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Active MFs Vs. Passive MFs: Which ones' to go for? - Outside View by PersonalFN

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Active MFs Vs. Passive MFs: Which ones' to go for?
Nov 17, 2011

"The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul"- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The importance of being active couldn't have been explained better. Yes, it is indeed imperative to be active in one's daily life to be successful and also create alpha. This is because sometimes being passive can just lead you to make ordinary success, and not help you create an alpha.

While investing too, the returns on your portfolio depends upon what kind of investing strategy you have chosen - active or passive. Very often the dynamic behaviour of the equity markets encourages many to follow the active style; but the exuberance created by the pink papers / business channels / brokers etc. often steers in making incorrect investment decisions which helps in making absolutely ordinary returns or sometimes even erode their wealth. It is noteworthy that active investment strategy is aimed at trying to create wealth on your portfolio by generating alpha (i.e. superior) returns and not only ordinary returns. It involves:

  • Assessing the economic environment
  • Analysing investment mood in the equity markets
  • Evaluating promising themes in the equity markets
  • Selecting stocks within the theme and across which can outperform the markets
  • Undertaking in depth company analysis to project sales and earnings growth
  • Legitimate portfolio churning
But many a times, discussions on equity markets and stocks at several social gatherings or while commuting, reveals that investments are approached in a rather very rudimentary way (with strong views though!), and without paying enough attention to thorough research; which we believe is needed while following an active investment strategy.

Actively managed Funds
For investors' who are novices to equity markets or even to the strategy of active investment management, but are willing to take risk for investing in the equity markets, could opt for equity mutual funds as they offer the benefits of diversification and professional management through skilled research professionals and a fund manager appointed by the mutual fund house. However while investing in mutual funds, you need to be careful and select appropriate ones which suit your ability to bear risk as well, in their attempt to outperform their respective benchmark indices and generate superior returns or alpha for you.

It is noteworthy that diversified equity funds following an active investment strategy are in a constant search to cite promising investment opportunities - across various sectors / themes and market capitalisations in their objective to generate superior returns or alpha against their respective benchmark indices. The fund managers along with research professionals take active participation in discovering stocks which can create value for investors in the long run by controlling the overall risk on their total portfolio. While there's a risk involved if the fund manager makes a bad choice or follows an unsound theory of investing; the same can be controlled if one selects funds which follow strong systematic investments process and systems.
Moreover, this would also result in you having funds which clock luring risk-adjusted returns.

However due to the trait of being an actively managed fund, if the fund manager engages in aggressive portfolio churning to boost returns, the level of risk which one is exposed to can be also be elevated. While some actively managed funds do show high conviction towards the stock bets taken by them (thus resulting in keeping portfolio churning moderate), a high expense ratio incurred by the fund not only elevates risk but also leads to high cost for investors.

Hence, while investing actively managed funds one needs to aware of their trait, and in case if you aren't willing to take very high risk and are merely interested in replicating the broader benchmark indices; then the answer is index funds which typically follow a passive investment strategy.

Passively managed funds
Passively managed funds are aligned to a particular benchmark index such as the S&P CNX Nifty, BSE Sensex, S&P CNX 500 or even for that matter a sectoral index such as BSE Bankex. The endeavour of these funds is to mirror the performance of the designated benchmark index, by investing only in the stocks of the index with the corresponding allocation or weightage. Hence, investing in passively managed funds is less cumbersome as compared to investing in actively managed funds. Also they carry with them a low expense ratio along with a low risk (as compared to actively managed mutual funds), make market timing irrelevant and low portfolio churning also adds to their merit. The fund manager in an index fund exits a certain stock only when a respective stock exits from the index and is replaced by another one.

However despite the inherent benefits, passive managed mutual funds / index funds have not caught retail investors' fancy; and interestingly this is completely in contrast to the trend in the developed economies such as the U.S., where passive managed funds / index funds are considered as a staple diet for retail investors.

