With many analysts and stock watchers saying that a correction is imminent, investors may be tempted to abandon cheaper index funds for more nimble actively-managed funds. They should think twice, though; 68% of all actively-managed funds underperformed their benchmarks in the first half of 2016, according to J.P. Morgan research. And separate research from S&P Global found that 84% of active funds in the U.S. underperformed the S&P 500 over the course of 2015.

Worse still, 98% of active funds fell behind the S&P 500 over the past decade. Within the group of active management underperformers this year, 41% missed their benchmark by over 250 basis points, and 57% missed by at least 100 basis points.

Passive funds simply tracking a benchmark have attracted record inflows for years, but by their very nature these funds cannot outperform their underlying indices. Investors may have been attracted to their cost-effective performance in the post-financial crisis environment. (For more, see: Passive vs. Active Management: Which Is Best?)

Conventional wisdom holds that active management can offer better returns than passive management by investing in securities that outperform the benchmark. Active managers can stand on the sidelines—go to cash—if market conditions warrant it. The question for investors is whether active managers will outperform, or whether benchmark returns will fall enough to justify taking a gamble on actively-managed funds.

Any investor who thinks that active management should outperform in a bear market should consider four major studies:

  • Lipper Analytical Services reviewed six market corrections (a drop of at least 10%) from Aug. 31, 1978, to Oct. 11, 1990. Large-cap growth funds lost an average 17.04% vs. 15.12% for the S&P 500. That tells us active managers did worse in bear markets than in bull markets.
  • Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. found mutual fund managers miscalled all nine major market turning points when they looked at mutual fund cash holdings from 1970 to 1989.
  • Standard & Poor’s Indices Versus Active (SPIVA) scorecard determined in 2008 that “the belief that bear markets favor active management is a myth. A majority of active funds in eight of the nine domestic equity style boxes were outperformed by indices in the negative markets of 2008. The bear market of 2000 to 2002 showed similar outcomes.”
  • And Vanguard examined active managers’ performance from 1970 through 2008—during which time there were seven bear markets in the U.S. and six in Europe. They found that “whether an active manager is operating in a bear market, a bull market that precedes or follows it, or across longer-term market cycles, the combination of cost, security selection, and market timing proves a difficult hurdle to overcome … Past success in overcoming this hurdle does not ensure future success.” (For related reading, see: Exchange-Traded Funds: Active Vs. Passive Investing.)

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