The Slings and Arrows of Passive Fortune

Posted on 05/04/2018

This article is sponsored by S&P DJI.

If a tale were to be written regaling us with the popular exploits of the modern day active manager in his quest for alpha across the many peaks and valleys of the financial world, passive investment would likely feature prominently in the telling. Passively managed assets have grown tremendously since their introduction in the 1970s to command some 20% of the U.S. stock’s market total-float adjusted capitalization, drawing a deluge of criticism in recent years from proponents of a more traditional, active approach who charge indexers with all manner of supposed ills – from encouraging collusive behavior and exacerbating pricing inefficiencies, to indifference on matters of corporate governance.

But are passive assets and their purveyors really the threat to markets that active management makes them out to be? Or are the problems attributed to their rise merely a reflection of the market forces all participants must face? These are the questions posed by Anu Ganti and Craig Lazzara at S&P Dow Jones Indices (S&P DJI) in their new paper, titled “The Slings and Arrows of Passive Fortune,” which seeks to unravel some of the most pervasive myths surrounding the growing role of index funds, highlight the immense value they bring to asset owners, and posits a future of asymmetric equilibrium between the old and the new that puts each in their proper place based on relative – rather than absolute – performance.

Nobody – including the paper’s authors – denies that index-based investment has made life more challenging for active managers, who count alpha as their very lifeblood; but so too would it be foolish to argue its advancement as one of the most important developments in modern financial history is without merit, or somehow Thucydidean in nature. If anything, active management can and should expect its portion of the pie (which, it must be pointed out, constitutes the majority of assets by a wide margin) to remain subject to nibbles from their passive counterparts – nibbles that may, with time, diminish. The market always has room for more players at the table, after all, and we all play by its rules.

As Director and Managing Director of index investment strategy team at S&P DJI, Ganti and Lazzara provide research and commentary on the firm’s entire product set – covering U.S. and global equities, commodities, fixed income, and economic indices. Both are chartered financial analysts and regular contributors to Indexology, S&P DJI’s appropriately named blog covering developments in the world of indexing.