Using Index Funds as Part of Your Portfolio

Posted by Richard on August 1, 2013


There are two approaches to mutual fund investing: active and passive.1 An active management style means the fund manager uses analytic or forecasting tools to select individual stocks for the fund portfolio. In a passive approach, the fund manager simply buys whatever stocks are represented by a well-known market index. Funds that attempt to match exactly the day-to-day fluctuations of a market index are index funds.

By investing in an index fund that mimics the S&P 500® stock index, for example, an investor could achieve some measure of diversification in most of the 500 widely held stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and NASDAQ.2

Index funds purchase or sell shares of stocks only when the index replaces stocks or when investors buy or sell shares of the fund. Unlike actively managed funds, index funds do not attempt to buy stocks based on the fund manager’s outlook for certain companies or for the market in general.

Are index funds right for your portfolio? Consider the following.

• They have lower expenses than active mutual funds. The passive approach of index funds generally means the expense ratio of index funds is substantially lower than that of actively managed stock funds. The average expense ratio of index funds was 0.13% in 2012, compared with 0.92% for actively managed funds.3 The higher management expenses of actively managed funds make it more difficult for them to outperform index funds on a consistent basis. Management fees and expenses are deducted from a fund’s results in the calculation of returns.

• There are many varieties to choose from. The 500 companies within the S&P 500 index, for example, constitute only a portion of the U.S. stock market and represent only large-capitalization stocks. The Russell 2000 small-cap index; the S&P 400 MidCap index (an unmanaged index of 400 stocks generally considered representative of the U.S. midcap market); and the Morgan Stanley Europe, Australasia, and Far East index (EAFE) are among the most widely quoted indexes, and there are many index funds that track these.4 The variety of index funds available allows investors to diversify into a wide array of stocks by indexing according to investment goals and risk tolerance.5

• They’re not out to beat the market. Because index funds track the market, they may not deliver above-average returns that are sought by more aggressive investors. In addition, index funds are required to imitate their benchmarks and their managers are usually restricted to using only very limited defensive steps. More conservative growth-oriented investors may be more comfortable with a stock fund that seeks to limit downside risk, but may also lag the market somewhat on the upside.

By combining funds that track different types of market indexes, or by supplementing index funds with actively managed funds or individual stocks, you can build a diversified portfolio designed to seek returns appropriate for your investment time frame and goals.


1Investing in mutual funds involves risk, including loss of principal.

Before investing in mutual funds, consider the funds’ investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. Contact the mutual fund company or your financial professional for a prospectus or summary prospectus (if available) which contains this information. Please read it carefully.

2The S&P 500 index is an unmanaged index that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

3Source: Investment Company Institute, ICI Fact Book, April 2013.

4Securities of smaller companies may be more volatile than those of larger companies. The illiquidity of the small-cap market may adversely affect the value of these investments. Foreign investments involve greater risk than U.S. investments, including political and economic risks and the risk of currency fluctuations, and may not be suitable for all investors.

5Asset allocation and diversification do not assure a profit or protect against a loss.

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