Performance of actively managed funds vis-a-vis passively managed funds
Scheme Name 6 Months (%) 1-Yr (%) 3-Yr (%) 5-Yr (%) Std. Dev Sharpe Ratio
Actively Managed Funds - Diversified equity funds
SBI Magnum Emerging Businesses (G) 11.4 -0.3 40.9 8.8 10.66 0.27
DSPBR Micro-Cap (G) -1.8 -18.7 38.2 - 6.68 -0.02
IDFC Premier Equity-A (G) 3.1 -9.3 36.3 21.5 7.39 0.31
Mirae Asset India Oppor-Reg (G) -6.4 -11.9 35.1 - 8.36 0.27
Canara Robeco Emerging Eq (G) -7.8 -13.1 34.9 6.6 9.49 0.26
HDFC Mid-Cap Oppor (G) -1.7 -10.1 33.9 - 7.40 0.29
SBI Magnum Global 94 (G) -0.9 -8.8 32.4 5.7 9.50 0.23
ICICI Pru Focused Blue Chip Equity (G) -2.5 -8.4 31.9 - 6.77 0.29
Sundaram Select Small Cap (G) -2.1 -17.2 31.5 - 9.81 0.22
HDFC Equity (G) -12.3 -19.4 31.3 11.6 8.26 0.25
Fidelity India Growth (G) -3.8 -11.9 29.1 - 6.86 0.26
HDFC Top 200 (G) -9.1 -16.2 28.1 12.2 7.64 0.23
Average of all diversified equity funds* -6.4 -16.8 23.6 6.3 7.10 0.14
Passively Managed Funds - Diversified equity funds
ICICI Pru Index -5.7 -14.0 22.8 7.2 7.83 0.17
Franklin India Index-NSE Nifty (G) -6.2 -14.6 21.9 5.9 7.78 0.16
UTI Master Index (G) -6.5 -14.2 21.9 5.0 7.94 0.16
SBI Magnum Index (G) -6.2 -14.8 21.8 4.4 7.88 0.17
Franklin India Index-BSE Sensex (G) -6.7 -14.4 21.7 5.4 7.91 0.16
Birla SL Index (G) -6.5 -15.7 21.4 5.0 7.84 0.16
Tata Index-Nifty (G) -6.3 -14.8 21.4 5.2 7.78 0.16
Canara Robeco Nifty Index (G) -6.1 -14.4 21.2 5.4 7.70 0.16
Tata Index-Sensex (G) -6.9 -14.9 20.9 4.2 7.95 0.15
HDFC Index-Nifty (G) -6.6 -15.0 20.2 3.5 7.71 0.15
LIC Nomura MF Index-Nifty (G) -6.0 -14.2 20.0 3.7 7.71 0.15
HDFC Index-Sensex (G) -6.9 -15.2 19.8 2.8 7.86 0.15
Average of all index funds* -6.8 -15.4 21.4 4.8 6.93 0.08
BSE SENSEX -7.2 -14.7 21.7 5.1 8.03 0.16
BSE-200 -8.5 -18.2 22.6 5.4 8.38 0.17
BSE-500 -8.6 -18.8 22.8 5.1 8.47 0.17
S&P CNX Nifty -6.8 -14.9 22.0 6.0 7.85 0.16
Note: The list of funds in the respective categories in the above table is not exhaustive
*Category average returns are calculated taking into account all the respective funds in the above categories
(Source: ACE MF, Personal FN Research)

The table above reveals that as far as the performance is concerned, some actively managed diversified equity funds have clocked superior returns when compared to passively managed mutual funds - especially over a 3-Yr and 5-Yr time frame. Moreover, even though risk (as revealed by the Standard Deviation) which they have exposed their investors is slightly higher, it has resulted in better risk-adjusted (as revealed by the Sharpe Ratio) returns as well, when compared to index funds.

Hence the potential of outperforming the broader market indices exhibited by the performance of diversified equity funds seems to be one of the main important reasons why passively managed funds have not caught investors' attention in India. Moreover, not many investors are willing to settle for an index fund that will only yield the market return.

The verdict
The debate over active versus passive investing has raged for years with no conclusive evidence in favour of either. As seen above there are merits and demerits to both - actively managed funds as well as passively managed funds. Hence it is imperative that you assess the following amongst other points before making a choice:

  • Your risk taking ability
  • Your investment objective
  • Age
  • Income and Expenses
Though an actively managed (i.e. diversified equity funds) is bound to outperform passively managed index funds due to its diversification across different sectors and market capitalisation, you need to adopt a systematic approach towards selecting the right mutual funds because not all diversified funds provide superior returns.

An investment in passively managed funds can be considered only if one has no access to unbiased investment advice or is na´ve to mutual fund investing. Hence whether one opts for active or passively managed funds for investing, what's required is sheer prudence which would help you create wealth for your portfolio.

PersonalFN is a Mumbai based personal finance firm offering Financial Planning and Mutual Fund Research services.


The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Equitymaster do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendation on any course of action to be followed by the reader. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site.

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