What is an Index?

27 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2015

See all articles by Andrew W. Lo

Andrew W. Lo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Laboratory for Financial Engineering

Date Written: October 12, 2015


Technological advances in telecommunications, securities exchanges, and algorithmic trading have facilitated a host of new investment products that resemble theme-based passive indexes but which depart from traditional market-cap-weighted portfolios. I propose broadening the definition of an index using a functional perspective — any portfolio strategy that satisfies three properties should be considered an index: (1) it is completely transparent; (2) it is investable; and (3) it is systematic, i.e., it is entirely rules-based and contains no judgment or unique investment skill. Portfolios satisfying these properties that are not market-cap-weighted are given a new name: “dynamic indexes.” This functional definition widens the universe of possibilities and, most importantly, decouples risk management from alpha generation. Passive strategies can and should be actively risk managed, and I provide a simple example of how this can be achieved. Dynamic indexes also create new challenges of which the most significant is backtest bias, and I conclude with a proposal for managing this risk.

Keywords: Index Funds, Indexation, Passive Investing, Smart Beta, Liquid Alternatives, Risk Management

JEL Classification: G11, G12

Suggested Citation

Lo, Andrew W., What is an Index? (October 12, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2672755 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2672755

Andrew W. Lo (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Laboratory for Financial Engineering ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-0920 (Phone)
781 891-9783 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://web.mit.edu/alo/www

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