At the heart of the active versus passive management debate lays the theoretical underpinning that the average return of both actively and passively managed assets must equal the aggregate market, thereby making it a zero-sum game.

Since the costs of active management typically exceed those of passive management, the average actively managed dollar will underperform the average passively managed dollar after accounting for costs (Sharpe 1991). Over the past few decades, this debate has inspired many passionate believers on both sides, exhibiting its staying power as one of the more hotly contested financial theories.

As a way to keep score of the ongoing debate, S&P Dow Jones Indices (S&P DJI) started publishing the S&P Indices Versus Active (SPIVA®) Scorecard for the U.S in 2002. The scorecard measures the performance of actively managed domestic equity funds across various market capitalizations and styles, as well as fixed income funds, relative to their respective benchmarks.

Results can vary on a year-over-year basis due to market conditions, with indices losing out to active funds in one year but winning in a subsequent year. However, the scorecard shows that over a longer-term investment horizon, most active managers have a difficult time outperforming their respective benchmarks. The five-year performance figures show the consistent losing pattern across most equity and several fixed income categories. In addition, the report dispels myths surrounding “inefficient” markets such as small caps and the emerging markets equities, the two areas in which active investing is perceived to offer opportunities due to the mispricing of securities.

This article was written by Ayn Soe, senior director, index research & design, S&P Dow Jones Indices.

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