Table of Contents Hide
- What are Index Funds?
- How do Index Funds Work?
- Who is a good candidate for an Index Fund?
- Actively Managed Funds vs. Index Funds
- Factors to consider before investing in Index Funds
- #3. Invest according to your Investment Plan
- Real-World Examples of Index Funds
Diversification is an important component of a well-balanced financial strategy. Investors aim to diversify their portfolios by investing in several asset types such as equity, cryptos, real estate, gold, and so on. They strive to diversify even within each asset class to reduce risks. Diversifying your equity portfolio by investing in shares of firms from various sectors and market capitalizations is a well-known strategy of lowering risks in equity investment. This is where Index Funds come into play. Here, we’ll look at index funds and discuss all you should know for starters.
What are Index Funds?
An Index Fund, as the name implies, invests in equities that mimic a stock market index such as the S&P 500, Russell 1000, and so on. These are passively managed funds. It means that the fund manager invests in the same assets and in the same proportions as the underlying index and does not modify the portfolio composition. Basically, these funds aim to provide returns that are comparable to the index they monitor.
How do Index Funds Work?
The term “indexing” refers to a type of passive fund management. Instead of actively selecting stocks and timing the market—that is, deciding which securities to invest in and when to buy and sell them—a fund portfolio manager develops a portfolio whose holdings mirror those of a specific index. The theory is that by replicating the index’s profile—the stock market as a whole or a broad section of it—the fund will be able to equal its performance.
For instance, every financial market that exists, there is an index and an index fund. The most popular index funds in the United States track the S&P 500. However, there are a number of different indexes that are extensively used, including:
- The Russell 2000 index, which is made up of small-cap stocks.
- The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, which is the largest stock market index in the United States.
- MSCI EAFE, a global stock index that includes stocks from Europe, Australasia, and the Far East.
- The Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, which tracks the entire bond market
- The Nasdaq Composite; made up of 3,000 Nasdaq-listed stocks.
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), a stock market index that includes 30 large-cap businesses.
So in reality, an index fund tracking the DJIA would invest in the same 30 large, publicly traded companies that make up the index.
Index funds’ portfolios largely change only when their benchmark indices change. If the fund follows a weighty index, the managers may rebalance the percentage of different securities to reflect the weight of their participation in the benchmark on a quarterly basis.
In an index or a portfolio, weighting is a means of balancing off the impact of any single position.
Who is a good candidate for an Index Fund?
Because Index Funds follow a market index, their returns are quite close to those of the index. As a result, these funds are often a first choice for investors who desire predictable returns and wish to invest in the equity markets without incurring too many risks. In an actively managed fund, the fund manager adjusts the portfolio’s composition based on his evaluation of the underlying securities’ potential performance. This increases the portfolio’s risk factor. Such dangers do not exist because index funds are managed passively. However, the returns hardly go higher than those of the index.
Actively managed stock funds are a superior option for investors looking for bigger returns.
Actively Managed Funds vs. Index Funds
Investing in an index fund is a passive investment strategy. Active investing, as practiced in actively managed funds is the polar opposite of passive investing.
The lower management expense ratio of index funds is one of their key advantages over actively managed alternatives. All operating expenses, such as payments to advisers and managers, transaction fees, taxes, and accounting fees, are included in a fund’s expense ratio, also known as the management expense ratio.
Index fund managers do not require the assistance of research analysts or anyone who aid in the company selection process because they are merely repeating the performance of a benchmark index. Furthermore, these managers trade their holdings less frequently, resulting in lower transaction costs and charges.
Actively managed funds, on the other hand, have larger staffs and execute more transactions, raising the cost of doing business.
The fund’s expense percentage reflects on the additional costs of fund management, which are passed on to investors. As a result, low-cost index funds typically cost less than a percent—0.2 percent to 0.5 percent at most, with some firms offering even lower expense ratios of 0.05 percent or less—in comparison to the much higher fees from its direct counterpart, which typically range from 1 percent to 2.5 percent.
Expense ratios have a direct impact on a fund's overall performance. Actively managed funds are automatically at a disadvantage versus index funds due to their frequently higher expense ratios, and struggle to stay up with their benchmarks in terms of overall return.
#2. Better Profits
Better performance is the result of lower costs. Passive funds, according to proponents, have outperformed most actively managed mutual funds. True, the vast majority of mutual funds do not outperform broad indexes. According to SPIVA Scorecard data from S&P Dow Jones Indices, 80 percent of large-cap funds achieved a return less than the S&P 500 for the five years ending December 2019.
Passively managed funds, on the other hand, do not try to outperform the market. Instead, their strategy aims to match the market’s overall risk and return, on the basis of the premise that the market always wins.
Over time, passive management that results in favorable performance has proven to be true. Active mutual funds outperform passive mutual funds over shorter time periods. According to the SPIVA Scorecard, only 70% of large-cap mutual funds underperformed the S&P 500 over the course of a year. To put it another way, more than a third of them outperformed within a short period.
Over the course of a year, approximately 70% of mid-cap mutual funds outperformed their S&P MidCap 400 Growth Index benchmark.
Factors to consider before investing in Index Funds
Before investing in index funds, consider the following crucial factors:
#1. Returns and Risks
Index funds are less volatile than actively managed equity funds since they track a market index and are managed passively. As a result, the risks are minimal. During a market rally, index funds typically provide strong returns. During a market downturn, though, it’s usually a good idea to convert to actively managed equities funds.
In your stock portfolio, you should have a balanced mix of index funds and actively managed funds. Furthermore, because index funds try to mirror the index’s performance, their returns are similar to the index’s. Tracking Error, on the other hand, is a component that requires your attention. As a result, while choosing an index fund, aim for the one with the lowest tracking error.
#2. Expense Ratio
The expense ratio is a modest proportion of the fund’s total assets that the broker charges for fund management services. The low expense ratio of an index fund is one of its most appealing features. There is no need to develop an investment strategy or research and find stocks to invest in because the fund manages them passively. As a result, fund management costs are reduced, resulting in a lower expense ratio.
#3. Invest according to your Investment Plan
Investors with a 7-year or longer investing timeframe may consider index funds. These funds have been known to have short-term swings, but these changes average out over time. Returns of 10-12 percent can be expected if you invest for at least seven years. You can use these assets to align your long-term investing goals and stay invested for as long as you can.
Index funds are subject to both dividend distribution tax and capital gains tax because they are equity funds.
Tax on Dividend Distributions (DDT)
When a fund house pays dividends, a 10% DDT is deducted at the source before the payment is made.
Tax on Capital Gains
When you redeem an index fund’s units, you earn capital gains, which are taxable. The tax rate is determined by the holding period, or the time you were invested in the fund.
Short Term Capital Gain (STCG) refers to capital gains earned over a one-year holding period which is taxed at 15%.
Long Term Capital Gains are capital gains earned over a period of more than one year (LTCG).
Real-World Examples of Index Funds
Since the 1970s, index funds have been around. The popularity of passive investing, the appeal of low fees, and a long-running bull market had combined to propel them in the 2010s. Investors put more than US$458 billion into index funds across all asset classes in 2018, according to Morningstar Research. Actively managed funds saw outflows of $301 billion during the same time period.
The fund that started it all, launched by Vanguard chairman John Bogle in 1976, is still one of the finest in terms of long-term performance and low cost. In terms of composition and performance, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund has closely followed the S&P 500. As of July 2020, it had a one-year return of 7.37 percent, compared to the index’s 7.51 percent. The expense ratio for its Admiral Shares is 0.04 percent, and the minimum investment is $3,000.