Picking An Active Vs. Passive Fund

Picking An Active Vs. Passive Fund

Instead of building their own portfolio, many investors prefer to invest in dividends via mutual funds, leading them to decide between an actively managed fund or a passive (index) fund. An article in Barron’s discusses the key issues in making the choice.

But “no two equity income strategies are created equal,” says Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar, and it’s important to dig deeper into what strategies an active manager uses or what passive fund is being used by an index.

For example, the article points to the $54.4 billion Vanguard Dividend Growth actively-managed fund, and the passive $66.5 billion Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF. While both use the S&P U.S. Dividend Growers Index as their benchmarks, the former recently held 42 stocks and the latter had 268 holdings, offering a wider exposure to dividend-paying stocks. The active fund’s 12-month yield was recently 1.4% versus 1.55% for the ETF – not terribly high for investors hoping for more income.

Those investors would be better off looking to the actively-managed $51.1 billion Vanguard Equity Income mutual fund, with 15-year annual return of 9.1%, or the passive $40.5 billion Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF that had a 15-year annual return of 8.7%—though the latter had 410 holdings compared to the former’s 190.

In the end, the decision between active and passive comes down to what the investor is comfortable with. Either they put their money in a much broader selection of stocks, or a select portfolio based on the manager’s wisdom and experience.