Index investing is a strategy that involves creating portfolios around a stock index, a benchmark, or a market average. The idea is that, since most fund managers fail to outperform the market, the optimal way to invest in a diversified portfolio is to track an index—such as the S&P 500 Index—while minimizing costs and fees. Index investing is often used anonymously with the term passive investing, but there are a handful of reasons why some people believe that the average investor should avoid index funds altogether. Here are five of those reasons.

Key Takeaways

  • Index investing is a popular investment strategy, but there are also reasons why some investors might want to avoid index funds.
  • While indexes may be low cost and diversified, they prevent seizing opportunities elsewhere.
  • Moreover, indexes do not provide protection from market corrections and crashes when an investor has a lot of exposure to stock index funds.
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5 Reasons To Avoid Index Funds

1. Lack of Downside Protection

The stock market has proved to be a great investment in the long run, but over the years it has had its fair share of bumps and bruises. Investing in an index fund, such as one that tracks the S&P 500, will give you the upside when the market is doing well, but also leaves you completely vulnerable to the downside.

Investors with heavy exposure to stock index funds can choose to hedge your exposure to the index by shorting S&P 500 futures contracts, or buying a put option against the index, but because these move in the exact opposite direction of each other, using them together could defeat the purpose of investing (it's a breakeven strategy). In most cases, hedging is only a temporary solution.

2. Lack of Reactive Ability

Index investing does not allow for advantageous behavior. If a stock becomes overvalued, it actually starts to carry more weight in the index. Unfortunately, this is just when astute investors would want to be lowering their portfolios' exposure to that stock. So even if you have a clear idea of a stock that is overvalued or undervalued, if you invest solely through an index, you will not be able to act on that knowledge.

3. No Control Over Holdings

Indexes are set portfolios. If an investor buys an index fund, they have no control over the individual holdings in the portfolio. You may have specific companies that you like and want to own, such as a favorite bank or food company that you have researched and want to buy. Similarly, in everyday life, you may have experiences that lead you believe that one company is markedly better than another; maybe it has better brands, management or customer service. As a result, you may want to invest in that company specifically and not in its peers.

At the same time, you may have ill feelings toward other companies for moral or other personal reasons. For example, you may have issues with the way a company treats the environment or the products it makes. Your portfolio can be augmented by adding specific stocks you like, but the components of an index portion are out of your hands.

4. Limited Exposure to Different Strategies

There are countless strategies that investors have used with success; unfortunately, buying an index of the market may not give you access to a lot of these good ideas and strategies. Investing strategies can, at times, be combined to provide investors with better risk-adjusted returns. Index investing will give you diversification, but that can also be achieved with as few as 30 stocks, instead of the 500 stocks that the S&P 500 Index would track.

If you conduct research, you may be able to find the best value stocks, the best growth stocks and the best stocks for other strategies. After you've done the research, you can combine them into a smaller, more targeted portfolio. You may be able to provide yourself with a better-positioned portfolio than the overall market, or one that's better suited to your personal goals and risk tolerances.

5. Dampened Personal Satisfaction

Finally, investing can be worrying and stressful, especially during times of market turmoil. Selecting certain stocks may leave you constantly checking quotes, and can keep you awake at night, but these situations will not be averted by investing in an index. You can still find yourself constantly checking on how the market is performing and being worried sick about the economic landscape. On top of this, you will lose the satisfaction and excitement of making good investments and being successful with your money.

The Bottom Line

There have been studies both in favor and against active management. Many managers perform worse than their comparative benchmarks, but that does not change the fact that there are exceptional managers who regularly outperform the market. Index investing has merit if you want to take a broad economic view, but there are many reasons why it's not always the best route to achieving your personal investing goals.