The Active World of Passive Investing
Western Finance Association (WFA) Annual Meeting (2018)
57 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2018 Last revised: 23 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 23, 2021
We investigate the new reality of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). We show that most ETFs are active investments in form (designed to generate alpha) or function (serve as building blocks of active portfolios). We define a new activeness index to capture these dimensions, finding that the cross-section of ETFs is now increasingly characterized by highly active investment vehicles. Active-in-form ETFs have positive flow-performance sensitivity, charge the highest fees among ETFs, and have high within-portfolio turnover. Active-in-function ETFs have more concentrated holdings, less within-portfolio turnover, but higher turnover in the secondary market. We show how more active ETFs are gaining market share over less active ETFs, leading to competitive fee pressure both within the ETF space and across the investment management industry. We suggest that the growing activeness of ETFs may assuage concerns about ETFs harming price discovery.
Keywords: exchange-traded fund, ETF, Activeness Index, passive investing, index investing
JEL Classification: G11, G14, G23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation