What is 'Passive Investing'

Passive investing is an investment strategy  to maximize returns by minimizing buying and selling.

BREAKING DOWN 'Passive Investing'

Passive investing methods seek to avoid the fees and limited performance that may occur with frequent trading. Passive investing’s goal is to build wealth gradually. Also known as a buy-and-hold strategy, passive investing means buying a security with the intention to own it long term. Unlike active traders, passive investors do not seek to profit from short-term price fluctuations or market timing. The underlying assumption of passive investment strategy is that the market posts positive returns over time.

Passive managers generally believe it is difficult to out-think the market, so they try to match market or sector performance. Passive investing attempts to replicate market performance by constructing well-diversified portfolios of single stocks, which if done individually would require extensive research. The introduction of index funds in the 1970s made achieving returns in line with the market much easier. In the 1990s, exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, that track major indices, such as the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), simplified the process even further by allowing investors to trade index funds as though they were stocks.

Passive investing benefits and risks summary

Maintaining a well-diversified portfolio is important to successful investing, and passive investing via indexing is a good way to achieve diversification. Index funds spread risk broadly in holding all, or a representative sample of the securities in their target benchmarks. Index funds track a target benchmark or index rather than seeking winners, so they avoid constantly buying and selling securities. As a result, they have lower fees and operating expenses than actively managed funds. An index fund offers simplicity as an easy way to invest in a chosen market because it seeks to track an index. There is no need to select and monitor individual managers, or chose among investment themes.

However, passive investing is subject to total market risk. Index funds track the entire market so when the overall stock market or bond prices fall, so do index funds. Another risk is lack of flexibility. Index fund managers usually are prohibited from using defensive measures such as reducing a position in shares, even if the manager thinks share prices will decline. Passively managed index funds face performance constraints as they are designed to provide returns that closely track their benchmark index, rather than seek outperformance. They rarely beat the return on the index, and usually return slightly less due to fund operating costs.

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