, 1.17%, and 1.24% respectively. By comparison, the index versions of these fund categories charged 0.14%, 0.17%, and 0.22% respectively.

Although fee ratios for actively-managed funds have been trending down in recent years, they are still well above those of passive funds and are likely to remain so given that they require higher research and management costs and are consequently more expensive to run.

Today we looked at performance and fees. Next week we will focus on key points for investors to take away from the active vs. passive discussion.

Index Funds are offered by prospectus. It is not possible to directly invest in an index.

Investors should carefully consider the investment objectives and risks as well as charges and expenses of a mutual fund before investing. To obtain a prospectus, contact your Financial Advisor or visit the fund company’s website. The prospectus contains this and other information about the mutual fund.

Read the prospectus carefully before investing.

The investor should note that funds that invest exclusively in one sector or industry involve additional risks. The lack of industry diversification subjects the investor to increased industry-specific risks.

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining financial markets.

Equity Securities’ prices may fluctuate in response to specific situations for each company, industry, market conditions, and general economic environment.

Growth investing does not guarantee a profit or eliminate risk. The stocks of these companies can have relatively high valuations. Because of these high valuations, an investment in a growth stock can be more risky than an investment in a company with more modest growth expectations.

Small Capitalization Funds are managed aggressively and typically carry more risk than stock funds investing in well-established companies.

International investing involves certain risks, such as currency fluctuations, economic instability and political developments.

Past performance is not indicative of future results.

This material does not provide individually tailored investment advice. It has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. The securities discussed in this material may not be suitable for all investors. Morgan Stanley recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a financial adviser. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.

If you’d like to learn more, please contact Julia A. Peloso-Barnes, CFP®, CPM®, ADPA®, CPRC® at (914) 225-6391, or

Article by Wealth Management Systems, Inc. and provided courtesy of Julia A Peloso-Barnes.

The author(s) are not employees of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC ("Morgan Stanley"). The opinions expressed by the authors are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Morgan Stanley. The information and data in the article or publication has been obtained from sources outside of Morgan Stanley and Morgan Stanley makes no representations or guarantees as to the accuracy or completeness of information or data from sources outside of Morgan Stanley.

Neither the information provided nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation by Morgan Stanley with respect to the purchase or sale of any security, investment, strategy or product that may be mentioned.

Julia A Peloso-Barnes engaged Daily Voice to feature this article.

Daily Voice produced this article as part of a paid Content Partnership with our advertiser, The Peloso-Barnes Group

We are highly selective with our Content Partners, and only share stories that we believe are truly valuable to the communities we serve.

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