Is There Any Benefit to Actively Managed Funds?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If there's any doubt about the ascendance of index-style investing, consider this report from Vanguard Group, the mutual fund giant: At the end of 2012, participants in 401(k)s administered by the firm devoted 60% of their assets to indexers, up from 30% in 2004.

During that period, the share of assets in actively managed funds dropped to 21% from 38%. (The remainder cannot be classified as either.)

An even better measure of the popularity of each type of fund is the allocation of new contributions, Vanguard said. From 2004 through 2012, the portion going to indexers rose to 64% from 32%, while that going to active funds dropped from 38% to 20%.

The results beg the question: Is there any benefit at all to using actively managed funds?

By now, most investors know the difference. Actively managed funds employ teams of analysts and money managers to seek hot stocks and bonds. Index funds simply buy and hold the securities in a market gauge such as the Standard & Poor's 500, avoiding the heavy stock-picking costs incurred by managed funds.

Many studies have shown that few managed funds can find enough hot investments to overcome this cost difference, causing the average managed fund to perform more poorly than its indexed counterpart. There are other benefits, too. Because indexers fly on autopilot, you don't have to worry about something happening to your fund manager.

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