Index mutual funds are investment vehicles comprising stocks from a wide
variety of companies and track the performance of a specific index, such as the
Dow Jones Industrial Average. Investors are able to spread their assets across
many different investments with the convenience of one fund, which can help
protect them from market volatility. Index funds also tend to be relatively
inexpensive, with annual costs ranging from 0.03% to 0.40% of assets compared
to actively managed funds, which can have annual costs of 0.85% or higher.1
The first index fund was founded in 1975 by The Vanguard Group. Today it
is known as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, but there are many others on the
market now. In fact, their prevalence has prompted some cause for concern. In a
2018 Wall Street Journaleditorial, Vanguard founder John Bogle sounded
the alarm that today’s index fund investments are largely managed by three
firms — Vanguard, State Street and Black Rock. His concern was that these
money managers are now the majority shareholders for more than 80 of the largest
companies in the United States. 2 That’s a lot of concentrated power
There are currently about 5,000 U.S. indexes. The most commonly known are
the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite
Index. Monitoring various buckets of investments that represent different asset
categories and/or sectors is a critical measure for market analysts, as they
provide keen insights into the economy and investment trends.3
Indexing may be an appropriate
strategy for risk-averse, long-haul wealth accumulation, as well as a strong
component in a retirement portfolio. Index funds can offer a way to consolidate
aggressive investments into a diversified vehicle offering growth potential to
help offset long-term inflation. In fact, annuities that credit interest based
on the performance of a specific index may give retirees the ability to combine
growth opportunity with guaranteed income (guaranteed by the insurer). If you’d
like to learn more, just give us a call.
There are other aspects to the
indexing strategy that have come into play in recent months. In August, for
example, President Trump pitched the idea of reducing the capital gains tax by
indexing it to the rate of inflation. This would lower tax bills for investors.4
However, despite the administration’s
claims, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation asserted that indexing capital gains
taxes would have very little effect in stimulating economic growth. Furthermore,
the tax cut would benefit only the top 1 percent of taxpayers and was projected
to reduce federal tax revenues by nearly $178 billion over the next 10 years.5
Trump has since backed off the proposal.6
In related news, JPMorgan has
introduced a new index called the “Volfefe Index.” The Volfefe is designed to
monitor how President Trump’s messages on Twitter affect Treasury market yields.
Volfefe was named after one of Trump’s 2017 tweets featuring the undefined word
“covfefe.” Given that one in ten of the president’s tweets relate to U.S. investment
markets, JPMorgan’s index tracks the rolling one month probability that each message
initiates market-moving volatility (based on the status of Treasury yields five
minutes following a Trump tweet). The Volfefe Index indicates that a wide range
of stocks have been impacted by Trump tweets, especially in recent weeks.7
Content prepared by Kara Stefan
1 Daniel Kern. ThinkAdvisor. July 3, 2017. “How ETFs and
Indexing Took Over Active Management.” https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2017/07/03/how-etfs-and-indexing-took-over-active-management/. Accessed Sept. 9, 2019.
2 Meghna Chakrabarti. WBUR. Dec. 12, 2018. “Stock Market
Distress Signal: How Low-Cost Index Funds Are Taking Over.” https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/12/12/stock-market-index-funds-john-bogle. Accessed Sept. 9, 2019.
3 Caroline Banton. Investopedia. June 25, 2019. “An
Introduction to U.S. Stock Market Indexes.” https://www.investopedia.com/insights/introduction-to-stock-market-indices/. Accessed Sept. 9, 2019.
4 Caitlin Oprysko and Arren Kimbel-Sannit. Politico.
Aug. 30, 2019. “Trump again flirts with easing capital gains taxes.” www.politico.com/story/2019/08/30/trump-capital-gains-taxes-1478882. Accessed Sept. 26, 2019.
5 Daren Fonda. Barron’s. Aug. 3, 2019. “Indexing Capital
Gains to Inflation Would Be Great for the Rich. There’s No Economic Rationale.”
https://www.barrons.com/articles/indexing-capital-gains-to-inflation-makes-no-economic-sense-51564833600. Accessed Sept. 9, 2019.
6 Jacob Pramuk. CNBC. Sept. 11, 2019. “Trump rules out
for now cutting capital-gains taxes.” www.cnbc.com/2019/09/11/trump-white-house-mulls-indexing-capital-gains-to-inflation-tax-plan.html.
Accessed Sept. 26, 2019.
7 Tracy Alloway. Bloomberg. Sept. 8, 2019. “JPMorgan
Creates ‘Volfefe’ Index to Track Trump Tweet Impact.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-09/jpmorgan-creates-volfefe-index-to-track-trump-tweet-impact. Accessed Sept. 9, 2019.
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