Last year, Motley Fool Champion Funds (the investing service I head up), outlined an all-ETF portfolio -- a basket of dirt cheap exchange-traded funds that, if indexing purists are to be believed, is virtually destined to beat actively managed rivals over the long haul.
But you know what? I don't believe 'em.
I'm no indexing purist, but I certainly think a model portfolio made up of nothing but bogey trackers serves a useful purpose. However, that purpose isn't to demonstrate that passively managed S&P trackers like Vanguard 500 (VFINX) and SPDRs (SPY) -- which closed out 2006 with value-priced behemoths such as Bank of America
And I feel exactly the same way about bogey trackers that focus on smaller-cap benchmarks such as the Russell 2000, an index that recently counted 2006 overachievers Veritas DGC
All or nothing?
In my view, going the index-only route means always having to say you're sorry. After all, the most you can ever legitimately expect with either traditional index funds or ETFs is that, over time, they'll lag the market by about the amount of their expenses.
What's more, I firmly believe that -- beyond just market-cap and growth/value diversification -- savvy investors should aim for strategic diversification. Indexing is just another investing strategy, and as with any strategy, the market will sometimes shine on it and sometimes not. And in recent years, by the way, it's mostly not been shining on index-only types.
Ebb and flow
Indeed, as USATODAYreported last year, 2005 marked the seventh year in a row that actively managed funds, as a group, bested the S&P.
In some ways, that particular stat has my inner contrarian salivating. Just as growth investing -- which has lagged value ever since the market's premillennial meltdown -- will someday rise again, so too will index funds. Indeed, in the aggregate anyway, 2006 appears to have gone to index funds -- a data point that proves, as ever, ebb and flow is the market's mantra.
With that as a backdrop, here's a question: Who has the time -- or the inclination -- to try to ferret out which investing strategy is going to be in or out of favor? Here's another one: Why try to guess whose turn it is to outshine when active and passive picks can coexist peacefully and profitably in the same portfolio?
Not coincidentally, the Aggressive, Moderate, and Conservative model portfolios we track each month in Motley Fool Champion Funds include both active and passive funds. What's more, taken collectively, our "Fund of the Month" recommendations -- all of which are actively managed -- have made light work of the market, besting it by more than 10 percentage points since we first hung out our shingle back in March 2004.
Ultimately, I think the chief value of an all-ETF portfolio is that it provides one more opportunity to demonstrate the Foolish wisdom of mixing it up with choice active and passive picks, and to take the market's temperature regarding what's working -- and, for all you contrarians out there, what isn't.
If you'd like to take a gander at the initial ETF lineup -- not to mention our complete list of fund recommendations and back-issue archives -- click here for a risk-free 30-day guest pass. There's no obligation to subscribe, so give Champion Funds a whirl and let us know what you think. Our members-only discussion boards, which also come gratis with the service, exist for just that purpose.
See you there!
This article was originally published March 9, 2006. It has been updated.
Shannon Zimmerman runs point on Motley Fool Champion Funds and does notown any of the securities mentioned. Bank of America is an Income Investor recommendation. Pfizer is an Inside Value pick. The Fool is investors writing for investors, and you can read all about our disclosure policyhere.
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