While I am the founder and chief executive of a firm that specializes in actively managed ETFs, I rarely become involved in an active versus passive debate. Although generally speaking, both alpha and beta can coexist nicely within an investment portfolio, rather more often than not, that focus tends to center on the structural debate of a mutual fund versus an ETF.
While not perfect, ETFs carry far more advantages than disadvantages, and whether an advisor is seeking beta or alpha, an ETF has been shown to be a better delivery vehicle. However, ETFs still represent an important area for the active versus passive debate. One apt approach simply summarizes such consideration: Alpha is hard to produce, but not hard to find. For advisors evaluating the factors that most differentiate beta and alpha, they may ultimately view it as one side places a bet on an asset class and another group places a bet on a portfolio manager.
Every year, when different research firms release findings that indicate a substantial number of active portfolio managers are underperforming benchmark indexes, some individuals use such reasoning to demonstrate why that underperformance, coupled with managers’ fees, makes the search for active managers useless. Another viewpoint illustrates the difficulty of active portfolio management, especially over the long-term, which in turn helps measure the worth of investing with the best managers.
The great aspect of evaluating portfolio managers is that locating the best performers remains an easy task. Thanks to firms such as Morningstar, a simple search can display which active managers have outperformed the S&P 500 and other notable benchmark indexes. Through the end of May 2016, 132 active funds outperformed the S&P 500 over the last 20 years — and that was only in Morningstar’s Large-Cap Equity category. Finding top-performing managers is not a difficult undertaking.