In defense of active investment management

The idea of picking an investment manager instead of investing in an index fund has been taking a beating, lately.

Under the assumption that investors can weather the market’s ups and downs without becoming euphoric or panicking, and assuming that most of them can’t tell a good from a poor investment manager, the case is growing that most people should invest in an index fund and watch better results roll in.

That case has a lot of validity, but it’s important to listen to the other side of the argument, too, in order to pick the right choice for you–the individual.

After all, we don’t all buy GM cars, or buy Apple computers, or eat at McDonald’s. Some people prefer other options. It all depends on what you want to accomplish, how much work you want to put into it, and what your abilities are.

With that in mind, I highly recommend an article by William Smead of Smead Capital Management titled, The Demise of Active Management is Greatly Exaggerated.

Not surprisingly, Smead is an active investment manager who is talking his book (just like most passive/index investors), but he has some interesting points to make and some thought-provoking data to go along with it.

Smead points out that quite a bit of academic data supports the case for investing in parts of the market that aren’t always priced correctly. He highlights that investments in businesses with low debt, high and sustainable profitability, and overall stability can do remarkably better than an index investment. 

Also, index funds market weight their holdings, which means they own too much of the things that investors love best right before they go off the cliff, and not enough of things most investors hate right before they take off–just think about 2000 or 2008. There are other methods for assembling portfolios that work better over the long run.

I’m not trying to make a complete case for active investing, here, but I am trying to point out the other side of the argument. Naive investors may think the case is closed and everyone should be a passive/index investor, when in reality it depends on your preferences and abilities.

Most may be incapable of beating the market, but not all. Most may be unable to pick managers who do better than an index fund, but not all. Most may not want to put the time and effort into doing better than average, but not all. 

Just as most–but not all–people love to eat at McDonald’s, most–but not all–people should probably be passive/index investors. The key is deciding which group you are a member of and thinking clearly about your options.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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In defense of active investment management

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